Updated: Nov 20, 2020

No matter where you are now, where you call home is under the same set of stars. I have been feeling down about not being able to see my family for the holidays but I still do my tours and although it is an exceptionally safe activity I still feel like I would be exposing my elderly extended family to unnecessary risk. However, I had the thought, on the phone with my grandma, that she could look out in her backyard and see the same things I am seeing. Knowing that although we aren't under the same roof these holidays, we are under the same sky. Though we are not close in terrestrial terms, we are right next to each other in cosmic terms.

So I wanted to make this guide for others so we can share the cosmic perspective this holiday season. If you are sharing thanksgiving dinner over a video chat, you can still feel closer by sharing the sky with each other.

I've made a list of 10 things to check out with your remote family ordered from easiest to hardest. Just send this list to your relatives, start with number one and keep going until it's too difficult/not fun.

About what the sky should look like after sunset on Thanksgiving day Nov 26th 2020 ~5:30

1) Compare the weather. It’s amazing how much weather can change even just across town, especially in Colorado. It’s been raining and windy in Boulder but calm and clear in Aurora (only 20 miles away!) where my mom lives.

2) Compare time zones. Just ask what time it is and see how different the sky might look. For example: California (PST) is one hour behind Colorado (MST). Meaning my family in California will be seeing the sky how it looked to me (in Colorado) one hour ago and my family in Arkansas (CST) will be seeing the sky I will be seeing in one hour. So if it’s just after sunset (5:30p MST) in Colorado I can stargaze with my family in Arkansas where it’s well after sunset (6:30p CST) but I can’t stargaze with my family in California where the sun will still be out (4:30p PST)

US time zones

3) Compare light pollution. If one household is rural when the other is in an urban setting you can still stargaze as most of the things we will be looking at are very bright, however it is interesting to see if you can notice the difference. Honestly the moon will be big and bright just after sunset on both Thanksgiving day and Christmas day so no matter where you are you will have to deal with the natural light pollution of the moon.

country vs. city, light pollution

4) The Moon! Just after sunset on thanksgiving day (~5:30p Nov 26th 2020) the Moon will be over the eastern horizon and fairly full. This will be the easiest thing that you can all look out at! Have everyone show or tell how high the moon is above the eastern horizon. This will give you a good idea of how offset everyone’s time zones are. If everyone is in generally the same area you won’t notice much difference however, if you are on opposite sides of the country you will notice a huge difference. Observing at the same moment someone in New York City will be seeing the moon just rising above the horizon at 3:30(EST) (the moon will be bright enough to see even with the sun still out) where Denver CO will see it about halfway up the eastern horizon at 5:30(MST) and someone in Seattle WA will see it nearly over head at 6:30(PST)

Map of Moon Landings

5) Mars! Just above the moon will be a bright red dot. This is the planet Mars. Now is the best time to see Mars for the next three years so if you can get a pair of binoculars it will be a rare sight.

6) Saturn and Jupiter! In the south west sky just after sunset will be one bright dot (Jupiter) and one dimmer yet still fairly bright dot (Saturn) this might be tricky to see together as they are low on the horizon and will be setting at around 7:30 so if someone in California (PST) they will be missing it at 7:30(PST) where someone in the central US (CST) will be in the best time in the evening to see them at 5:30(CST)

Pro tip: if you are having difficulty finding your directions remember that the moon should be in the more or less eastern sky so facing the moon to your right will be south to your left will be north and behind you is west.

7) The Big Dipper. This will show you how far north/south you are from each other. If you are in the north half of the US (in or more north than Denver CO/Salt Lake City UT/Springfield IL/Philadelphia PA/further north, aka more than 40 degrees north) you will see the Big Dipper very easily low on your northern horizon however if you are in the south SoCal/Texas/Florida/Etc. You will probably not be able to see the big dipper at all, and anyone in Alaska/Canada will see it very easily high in their northern sky

8) The North Star. This will be difficult for most people to find so have patience with your relatives. The North Star is fairly easy to locate using the Big Dipper with the two stars at the end of the vessel of the dipper pointing right at it (see picture below). Of course this only works in the northern US/Canada where the Big Dipper is visible. In the South you can use the “M” of Cassiopeia which is high in north sky and the middle bump of the “M” points downward towards the North Star (see pic below). However you might just have more luck using a star map app on your smartphone “star tracker lite” (simple) or “sky safari” (little less simple) are my faves currently but download whatever the top few free ones are currently and see what you like best.

