Nov 2nd: Awesome Astronomy’s November Sky Guide

By on November 2, 2014 in

Podcaster: Ralph & Paul

Awesome-Astronomy--NEWTitle : Awesome Astronomy’s November Sky Guide

Organization: Awesome Astronomy

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Description: What to look out, and up, for in November. We start with the welcome return of the winter constellation of Taurus in our beginners’ and young observers’ challenge. Next up is the planets, the phases and conjunctions of the moon and the Leonid meteor shower to enjoy this month. We then round up the best of the deep sky offerings for the month with the open clusters and binary stars in the constellation Auriga.

For those in the Southern Hemisphere, 365 Days of Astronomy also play Alice Enevoldsen’s What’s Up Tonight, Southern Skies Edition each month.

Bio: Awesome Astronomy is the show for anyone and everyone who has even the slightest interest in astronomy and science.

Join Ralph & Paul twice each month, for informative and fun astronomy programs telling you what to look out (and up) for every month. You can be guaranteed a passion for astronomy, simple explanations of complex and fundamental topics, space and science news, absorbing interviews with astronomers who make the news and listeners’ astronomy questions answered

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by — no one. We still need sponsors for many days in 2014, so please consider sponsoring a day or two. Just click on the “Donate” button on the lower left side of this webpage, or contact us at


Paul: November and the skies are dark, the nights are long and all those winter favourites are climbing high once more. We have a meteor shower to take in and finally the planet drought is coming to an end as the King once more climbs into his throne for another winter long reign.

But before we look at those, here’s Ralph to take you through our beginners guide.

Ralph: Nice long dark skies this month, so for the beginners and young astronomers in November, we’re taking a look at the welcome return of Taurus the Bull.

By the middle of the month it will be dark enough to begin observing from just after 5pm but Taurus isn’t fully over the horizon until 6pm if your location’s around 50 ish degrees latitude – that’s the latitude that covers northern Europe and southern Canada, and times will vary by about an hour or so if you’re further north or south.

The first you’ll notice of Taurus is the attention-drawing cluster of bright naked-eye visible stars that make up the Pleiades (or Seven Sisters) Cluster, and with a good low horizon, you’ll see this in the east as night descends. And that makes it the perfect place to start this beginner’s guide.

Sitting around 400 light years away, the Pleaides is a grouping of large, hot stars less than 100 million years old – real infants when you consider that our sun’s more than four and a half billion years old. The stars that make up the Pleiades all formed in the same gas cloud and these stars are now drifting through another dense region of gas, which you can see as blue nebulosity if you take camera images of the cluster. These stars are already beginning to slowly drift apart and in another 250 million years they’ll become more dispersed like the next cluster to look for in Taurus this month, The Hyades.

Now for me the Hyades Cluster’s a bit problematic. Rising about an hour after the Pleiades, the similar sounding Hyades Cluster is much more dispersed and looks more like… a scattering of bright background stars than a cluster, and because it extends for over 5 degrees, it’s wider than 10 full moon widths – making it difficult to fit within the eyepiece of any scopes except for the shortest focal length scopes with very low power eyepieces. But this does allow you to scan the region close up with any scope and take in the range of star types and colours. But, with the naked eye, the Hyades cluster is an unmistakable V shape of stars that sit 150 light years away from us, in a chance alignment with the red giant star Aldebaran – which has bloated to 45 times the size of the sun as it runs out of fuel and begins to die. But if you have a small pair of binoculars on a sturdy tripod… that’s the perfect way to frame this cluster in its entirety.

Our final stop in Taurus takes a bit more perseverance and even some averted vision in smaller telescopes (that’s looking to the side of the object to let the more light sensitive regions on your retina pick out those weak photons). But I promise this is worth the extra effort because this is the only supernova remnant in Charles Messier’s catalogue and a ball of gas glowing from the huge explosion that a massive dying star caused as it ran out of fuel and went supernova in 1054 – we know this because Chinese and Arabian observers recorded a bright but temporary star in this position in that year. This shell of gas is now expanding away from the spinning neutron star left in the centre at 1,500 km/s. And even though it’s still 16 times further away than the Pleiades Cluster, you can actually see this for yourself in an amateur scope.

Find the star Zeta Tauri that sits halfway between Aldebaran in Taurus and yellow star Mebsuta, in the waist of the highest of the Gemini twins. And about an outstretched finger’s width above Zeta Tauri sits Messier 1, the Crab Nebula supernova remnant.

I’d recommend waiting until after 10pm when it will be well out of the murk of the thickest part of our atmosphere and, as with most deep sky objects, the bigger the telescope you can get your hands on, the better – your local astronomical association’s a great place to try a range of scopes and we have a list of astronomical societies on our website.

Paul: Turning to the Solar System we still have an early evening view of Mars in Sagittarius to enjoy, the red planet setting around 20 past 7. The view is not spectacular with both altitude and distance counting against the god of war, but with the next opposition not until 2016 it will be a long time before this view improves.

