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Star Gazing - November 23, 2020


■ Two faint fuzzies naked-eye: The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the Perseus Double Cluster are two of
the most famous deep-sky objects. They're both cataloged as 4th magnitude, and in a fairly good sky you
can see each with the unaided eye. Binoculars make them easier. They're only 22° apart, very high toward
the east early these evenings — to the right of Cassiopeia and closer below Cassiopeia, respectively.

But they look rather different, the more so the darker your sky. See for yourself! You can find them with
the all-sky constellation map in the center of the November or December Sky & Telescope.


■ Mars shines about a fist-width to the upper left of the waxing gibbous Moon this evening, as shown

Mars has lost two thirds of the brightness it displayed around opposition in early October. But at
magnitude –1.4 it's still as bright as Sirius, which will be up and shining low in the southeast after
midnight. At that time, Mars will be very high in the southwest.

The waning gibbous Moon passes 5° below Mars on Wednesday the 25th. (The Moon here is drawn about
three times its actual apparent size.)

■ Around 8 p.m. the Great Square of Pegasus stands level very high toward the south (straight overhead
if you're as far south as Miami). Its right (western) edge points very far down toward Fomalhaut. Its
eastern edge points less directly toward Beta Ceti, less far down.

Now descending farther: If you have a very good view down to the south horizon, and if you're not much
farther north than latitude 40° (roughly Denver, New York, or Madrid), picture an equilateral triangle
with Fomalhaut and Beta Ceti as its top two corners. Near where the third corner would be (a bit to the
right of that point) is Alpha Phoenicis, or Ankaa, in the constellation Phoenix. It's magnitude 2.4, not very
bright but the brightest thing in its area. It has a yellow-orange tint; binoculars help confirm this. Have
you seen anything of the constellation Phoenix before?


■ Mars shines about 5° above the waxing gibbous Moon high in the southeast in early evening, as shown
above. These are currently the two closest large celestial bodies; they're 1.3 light-seconds and 5 light-
minutes away. Next is the Sun at 8.3 light-minutes. Mercury and Venus are both currently on the far side
of the Sun.


■ The early Thanksgiving sunset. Does the Sun already seem to be setting about as early as it ever will?
You're right! We're still nearly a month from the winter solstice on December 21st — but the Sun sets its
earliest around December 7th if you live near latitude 40° north. And already the Sun sets within only
two minutes of that time.

A surprising result of this: The Sun actually sets a trace earlier on Thanksgiving than on Christmas —
even though Christmas is around solstice time!

This offset from the solstice date is balanced out by the opposite happening at sunrise: The Sun doesn't
come up its latest until January 4th. Blame the tilt of Earth's axis and the eccentricity of Earth's orbit.


■ Bright Jupiter and Saturn are almost as close together now (2.6° apart) as modest, 3rd-magnitude Alpha
and Beta Capricorni above them (2.3° apart); see below. Wait for full dark to catch the faint stars.
Jupiter and Saturn continue in the southwest during and after twilight. This evening they're 2.6° apart.
Above them, once the sky grows dark, are the 3rd-magnitude binocular double stars Alpha and Beta
Capricorni. Alpha is the wider one; maybe you can split it with your bare eyes.


■ This evening the bright, almost-full Moon shines between Aldebaran below it and the Pleiades above it.
Off to their left, bright Capella looks on.
Starry, Starry Night . . .
"I know nothing of any certainty, but the sight of the stars
makes me dream." -Vincent Van Gogh
current night sky over Nashville, TN
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