Happy Thanksgiving and welcome to our annual publication of Welcome the Winter Sky. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the winter holidays. And if you step outside in the evening, you can immediately recognize the beautiful, winter sky. That's why tonight is the perfect night to dust off the telescope or binoculars and head outside to see what the sky has to offer.
Happy Thanksgiving! If the weather permits, do step outside to check out the winter sky.
Welcome the Winter Sky--2015
The waning gibbous Moon will be with us all night. Even a couple hours after sunrise, the Moon will still be visible in the sky. So if you're really into the Moon, Thankgiving night will be your night!
Although Mercury has recently transitioned to an evening sky object, any viewing will continue to be drowned by the sunlight. The planet will set below the western horizon around 4:30 in the afternoon. So I guess that means good luck with trying to see Mercury on Thanksgiving night! You might want to wait a few weeks when Mercury will be in an optimal viewing position throughout the Month of December.
You can't go wrong with the king... the king of the planets that is! Jupiter never disappoints those who view it. Even in a pair of modest binoculars, one can see the bright colors and four of its orbiting moons. If you stay up late on Thanksgiving night, you'll be happy to know that Jupiter rises around 12:30 AM. Just look for the brightest star in the eastern sky. That should be Jupiter.
By predawn, Venus and Mars should be fairly high in the eastern horizon. Both planets are absolutely beautiful with the naked eye. They look even better through a telescope. Mars comes up at 2:00 AM; Venus comes up at 3:00 AM.
In the east, the first thing you will probably notice are 3 bright stars with a patch of light underneath them.
As most people are aware, these belong to the constellation Orion as the belt. Take a look through your binoculars at this patch and you will be amazed. This is the Orion nebula, or what some people call it: the stellar nursery. At this moment millions of stars are being created and migrating their way out of this nursery. Our sun came from the Orion nebula.
Unfortunately you will not be able to see the intense red color as seen in the photograph. You will see however a hazy cloud surrounded by stars.
Now scan around the Orion belt. Above the belt and slightly to the left is the star Betelgeuse. You can recognize this as the star that glows with a dull red. In the opposite corner of the constellation, to the southwest is the star called Rigel. This is the brightest star in the constellation and has a mass estimated to equal 250 of our suns. The most recognizable feature of Orion is, of course, the three stars ( Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak) which form the belt.
The famous Horsehead Nebula is immediately recognized by the striking resemblance of a horse's head as formed by a dark shadow. Not much further south of Orion is this famous nebula that might be a challenge to see in a telescope or binoculars Of course the red color isn't seen from Earth. Long-exposure photography must absorb this light to reveal it--so beautiful.
Looking above the eastern horizon is an unusual looking star that catches the attention of many people later in the evening. It appears to have a fluorescent glow when rising and is very bright. This is the star named Sirius and is the main star in the constellation Canis Major. Actually there is nothing out of the ordinary about Sirius. The only reason why it is so bright is because it is closer to us than many other stars. It is so bright, that star maps use it as a reference to compare large objects to. There is something interesting about Sirius. It has a small companion (invisible to Earth) that orbits with it. This star is called Sirius B and it plays a gravitational dance with the larger.
There are so many objects to entertain us in the winter sky and we could never get to them all in one edit. If you do not go out on Thanksgiving night and look at all of this, at least venture out some time this winter and see what I am talking about.