Jupiter, Saturn and the Full Frost Moon
Jupiter and Saturn will both hang out with a nearly full moon the first week of December. Jupiter will make its appearance in both early morning and late evening hours while the ringed planet Saturn will greet the moon in the early evening sky.
Jupiter is an impressive and elegant sight this month as the king of planets rises just below the moon on December 2 about three hours after sunset (around 8:15 p.m.). Then on Monday, December 3rd, about one hour before sunrise (about 7:00 a.m.), Jupiter will sit less than 2 degrees away from the nearly full moon. By Monday evening Jupiter will have already moved 10 degrees away from the moon. Look in the western sky at about 8:15 p.m.
Jupiter is often called the King of Planets because it is the largest planet in our solar system. During the month of December Jupiter will also be the brightest object in the night sky shining from a distance of over 400 million miles from earth.
Jupiter is composed of mostly gases and has such an enormous gravitational pull that asteroids and meteoroids that come near it are sucked into its atmosphere. One might compare Jupiter with a giant vacuum cleaner in space, sucking up pieces of space debris. Jupiter has 16 moons with Ganymede as the largest of these. Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system and is even bigger than the planet Mercury!
The planet Saturn will also be gracing the moon in the early morning of December 1st about an hour before sunrise (about 7:00 a.m.). Look in the WNW sky to locate Saturn just below the moon. On December 3rd Saturn will be in opposition which means that it is directly opposite the sun as seen from earth. As a result, stargazers in Waynedale will be able to see Saturn in the sky all the hours that the sun is not. In other words, Saturn will be visible from sunset to sunrise. Since Saturn is at opposition it will also be the closest and brightest for the entire year.
Saturn is also positioned in such a way that its rings are more open than usual so they will reflect more sunlight than normal. This will make Saturn appear extremely bright and beautiful especially through a small telescope. If you are getting a telescope for a Christmas present, you'll be happy to know that both Jupiter and Saturn will be at their best for viewing throughout all of December, January and even February. What a great time to discover the planets.
Seek out the Full Frost Moon on Friday, November 30. Then on Saturday, December 1, look for Saturn with its bright, brilliant rings shining just below the moon. To top it all off, tract the king of planets, Jupiter, as it travels around the moon's neighborhood on December 2nd and 3rd.
Happy Stargazing Waynedale