On the night of November 26, the moon shines in front of the constellation Aries the Ram. But the glare of the almost-full waxing gibbous moon will make the mighty Ram look sheepish in the moon-drenched sky. Meanwhile, that brilliant point of light to the east of the moon tonight is the giant planet Jupiter. Look here for more about the moon and Jupiter. Plus, have you seen the planets before dawn? Saturn and Venus appear(ed) closest together in the east before dawn on the morning of November 26. Mercury is now creeping out of the dawn, and Mercury will join the planets in the predawn sky next week.
As you can probably tell, this is an awesome time to view the planets. What with Jupiter nearly at its best (Earth will pass between Jupiter and the sun next week), and three planets coming together in the eastern, predawn sky … who could ask for more?
But there’s always more. The moon will undergo a subtle kind of eclipse tomorrow night (the night of November 27-28, 2012). As seen from in North America, this subtle penumbral eclipse of the moon comes before sunrise November 28. In the world’s Eastern Hemisphere – Europe, Africa, Asia, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand – the penumbral lunar eclipse will take place after sunset November 28. The moon will turn full on November 28, of course. You need a full moon to have a lunar eclipse.
This November 2012 full moon, by the way, will be the smallest and most distant full moon of the year. Seven full moons ago – on May 6, 2012 – it was the closest and largest full moon of 2012. Some people called it a supermoon. The November 2012 full moon will reside about 50,000 kilometers (30,000 miles) farther away than the May 2012 full moon.
But remember Aries, too. In another week or so, the moon will drop out of the evening sky, giving you the chance to see the Ram in all its glory. According to the lore of the heavens, this supernatural Ram could speak and reason. You’ll find the Ram on the chart at the top of this post, and on the chart below. The tiny, but significant Ram constellation is small, but it’s really pretty easy to find on a dark, moonless night, because two of its stars (Hamal and Sheratan) are of medium-brightness and are close together. You might need binoculars to see these stars in the moon’s glare tonight. By the way, the star Sheratan – the middle of the three stars in Aries – marked the location of the vernal equinox about 2,000 years ago.
Try finding Aries in relationship to a more famous star pattern, the tiny dipper-shaped cluster Pleiades. As always, a moon-free night and a dark sky will enhance the view.
Bottom line: On the night of November 26, 2012 the bright light to the east of the moon is Jupiter. Saturn and Venus are closest together in the east before dawn on the morning of November 26. Mercury is now creeping out of the dawn. There will be a subtle kind of lunar eclipse – called a penumbral lunar eclipse – on the night of November 27-28, 2012.
Sky chart of the constellation Aries