Sky at a Glance | November 14th, 2008

Some daily events in the changing sky for November 14 – 22.

HR 8799 sky map
This sky map shows the location of 6th-magnitude HR 8799. The star is just barely visible to the naked eye under very dark skies. Its spectral type is A5, making it somewhat larger and hotter and 5 times as luminous as the Sun. It's located 130 light-years from Earth. By coincidence, it lies just 2½° east of 51 Pegasi, the first solar-type star discovered to have a planet.
Christian Marois

Friday, November 14

  • Two easily spottable stars made big news this week with the announcement of the first direct images of planets orbiting them; see our article. The stars are 1st-magnitude Fomalhaut and 6th-magnitude HR 8977. Take a look at them yourself! Fomalhaut is the bright star sparkling rather low in the south in early evening (for skywatchers at mid-northern latitudes). HR 8977 is in the Great Square of Pegasus very high above it. Use the chart at right, with binoculars, to identify HR 8977 near the square's western edge. The Great Square is about twice as wide as a typical binocular's field of view.

    Saturday, November 15

  • The Moon is up in the east after dinnertime tonight. Sparkling well to its upper left is Capella. A little less far to the Moon's right is Aldebaran. Above Aldebaran, can you see the Pleiades through the moonlight?

  • Monday evening the 17th, look for 2nd-magnitude Lambda Sagittarii, the star marking the top of the Teapot, 0.1° from Venus. Binoculars help.
    S&T Illustration
    Early Sunday morning, telescope users along a track from southern Ontario to the Carolinas can watch for a 9.6-magnitude star in Gemini, near the zenith, to be occulted by the faint, slow-moving asteroid Klotilde for up to 23 seconds. For charts and details see Steve Preston's asteroid occultation site.

    Sunday, November 16

  • Vesta, the brightest asteroid, is just past opposition and still magnitude 6.8. It's visible with binoculars near the head of Cetus. Use the finder chart in the November Sky & Telescope, page 67, or online.

  • Astro-imagers: tonight the asteroid Juno, 11th magnitude, is passing very near M16, the Eagle Nebula in Serpens Cauda.

    Monday, November 17

  • Venus appears about 0.1° below the 2.8-magnitude star Lambda Sagittarii at the time of dusk in the Americas — a remarkable sight in binoculars or a telescope. See our article.

    Witching-hour view to the east
    The waning Moon passes Regulus and Saturn in the feet of Leo in the early morning hours. (These scenes are drawn for the middle of North America. European observers: move each Moon symbol a quarter of the way toward the one for the previous date. For clarity, the Moon is shown three times actual size.)
    Tuesday, November 18

  • Can you spot the autumn globular clusters M15, off the nose of Pegasus, and M2 south of it? They're both 6th magnitude and identifiable in binoculars. See Gary Seronik's "Binocular Highlight" article and chart in the November Sky & Telescope, page 54.

    Wednesday, November 19

  • Last-quarter Moon (exact at 4:31 p.m. EST).

  • Early Thursday morning, telescope users along a track from Wisconsin to California can watch for a 9.1-magnitude star in Leo to be occulted by the faint asteroid Repsolda for up to 4 seconds. For charts and full details see Steve Preston's asteroid occultation site.

    Thursday, November 20

  • In the early-morning hours of Friday, the waning Moon hangs within a few degrees of Saturn. By dawn Friday morning they're high in the south-southeast.

    Facing southwest in twilight
    Getting closer. . . .
    Friday, November 21

  • Vega is the brightest star shining high in the west after dark. Look even higher above it for Deneb. Look farther to Vega's left for Altair. These three stars form the big Summer Triangle.

    Saturday, November 22

  • The 2.1-magnitude star Nunki (Sigma Sagittarii) sparkles 1° lower left of Venus at nightfall. Binoculars give a great view.


    Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly foldout map in each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).

    Pocket Sky Atlas
    The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6 — which may sound like a lot, but it's still less than one per square degree on the sky. Also plotted are many hundreds of good telescopic galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae.
    Sky & Telescope
    Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of maps; the standards are
    Sky Atlas 2000.0 or the smaller Pocket Sky Atlas) and good deep-sky guidebooks (such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the even more detailed Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic Burnham's Celestial Handbook). Read how to use them effectively.

    Can a computerized telescope take their place? As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand and a curious mind." Without these, they wisely say, "the sky never becomes a friendly place."

    More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".


    This Week's Planet Roundup

    Mercury on October 27, 2008
    Two planetary imagers a continent apart took these extraordinary infrared views of Mercury's surface markings within 40 minutes of each other on October 27th (through broad daylight). Many of the subtle features are the same in both views — proving that they are real markings on the planet, rather than processing-exaggerated noise or flaws. The small white spot labeled "New ray crater" lies in an area not imaged by the Messenger spacecraft. Click image for more information.
    John Boudreau / Ed Lomeli / Frank Mellilo
    Mercury is hidden in the glare of the Sun.

    Venus and Jupiter (magnitudes –4.1 and –2.1, respectively) shine brightly in evening twilight. They're in the southwest, with brighter Venus to Jupiter's lower right. Watch them close in on each other for the rest of November, by 1° per day. They're 16° apart on November 14th and only 8° apart on the 22nd. These two brightest planets are heading toward a spectacular conjunction, 2° apart, on November 30th and December 1st — when the crescent Moon will join in!

    In a telescope Venus is still small (15 arcseconds wide) and gibbous (73% illuminated). Jupiter is 35″ wide but has a much lower surface brightness, being seven times farther from the Sun.

    As it moves farther westward in the evening sky, Jupiter has gotten small (35 arcseconds wide this week) and low, so don't be disappointed if your scope shows very little on it. Even world-class planetary imager Christopher Go recorded only this rather fuzzy view on November 16th (at 9:43 UT).


    South is up, to match the view in many telescopes. Note the white outbreak in the South Equatorial Belt near the central meridian. The CM II longitude was 277°.

    Mars is hidden in the glare of the Sun.

    Saturn (magnitude +1.1, in the hind feet of Leo) rises around 1 or 2 a.m. standard time and shines high in the southeast by early dawn. Don't confuse it with Regulus 20° (two fist-widths at arm's length) to its upper right.

    A telescope will show that Saturn's rings have turned nearly edge on; they're currently tilted 2° to our line of sight and closing. They'll reach a minimum of 0.8° at the end of the year, then start opening again before finally closing to edge-on next September.

    Uranus and Neptune (magnitudes 5.8 and 7.9, respectively, in Aquarius and Capricornus) are in the south during early evening. Use our article and finder charts or the chart in the September Sky & Telescope, page 63.

    Saturn's rings were tipped only 2° to our line of sight on November 1, 2008, when Tomio Akutsu of Cebu, Philippines, took this image. Note the very prominent black shadow of the rings on the globe. South is up.
    Tomio Akutsu
    Pluto is lost in the sunset.

    All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Standard Time (EST) equals Universal Time (known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.


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