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The Night Sky of November

Dr. Wayne Wooten
Professor of Astronomy

The moon will be new on November 3rd, with a solar eclipse visible in the south Atlantic and central Africa. This is also the Sunday to "fall back" to Standard Time for the rest of the year. November 5th is the Muslim New Year, 1435 AH, set by the appearance of the crescent moon this evening. The waxing crescent moon passes eight degrees north of brilliant Venus on the evening of November 6th. Venus was at its greatest elongation from the Sun, 47 degrees to the east of it, on November 1st, when it appeared exactly half lit as viewed from Earth. Thus it will be well up in the SW sky, and probably brilliant enough to spot well above the 3 day old crescent moon about 4-5 PM in broad daylight; check them out, especially with a pair of binocs.

The first quarter moon is high overhead at sunset on November 10th. The moon is full, the Frosty Moon, falling on November 17th; it will overpower the Leonid meteor shower, due to peak on the same morning. The waning gibbous moon passes five a degree south of bright Jupiter on November 22nd, with both rising about 10 PM in the NE. The last quarter moon rises about midnight on November 25th, and the waning crescent passes 5 degrees south of Mars in the dawn on November 27th. The waning crescent moon will be near Spica on the morning of November 29th, when it is possible Comet ISONís tail will be a searchlight beam pointing right at them. Now that would be neat!

Mercury is behind the sun during early November, but reaches greatest elongation of 18 degrees west of the Sun on November 18th. The really interesting grouping comes the next week, when Mercury passes Saturn on November 23rd, at the same time Comet ISON, inbound toward the Thanksgiving day perihelion passage, passes just below the pair in the dawn. This should be a great photo op!

Editors Note: nice animation of new expectations for ISON orbit and observations.

Venus dominates the evening sky, reaching greatest elongation on November 1st, appearing half lit and 25 " of arc across. As she overtakes earth in November, she retrogrades back toward the Sun, and approaching us, gets larger in size but a more slender crescent. By November 30th, she is 37" across, but only 30% sunlit crescent, easily resolved with 10X binoculars as a crescent phase.

Mars is in the morning sky, and had Comet ISON drop by in October, with the Mars orbiter HiRISE taking historic photos of the Comet flying by the red planet on October 1st. The Comet is reaching perihelion on November 28th, passing only about a solar diameter from our home star. On the way, the comet should brighten to naked eye visibility by the second week of November. Its sunward path is shown on the sky map here.

Of special notice is the cometís close passage by the bright star Spica (alpha Virginis) on the morning of November 17th; it will be interesting to see if the cometís head has brightened to rival this first magnitude star by then; if so, the cometís close pass by the sun in ten days will be spectacular, perhaps bright enough to spot in broad daylight!

As already noted, the comet has a nice grouping with Mercury and Saturn on the mornings of November 23- 24th about 6 AM, with the comet perhaps already brighter than Jupiter! The comet sweeps rapidly around the sun on November 28th, and on November 30th, the comet may display a broad fan shaped tail in the evening twilight a half hour after sunset. It will be at its best, if it does survive the close passage by the sun, low along the horizon in both morning and evening skies in December. More on this next month!

Jupiter dominates the dawn, rising earlier and earlier in the evening as we approach its opposition next January 4th. It is now in the center of Gemini during this month. 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 Jupiterís equator. Saturn is lost behind the Sun during most of November, but emerges in the dawn to group with Mercury of the fine pass of ISON south of both on November 23-24th in the dawn.

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. 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 Pegasusíí 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, Andromedaís 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 Perseusí 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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