Stargazers Rejoice: Leonids Meteor Shower and Seven Planets Visible This Week
There are all kinds of really cool things happening in the nighttime sky this week including a meteor shower and a chance to see seven planets all in the same night.
Let's start with the planets. If you have looked-up over the past several weeks, you have probably seen Jupiter (which is really bright) and Saturn (it's slightly dimmer than Jupiter). Lately, they have been pretty easy to see as all you have to do is look for two bright stars that are almost right next to each other (more on that in a moment).
Mars, which is pretty bright and looks reddish -- because it is, has also been very easy to spot, often in the sky when Jupiter and Saturn are.
These next two planets are going to require a little more work to see -- Neptune and Uranus will also be visible, but since they are so far away you are going to need more than just your eyesight.
Neptune is in the southern sky just after sunset but you'll need a decent pair of binoculars to see it. And if you wish to gaze at Uranus, break-out a telescope and also look south.
Should you find yourself awake near sunrise, Venus and Mercury will be bright enough to see with the naked eye.
That's seven planets in one night (or eight if you look down at earth, but that's like the free spot on a bingo card)!
If you want to do more reading on this and if you are an amateur astronomer and are looking for some specific details, there's lots of great information at skyatnightmagazine.com.
Getting back to Jupiter and Saturn, we mentioned they are rather close to each other in the sky at the moment but remember the date of December 21st. On that night, "the great conjunction" will occur. That's when both planets will appear to be right on top of each other. This only happens about once every 20 years and on this year, space.com says it will be their closest encounter since July 16, 1623. That article at space.com can provide you with all of the exact information that you'll be looking for if you are really into astronomy.
Meanwhile, we're also right in the middle of the Leonids Meteor Shower, which peaked last night. But don't be disappointed -- there are still meteors to be seen over the next couple of nights (and it looks like our weather in South Jersey will cooperate). Check out an interactive map at timeanddate.com and find a really dark spot to catch this celestial show.