If you are able to find the North star, hold your hand out at a full arms length and see how many fingers you can fit between the north star and the horizon. This is a rough measurement of latitude and will be very different depending how far north/south you are. Someone in New Orleans LA will see the North Star just 30 degrees above their northern horizon (about three fists length’s stacked on top of each other), in Denver CO it’s 40 degrees above the horizon (4 fists stacked on top of each other) and in Seattle WA it’s about 50 degrees (5 fists)

9) Using this 'handy' measurement system of hand symbols take a measurement of how high the moon is where you are vs your relatives (you can also simply use your shadow if it’s dark enough that the only thing casting your shadow is the moon). Once you are done with dinner check again where the moon is. If you first looked at 5:30 (MST)/4:30(PST) after dinner at 6:30(MST)/7:30(PST) the people in the west coast (PST) should have the same measurement for the height of the moon as someone in Colorado(MST) did prior to dinner.

10) the Seven Sisters. If you have very dark skis you can see the seven sisters low on the eastern horizon below the Moon. you can see who has the best night sky by who can see them best in NYC you probably won’t see them at all but in rural farm land they will pop right out as a small grouping of stars tightly packed together.

Hope you enjoyed stargazing! if you want to stargaze in person with giant telescopes I have a few tours coming in the next few months, be sure to book here. I also have made two 2021 calendars! One with star charts and info so you can keep stargazing all year long no mater where you are and learn the night sky for 2021 buy it here. One with phenomenal space pictures each month buy it here. Both can be shipped anywhere and make great gifts! Learn more about both calendars here.

  • Luke

If you have been out at dusk lately You may be noticing the brightest star that appears over the southern horizon just after sunset. This “star” is actually the planet Jupiter!

Infrared view of Jupiter

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system at 11.6 times the size of Earth in diameter (86,881 miles), making it 1,322 times the size of earth in volume, you could fit over a thousand earth's inside Jupiter. Being so massive has made Jupiter a solar system within our solar system, as it's extreme gravitational pull captures lots of objects as moons of Jupiter.

Jupiter's size compared to earth, the entirety of earth could fit, with room to spare, in Jupiter's 'great red spot' (an acid hurricane that has been raging on Jupiter for centuries)

Jupiter currently has 79 known moons. This number keeps increasing as recently as July of 2018, we added 10 newly discovered moons to the total. 26 of the moons are so new they are still awaiting official names. We are not done adding to the number of known moons of Jupiter. Astronomers are discovering new moons of Jupiter so frequently the main trick has become making sure the newly observed moons are not the same as a moon we have previously counted.

The number of moons of Jupiter will also be changing further as new moons are likely about to be made and destroyed. Of the known objects going around Jupiter most are going the same direction but, some are going the opposite direction and just like if you go the opposite direction of traffic in a traffic circle collision is likely.

If you look at Jupiter with even just a halfway decent pair of binoculars you will be able to see 4 of Jupiter's moons Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. These are called the Galilean Moons as they were first observed by Galileo in his small telescope. They are very easy to make out even in small telescopes/binoculars but, telling which one is which takes several observations over a long period of time as they are circling Jupiter and you can only see this movement edge on from Earth. To determine a moon’s true distance from Jupiter you must watch the moons to see when they stop getting further from Jupiter, turn around and get closer. (or you can just cheat and use this web tool)

how Jupiter and it's 4 Galilean Moons appear in a telescope or binoculars (the stripes/spot can be much harder to see than it might look from this picture)to

All of the Galilean Moons are interesting places and studied extensively. Io (the closest) is the most volcanic body in our solar system, Eropa is the smoothest body in our solar system it’s believed to have liquid water and therefore possibly life beneath it’s ice surface. Ganymede is bigger than the planet Mercury, and Callisto (the furthest out) is the most cratered body in our solar system.

Jupiter’s moons served as one of the first standardized clocks. Jupiter’s moons movement is regular and predictable so the Royal Observatory in Greenwich calculated and published their future locations and local time (as would be shown on a sundial or pendulum clock) at Greenwich, forming the foundations for our time zones based around Greenwich Mean Time.

With a good pair of binoculars you can also see red stripes contrasted with white stripes this is Jupiter’s atmosphere. The change in coloration is caused by different compounds in the atmosphere that change color when exposed to the light of the Sun.

