What you can see in the night sky this week

Every Monday I select the northern hemisphere celestial highlights (northern mid-latitudes) for the coming week, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.

To watch out for in the night sky this week: November 23-30, 2020

With a final quarter moon heading toward Sunday’s full “Beaver Moon” lunar eclipse, the night sky is rather whitened this week.

However, with the Moon moving closer to Mars, many planets on display, and Thanksgiving in North America perhaps offering some time for stargazing, it’s a great week to get out and enjoy the fall night sky.

Wednesday November 25, 2020: Moon near Mars

An 83% waxing Gibbous Moon will be in conjunction with Mars today. The two will only be within 5º of each other just after sunset in Europe and during the day in North America, although they remain close after dark. Look southeast as soon as it gets dark and you should see them glowing together.

Thursday November 26, 2020: “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 across the sky — just looking south just 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 (south-east) you will see a Moon and Mars at 90%, and on your right (southwest) you will see bright Jupiter and, very slightly higher in the sky, weaker Saturn. The Moon orbits the Earth along a path tilted 5º from the ecliptic, so it frequently appears near planets in our night sky.

Friday November 27, 2020: Moon at apogee

As the Moon orbits the Earth in a slight ellipse, there are two points each month where it is closest to Earth (perigee) and the farthest (apogee). The latter occurs today with our satellite illuminated at 94% at 405,891 km from Earth. This makes the full upcoming “Beaver Moon” the opposite of a “super moon” – a “micro moon”.

Sunday November 29, 2020: a complete ‘Beaver Micro Moon’ separates two star clusters

The two most famous open clusters in the night sky – the neighboring Pleiades and the Hyades in the constellation Taurus – are today separated by the full “Beaver Micro Moon”.

Although the full moon peaks at 100% illumination at 9:30 am UTC on Monday, November 30, it does not matter to the observer. The time to look at any full moon is at moonrise or moonset where you are at dusk or the nearest dawn. So set up on Sunday with a good view of the eastern horizon to see the “Beaver Moon” rise. Then wait until it is dark to see the Pleiades and the Taurus nearby, which you will more easily see with binoculars.

In the early hours of Monday, November 30, there is a second quite special second time to see the full moon as a rare “beaver moon eclipse” occurs.

Monday, November 30, 2020: penumbral lunar eclipse “Beaver Moon Eclipse”

Visible from the Americas, Australia and Asia, the “Beaver Moon” will cross the outer shadow of the Earth (twilight) at 7:32 am Universal Time, causing a slight penumbral lunar eclipse that will see 83% of the Moon visibly darken at 9:42 am Universal Time, only 12 minutes after being 100% full. It’s 04:42 EDT and 01:42 PDT, so an early departure will be required in North America. If you get up so early, be sure to watch the moon setting to the west, which will undoubtedly be just as beautiful, if not more so.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

Troy M. Hoffman