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The Night Sky of November

Dr. Wayne Wooten
Professor of Astronomy

The Waning gibbous Moon will be very close to Jupiter on November 1st, with an occultation of Jupiter visible from South Africa. Both rise in the northeast at 9 PM locally. The first two weeks of November will thus find the Moon waning in the evening skies. November 4th marks the day to fall back to CST for 2012. The last quarter moon rises about midnight on November 7th. The waning crescent moon passes 5 degrees south of brilliant Venus in the dawn sky on November 11th. New moon is November 13th, and produces a total solar eclipse for the south Pacific and NE corner of Australia. The slender crescent moon on November 15th marks Muslim New Year, the year 1434 AH in their chronology. The Moon passes 4 degrees north of Mars low in the SW on November 16th. The slendar crescent moon sets about 9 PM on November 17th, and will not interfere with the peak for the Leonid Meteor Shower, which will peak in the morning hours for the next few days. The Moon is first quarter on November 20th. The moon is full, the Frosty Moon, falling on November 28th; it passes just a degree south of bright Jupiter on November 29th.

We are gradually losing Mars in the SW during November. It races the sun eastward daily, but will become lost in its glare by the end of the year. Giant Jupiter dominates the NE sky in Taurus in November late evenings; it reaches opposition on December 3rd, rising in the east at sunset. 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. Venus rises before dawn on November mornings, and passes a half degree south of Saturn in the dawn skies on November 27th.

Setting in the southwest 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 is 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. A real treat is NGC 253, the Silver Dollar Galax. Our photo for this shows the dust lanes of this almost edge on spiral galaxy nicely; it is easy to spot in binoculars.

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 along the northeastern horizon. It is the fifth brightest star in the sky, and a beacon of the colorful and bright winter stars to come.

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