| Nov 01, 2007

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Night Skies - November 1, 2007

Several Good Conjuntions & a November Meteor Shower

by Leo Enright


In early November sunset in this area occurs a few minutes before 6:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time with twilight lasting until about 7:30 p.m.. Morning twilight does not begin until slightly after 6:00 a.m. with sunrise at about 7:45 a.m.. However, there is a change to Standard Time at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday November 4. By the end of November, our nights will be about an hour longer than they were at the beginning of the month, because sunset occurs about 1 minute earlier each evening and sunrise about 1 minute later each morning. Thus, by November 30, the sunset time is about 4:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time with the end of astronomical twilight being about 6:15 p.m. EST, and morning astronomical twilight beginning at 5:30 a.m. with sunrise at about 7:20 a.m. These facts will allow you to calculate, to within about a minute, the times of sunset, sunrise, and the end and beginning of twilight for every day of the month of November, 2007.

In the after-dinner hours this month, the great Milky Way still sweeps overhead from northeast to southwest. Seeing it in a dark rural setting should be a reminder that its light emanates from the starlight of many millions of stars in our home galaxy, with our sun being only one in that incredible collection of over 200 billion stars. Looking well up in the eastern sky on clear evenings, we can easily see two prominent constellations to the right of the Milky Way, one a huge square that may remind some of us of a baseball diamond and the World Series of baseball, and the other a horizontal row of stars going back toward the Milky Way. These two constellations and four others nearby are associated with one of the great stories of ancient mythology, in fact, one of the very oldest stories in our western culture. The almost horizontal row of bright stars is the central part of the constellation Andromeda, possibly the earliest “damsel in distress” who was saved by the great hero Perseus. The large square was seen, not as a baseball diamond, but as the body of Pegasus, a great winged horse, in some versions of the story, the steed on which Perseus rode on his rescue mission. The hero himself, Perseus, partly within the Milky Way, was seen in the group of bright stars to the left of Andromeda. A row of stars just to his right was seen as his arm holding aloft the hideous Gorgon’s head in order to slay a monster attacking the princess. The star at the end of the “arm”, known as Algol, is a variable star that can be seen to change in brightness every third day – leading some scholars to speculate that sky watchers centuries ago saw it as the still blinking eyes of deceased Gorgon. High in the sky above Perseus, and also partly within the Milky Way to the northeast are his parents, the Queen Cassiopeia, which to modern eyes appears as a large inclined letter “W” written on the sky, not as a queen sitting on her throne, and Cepheus the king, which to the less active modern imagination, seems to be a simple five-sided drawing of a house blown over in the wind, certainly not a king sitting regally on his throne. Below Andromeda down toward the southeastern horizon these clear nights stretches the slain sea-monster, Cetus, as though the sight of the horrid Gorgon has just sent it sprawling to the ground. Cetus appears as a very large constellation stretching out below both Andromeda and Pegasus. Using the ancient story to tie them all together can be a good reminder to look for all six of these constellations on clear November evenings.

This month all five of the naked-eye planets may be easily seen either in the evening or morning sky. Jupiter is the first one to appear in the evening after sunset, in the southwestern sky and it may be seen for over 2 hours in early November before setting in the west. Its nightly period of visibility decreases until by the month’s end it may be seen for only about 1 hour before setting. Reddish Mars seen among the stars of the constellation Gemini rises in the east at about 8:30 p.m. in early November and a bit earlier from night to night until by the end of the month it is seen rising about 6:30 p.m. Very careful observers may be able to notice two things: (1) that it brightens slightly over the course of the month, and (2) it moves among the stars - eastward until November 15 and then westward after that date. Those who view it in a small telescope will also see its size increasing, because Earth and Mars are getting somewhat closer to each other. The third planet to be seen is Saturn, which rises in the east after midnight. It appears below Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo. It may be seen right up into morning twilight. Rising within an hour after Saturn is the very brilliant Venus, seen among the stars of the constellation Virgo. No, it is NOT a UFO!! In recent early morning observations of the eastern sky, I have noticed that I could easily see my shadow just from the brilliant light of Venus. In late November it appears to move downward among the stars and is seen not far from Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. The fifth planet to be seen is Mercury which may be seen low in the eastern sky during the first two weeks of the month for those who look well below Venus and slightly to its left. To be sure of seeing Mercury, observe from a location with a good view of the eastern horizon, and start looking over an hour before sunrise. Binoculars may assist in seeing it as twilight brightens the eastern horizon.

Several lunar conjunctions with bright planets and stars are well worth observing. On the morning of November 3rd the crescent moon appears very close to the bright star Regulus and just above Saturn. Set the alarm for 4:30 a.m. that morning and the following three mornings as well. On the 4th, the moon is below Saturn and above Venus, The Brilliant! On the 5th, it is right beside Venus. What a sight that will be! A Not-to-be-missed one! On the 6th and 7th the very slender crescent will be below Venus and to the upper right from Mercury. In the evening sky on the 12th and 13th the thin waxing crescent will be to the left of Jupiter low in the southwestern sky about 1 hour after sunset. On the night of the 23rd notice that the Full Moon appears close to the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus. On the 26th the bright moon appears to pass quite close to the planet Mars.

The annual Leonid Meteor Shower reaches its peak on the night of November 17th-18th. The best time to watch will be from midnight to dawn on the 18th. Look in a southeasterly direction, and record meteors seen per hour. Occasionally this shower is better than expected. Be prepared for surprises. I am interested in hearing of numbers seen per hour.

More information about the night sky is available in the book The Beginner’s Observing Guide, now on sale at Sharbot Lake Pharmacy.

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