Weekend sky sights: Rocket launch and side by side planets

UPDATE: The launch of the Orbital ATK Antares rocket carrying cargo bound for the International Space Station was scrubbed this morning at almost the last second before launch due to a wayward aircraft in the launch area.

The launch is now set for Sunday, Nov. 12 at 7:14 a.m. EST.

WASHINGTON — The clouds are gone and the cold is in, but the skies should remain clear for people to see a rocket launch and a very close planetary grouping this weekend.

It will be harder to see the Orbital ATK Antares rocket in the daytime than at twilight or night, but it is worth a try. Binoculars will really help out if you’re trying to see the rocket.

The rocket launch can be viewed in person from the Wallops Visitor Center or through NASA TV’s online stream starting at 6:45 a.m.

If you plan on viewing the rocket launch in person, try getting up 45 minutes before dawn, as observers this weekend will spot a pretty neat sight in the East. Venus and Jupiter will be very close to one another, less than a degree apart — or in conjunction. Venus is the brighter of the two planets.

To see the planetary pair, observers will need a very clear horizon to the East (as you will for the rocket launch) as the planets will only be a scant five degrees (think three fingers held together at arm’s distance) above the horizon. Binoculars will help in the view and it may even be possible to see the four main moons of Jupiter with 7×50 binoculars. The view in a telescope with a low power eyepiece will show both planets and Jupiter’s moons easily.

Observers can watch the two planets get closer together and then separate. The slim Crescent Moon will be joining them on the Nov. 16 and 17.

The day to day movement in the sky of these celestial objects is due to their own orbits around the Sun (including the Earth’s) and the Moon’s orbit around the Earth. Venus is 246 million km (14 light minutes) distant while Jupiter is 957 million km (53 light minutes) distant.


Follow Greg on Twitter @skyguyinva and his daily blog to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. Email him at skyguyinva@gmail.com.

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