Thanksgiving Night Sky 2021: 3 Planets and More Shining on Thursday!

Thanksgiving is often considered a time for family and friends to get together, but once the feast is consumed, what’s next on the agenda?

A moment to reflect on the many blessings one has? Certainly.

A visual feast of football enjoyed from a cushy recliner, long after the turkey and all its trimmings have been savored and devoured? Maybe.

But if the big gathering is at your home this year, here’s a concept that’s a bit out of the box: Why not open up your telescope and treat your loved ones to a heavenly view in the night sky? Host a star party and introduce your guests to the night sky. Focus can certainly make Thanksgiving this year stand out, as well as provide some great fun.

If you’re looking for telescopes or binoculars to bolster your stargazing, we’ve got you covered. Our Black Friday binocular deals and Black Friday telescope deals guides will be updated over the weekend. You can also check out our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography to make sure you are ready for the next stargazing event.

Related: Best Night Sky Events of November 2021 (Stargazing Maps)

A planetary triple play

Approximately 45 minutes after sunset, go out during the cold November evening and look up at the south-southwest part of the sky. There you will find three shiny planets stretched out in line.

Going from bottom left to top right, you will find a dazzling Venus, followed by a much dimmer Saturn and finally a bright Jupiter. From Venus to Jupiter, the entire line will extend 37 degrees. His outstretched fist is about 10 degrees, so when we talk about 37 degrees, we mean the equivalent of about three and a half “fists.”

From Venus to Saturn they will measure 20 degrees – “two fists” – while from Saturn to Jupiter they will measure 17 degrees, a little closer together.

Venus is by far the brightest object in our Thanksgiving evening sky. Burning at a magnitude of -4.6, it outshines its closest competitor, Jupiter, by more than 8 times and Saturn by 132 times. Venus is incredibly bright because the clouds that perpetually hide its surface are highly reflective; the planet is also much closer to Earth than Jupiter and Saturn. Finally, Venus is almost seven times closer to the sun than Jupiter and almost 14 times closer to the sun than Saturn, so it receives much more sunlight to reflect.

Using a telescope, you will find that Venus resembles a wide crescent, 32% illuminated. Look quickly, because after 6:45 pm local time, Venus will be too low on the south-southwest horizon to provide a stable image; will be established shortly after.

But just because Saturn isn’t as bright as Venus doesn’t mean the rings’ beauty is dim. In fact, among the 21 brightest stars in the sky, Saturn would currently be tied with similarly hued Altair for 12th.

And any telescope that magnifies at least 30 times will show Saturn’s famous ring system.

Perhaps some of your vacation guests traveled a long distance to get to your home. Tell them that right now, that point of light that we see as Saturn is 958.2 million miles (1.54 billion kilometers) from Earth. And if they traveled at 65 mph (105 km / h), it would take them about 614,000 days, or about 1,680 years, to get there!

Suddenly, that grueling journey to get home in the middle of vacation traffic doesn’t seem that long.

Saturn will remain visible until about 8:45 pm local time, then it will go too low and finally settle down.

Finally, there is Jupiter, which through a telescope shows a complete disk of apparent size slightly larger compared to Venus. The four famous Galilean satellites will be easily visible, even with firmly held binoculars. Three will be aligned on one side of the giant planet: the furthest from Jupiter will be Callisto, then Ganymede will arrive, while Io will be closer to Jupiter. Meanwhile, sitting alone on the other side of Jupiter will be Europa.

Jupiter will stay in sight until around 10 p.m. local time.

The international space station

The largest human-made object currently orbiting Earth will make night passes over the contiguous north of the United States on Thanksgiving. The International Space Station (ISS) appears as a very bright, non-flickering “star” with a yellowish-white tint that moves steadily across the sky. Depending on your exact track, it may be visible for a few minutes or more.

Two websites can tell you exactly where to look for the ISS on Thanksgiving night: NASA’s Spot the Station or Heavens Above. There are currently seven people on board the ISS: six men and one woman; two are Russian cosmonauts and one is a German astronaut from the European Space Agency, while the others are American astronauts.

Unfortunately, if you live south of 35 ° north latitude (around Tennessee’s border with Alabama and Mississippi), you probably won’t be able to detect the ISS; the season will be too low to see or will pass when local skies are too bright to see.

Final views, then a replay

You can finish your tour of the sky by pointing out some of the late autumn landmarks: the Great Plaza de Pegaso almost overhead; the “M” for Cassiopeia high in the north; and the stars of Ursa Major, also known as Ursa Major, Ursa Major barely scratches the northern horizon. At this time of year, bears are hibernating, which is why our celestial bear is so low in our sky.

And that could also be the signal to go back inside and, like bears, end the day with a post-Thanksgiving nap.

Remember, Thanksgiving is a time to have fun, a time to be thankful, and a time to have lots of fun.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest speaker at the Hayden Planetarium in New York. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, Farmers’ Almanac, and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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