Cosmic triple play: the moon, Jupiter, and Uranus tonight

December 12, 2010

The not-quite first quarter moon will zip past Jupiter and Uranus tonight (that is, Monday night, Dec. 13). Here’s the view in Stellarium at about 6:00 PM, Pacific time, looking high in the south:

The moon and Jupiter are the easiest naked-eye objects in the skies right now. Grab some binoculars–any binoculars–to see moon craters, the moons of Jupiter, and Uranus, which will appear as a bright star just above and left of Jupiter (or north and east, if you prefer). It’s not the only reasonably bright ‘star’ in the field, so here’s a more printer-friendly map to take along:

Note the nearby stars K and 9 Piscium (so named because they are in the constellation Pisces, the fish). They make a visual double but not a gravitational one, which means that they are accidentally aligned as seen from Earth. K is brighter mostly because it is closer, only 162 light years away compared to 9’s 400-plus.

All of those are easy binocular targets. In a small telescope, the view only gets better: hundreds or thousands of craters and other lunar features are visible, as well as cloud belts on Jupiter, and Uranus may show up as a small blue-green disc instead of a mere point if you crank the magnification.

But it will be worth taking a moment to see even if all you observe with are a couple of Mark 1 eyeballs. Go have fun!

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