Halloween weekend didn’t disappoint with some great views of the Blue Moon, which added to the spooky atmosphere. In the coming weeks there are more opportunities for meteor spotters with three meteor showers peaking in November: Northern Taurids, Iota Aurigid and the Leonids. There are also great views of many planets, with Mars dominating. Vernon from the Callander and West Perthshire U3A Astronomy group shares what to look out for this month.
It is always helpful to have a star chart to follow when navigating and observing the heavens. A free star chart which also contains lots of additional observational notes is published monthly by Skymaps. Simply go to skymaps.com and scroll down to ‘Download the latest issue’. From here you will can download the northern hemisphere version and save it. This is then best printed double sided to an A4 sheet. It is worth noting that planets do not appear on skymaps. In this note of astronomical events I have only included items that can be seen either with the naked eye or with a pair of binoculars.
Should you venture outside you will need a torch. Use a red light head torch if you have one, or put red plastic over a torch to illuminate the skymap and preserve your night vision which improves greatly over time. Wrap up warm and with a little perseverance, about 20 minutes, you will feast your eyes on the universe that you live within. Enjoy and indulge!
November and December features
Mars dominates the evening sky this year, its reddish glare taking the centre stage. Currently in Pisces, to the lower left of the Square of Pegasus with Aries, the Ram, to the upper left of Mars. Above Aries is Triangulum, the Triangle. While the Milky Way is almost overhead at this time of year it is a good opportunity to explore the constellations of Perseus, Cassiopeia, and Andromeda. In a dark area away from any stray light look upwards with binoculars where there are lots of star clusters and patterns to see. Compare these to the skymap you have downloaded to identify the objects you see using your red torchlight.
The constellation of Orion is now above the Eastern horizon just above and to the left of the difficult to determine Eridanus constellation. Higher in the sky is Taurus with my favourite, Pleiades, to the above right of the orange star Aldebaran. Further to the West, or right, are the constellations of Pisces and Cetus. Still further West early in the evening it is possible to see Aquarius, but Capricornus is only partially visible slipping below the horizon until next year.
Much of Aquilla is now below the horizon leaving only two stars of the Summer Triangle, Vega in Lyra and Deneb in Cygnus for us to see. The head of Drago and most of Hercules have also disappeared. This transition allows us to see the southern most stars of Ursa Major rise. Above us sits the Milky Way like an Archway over our heads with the dense clouds in the West and the thinner parts passing through Auriga and Monoceros to the East. Directly above us is Cassiopeia and Cephus while Auriga is high in the Northeast leading us down further East to Gemini where it is easy to identify Castor and Pollux.
The Northern Taurids which began during October reach a maximum of 4 or 5 an hour on 13th & 14th November. The parent comet for both Taurid showers is Comet 2P/Encke. The Moon is a waning crescent so conditions, although not optimal are fair to good. The Leonids 5th-29th November with maximum activity 17th 18th November are associated with Comet 55P/Temple-Tuttle. The Leonids have given some of the best views seen with up to 3000 meteors per hour in 1999, 2001 and 2002. While these numbers have fallen dramatically the 2020 rate is predicted to be around 15/hour. These meteors are the fastest ever recorded at around 70km/second and often leave persistent trails. This year the maximum falls two days after New Moon so conditions are very good for observation.
Mercury at greatest elongation on 10th when it rises two hours before the sun.
Venus, despite creeping closer to the sun, Venus remains a prominent object in the morning sky.
Mars, remains bright but dimming. It is a 20 arcsecond disc on the 1st November shrinking to 15 arcseconds by 30th November.
Jupiter is low but visible all month in the evening sky.
Saturn is East of Jupiter with the separation diminishing throughout the month.
Uranus is a well positioned planet in Aries.
Neptune is also a well positioned planet close to the star Phi Aquarii
Nights of interest
Some of the objects described below are expressed in degrees from the Moon. This is far less complicated to measure than you might think. To measure 10 degrees, hold your hand up towards the sky at arm’s length and turn your hand up so that it obscures part of your view. The width of your hand is 10 degrees and holding just one finger is two degrees.
3rd Jupiter and Saturn less than 5 degrees apart in the early evening sky
8th Moon last quarter
5th to 29th Leonid meteor shower
10th Mercury visible in the early morning sky rising 2hours before the Sun
11th A very dim Pluto is less than half a degree from the gas giant Jupiter
12th Venus 3.1 degrees from the Moon, 21.30hrs
12th & 13th Northern Taurid meteor shower maximum
13th Mercury 1.7 degrees from the Moon, 20.44hrs
13th Star Spica 7.0 degrees from the Moon, 02.52hrs
15th New Moon
15th The often unseen Iota Aurigid meteor shower peaks at 8 meteors per hour
16th Star Antares 5.6 degrees of the Moon, 06.30hrs
17th Leonid shower at maximum, peak after midnight
19th Jupiter 2.5 degrees North of the Moon, 08.56hrs
19th Saturn 2.9 degrees North of the Moon, 14.51hrs
20th Pleiades open cluster reaches its highest position, due south at midnight
22nd Moon first quarter
22nd An unusual “clair obscure”, or, trick of the light, effect occurs tonight around 10pm. The profile of a face is created by the shadow of the crater Albategnius’s Eastern rim on it’s floor. Find a Moon Map on Google to locate the crater, search for this using binoculars and make your acquaintance with the Man on the Moon.