A really good set of binoculars or a decent telescope you can see the red spot which is an acid hurricane more than twice the size of earth that has been observed since at least 350 years ago. This has been the only silver lining of stargazing in Colorado thru the smog/haze from the wild fires in the mountains is that the haze has been increasing the contrast on Jupiter making the stripes and spot easier to see (I've actually been able to make out a personal record number of stripes this year seeing 7). A day on Jupiter last about 10 hrs so over the course of a long winter night you can watch Jupiter do a full rotation by watching the great red spot do a lap around the planet.

close up of the spot on Jupiter

Jupiter is currently “in Capricorn ”. Capricorn doesn't look like much unless you have really dark sky, but you will see Sagittarius to the right, right next to it! If you have decently dark skies and some imagination you might see a constellation that resembles a teapot just to the right of Jupiter. A triangular lid atop a trapezoidal body with a trapezoidal handle on the east side and a triangular spout on the west side. Even better if you are in a particularly dark area you can see the milky way appearing as steam coming out of the spout. This “teapot” was originally seen as an archer, and named Sagittarius. The tip of the spout to the two stars that make the top of the handle are the arrow and the top of the lid and the two stars to the right of the base make the bow for the archer.

The archer's arrow is drawn pointing to the west towards a bright star with a red/orange hue. This star is Antares. Antares is not to be confused with mars which is currently rising in the eastern sky around 10pm ~ish (this is such a common mistake it is where Antares name came from, it's Arabic for 'rival of mars'). The star Antares is the heart of the scorpion or Scorpio. and Sagittarius is protecting others from Scorpio by keeping his bow drawn towards it's heart.

Capricorn, Sagittarius, and Scorpio you might be familiar with from the zodiac over the course of 12 years we can watch Jupiter move across every sign in the zodiac. If you read my post on Jupiter two years ago you have been able to watch Jupiter move from the constellation Scorpio to the next constellation in the zodiac Sagittarius and now to Capricorn! Jupiter takes just a little less than 12 years to go around the Sun, there are 12 signs in the zodiac, therefore Jupiter spends a year in each one! so next year we can be sure to find Jupiter in Aquarius!

Come get a closer look at Jupiter seeing it's stripes (this year better than ever with the haze), moons, red spot and more! On an astronomy tour! Book now for an out of this world experience!

  • Luke

The word disaster comes from Greek meaning “Bad star” deriving from the astrology interpretation that catastrophes are caused by the position of the planets. Given the current pandemic making most of the world distance from each other let’s take a step back and look at how bad this ‘star’ really is.

I have thought up a scale to rank disasters and it starts at the Zeroth Degree and getting progressively worse till the Fifth Degree. In this system I would only rank COVID-19 as only maybe a ~0.7 there’s a lot that could be far worse.

Starting with Zeroth Degree, any disaster which causes minor to significant hassle would be in the 0th Degree. This is sort of a bottom end catch all for everything from this current pandemic to burning your dinner. Anything that might make a major impact on civilization but not enough to wipe it out. That’s why I give COVID a .7 it’s definitely worse than a day to day disaster, and being global it ranks higher and localized disasters like volcanoes. However all told COVID might make even a huge impact on civilization but not change our dominance on earth.

NOAA-19 satellite - The satellite fell while it was being worked on by Lockheed Martin Repairs to the satellite cost $135 million.

Making a First degree disaster of course something that threatens human civilization. Humans might continue to live in small pockets and maybe repopulate or be around to see what lifeforms take over earth next but either way we would no longer be the obvious dominant life form on earth. This would be something like an all out nuclear war, depletion of resources, or alien invasion.

passed extinction events - blue bars show the percentage of marine animals apearing to become extinct during given time interval, peaks are evidance of "mass extinction" events.

A Second degree disaster is something that wipes out all human life, but not all life. A scenario where only the hardiest of microbes or the deepest of sea creatures survive. Something like the loss of our atmosphere, meteor strike, or a chain of catastrophic tectonic activity.

The Third would obliterate all life on earth and therefore all known life maybe the sun flares up and boils the oceans off or the earth gets knocked off course and sent out of the solar system to freeze.

The Fourth Degree is where we really start to see some damage. This is where the entire solar system is destroyed there is no hope that any record of humanity or earth survives. This would be where the sun explodes, or we drift too close to a black hole.

The sun expanding to engulf the earth 1AU = the distance to the sun from the earth right now.

Lastly leaving the Fifth Degree one in which the entire universe is destroyed, something fundamental in the laws of physics that lead to a universe where life as we know it is impossible.

The "big crunch" one of the proposed fates of our universe.

Hopefully this helps make the outbreak seem mundane and unremarkable by comparison. For the next few weeks I plan on going down each degree of destruction and talk about how likely it is and what hope if any we have to prevent them. So I’ll see you next week with the maximum destruction, the 5th degree!