What's in the night sky of the week of 28 November to 4 December 2022 in our weekly stargazing guide.

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Chris Bramley Hello and welcome to Star Diary, the podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. You can subscribe to the print edition of the magazine by visiting skyatnightmagazine.com Or the digital edition by visiting on iTunes or Google Play.

Ezzy Pearson Greetings listeners and welcome to Star Diary, a weekly guide to the best things to see in the Northern Hemisphere's night sky. As we're based here in the UK, all times are in GMT. In this episode we'll be covering the coming week from 28 November to 4 December. I'm Ezzy Pearson, the magazine's features editor, and I'm joined on the podcast today by reviews editor Paul Money. Hello, Paul.

Paul Money Hello there Ezzy, another week again?

Ezzy Absolutely. So what are your recommendations for this week's stargazing?

Paul Well, you'll be really pleased. For the first week, we're in the evening sky. No, no, silly early mornings for us at the moment, so. Nice and convenient, isn't it?

Ezzy Always good to have an evening sky

Paul Exactly. And that's pretty much all week with our events. So, you know, we've got a nice evening... it's because of the Moon, as always. It's the Moon. It's in the evening sky at the moment. We start off with November 28 and 29. And what you want to be doing is looking towards the south at around about five in the evening sort of thing, so 5 p.m. and a thick crescent Moon and on the 28th it'll actually be the lower right of Saturn. So it's a good guide to Saturn. Saturn's in Capricornus at the moment, and then the next evening it'll be to the lower left of the ringed planet. So, you know, it's a good guide to Saturn. It's interesting also to watch Saturn over the coming weeks because it will be drifting back towards what you might say, the left, sort of thing for common terms when you look at the sky, because when it moves to the right it's in retrograde motion, when it moves to the left, it's actually a normal prograde motion. So keep an eye on Saturn as well, because it will be moving past two stars as we get towards the end of the month. So that's something to look forward to. But at the moment this week, as I say, we've got the crescent moon moving up through Capricornus. I'll say to the right of Saturn on 28 and to the left of Saturn on 29. Okay. So after that, then the next evening, we're actually at the first quarter Moon on 30th and it'll lie quite close to Tau Aquarii. I always like it when the Moon is next to a bright star because you know, you probably don't notice some of these stars until something draws your attention to it. So the first quarter Moon will lie next to Tau Tauri on the evening whilst nearby. We also still have minor planet Vesta and it's magnitude +7.5. So it does require binoculars, but what you'll find is gradually it's getting in lower and lower down towards the sort of southwestern horizon. We will lose it by the end of the month, but we've also got the Moon. So of course with first quarter, Moon it's quite bright. So there will be a fair amount of light, but you know, magnitude 7.5 is not too bad at all. So you should better pick up Vesta still with a pair of binoculars. Now the next day, then December 1. Yeah. Oh. We're nearly heading towards Christmas. Oh, my God. You know, nice dark night sort of thing. Christmas. I think my worry about when we get to Christmas, I know we're getting close to the winter solstice and then the lights. The nights will start moving out. So we'll get lighter nights. Oh, no. Oh, we don't have to worry about that yet. Do I?

Ezzy I think you're getting ahead of yourself a bit there Paul.

Paul We don't have to worry about that. So we got nice dark nights at the moment and hopefully that'll be crystal clear as well. So the next evening December 1, the Moon lies below Neptune. Well, the thing about Neptune, of course, is you actually do need binoculars or a small telescope for this because it's around about magnitude +7.8. So not too fainter than Vesta, but the Moon will drown it out a little bit. So you use the Moon, it'll be directly below Neptune in actual fact that evening. But the thing most people will actually notice is that bright planet to the upper left of the Moon, it's also to the left of Neptune. And this is Jupiter. Now it has dominated the sky for the last few months. It has got a rival and we'll come to that very shortly. But with the naked eye, it looked like there's a bright star to the upper left of the Moon, and that in actuality is Jupiter. So check out Neptune first. Don't don't you know, poor, poor Neptune. So just because you've got a bright, naked eye planet in the bright naked eye Moon, don't ignore Neptune. Go and have a look at Neptune. And of course, if you use a telescope, you can try looking for Triton, the largest moon in Neptune as well, and say the moonlight might cause a problem. And then on December the second, the moon itself will lie to the left of Jupiter as well. So you get two nights where the Moon moves either side of the giant planet. However, 1 December is very special because Mars, that's the second... It is actually pretty bright in the sky. His brightest near enough. And so Mars is at its closest to the Earth on 1 December. Now there's no law to say it has to be actually when it's at its brightest, because that a short while later on when it's not opposition, but this is when it's at its closest on 1 December, when it's actually at opposition. That will be next week and we'll cover that next week. But they don't have to coincide. There's no reason for them to coincide. So it just happens to be December 1 Mars that is closest to the Earth and it lies amongst the horns of the bull Taurus. So he's in a quite prominent constellation as well. Now it's size in a telescope. I mean, where's the. Oh, yes, it's it's really good. So we're looking at telescopes. 17.2 arcseconds. Hang on, did I say Arcseconds? Yes. Arcseconds So it is still fairly small, but that's still pretty good going for Mars because it can be pretty small in a telescope when it's at its furthest point. So, you know, this is a good time to get Mars and see any sort of subtle details. On the surface, you do need to crank the magnification up. And bear in mind, because I hear this a lot from people, "I looked at Mars, my telescope put the magnification up and it was just a blurry red blob." The problem we've got is the atmosphere. Now, you and me, Ezzy we need it, so do our listeners. Yeah. Otherwise we will not live for long.

