Moon makes way for giants

Although Saturn is much dimmer than Jupiter, it will be easy to pick out as a bright yellow...
Although Saturn is much dimmer than Jupiter, it will be easy to pick out as a bright yellow object. Photo: Getty Images
This week, if the sky is clear, I’d like to invite you to wrap up warm and head out to take a look at the Eastern sky after 10pm, writes Ian Griffin.

Ian Griffin. Photo: Otago Museum
Ian Griffin. Photo: Otago Museum
Because the moon reached last quarter yesterday, the early part of the night is lovely and dark, which makes it ideal for stargazing.

Best of all, Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in our solar system are starting to rise early enough that they put on a good show before it is too late in the evening.

If you have an unobstructed view of the eastern horizon, the first thing you will see is the planet Jupiter. The largest planet in the solar system is by far the brightest object in this part of the sky, shining with a lovely yellow-white colour.

At 10pm the planet will be just seven degrees above the horizon, which means it is still quite low. If you look through binoculars you should easily be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. They looking like bright stars beside the planet.

If the sky is clear tonight and you have a telescope, you should be able to see Jupiter’s great red spot cross the middle of the disc of the planet at 11.45pm. The red spot is a giant storm that has been raging in Jupiter’s atmosphere for several centuries.

Jupiter is in the constellation Aquarius, the water bearer. To be honest, there aren’t many bright stars in this region of the sky, so once you have had your fill of Jovian goodness, there’s another planet to find.

Look up and to the right of Jupiter. You won’t miss Saturn, the second brightest ‘‘star’’ in this part of the sky.

Although Saturn is much dimmer than Jupiter, it will be easy to pick out as a bright yellow object. The ringed planet is in the triangular constellation of Capricornus, the sea-goat.

Saturn is my favourite planet. Even small telescopes show its incredible ring system, which I would argue is one of the most beautiful sights in the heavens.

 

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