Pay attention to the skies from day to day, night to night, and you will notice all kinds of patterns. Our Ancestors didn’t have an iWatch or an app or a wall-mounted calendar to tell the time, their position on the surface of the planet, or the seasons. They could tell all that by reading the sky like a book! So, let’s see what we can see in our eastern Kentucky skies for the week beginning November 25!
The ancient Greeks coined the word “planet” to mean “wandering stars”. They noticed that while stars stayed fixed relative to the other stars, there were other points of light that would wander from night to night. These of course are the planets in our solar system that can be seen without a telescope: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. In fact, the word “planet” means “wandering star”.
If you look southwest after sunset on November 27, you will see a thin crescent Moon. Just slightly up and to the left of the crescent Moon, you will see brilliant Jupiter and Venus! Jupiter is the largest planet in our Solar System, roughly 1000 times bigger than our home – planet Earth. Venus is the 2nd planet out from the Sun and is often called Earth’s twin because it is similar in size and mass. But you would never want to live there! The planet has a runaway greenhouse effect that makes the average temperature on Venus about 900-degrees Fahrenheit! Hot enough to melt lead!
Continuing upwards on that diagonal line connecting the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus, you will also notice Saturn. Saturn is the 6th planet out from the Sun and is known for its beautiful rings! If you have a small telescope, take it out and point it at Saturn to see them! If you point it at Jupiter, you will see 4 Galilean moons!
The following night, November 28, the Moon will have moved more towards the West so that Venus and Jupiter will now be down and to the right. The following night, November 29, the Moon will be near Saturn! If you keep doing this experiment over several nights, you will be doing exactly what our ancestors did and proving to yourself that while the stars stay fixed, these other “wandering stars” are not! If you are worried that you can’t tell the difference between the planets and maybe a nearby star, remember what Mom told you during your first science lesson: “twinkle, twinkle, little STAR”. Not “twinkle, twinkle, little planet”! Stars twinkle but planets don’t!
While the ice giants Uranus, Neptune, and the Kuiper Belt object Pluto, will also be in our night skies, you will not see them without a telescope. They are just too far away from us to be seen without one which is why it was until 1781, 1846, and 1930, respectively, that these 3 objects were discovered. The last 2 planets, Mars and Mercury, rise just before the Sun. So, if you wanted to complete your tour of the Solar System, look towards the East about an hour before sunrise to spot them!
Begin your journey exploring our Kentucky skies by joining us at Morehead’s Star Theater every Saturday for our public shows at 11am and 1pm. We offer a laser show at 4pm. You can find details on our website: https://www.moreheadstate.edu/startheater