WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Sights abound in the Thanksgiving night sky

Posted November 27, 2013

The Orion Nebula is colorful in this HST image, but not enough light reaches the color receptors in our eyes here on Earth (NASA, STSci, ESA).

Once you’ve had your fill of parades, turkey, and football, bundle up the family for some sky watching. Clouds that have dominated our weather this week will move out, leaving clear skies behind for Thanksgiving Day.

Venus will shine brightly in the southwest about an hour after sunset and provide a convenient guidepost for a rare treat. While many have seen the International Space Station pass over, have you seen The Hubble Space Telescope (HST)?

HST can also be seen without a telescope but is much smaller and dimmer as a result. HST's orbit also never brings it any farther north than central Florida, which means it never rises very high into the North Carolina skies. Thursday, HST will rise shortly before 6:13pm in the southwest. Two minutes later, look directly below Venus about the width of three fingers held at arms length for a moving dot. HST will continue moving right to left before disappearing five minutes later into Earth’s shadow.

Jupiter will rise about 8 p.m. and will be bright and easy to spot in the eastern sky. If you have small telescope or good pair of binoculars, look for Jupiter’s prominent moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Io will pass in front of Jupiter, casting a shadow on the cloud tops at rise time. Europa will hide behind massive Jupiter at 10:45pm and emerge three hours later. For a quick reference on which of those dots is which moon, the twitter account @JupiterMoonPos displays them in ASCII art.

Orion the Hunter, my favorite constellation, will be visible in eastern sky all night, rising around 8 p.m. Find the three stars in Orion’s belt – Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka – and look to the right for a fuzzy patch of light, the Orion nebula. This diffuse nebula is so bright that it’s visible with the naked eye even in the suburbs. It is made up of gas and dust that may give birth to a new star millions of years from now.

While you wait for the turkey to come out of the oven, join other comet ISON fans for a NASA Google+ Hangout 1-3:30 p.m. on Thursday. Scientists will share live views of ISON from multiple NASA spacecraft as it slingshots around the sun. Recent observations led scientists to give the comet no more than a 40 percent chance of survival, but the chance to watch a comet break up excites them nearly as much as seeing it survive and live up to the burden of its “comet of the century” title.

Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.


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  • Tony Rice Nov 28, 2013

    Watching the images come in from SOHO and SDO spacecraft now. Not looking good for our icy comet friend.

  • SomewhereLeftOfRTP Nov 28, 2013

    Thanks, WRAL, for not only posting but FEATURING this story!

    It looks like Comet ISON is not going to survive its approach to the Sun, which is a shame, but all the other things mentioned here will still be visible. The HST just looks like a bright, moving star, but it's impressive when you know what you're seeing. Bundle up, go outside, and take a look!

  • BruiserB Nov 28, 2013

    Sounds better than football to me