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Starts With A Bang

Spectacular Planetary And Lunar Alignment To Grace The Post-Sunset Thanksgiving Skies

The Moon, Venus, and Jupiter are the brightest night sky objects. On Thursday evening, November 28, they’ll all align, plus Saturn, too.

As the planets orbit the Sun throughout the year, their positions continuously migrate.

An accurate model of how the planets orbit the Sun, which then moves through the galaxy in a different direction-of-motion. Note that the planets are all in the same plane, and are not dragging behind the Sun or forming a wake of any type. The planets change position relative to one another, making them change their apparent positions and brightnesses in the sky as seen from Earth. (RHYS TAYLOR)

As seen from Earth, Venus is the brightest one, followed by Jupiter, Mars, Mercury and Saturn.

It only happens once every 11 years, but occasionally, all five naked-eye planets are visible at once. Mercury is always the toughest to spot due to its proximity to the Sun, but sometimes Mars appears even smaller in angular diameter than Mercury. Venus is always the brightest planet, followed by Jupiter, and then usually followed by Mars and then either Mercury or Saturn. (MARTIN DOLAN)

As 2019 has progressed, Saturn has followed Jupiter in its sky-crossing migration from east to west.

This past summer, views of the Milky Way were spectacular all over the world. Joining the Milky Way in the mid-year night sky were Jupiter, the bright dot at the center, and Saturn, shown slightly below and significantly to the left of Jupiter in this image. Over the course of the year, Jupiter and Saturn have migrated from east to west, and Jupiter only now barely graces the post-sunset skies. (Pratham Gokhale/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, for about the past month, Venus has emerged as an evening star after sunset, drifting from west to east.

In 2018, Venus put on a spectacular show in the post-sunset skies for stargazers across the globe. As photographed here on April 27, 2018 from Canada, it shines brightly between the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters. Venus is the bright object seen with diffraction spikes, and has emerged over about the last month in the post-sunset skies once again (VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

On Sunday, November 24, Venus and Jupiter nearly met — achieving a conjunction — coming within 1.4° of each other.

January of 2019 marked the last conjuction of Venus and Jupiter, where they were also joined by the Moon. This trio of bright lights was visible in the pre-dawn skies throughout the world, but the current show is occurring in the post-sunset skies, making it a much easier target for even casual skywatchers. (Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

Visible in the post-sunset skies, a faint Saturn can be seen trailing about 15° behind the pair.

On the evening November 24, Venus and Jupiter will pass within less than 2 degrees of one another for almost all skywatchers across the globe. Saturn is fainter but nearby, visible as the sky continues to darken after sunset, during the onset of astronomical twilight. (E. SIEGEL / STELLARIUM)

As the coming days pass by, Venus continues its eastward journey, moving away from Jupiter and closer towards Saturn.

The phases of Venus, as viewed from Earth, can enable us to understand how Venus appears to move east-to-west from the perspective of Earth. As Earth and Venus both orbit the Sun, Venus does so at a faster pace, which means that as it emerges (in a counterclockwise orbit) from behind the Sun, it will appear to move away from the Sun and higher in the post-sunset skies. If you were to view Venus through a telescope in late November 2019, you’d watch its phase display a continually waning gibbous. (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS USERS NICHALP AND SAGREDO)

On November 26, the Moon reaches its new phase, with Venus still close by Jupiter.

Immediately following the new Moon, a very thin crescent is always visible a day or two afterwards in the post-sunset skies. When planets, such as 2014’s Mercury (photographed here at the top left) are also visible in the post-sunset skies, it can make for a delightful sight. (STEPHEN RAHN / FLICKR / PUBLIC DOMAIN)

On November 28, the emerging crescent Moon joins them both, creating a spectacular celestial alignment.

From the Americas, such as this simulated view of the southwestern skies after sunset in New York, Jupiter, Venus, and the thin crescent Moon all align for your viewing pleasure. From the Americas, this will be the visible configuration; from the far east, like Australia, Japan, China, or eastern Russia, the Moon will be visible on the opposite side of Jupiter. (E. SIEGEL / STELLARIUM)

From the Americas, these objects will make a line: Jupiter closest to the horizon, followed by Venus and the Moon, and trailed by more-distant Saturn.

In this simulated view of the post-sunset skies from London, England, the Moon will appear right between Venus and Jupiter, a sight visible from all of Europe and Africa, and even parts of western Asia as well. (E. SIEGEL / STELLARIUM)

But from Europe and Africa, the Moon will appear right between our two brightest planets, creating a spectacular visual trio.

From the northern hemisphere where this alignment is visible, the Moon will appear in a thin crescent phase, with the dark disk illuminated by Earthshine. Venus and Jupiter will be visible even from latitudes exceeding 50 degrees N, while the equatorial and southern latitudes will get the darkest skies and the best views of all. (E. SIEGEL / STELLARIUM)

Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.

Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.


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