Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: November 23-30, 2020
With a Last Quarter Moon waxing towards Sunday’s full “Beaver Moon” lunar eclipse, there’s a rather bleached night sky this week.
However, with the Moon getting close to Mars, plenty of planets on show and Thanksgiving in North America perhaps affording some time to stargaze, it’s a great week to get outside and enjoy the fall night sky.
Wednesday, November 25, 2020: Moon near Mars
An 83%-lit waxing gibbous Moon will be in conjunction with Mars today. The two will be just 5º from each other right after sunset in Europe and during the day in North America, though still close as darkness falls. Look southeast as soon as it gets dark and you should see them shining together.
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Thursday, November 26, 2020 (Thanksgiving): ‘See’ the Solar System
Tonight it will be possible to see the ecliptic—the flat plane of the Solar System and the Sun’s path through the sky—just by looking south right after dark. Imagine a giant curved line going from east (where the Sun rises) to west (where the Sun has just set) and on your left (in the southeast) you’ll see a 90%-li Moon and Mars, and on your right (in the southwest) you’ll see bright Jupiter and, very slightly higher in the sky, dimmer Saturn. The Moon orbits Earth along a path that’s 5º inclined to the ecliptic, so frequently appears close to the planets in our night sky.
Friday, November 27, 2020: Moon at apogee
As the Moon orbits Earth in a slight ellipse, there are two points every month where it’s closest to Earth (perigee) and furthest away (apogee). The latter occurs today with our 94%-lit satellite 405,891 km from Earth. It makes the coming full “Beaver Moon” the opposite of a “supermoon”—a “micro moon.”
Sunday, November 29, 2020: a full ‘Beaver Micro Moon’ splits two star clusters
The two most famous open clusters in the night sky—the neighboring Pleiades and the Hyades in the constellation of Taurus—are today split by the full “Beaver Micro Moon.”
Although the full Moon peaks at 100% illumination at 09:30 Universal Time on Monday, November 30, that’s irrelevant for the observer. The time to look at any full Moon is at moonrise or moonset where you are at the closest dusk or dawn. So get in place on Sunday with a good view of the eastern horizon to see the “Beaver Moon” rising. Then wait around for it to get dark to see the Pleiades and Taurus nearby, which you’ll most easily see with binoculars.
In the early hours of Monday, November 30, there’s a second rather special second time to view the full Moon as a rare “Beaver Moon Eclipse” occurs.
Monday, November 30, 2020: ‘Beaver Moon Eclipse’ penumbral lunar eclipse
Visible from the Americas, Australia and Asia, the “Beaver Moon” will pass through Earth’s outer shadow (penumbra) at 07:32 Universal Time, causing a slight penumbral lunar eclipse that will see 83% of the Moon visibly darken at 9:42 Universal Time—just 12 minutes after being 100% full. That’s 04:42 EST and 01:42 PST, so an early start will be required in North America. If you’re up that early, be sure to watch the moonset in the west, which will arguably be just as beautiful a sight, if not more so.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.