Sky at a Glance | October 31st, 2008

Some daily events in the changing sky for October 31 – November 8.

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

Friday, October 31

  • Low in the southwest during twilight, look for the thin crescent Moon about 5° beneath Venus. Slightly to the right of the Moon (for twilight in North America) is much fainter Antares, as shown at right.

  • If the sky is clear, why not set up your telescope in the driveway to share some astronomy with trick-or-treaters and their parents? Jupiter and its four satellites are still up in early evening. Other crowd pleasers that survive a fair amount of light pollution are the open cluster M11 in the tail of Aquila and the colorful double star Albireo, Beta Cygni.

    Saturday, November 1

  • Low in the southwest at in twilight, the thin crescent Moon appears 7° or 8° left of Venus (for North America), as shown above.

  • Daylight saving time, observed in most of North America, ends at 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Clocks "fall back" one hour. Be sure to make this change in our online almanac if you use it (uncheck the Daylight Saving Time box). Daylight time for North America runs from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November; the rules changed in 2007. Daylight time is not used in Hawaii, Saskatchewan, Puerto Rico, or in most of Arizona.

  • Before dawn Sunday morning, a telescope will show the 4.0-magnitude star Sigma Leonis just 0.1° from Saturn.

    Sunday, November 2

  • The Taurid meteor shower, weak but long-lasting, is active from late October through mid-November. Actually, "weak" may not be quite the right word. Taurids are indeed few, but some of them are spectacularly bright. So keep an eye out for fireballs. Unlike many meteor showers, this one can be seen in the evening as well as the morning hours.

    Monday, November 3

  • Jupiter shines less than 3° upper right of the crescent Moon this evening (for North America), as shown above.

    Tuesday, November 4

  • This evening, turn binoculars or a wide-field scope on Venus and look for the 3.3-magnitude star Theta Ophiuchi 0.7° to its upper left (for North America).

    Wednesday, November 5

  • Binoculars or a wide-field scope will show 3.3-magnitude Theta Ophiuchi 0.5° to Venus's lower right this evening (for North America).

  • First-quarter Moon (exact 11:03 p.m. EST).

    Thursday, November 6

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

    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° from end to end, about twice as wide as a typical 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 all times of Algol's minima this month, good worldwide, see the November Sky & Telescope, page 69.)


    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

    Planetary imager John Boudreau of Saugus, Mass., took advantage of Mercury's excellent elongation from the Sun last week. He got this remarkably detailed image of its Moon-like surface, with numerous features seen on Messenger spacecraft images, using an 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, a near-infrared filter (Astronomik 742 nanometers), and the stacked-video imaging method. He took this image at 14:10 UT October 27, 2008, with Mercury high in the sky in broad daylight.
    Mercury has been having its best morning apparition of 2008. This week it remains bright (magnitude –0.8) but drops lower toward the dawn horizon. Look for it low in the east-southeast, very far below Saturn and a bit left, about 45 to 30 minutes before sunrise. Use binoculars to look for fainter Spica twinkling to Mercury's right early in the week, and upper right later in the week.

    (You can always find your local sunrise time once you put your location into our online almanac. If you're off daylight saving time, make sure to uncheck the Daylight Saving Time box.)

    Venus, very bright at magnitude –4.0, is getting higher in the southwest after sunset. In a telescope it's still small (14 arcseconds wide) and gibbous (78% illuminated).

    Mars is lost in the sunset.

    Vesta, the brightest asteroid, is at opposition, easily spottable with binoculars at magnitude 6.5 in the head of Cetus. It gets high late in the evening. Use the finder chart in the November Sky & Telescope, page 67.

    Jupiter (bright at magnitude –2.1, in Sagittarius) shines in the south-southwest in twilight, and lower in the southwest later. For the next month watch Jupiter close in on Venus, which is currently far to its lower right, by 1° per day. They're 31° apart on October 31st and 24° apart on November 7th. These two brightest planets are heading toward a spectacular conjunction, 2° apart, on November 30th and December 1st.

    Saturn (magnitude +1.1, in eastern Leo) rises around 2 a.m. standard time and shines well up in the east-southeast by early dawn. Don't confuse it with fainter Regulus about 18° (roughly 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.

    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 disappearing low in the southwest after dusk.

    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 Daylight Time (EDT) equals Universal Time (known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.


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