Friday, February 3

The Naked Eye Night Sky This Week

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: September 26-October 2, 2022

This week you’re going to struggle to keep your eyes from the “king of planets.” Tonight Jupiter reaches its annual “opposition” when Earth is precisely between the Sun and Jupiter. That happens every 13 months and when it does Jupiter’s full disk is lit-up by the Sun at night from our point of view. Not only that, but it rises in the east at sunset and sets in the west at sunrise. It’s therefore “up” all night.

However, there’s something else very special about Jupiter’s opposition in 2022. It’s closer to Earth this week than at any point since 1963 and until 2139, making this the brightest and best opposition of Jupiter in 166 years.

Here’s what else to see in the night sky this week:

Monday, September 26, 2022: Jupiter at opposition

Look east soon after sunset and you’ll see Jupiter appear in the twilight. It will shine at a magnitude of -2.9, making it the brightest thing you can currently see in the post-sunset night sky apart from the Moon.

It peaks tonight, but practically speaking it’s going to appear super-bright for a few weeks. Naked-eye observing is possible, but only with a pair of binoculars will you see its four giant moons Ganymede (which is bigger than the planet Mercury), Callisto, Io and Europa.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022: The slimmest crescent Moon

Who can see the young Moon first? A two-day old, 5%-lit crescent Moon may just be visible in the west right after sunset.

You’ll definitely need binoculars, but don’t attempt to use them then until the Sun has completely disappeared from the sky.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022: An easy crescent Moon

A three-day old, 10%-lit crescent Moon will today be a beautiful and relatively easy to see object for about an hour after sunset. Look west—and bring binoculars.

Can you see reflected light from the Earth—called “planet-shine”—on the dark side of the Moon? If not, try again tomorrow when the crescent Moon will be slightly brighter and slightly higher in the post-sunset sky.

Friday, September 30, 2022: A crescent Moon and Antares

Just after sunset this evening in the southwest sky you’ll find a 27%-lit waxing crescent Moon hanging just 1.5º from the bright star Antares.

The brightest star in the constellation of Scorpius, Antares is a red supergiant star that’s often confused with Mars. Even its name means “the rival of Mars” because they can look similar to the casual observer and every other year the red planet passes very close to this red star.

But not this year. Mars is the opposite side of the night sky in 2022, rising in the east a few hours after sunset.

Asterism of the week: ‘Summer Triangle’

Look high up in the southwestern sky and you will see three bright stars that together make up what stargazers call the “Summer Triangle.” Now on the wane and sinking down to the west after dark, its three constituent stars—bright Vega, Deneb and Altair—still shine brightly and dominate that side of the sky. It’s not an official constellation, just an informal shape—what stargazers call an asterism.

Star of the week: Vega

Return to Vega, the star that all others are judged by. The fifth brightest star in the night sky and about 25 light-years away, this blue star is a yardstick for judging the apparent magnitude, or brightness, of stars. If a star is dimmer than Vega, it gets a (+) figure and if it’s brighter than Vega it gets a (-) figure.

Times and dates given apply to mid-northern latitudes. For the most accurate location-specific information consult online planetariums like stellarium and The Sky Live. check planet-rise/planet-set, sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times for where you are.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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