Spectacular cosmic sight this week

The following sun and moon data for Nov. 27, 2008 is provided by the United States Naval Observatory.

Sunrise: 7:00 a.m.

Sunset: 4:52 p.m.

Moonrise: 7:13 a.m.

Moonset: 4:37 p.m.

Moon phase: The moon is new Nov. 27 at 9:56 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.

Two of the brightest objects in the sky — Jupiter and Venus — have been dominating the southwestern sky in the evening twilight, and although now appearing relatively far apart, the pair will gradually move closer for a spectacular cosmic coupling Nov. 28 to Nov 29.

Jupiter appears one hour after sunset as a bright, creamy colored star-like object, shining at magnitude -2.2. well above the southwestern horizon. It is easy to discern the difference between Venus and Jupiter — aside from color, Jupiter appears slightly smaller and dimmer than Venus.

For those viewing with telescopes, Jupiter remains a worthy target. With moons, cloud belts, tempestuous storms, and the Great Red Spot, Jupiter offers much to explore — depending, of course, on the quality of the optics and the size of the telescope.

For those armed with just binoculars or a simple spotting scope however, Jupiter’s four largest moons — Europa, Io, Ganymede and Calisto — are well within reach. Whatever the equipment, be sure to begin observations in the early evening, as Jupiter sets around 8:30 p.m. near month’s end.

For those viewing tonight around twilight, Venus appears far in the southwest, blazing a bold, brilliant bright white. In fact, Venus is the brightest star-like object normally ever seen in our night sky, and although Jupiter is much more massive, Venus appears brighter because of its proximity to Earth.

Currently, Venus and Jupiter are separated by about 15 degrees — 10 degrees is roughly equal to the width of a fist held at arm’s length with the night sky as a backdrop. Astute skywatchers however, will have noted the pair appeared much farther apart earlier in the month, but that the gap has closed noticeably with changes visible almost on a day-to-day basis. During Thanksgiving week, the planets will have scooted to just about seven degrees apart, with the gap closing rapidly as Nov. 30 approaches.

On Nov. 30, stargazers keen to witness the most spectacular planetary pairing of 2008 should be outside by 5:30 p.m. Facing southwest stargazers will find Venus and Jupiter separated by just two degrees with a lovely crescent moon hovering about eight degrees below. On Dec. 1, the trio will join again for a super tight grouping, with all objects appearing separated by just a few degrees.