1 year 9 months ago

Welcome to the November edition of Eyes on the Night Sky. Even though there may be local Covid-19 restrictions in your area, you can still look up to the night skies from the comfort of your garden. We will select some highlights of what is in the night sky this month.

There are a few planets to study during November that can be seen from urban gardens. Mars continues to shine like a red star at night.  Over the month it dims a full magnitude, weeks after opposition, where the red planet was closest to the earth; subsequently, the distance increases and the planet appears to shrink in size. If you have a telescope, look for the southern polar ice cap.

An Opportunity to Find Mercury

On 10th November, Mercury is at greatest western elongation, which means it’s visible for a period of time before Sunrise, which is good for an inferior planet (the sunward planets whose orbits are closer to the Sun than the Earth’s. This month provides a great opportunity to study this small but mighty planet. Look out for it as it rises at 6am at the beginning of the month, rising earlier until 5.30am on 8th November. The planet will be visible for at least an hour before sunrise – have your binoculars to hand to see it – you may be able to spot Mercury with the unaided eye.

If you need a hand to find Mercury, there is a great opportunity on 13th November if you are willing to set your alarms and access a low horizon! From 6am, Mercury will be accompanied by the Moon and Venus. Try to spot the wafer thin crescent Moon with earthshine, straddled between Venus at 4° distance, which lays in a two o clock position – Mercury lies 8° below the Moon at the seven o’ clock position. A lovely conjunction to start your day.

The New Moon falls on 15th November and the Full Moon on 30th November. There will be a penumbral lunar eclipse on 30th November but viewers in the UK will miss this due to the eclipse starting at Moonset.

An example of a Moon/Venus Conjunction. ©Sam Price

On 12th November from 4.30am the Moon will pass Venus by 4° (or the width of three fingers held out at arm's length) and will provide a lovely sight through binoculars and provide a good photographic subject, especially with the presence of earthshine. You will be able to see this conjunction through to sunrise.

Meteor Showers

There are a few meteor showers this month: the Southern Taurid Meteor shower peaks towards midnight of the 5th November and the early hours of 6th November. The Northern Taurid Meteor shower peaks towards midnight of the 12th November and the early hours of 13th November. Even though this year, we may only expect five meteors an hour at peak zenithal rate, this meteor shower is known for its fireballs.

The Leonid meteor shower peaks on 18th November at 5am at a rate of 15 meteors an hour. Roughly every 33 years, a meteor storm occurs where hundreds or shooting stars can be seen; the previous one occurred in 2001 and previous to that year was on November 17th, 1966, where the meteors in their thousands, ‘fell like rain’ for a period of 15 minutes in the early hours of the morning and viewers from North America watched, “a rain of meteors, turn into a hail of meteors and finally a storm of meteors, too numerous to count by 3:50 a.m. Pacific Time. Instinctively, we sought to shield our upturned faces from imagined celestial debris.” The next noteable storm is due around 2034.

ISS Passes During November

The International Space Station ©NASA

The ISS passes over UK skies during November here are the dates and times to see it – fortunately, there are a couple of early evening ones if you don’t want to get up early! We have selected the brightest passes:

01/11 -3.8   05:45 25° W 05:46 81° S 05:50 10° E
02/11  -3.7 04:59 77° SE 04:59   77° SE 05:02 10° E
02/11 -3.3  06:32 10° W 06:35 54° SSW 06:39 10° ESE
03/11 -3.6 05:46 27° W 05:48  66° SSW 05:51 10° ESE
04/11 -3.6  05:00 69° SE 05:00 69° SE 05:03 10° ESE
04/11 -2.6  06:33 10° W 06:36 32° SSW 06:39 10° SE
05/11 -3.1 05:47 26° WSW  05:49 42° SSW 05:52 10° SE
06/11 -3.1 05:01 47° SSE 05:01 47° SSE 05:04 10° ESE
07/11 -2.3 05:49 21° WSW 05:50 24° SSW 05:52 10° SSE
08/11 -2.1 05:03 26° S 05:03 26° S 05:05 10° SE
22/11  -2.0 18:39 10° SW 18:41 25° S 18:41 25° S
23/11 -2.3 17:51 10° SSW 17:54 24° SSE 17:55 22° SE

For more information, visit this site (you can enter your location to view ISS pass times)


Constellation of the month: Orion

Constellation of Orion over Caban Coch Reservoir  ©Sam Price

This mighty and favoured constellation graces the winter skies. At this time of year, the constellation rises in the east at around 8.30pm in the east and is visible all night.

It contains a few nebulae including the famous M42 or Orion Nebula, one of the greatest stellar nurseries in the Milky Way, producing around 1000 stars with 700 still in various stages of formation. M42 can be seen with the unaided eye and is a treat through binoculars, appearing as a bright, glistening mass. Through telescopes in a dark sky, the nebula’s structure is jaw dropping with increased magnification, you can spot the four stars comprising the Trapezium Cluster, the stars’ light illuminating the nebula clouds that surround them.

The Constellation of Orion has many associated myths. In Greek mythology, Orion fell in love with Pleione, mother of the Seven Sisters (Pleiades) and pursued them for seven years. Zeus intervened by capturing them all and placing them into the sky. 

In Sumerian culture, Orion was known as URU AN-NA, or ‘Light of Heaven’, associating it with a story of their hero fighting GUD AN-NA, the ‘Bull of Heaven’.

Orion is thought to be famous in ancient Egyptian culture: it was believed that Pharaohs were transformed into Osiris when they died. A theory states that the Gizan Pyramids were built to replicate the Constellation of Orion, with the air shafts in the King’s Chamber directly aligned with Alnitak, the first star in the Belt of Orion.