The Yukon Night Skies are coming alive with winter constellations like Orion, Taurus, and Gemini.
Using a pair of humble binoculars, star clusters, galaxies, and nebula can all be easily seen. The Yukon Night Skies also holds an easily-seen comet, and several planets.
So what did I see on my last observing session up on Grey Mountain? To start with, the weather was supposed to clear off, and it didn’t. There were holes in the clouds last Saturday so I could sneak a good look through for a few minutes, but not much more.
All the same there were some memorable views, more than worth the effort.
The big surprise of the evening was Jupiter. For openers four individual cloud bands could be seen. Add to that the shadow of one of her moons crossing the surface of the Jovian clouds, makes for a most stunning view. The Great Red Spot could also be seen, and with another small moon half way around the planet the view was one to remember.
So what can we expect to see this November in those fabulous Yukon Night Skies? Below is a list of night sky targets that will keep you fascinated for many nights.
The most brilliant planet, Venus, will soon grace our morning skies. November and December will see Venus rise higher and higher off the horizon, what a wonderful sight to see on the way to work in the morning.
In binoculars Venus looks like a very bright orb. To see more detail requires a three-inch or larger telescope. The most noticeable visible feature is that Venus has phases just like our Moon.
Massive Jupiter is the only planet in the evening sky that can be seen with the unaided eye.
Found high in the southern night sky after nightfall, Jupiter always offers fabulous views. Even binoculars will let you see the four brightest moons orbit this massive giant of a planet. With a telescope the cloud bands and the great red spot can be seen.
Jupiter is so brilliant, that much like Venus, it can be easily mistaken for a jet on final approach.
And, an interesting fact, the International Space Station is now brighter in the night sky than Jupiter.
So how do we tell who is a planet and who is a space station? First of all, Jupiter is much higher in the sky and when the space station passes through our skies it is moving very quickly, only visible for a few minutes at best.
The ringed gas giant Saturn is barely visible just before sunrise and will stay low in the morning sky until the end of the year. Then it will be found in the constellation of Virgo.
The planet Uranus is also now in a great position in the night sky for easy observation.
First locate Jupiter. Then take your binoculars or telescope and scan to the west about one binocular field of view vertically, and you are sure to see this icy outer world.
There is little to see except a beautiful green circle in binoculars, and with a telescope a slightly larger green circle. I have never seen any clouds or other planetary detail when viewing Uranus, but what a gorgeous sight.
Comet Hartley 2, now past its peak brightness in October, is going to be a constant companion in November and December.
To locate Comet Hartley 2, follow the Milky Way to the south in the morning hours, and look for the constellation Orion. Identify the three belt stars and then, moving at the same angle the belt stars are angled, move your binoculars or telescope toward the horizon until you are looking just above the constellation Canis Major.
By slowly scanning around this region of sky you will find what you are looking Comet Hartley 2. This snowball is a beautiful green colour, shaped much like a Q-tip. There is no tail visible to the eye, but the tail is visible in long exposure photography.
Speaking of photography, this comet is perfectly positioned in the night sky for fabulous photographs. And having Orion beside the comet will make for stunning images.
With the comet and Orion so close to the horizon you will not be able to leave the shutter open too long, or your stars will trail.
As for camera settings I am going to the manual position on the camera dial, and set the ISO to 1000 or 1600. Next set the f stop to f2.8, and try a 20 second exposure with a 50 mm lens. Then I will see if I can get a longer exposure without trailing stars in my shot. The great part is that we still have a month and a half to work on this project.
With all these amazing sights happening in our night skies, it’s time to get a chair, binoculars, a coffee, and head outside to see those amazing Yukon Night Lights.
James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.