This should be a very interesting month! We have a comet or two, a sky filling meteor storm and the Moon gives Mars a haircut on the 15th.
I’ll start first with the Leonid meteor shower. The Leonid shower roars to its peak on the 17th but the shower is active from about November 6th to the 30th. Any of those nights can give a beautiful show. Leo the Lion appears on the eastern horizon about midnight at mid November and its radiant is a little to the right (westwards) of the very bright star Regulus. The radiant is the source direction of debris that plows into the Earth from the Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle that has been slowly disintegrating over many thousands of years. By dawn Leo has risen about 60 degrees high in the southeast. Don’t forget that the radiant doesn’t have to be in the sky to see plenty of meteors. Meteors can be seen all over the sky but if you trace their paths, you will discover that those paths all point back to the area of the sky that astronomers call the radiant point. The shower is expected to be a good one with an average of 20 or so meteors per hour. It will be best in the early morning hours. Dress warmly! At this time of year the damp air and lack of physical movement while observing, sucks the heat right out of you.
Mars is a beauty this month. It’s prominent in the south until it disappears below the horizon about one in the morning. It rises to about 35 degrees in the south as twilight fades. About that Mars haircut! Well, on the 15th the first quarter Moon passes about 1 degree or 2 Moon widths south of Mars in the evening sky. Mars isn’t quite as big or as nice as it appeared midsummer but it is still a prominent and impressive to observe.
This month have a look for Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. See if you can find it. It becomes more difficult to find as the days of November pass. A better target is Comet 64P/Swift-Gehrels which is directly overhead during the evening. It is near the elliptical galaxy NGC404 (you will have to look up its position in the constellation Andromeda). In mid November it will be just north of NGC404. I always like to give you a challenge but this one will need a telescope of about a 4 Inch diameter to find and view. Don’t go for high magnification. About 100x is good. The big news is for December. There will be a comet called 46P/Wirtanen that slides into our skies about mid December. It will be naked eye observable and be in the top 10 brightest comets to grace our skies in a long time. This is a teaser on my part and I’ll have more information for you in December’s column.
Planetary watch for November has our favourites in the evening sky. Mercury is in the southwest (a challenge) and Mars in the south (easy). Jupiter is hard to miss in the southwest and Saturn can be found there too. Uranus is in the east and Neptune in the southeast (you will have to star hop for those 2). Star hopping is a technique for finding objects in the sky. First, you find a prominent star in the area of your interest. You work your way towards the object you wish to find by moving to a star in the direction of that target. Eventually, by moving short star hops from star to star, you will arrive close to what you are looking for. Needless to say, this takes practice. This works for both binoculars and telescopes. Uranus will be in the southwest at midnight and Neptune in the west. Near daybreak, bright Venus shines strong in the southeast.
Next month, besides an update on Comet 64P, I will challenge you with a list of targets that amateur astronomers can find with modest effort and modest equipment.
Here is a quick review of November. The times for observing take into account the fact that on the 4th we shifted over to EST.
November 7th: New Moon at 11:02 EST.
November 12th: The Moon passes 1 degree north of Pluto at 1 pm EST. Give this a try! Pluto is definitely not easy to find.
November 14th: The Moon is at apogee (farthest from Earth): 251,245 miles (401,992 Kms).
November 15th: First Quarter Moon. The Moon gets a haircut when it passes 1 degree south of Mars in the evening sky.
November 17th: The moon passes 3 degrees south of Neptune about 1 am. This is another tough one but certainly easier than Pluto.
The Leonid meteor shower peaks.
November 23rd: Full Moon. This Moon is called the Full Hunter’s Moon. It’s the time of year that we go out to stock our larders with meat to carry us through the winter. Well, in the old days anyway. Nowadays we hunt protein down at the super market… It’s also near to the Full Beaver Moon. Warm furs are needed for the winter and the beavers’ active work to prepare for winter reminds us that we better get going to make sure we are ready too.
November 26th: The Moon is at Perigee (closest to Earth): 227,807 miles (364,491 Kms).
November 29th: Last quarter Moon at 7:19 pm and my Birthday all day.
That’s a wrap.
Keep looking up!
“The Beginner’s Observing Guide by Leo Enright is an invaluable companion for adventures in the sky. It also contains useful star charts. It can be ordered from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada at www.rasc.ca/publications. A subscription to our very own excellent Canadian astronomy magazine “SkyNews” can be arranged at the RASC website as well.