EYES ON THE NIGHT SKY: NOVEMBER 2017
November is a wonderful month for star gazing as you don’t have to burn the candle at both ends! After the Full Moon on 4th November, the best time to get out there is from the middle of the month (12th onwards, with a New Moon on 18th November) when astronomical darkness starts at 6:30pm. At that time, it is possible to view the summer targets in the early evening and watch the autumn and early winter ones rise majestically across the sky as the night progresses. At this time of year, the night sky becomes a visual feast for the eyes, binoculars and telescopes. This month, we’ll try to provide sky targets for all.
From midnight, the Winter Hexagon asterism rises and consists of the six brightest stars in the night sky, listed in order of brightness: Sirius (1st), Capella (6th), Rigel (7th), Procyon (8th), Aldebaran (14th) and Pollux (17th). The fiery, red supergiant of Betelgeuse (10th brightest star) in the Orion constellation takes centre place of this hexagon. In fact, this small region contains ten of the brightest stars in our sky! You just need your eyes to see this beautiful asterism.
The Double Cluster is one of the best naked eye, binocular and telescope targets! In a pair of 10x50 binoculars, this true pair cluster, situated between Cassiopeia and Perseus, resembles two, glowing balls of stars and has a slightly nebulous appearance. Through a telescope, they resolve into two glittering clusters of stars. Take some time to enjoy the contrast between the blue, hot stars and its red, cooler counterparts. In the northern hemisphere, this pair, being only a few light years apart from each other, is circumpolar - meaning it is always in the sky - every night and all night! It is situated within the Perseus arm of the Milky Way galaxy and is 7500 light years away from us.
The Pleiades is a stunning open cluster to study. Also called the Seven Sisters, it is comprised of extremely luminous, hot stars and can be seen with the naked eye at the end of the upper arm of Taurus. Those with younger eyes will see seven or more stars but most of us will only spot five. Through binoculars, they scintillate like diamonds but through a large telescope in a dark sky, you can almost make out the diaphanous nebulae that surround these amazing stars. Some of these are hundreds of times hotter than our own Sun! This open cluster contains around 3000 stars and lies 444 light years from Earth. It is also gravitationally bound, meaning it moves together through space. It’s span is 13 light years, which is half the distance from us to the star Vega (in Lyra, a summer Constellation).
The best is left until last for binocular and telescope sky watchers. The Orion Nebula (M42) is situated in the Orion constellation. This diffuse nebula can be found at the centre of the Orion’s Sword asterism, hanging from the belt which consists of three stars at the centre of this constellation. The nebula can be seen with the naked eye but starts to blossom out once viewed with the binoculars. In telescopes of six inches of aperture upwards and a low magnification eyepiece, you can spot breathtaking swirls of nebula gases with a bright core. Using a higher magnification eyepiece (at around 125x), you can resolve the bright core into an asterism of four stars, called the Trapezium.
These four young, hot stars that lie in the heart of the Orion Nebula are fascinating to watch on a still night as you will suddenly spot ‘blobs’ emerging from the A and C stars. These are classed as E and F stars and are a challenge to see, as they have to compete with the glowing gasses in the nebula.
Planet–wise, an early morning Venus and Jupiter conjunction occurs on the 13th November, at 6:40am. It can be seen low on the SSE horizon. From our perspective, they will be 0.3° apart, which is a little less than the diameter of the Moon at 0.5°.
The Leonid meteor shower will peak around midnight to dawn on 17th - 18th November, during the New Moon, which means it is dark enough to enjoy this annual phenomenon. As the name implies, they will appear to radiate from the area of the Leo constellation. Even though this meteor shower peaks at around 15-20 per hour, they will zip across the sky at high speeds and may produce more fireballs. Well worth getting outside for.
There is so much more to discover in the sky – download a planetarium app or buy a sky atlas and discover for yourselves how much is out there!