Uranus and Neptune are still in the sky in Pisces and Aquarius respectively and while getting ever more distant and setting earlier in the night they are still worth a quick look, especially if you’ve never gazed at the most distant planets before. If you are having trouble locating Uranus then look below the moon on the evening of 4th around 5pm UT as the moon sails close by.

The rising star of planetary viewing is Jupiter. Rising around half past ten in the evening, sitting between cancer and Leo and already blazing away at magnitude -2. Now while last year is going to be tough to beat with Jupiter at it’s highest in the sky for 12 years, this apparition enters an interesting phase in the Jovian calendar as we have reached a point where the alignment of the Earth, the Sun and Jupiter mean that we are entering a period of interesting interactions between the Galilean moons where over the next few months we will witness a series of eclipses and occultations known as mutual events and this month we see four good ones. Starting with the 2nd of November Callisto will occult io just after ten to six in the morning UT with the two moons separating again after about 20 minutes. On the 16th Io occults Europa for around 3 minutes at about 5.07 am UT while on the 19th it is Callisto’s turn to occult Ganymede for about 7 minutes just after 3am UT. on the 25th we have an eclipse to enjoy as Ganymede’s shadow moves across Callisto for over an hour from ten past 2 in the morning UT. Have fun looking out for these and there are more to come in the months ahead.

Mercury starts the month at greatest western elongation on the 1st and is pretty much at it’s best for 2014. magnitude -0.5 and rising 2 hours before the sun this is one for the early risers or all nighters but should be a great view and one worth the effort. On the fourth mercury will make a nice pairing with Spica. Starts the month half illuminated and as it moves closer to the sun through the month it ends fully lit.

The moon is approaching full when we start November and hits full illumination at 10.23pm UT on the 6th. Last quarter is reached at 3.15pm UT on the 14th while new moon is achieved at 12.32pm on the 22nd. We reach first quarter before the month ends at 10.06 am UT on the 29th.

The moon has some good encounters this month with Aldebaran close by on the 8th, Jupiter on the 13th and 14th while Spica is nearby on the 19th and 20th.

We pass through the debris of comet temple-tutle this month which means it is once again time for the Leonids meteor shower. Not a vintage year, but should be a good one with the moon past full at the peak and not rising until after 1 am. The shower is quite a long one and is around most of the month, peaking on the night of the 17th-18th. ZHR is around 15.

As for comets themselves, there is nothing brighter than magnitude 10 in visible in the northern hemisphere, with only Comet E2 Jacques in Aquila teasing us at magnitude 9.9 and fading at the start of the month.

For our deep sky challenge this month we take a look at Auriga, distinctively shaped constellation, a sort of lopsided pentagon. The shape itself is supposed to represent the charioteer who has been curiously given a goat and two of its kids to hold, an important piece of kit when you’re off to ride your chariot I’m sure. The brightest star capella represents the goat while the two adjacent stars Eta and Zeta are the kids, known as the Haedi. Zeta is an eclipsing binary star with a period of 2.7 years and as the dimmer companion star passes in front there is a drop in maginitude for 40 days. Closer to Capella is Epsilon Aurigae, another eclipsing binary this time with a period of 27 years and a noticeable dimming that lasts for over a year. The object that causes this would be massive, wider than saturns orbit and current hypothesis suggest that a companion binary of two small b class stars surrounded by a massive clouds of dust is in orbit around the star.

Auriga is most famous though for open clusters, of which there are many. The most famous are the three that in a good sky show up as naked eye fuzzy patches, M36, 37 and 38, or if you are looking at the constellation then they are numbered 37, 36, 38 as you go east to west. Messier was obviously having one of those days. all are around 4000 light years away and make for great binocular and small scope targets. The famous observer Admiral Smyth used to wax lyrical about M37 and rightly so, his description of a ‘whole field strewed as it were with sparkling gold dust is a good one and look out for that orange hued star at it’s centre. M36 has brighter stars but not as rich while 38 is the largest but again not a densely packed as 37. While you are at 38 don’t forget to take in nearby cluster NGC1907 which is a fainter but still rewarding cluster.

For the larger drinkers Auriga is where you will find NGC 1664. a quite large cluster near eta aurigae and worth a look.

looking back towards M38 there are three objects that make a great image together and an interesting observing challenge, AE Aurigae and the flaming star nebula with nebula IC 410 and open cluster NGC1893 right next door. The fame nebula is being illuminated by the star AE Auriga which itself is an interesting star as it is one of those runways from the Orion Nebula. The flaming nebula is difficult to see visually and a hydrogen beta filter may help, as will a good dark sky. NGC 1893 is perfectly visible in a scope but the accompanying nebula IC410 will need an OIII filter. An interesting target for all.

So I wish you happy hunting and clear skies.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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