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Thanksgiving night sky 2021: 3 planets and more shine in tonight's sky!

Venus, Saturn and Jupiter will shine in the night sky at around 5:30 p.m. local time in New York City on Nov. 25, 2021.
Venus, Saturn and Jupiter will shine in the night sky at around 5:30 p.m. local time in New York City on Nov. 25, 2021. (Image credit: <a href="http://www.starrynight.com">Starry Night</a>)

Thanksgiving is often thought of as a time for family and friends to get together — but after the feast has been consumed, what's next on the agenda?

A time to reflect on one's many blessings? Certainly. 

A visual feast of football enjoyed from an overstuffed recliner, long after the turkey and all its trimmings have been savored and devoured? Perhaps.

But if the big gathering is at your home this year, here is a concept that's a bit outside the box: Why not break out your telescope and treat your loved ones to an eyeful of celestial sights in the night sky? Have a star party, and introduce your guests to the night sky. The approach certainly can make this year's Thanksgiving stand out, as well as provide some great fun. 

If you're looking for telescopes or binoculars to beef up your stargazing, we've got you covered. Our Black Friday binoculars deals and Black Friday telescope deals guides are being updated throughout the weekend. You can also check out our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography to make sure you're ready for the next stargazing event.

Related: Best night sky events of November 2021 (stargazing maps)

A planetary triple play 

About 45 minutes after sunset, step outside during the chilly November dusk and look toward the south-southwest part of the sky. There you will find three bright planets stretched out in a line. 

Going from lower left to upper right, you'll find dazzling Venus, followed by a much dimmer Saturn and finally brilliant Jupiter. From Venus to Jupiter, the entire line will stretch for 37 degrees. Your clenched fist held out at arm's length measures approximately 10 degrees, so, when we speak of 37 degrees, we mean about the equivalent of roughly three and a half "fists." 

From Venus to Saturn will measure 20 degrees — "two fists" — while from Saturn to Jupiter will measure 17 degrees, a bit closer together. 

Venus is, by far, the brightest object in our Thanksgiving evening sky. Blazing at magnitude -4.6, it outshines its nearest competitor, Jupiter, by more than 8 times and Saturn by 132-fold. Venus is so incredibly bright because the clouds that perpetually hide its surface are so highly reflective; the planet is also much closer to Earth than either Jupiter and Saturn. Finally, Venus is nearly 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'll find Venus resembling a wide crescent, 32% illuminated. Look quick, because after 6:45 p.m. local time, Venus will be much too low to the south-southwest horizon to provide a stable image; it will set shortly thereafter.

But just because Saturn is not as bright as Venus doesn't mean the ringed beauty is faint. In fact, among the 21 brightest stars in the sky, Saturn currently would be tied with similarly hued Altair for 12th place.

And any telescope magnifying at least 30-power will show Saturn's famous ring system. 

Perhaps a few of your holiday guests traveled a long distance to get to your house. Tell them that right now, that dot 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 tiring trip to get to your house in holiday traffic doesn't seem all that long.

Saturn will remain visible until about 8:45 p.m. local time, then get too low and finally set.

Finally, there is Jupiter, which through a telescope shows a full disk slightly larger in apparent size compared to Venus. All four of the famous Galilean satellites will be readily visible, even in steadily-held binoculars. Three will be aligned on one side of the giant planet: Farthest from Jupiter will be Callisto, then comes Ganymede, while Io will be closest to Jupiter. Meanwhile, sitting all by itself on the other side of Jupiter will be Europa.

Jupiter will remain in view until around 10 p.m. local time.

The International Space Station 

The largest human-made object currently orbiting Earth will be making evening passes over the northern contiguous United States on Thanksgiving. The International Space Station (ISS) appears as a very bright, non-twinkling "star" with a yellow-white tint that moves steadily across the sky. Depending on its 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 evening: 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 for 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 likely will not be able to spot the ISS; the station will either be too low to see or making a pass when the local skies are too bright to see it.

Final views, then a snooze

You can finish your tour of the sky by pointing out some of the landmarks of late autumn: the Great Square of Pegasus almost overhead; the "M" of Cassiopeia high in the north; and the stars of the Big Dipper, also known as Ursa Major, the Big Bear just scraping the northern horizon. 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 head back inside and, like the bears, finish the day with a post-Thanksgiving nap.

Remember, Thanksgiving is a time to be merry, a time to say thank you — and a time to have some great fun.  

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

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Joe Rao

Joe Rao is Space.com's skywatching columnist, as well as a veteran meteorologist and eclipse chaser who also serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications.

  • rod
    Good report and glad to see Starry Night software used too :) Venus and Jupiter close conjunction were very lovey view in my area the evening of 24th, shortly after sunset. I had a great time viewing with my binoculars and telescope too. Both planets and the 4 Galilean moons just fit into the field of view at 25x, especially near 1720 EST and after when the sky getting darker and easier to see the Galilean moons. Telescope observation of an inferior and superior planet with its moons :)
    Reply
  • TBFFX
    Admin said:
    This week, Venus and Jupiter are very low in the southwest during the chilly November dusk.

    Venus, Jupiter and the Moon Gather for Thanksgiving Feast : Read more
    Is this a syzygy?
    Reply
  • rod
    TBFFX said:
    is this a syzygy?

    If we go with this definition - ": the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies (such as the sun, moon, and earth during a solar or lunar eclipse) in a gravitational system"

    My answer is no. As a close conjunction, Venus and Jupiter shared close celestial coordinates in the evening sky at sunset. Venus was in the lower elevation position, Jupiter near 2:00 position of Venus and the Sun just set at my location near 1648 EST. My refractor telescope provided a mirror reverse view, Venus near 4:00 position and Jupiter with 4 Galilean moons near the 10:00 position in the eyepiece view - nearly 1.8-degrees true field of view. It was a very interesting view to ponder :)
    Reply