Ezzy But if you don't have any atmosphere, you're not going to do much observing of anything at all. I know people like to complain about it getting in the way and messing about with you're seeing, but you do need it to live.

Paul Exactly. And not only that sort of thing, you know, I mean, basically if you had no atmosphere, it would be really crystal black sky. But you'd be dead? So that wouldn't be much use at all. So the thing is, we have to contend with the atmosphere and if the jet stream drifts over as well, that wrecks the view. So it's not necessarily your telescope. You've got to bear that in mind. It could simply be the atmospheric conditions at the time. It's also down to make sure you let Mars get high enough in the sky to get away from all the haze down towards the horizon, because that's the important bit. You know, if you start looking when it first rises, you're looking through a thicker part of the atmosphere. So the key is to let it get higher in the sky, 7:00 onwards sort of thing from 1 December, we're getting quite high. Well worth having to look and see if you can see any subtle features on the surface itself. You will see the polar caps. So that's interesting. And the orientation of Mars this time is it's almost... vertical to us looking straight at it. So we're looking at the equatorial plane and we can see both poles. So have a look at the poles themselves. They should be quite prominent and then look for the albedo features on Mars as well, so that Mars will be the bright reddish star very easily spotted with the naked eye over in the east at about 7 p.m. and that will be when it's at its closest on 1 December. I say not to coincide with the opposition. That's a slightly different thing, which we'll be covering next week. But this is Mars season. We always like to think so. This is Mars. And the problem, of course Mars in its orbit over the coming few years will actually what even though it reaches closest roughly just under two years , but it's getting further away at its closest point. So we'll see the disc shrinking. So this is the key to get it now.

Ezzy And you did mention earlier there that Mars has something called albedo features, which are I believe that the sort of dark patches that you see across the Martian surface. Is that correct?

Paul That's right. And they they do associate with some physical features on Mars, but not all. But the lighter features are quite interesting because they usually hazes in the atmosphere and you can use various filters to bring out the features as well. So, you know, if you've got a fairly typical filter set with a range of colours in, then then have a go and just, just compare the view, see what you see. Because blue filters tend to show the atmospheric hazes better, whereas the red filter brings out the dark albedo features in the surface of Mars better. So it's worth thinking about that if you got a basic filter set to have a look at Mars. So the albedo features are the prominent ones. One of the most prominent is Syrtis Major. I always think it looks like Africa upside down sticking up, and if you see a sort of like a lighter patch underneath it, that's usually the Hellas impact basin. So I think that's amazing that we can actually see a huge impact basin visually. And of course people like Damian Page and Pete Lawrence and Christopher Go, etc. and they've actually image craters. I mean, it's amazing. Craters. On Mars.

Ezzy You can see quite a lot of details on Mars even through a back garden telescope, which I always think is particularly amazing. And if you want to find out more about how to get the most out of Mars when it's at its close to its approach, be sure to pick up the December issue of BBC Sky Night Magazine because we have a feature in that telling you how to go about doing that.

Paul And that's it for this week then as we end on a high with Mars. But it gets even more exciting next week. So we have to tune in then, won't we?

Ezzy Yeah, absolutely. Just teasing. They're a little bit ahead of next week. And if you do want to make sure that you get next week's episode, please do subscribe to the Star Diary podcast. But to summarise what we've got this week, it does definitely look like it's a great week if you want to do some planetary observing. We've got Saturn near the crescent Moon on 28 and 29 November, it'll be going either side. And then on the 1st of December, we've actually got a trio of planets that'll be making their way across the sky. We've got Neptune and bright Jupiter close to the Moon, and Mars will be making its closest approach. That's on the 1 December. So thank you very much for telling us all about that today Paul.

Paul It's a pleasure.

Ezzy If you want to find out even more spectacular sites that will be gracing the night sky throughout the month, be sure to pick up a copy of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Well, we have a 16 page pull out Sky Guide with a full overview of everything worth looking out for. Whether you like to look at the moon, the planets, or the deep sky, whether you use binoculars, telescopes or neither. Our sky guide has got you covered with the detailed star charts to help you track your way across the night sky from all of us here at BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Goodbye.

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Chris Bramley Thank you for listening to this episode of the Star Diary podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. For more of our podcasts, visit our website at www.skyatnightmagazine.com or head to ACast, iTunes or Spotify.

Authors

Elizabeth Pearson
Ezzy PearsonScience journalist

Ezzy Pearson is the Features Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.