Welcome to fall and the beautiful crisp clear nights it brings. If you are wondering about that bright red object in the east just after it gets dark, that is Mars. We are extra-close to it now so it appears quite luminous. Over the next month, it will dim as we pull away from the red planet in our orbit around the sun. We will still see it this winter, but not as bright as it is now. It will be another two years and 50 days before we cross paths again.
Over in the southwest, Jupiter and Saturn are still shining right next to one another. Jupiter is the brighter one on the right. Watch the two largest planets in our solar system get closer together this fall. Jupiter is the one doing most of the moving. Saturn is so far out there that it just creeps along across the background of stars. They are headed for a conjunction in December, which is when two objects appear right next to one another in the sky. Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer than they have in the last 397 years, but more on that later.
Venus is still the brightest object in the morning sky just before dawn in the east. In early winter it will drop into the sun’s glare and reappear in the evening sky next year.
About mid-November this year, look for the elusive and seldom seen planet Mercury low in the east just as it is getting light in the morning. It will appear to be a fairly bright star shining in the twilight glow just above where the sun will rise. You will need a low view into the east to spot the tiny innermost planet.
Just after it gets dark the Summer Triangle, a large grouping of three bright stars, can be spotted in the west. The star Deneb is at the top, Vega on the bottom right and Altair on the bottom left.
Watch while you can
See that faint glowing band arcing across the sky from the north to the southwest? That is the Milky Way, our home in the vast universe. It has been on display all summer, but now with the extra clear skies of autumn, it is a great time to ponder its immensity.
Catch it while you can, the Milky Way will not be around much longer this fall.
To the east, the little star cluster called the Pleiades is one of my favorite inhabitants of the night sky. How many stars can you see in the grouping? If you can spot six individual stars, you have great eyesight and probably do not need to get your eyeglass prescription changed. Seven or more stars means you have exceptional vision that very few humans possess. What else can you see up there?
You do not have to stay up very late to get a glimpse of Orion, the Hunter, poking up above the horizon in the southeast. With all his bright stars, the sight of him is a grand preview of the brilliant celestial lights that will dazzle us later this winter.