Thanksgiving is usually considered a time for household and pals to get collectively — however after the feast has been consumed, what’s subsequent on the agenda?
A time to mirror on one’s many blessings? Certainly.
A visible feast of soccer loved from an overstuffed recliner, lengthy after the turkey and all its trimmings have been savored and devoured? Perhaps.
But if the large gathering is at your property this yr, here’s a idea that is a bit exterior the field: Why not get away your telescope and deal with your family members to an eyeful of celestial sights within the night sky? Have a star get together, and introduce your company to the night time sky. The method definitely could make this yr’s Thanksgiving stand out, in addition to present some nice enjoyable.
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A planetary triple play
About 45 minutes after sundown, step exterior in the course of the chilly November nightfall and look towards the south-southwest a part of the sky. There you will discover three brilliant planets stretched out in a line.
Going from decrease left to higher proper, you may discover dazzling Venus, adopted by a a lot dimmer Saturn and eventually sensible Jupiter. From Venus to Jupiter, your complete line will stretch for 37 levels. Your clenched fist held out at arm’s size measures roughly 10 levels, so, once we converse of 37 levels, we imply concerning the equal of roughly three and a half “fists.”
From Venus to Saturn will measure 20 levels — “two fists” — whereas from Saturn to Jupiter will measure 17 levels, a bit nearer collectively.
Venus is, by far, the brightest object in our Thanksgiving night sky. Blazing at magnitude -4.6, it outshines its nearest competitor, Jupiter, by greater than 8 instances and Saturn by 132-fold. Venus is so extremely brilliant as a result of the clouds that perpetually cover its floor are so extremely reflective; the planet can be a lot nearer to Earth than both Jupiter and Saturn. Finally, Venus is almost seven instances nearer to the sun than Jupiter and virtually 14 instances nearer to the sun than Saturn, so it receives far more daylight to mirror.
Using a telescope, you may discover Venus resembling a large crescent, 32% illuminated. Look fast, as a result of after 6:45 p.m. native time, Venus might be a lot too low to the south-southwest horizon to supply a secure picture; it is going to set shortly thereafter.
But simply because Saturn shouldn’t be as brilliant as Venus doesn’t suggest the ringed magnificence is faint. In truth, among the many 21 brightest stars within the sky, Saturn at present can be tied with equally hued Altair for twelfth place.
And any telescope magnifying at the least 30-power will present Saturn’s well-known ring system.
Perhaps a number of of your vacation company traveled a protracted distance to get to your own home. Tell them that proper now, that dot of sunshine that we see as Saturn is 958.2 million miles (1.54 billion kilometers) from Earth. And in the event that they traveled at 65 mph (105 km/h), it will take them about 614,000 days — or about 1,680 years — to get there!
Suddenly, that tiring journey to get to your own home in vacation visitors would not appear all that lengthy.
Saturn will stay seen till about 8:45 p.m. native time, then get too low and eventually set.
Finally, there’s Jupiter, which by means of a telescope reveals a full disk barely bigger in obvious dimension in comparison with Venus. All 4 of the well-known Galilean satellites might be readily seen, even in steadily-held binoculars. Three might be aligned on one aspect of the enormous planet: Farthest from Jupiter might be Callisto, then comes Ganymede, whereas Io might be closest to Jupiter. Meanwhile, sitting all by itself on the opposite aspect of Jupiter might be Europa.
Jupiter will stay in view till round 10 p.m. native time.
The International Space Station
The largest human-made object at present orbiting Earth might be making night passes over the northern contiguous United States on Thanksgiving. The International Space Station (ISS) seems as a really brilliant, non-twinkling “star” with a yellow-white tint that strikes steadily throughout the sky. Depending on its actual observe, it might be seen for a couple of minutes or extra.
Two web sites can inform you precisely the place to search for the ISS on Thanksgiving night: NASA’s Spot the Station or Heavens Above. There are at present seven individuals on board the ISS: six males and one lady; two are Russian cosmonauts and one is a German astronaut for the European Space Agency, whereas the others are American astronauts.
Unfortunately, when you stay south of 35° north latitude (round Tennessee’s border with Alabama and Mississippi), you seemingly won’t be able to identify the ISS; the station will both be too low to see or making a move when the native skies are too brilliant to see it.
Final views, then a sleep
You can end your tour of the sky by stating among the landmarks of late autumn: the Great Square of Pegasus virtually overhead; the “M” of Cassiopeia excessive within the north; and the celebrities of the Big Dipper, also referred to as Ursa Major, the Big Bear simply scraping the northern horizon. This time of yr, bears are hibernating, which is why our celestial bear is so low in our sky.
And that is also the sign to go again inside and, just like the bears, end the day with a post-Thanksgiving nap.
Remember, Thanksgiving is a time to be merry, a time to say thanks — and a time to have some nice enjoyable.
Joe Rao serves as an teacher and visitor lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers’ Almanac and different publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.