There are three reasons to check out the night sky tonight: the Full Snow Moon, Jupiter by its side, and a quick pass of the International Space Station. Mostly clear skies in the D.C. area should provide ideal viewing for this astronomy triple feature.
The moon will snuggle up close to Jupiter for much of the night – within about 4.5 degrees.
“The brilliant twosome will reach its high point for the night around midnight, and will descend westward in the wee hours after midnight,” notes EarthSky.
Tonight presents a great opportunity to take a closer look at either the moon or Jupiter through your telescope. Writes Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory:
After the Moon, Jupiter is the most rewarding target for the small telescope. Simple spotting scopes will show the four moons first described by Galileo over 400 years ago, while instruments of progressively larger apertures begin to reveal subtle details in his furiously evolving atmosphere. The prominent dark equatorial cloud belts straddle a bright zone that betrays the presence of a massive jet stream that boasts speeds approaching 600 miles per hour; the interaction between the dark belts and brighter zones cause localized storms to form and dissipate in a matter of hours. Many of these storms are the size of continents on the Earth, and some of the longer-lived ones are larger than our entire planet!
Lastly, the International Space Station will zip across the southwest corner of the sky, first visible at 7:21 p.m. It will only be up there for two minutes in the D.C. area, appearing initially 11 degrees above southwest and departing 29 degrees above south-southwest.
It will have a longer pass Wednesday evening, appearing first 10 degrees above south at 6:29 p.m. and departing 21 degrees above east-southeast four minutes later.