Sky at a Glance | November 7th, 2008

Some daily events in the changing sky for November 7 – November 15.

Looking southwest in twilight
Jupiter is moving in on Venus. Keep watch all month.

Friday, November 7

  • Using binoculars, can you still pick out the star pattern of the Sagittarius Teapot between Jupiter and Venus, as shown here? The Teapot is 13° wide. That's about twice as wide as a typical 7× or 8× binocular's field of view.

    Saturday, November 8

  • The bright eclipsing variable star Algol should be in one of its periodic dimmings, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for a couple hours centered on 11:07 p.m. EST. Algol takes several additional hours to fade and to rebrighten. (For a comparison-star chart and all times of Algol's minima this month, good worldwide, see the November Sky & Telescope, page 69.)

    Sunday, November 9

  • Vesta, the brightest asteroid, is just past opposition and still magnitude 6.6. It's easily visible with binoculars near the head of Cetus. Use the finder chart in the November Sky & Telescope, page 67, or online.

    Monday, November 10

  • The outstretched hand of the Andromeda constellation figure has a bunch of telescopic trophies that you may not know. See Sue French's "Deep-Sky Wonders" article and sky map in the November Sky & Telescope, page 71.

    Tuesday, November 11

  • The Taurid meteor shower, weak but long-lasting, remains active at least through mid-November. Actually, "weak" may not be the right word. Taurids are indeed few, but some of them are spectacularly bright. Moreover, this is a Taurid swarm year, when the shower is predicted to be above average. So watch for fireballs!

    Update: The Taurid fireballs are indeed happening; see news and photo gallery at Spaceweather.com.

    Unlike many meteor showers, the Taurids are active in the evening as well as the morning hours. Compared to most meteors, Taurids move relatively slowly in the sky, and they often have a greenish tint. They're fragments of Periodic Comet 2P/Encke.

  • Algol should be at minimum brightness for a couple hours centered on 7:56 p.m. EST.

    Wednesday, November 12

  • Full Moon tonight (exact at 1:17 a.m. Thursday morning EST).

    Thursday, November 13

  • November is the time of year when the Big Dipper rest horizontally at its lowest in the north-northwest after dusk. Canadians and Europeans should have no trouble seeing it, given an open view in that direction, but if you're as far south as Miami, it'll be below your horizon!

    Facing southwest in twilight
    Getting closer. . . .
    Friday, November 14

  • The brightest star shining high in the west after dark is Vega. 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 15

  • The Moon is up in the east after dinnertime. 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?


    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 (magnitude –0.9) is disappearing down into the sunrise. You can scan for it, preferably with binoculars, just above the east-southeast horizon about 30 minutes before sunrise, the earlier in the week the better.

    Venus and Jupiter (magnitudes –4.0 and –2.1, respectively) shine brightly in evening twilight, as shown in the sky scenes above. Jupiter is in the south-southwest; look for 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 24° apart on November 7th and 15° apart on the 15th. These two brightest planets are heading toward a spectacular conjunction, 2° apart, on November 30th and December 1st.

    In a telescope Venus is still small (14 arcseconds wide) and gibbous (76% illuminated). Jupiter is 36″ wide but has a much lower surface brightness.

    Mars is hidden in the glare of the Sun.

    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
    Saturn (magnitude +1.1, in the hind feet of Leo) rises around 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.

    Pluto is sinking away into 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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