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The Night Sky of November

Dr. Wayne Wooten
Professor of Astronomy
Escambia Amateur Astronomers' Association

For November, the Moon will be full, the Hunter's Moon, on November 2nd, so the first two weeks of November will thus find the Moon waning and not visible in the evening sky. The last quarter moon passes three degrees south of Mars on November 9th; the waning crescent moon passes seven degrees south of Saturn on November 12th, and a thin waning crescent lies six degrees south of Venus on the morning of the November 15th, with the new moon on the 16th. The last two week of November finds the moon waxing in the evening sky, with the waxing crescent passing 3 degrees north of Jupiter on November 23, then reaching first quarter phase and appearing almost overhead at sunset on November 24th.

While the naked eye, dark adapted by several minutes away from any bright lights, is a wonderful instrument to stare up into deep space, far beyond our own Milky Way, binoculars are better for spotting specific deep sky objects. For a detailed map of northern hemisphere skies, about Halloween visit the website and download the map for November 2009; it will have a more extensive calendar, and list of best objects for the naked eyes, binoculars, and scopes on the back of the map. Also available as the next month begins is wonderful video exploring the November 2009 sky, featuring many different objects, available from the Hubble Space Telescope website at:

Giant Jupiter dominates the SW sky in Capricornus at the beginning of November, but will be lost in the Sun's glare by 2010. Any small scope will reveal what Galileo marveled at four hundred years ago; four large moons, all bigger or similar to ours in size, orbit it in a line along Jupiter's equator. So get out the old scope, and focus on Jupiter for a constantly changing dance of the moons around the giant world. Larger scopes will still show detail on the disk, but observe early in the evening to catch the famed Great Red Spot…the lower Jupiter gets in the SW sky, the harder it is to see such details through the earth's turbulent atmosphere.

East of Jupiter is the teapot shape of Sagittarius, which marks the heart of our Milky Way Galaxy, but the best view of our Galaxy lies overhead now. The brightest star of the northern hemisphere, Vega dominates the sky in the northwest. To the northeast of Vega is Deneb, the brightest star of Cygnus the Swan. To the south is Altair, the brightest star of Aquila the Eagle, the third member of the three bright stars that make the Summer Triangle so obvious in the NE these clear autumn evenings.

Overhead the square of Pegasus is a beacon of fall. South of it lies the only bright star of Fall, Fomalhaut. If the southern skies of Fall look sparse, it is because we are looking away from our Galaxy into the depths of intergalactic space. It is just north of Fomalhaut that you will find the closest and largest of the planetary nebulae, NGC 7293 or "the Helix", about 650 light years distant. It appears as a faint ring, half as big as the full moon, and visible with binocs from a dark, clear observing site.

The constellation Cassiopeia makes a striking W, rising in the NE as the Big Dipper sets in the NW. Polaris lies about midway between them. She contains many nice star clusters for binocular users in her outer arm of our Milky Way, extending to the NE now. Her daughter, Andromeda, starts with the NE corner star of Pegasus'' Square, and goes NE with two more bright stars in a row. It is from the middle star, beta Andromeda, that we proceed about a quarter the way to the top star in the W of Cassiopeia, and look for a faint blur with the naked eye. M-31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is the most distant object visible with the naked eye, lying about 2.5 million light years distant.

To the northeast, Andromeda's hero, Perseus, rises. Between him and Cassiopeia is the fine Double Cluster, faintly visible with the naked eye and two fine binocular objects in the same field. Perseus contains the famed eclipsing binary star Algol, where the Arabs imagined the eye of the gorgon Medusa would lie. It fades to a third its normal brightness for six out of every 70 hours, as a larger but cooler orange giant covers about 80% of the smaller but hotter and thus brighter companion as seen from Earth. Check it out on a clear November evening, and see it the gorgon is winking at you. If so, then instead of being as bright as Polaris, Algol fade to be only as bright as kappa Persei, the star just to its south. Look at Perseus' feet for the famed Pleiades cluster to rise, a sure sign of bright winter stars to come. In fact, yellow Capella, a giant star the same temperature and color as our much smaller Sun, rises at 7 PM as November begins. Next month, more on Orion and company.

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