Comet ISON is upstaged! Four comets are currently on display for binoculars or small telescopes in the east before the beginning of dawn (for Northern Hemisphere observers). One is Comet ISON, still underperforming at only about 8th magnitude. It starts this week about midway between Mars and Spica and speeds toward Spica daily, to pass it on November 17th and 18th.
But ISON is being outdone! Comet 2013 R1 (Lovejoy) "is a humdinger — almost as bright now as Comet ISON was forecast to be," writes S&T's Tony Flanders. "And it's very high in the sky... big, bright, and beautiful in 10×30 binoculars."
The other two comets, Encke and C/2012 X1 (LINEAR), are fainter. See Tony's article The Other Great Morning Comet, with finder charts for Lovejoy and ISON. Further details and charts for all four are at comets.skyhound.com.
And don't delay. Encke is getting very low, and moonlight returns to the just-before-dawn sky after about November 15th.
Friday, November 8
Saturday, November 9
Sunday, November 10
Monday, November 11
Tuesday, November 12
Wednesday, November 13
Thursday, November 14
Friday, November 15
Saturday, November 16
Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
This is an outdoor nature hobby. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and once you know your way around, the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability, which means heavy and expensive). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their invaluable 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."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury, rapidly brightening from magnitude +1.0 to –0.5 this week, has leaped up from the sunrise glare to shine low in the east-southeast in early dawn. By November 13th it's having its best morning apparition of 2013. Don't confuse it with Spica, 10° or 12° to Mercury's upper right all week as shown here, or brighter Arcturus, 30° to Mercury's upper left.
Venus (magnitude –4.7) is the bright "Evening Star" in the southwest during dusk, shining nearly as high and bright as it will become this apparition. It now sets a good hour after dark. In a telescope, Venus has waned to its thick-crescent phase and has enlarged to be about 28 arcseconds tall.
Mars (magnitude 1.4, in Leo) rises around 1 or 2 a.m. It's moving eastward against the background stars, pulling farther away to the lower left from Regulus. By dawn, Mars and Regulus are high in the southeast.
Mars is still a telescopic disappointment, only 5 arcseconds in diameter. It reaches its next opposition in April 2014.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.4, in Gemini) rises in the east-northeast around 9 p.m. with Pollux and Castor to its left. It blazes highest in the south well before dawn. In a telescope Jupiter has grown to 42 arcseconds wide as it heads toward its January 5th opposition.
Saturn is hidden behind the glare of the Sun.
Uranus (magnitude 5.7, in Pisces) and Neptune (magnitude 7.9, in Aquarius) are high in the southeast and south, respectively, in early evening. Finder charts for Uranus and Neptune. See also the October Sky & Telescope, page 50.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon — 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) is Universal Time (known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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