Before you weigh yourself down with that extra piece of pumpkin pie, step out into the early evening chill for a treat that's light, airy, and calorie-free: a look at the stars. Some of the most prominent stars of summer are still in view in the west, while the stars of winter are climbing in the east.
The brightest part of the starry tableau isn't the stars at all, though -- it's the planets Venus and Jupiter. After the Moon, they're the brightest objects in the night sky. Look for them quite low in the southwest as the sky begins to grow dark. Venus is the brighter of the two, with Jupiter right above it. As long as you have a clear horizon, you can't miss 'em. They set by around 8 o'clock.
Due west, and a good bit higher, look for the three stars of the wide-spread Summer Triangle -- Vega, Deneb, and Altair. Vega's the brightest of the three. Although they form the signature star pattern of summer, they'll remain in view in the evening sky well into the winter.
And well before the triangle drops from view in the west, the signature star pattern of winter stands proudly in the east: Orion, the hunter. A short row of three stars that stands straight up from the horizon forms Orion's Belt. Two brighter stars flank it -- orange Betelgeuse to the north, and blue Rigel to the south. The hunter will soar high across the south during the night.
All in all, it's a view that's worth savoring on a chilly Thanksgiving night.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.