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Monday, November 15, 2010

Festival of Stars - Star Maps and Jupiter's Moons

Over the past months, you may have seen a very bright star-like object high up in the night sky. That is actually the planet Jupiter.
During the Festival of Stars on 16th Nov, look straight up above your head to see Jupiter joined by a Gibbous (oval-shaped) Moon (see Star Map below):

After midnight, Jupiter and Moon will be low to the ground. In their place high above you'll find the stars of Taurus, Orion and Sirius (the brightest star in the sky). Its at this time that you start to see the occassional shooting star, which originate from in front of the stars of Leo, low to the eastern horizon (see Star Map below). Meteors can shoot out in any direction across constellations like Orion,Gemini and others above left and right of Leo.

Although the meteor shower sets the theme of the Festival of Stars, the planet Jupiter will be the highlight of the telescope viewing. Being a Gas Giant, Juipter is covered by "bands" of clouds. For many years, two dark bands have been the most visible but this year one of the bands (The South Equatorial Belt or SEB) has disappeared, covered by whiter, higher clouds. When will it return? Nobody knows but this past week dark spots have begun to appear in the white clouds and if they continue to spread it could cause to SEB to reappear.
View some of the most recent images of Jupiter and its missing belt at astronomer Chrisopher Gu's website:

Image Credit: Christopher Gu

Also visible around Jupiter will be its four biggest moons - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. As they are in constant motion around Jupiter, they are in different positions each night. Here are their approximate positions during Festival of Stars 16th Nov:

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