NOVEMBER 2013 NIGHT SKY CALENDAR
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2013
VENUS AT GREATEST EASTERN ELONGATION (47.1 DEGREES FROM THE SUN)
Here's a spoiler - Venus is November's pick planet! The second sphere is spectacularly bright all month. As it draws even closer to Earth, it will grow even more brilliant before it reaches its maximum brightness later this autumn. Tonight, Venus attains its maximum angular separation from the Sun in our sky during this evening apparition. As it is an inferior planet, Venus never strays too far from Sol. In fact, this elongation is at the higher elongation limit for Venus. One won't often find Venus much farther from the Sun.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2013
MERCURY AT INFERIOR SOLAR CONJUNCTION
Venus is visible. Mercury is not. Mercury passes through inferior solar conjunction today, meaning that it will move between Earth and the Sun. As the first world will be half a degree south of the Sun, it will not cross directly in front of our parent star. Such passages, called 'transits,' are not common. The next Mercurian transit occurs in 2016.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2013 (GOLD EVENT!)
PARTIAL SOLAR ECLIPSE
Ironically, to observe what we have presumptuously deemed 'the gold event' is visible only after dawn. On Sunday morning, the Sun rises 55% eclipsed by the Moon. The maximum eclipse occurs before sunrise. Anyone along America's eastern seaboard will see the eclipsed Sun rise. Here, the Sun rises at 6:20 a.m and the eclipse will end at 7:12 a.m. As we devoted two articles to the eclipse this week, we'll say little more about it. EXCEPT
--Never observe the Sun without protection!
-The 2017 total eclipse totality path will traverse America's mid section. Here, we'll see a partial solar eclipse.
-The next total solar eclipse in Maine will occur on April 8, 2024.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3. 2013
Of course, if we're going to have a solar eclipse, we'll also have a new moon.
The beginning of lunation cycle 1124.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 201
MOON 1.9 DEGREES SSE OF SATURN
Honestly, we included it now because it doesn’t' actually matter either way. This Saturn-Moon gathering is an "academic" event, meaning that it did actually occur, but nobody observed it. The Moon and Saturn came within 1.9 degrees of each other nearly seven hours after the eclipse. Both bodies were less than three degrees from the Sun on Sunday, beyond any one's view. If we conferred metal desginations to every celestial event beyond just gold, silver and bronze, this one would ' tissue paper.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2013
MOON 7.4 DEGREES N OF ANTARES
By Tuesday, one should finally see the sliver crescent moon in the western evening sky. Tonight, one will find the Moon north of Antares. the brightest star in Scorpius the Scorpion. As both bodies are about 26 degrees from the Sun, they will be low in the southwestern early evening sky. Antares, one of the summer sky's prominent sights, will soon vanish into the twilight. Those sensible people nostalgic for summer might venture out this evening to bid adieu to the Scorpion's heart. Be consoled: Antares will return to the pre-dawn mid winter sky.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2013
sATURN IN SOLAR CONJUNCTION
We recognize two different solar conjunction types. "Inferior solar conjunction" is the passage of a planet between the Sun and Earth. "Superior solar conjunction" occurs when a planet passes on the far side of the Sun relative to Earth. All the planets -except Earth, of course- can be in superior solar conjunction. Only the inferior planets -Mercury and Venus- can ever be in inferior conjunction. Today, Saturn hides behind the Sun in superior solar conjunction. We won't see Saturn again until late this month (See Planet Watch)
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2013
MOON 8.0 N OF VENUS (SILVER EVENT!)
A beautiful crescent moon close to a spectacularly bright Venus. Were it not for the partial solar eclipse earlier this month, the Moon/Venus gathering would have earned the gold! Observe these two brilliant worlds in the western evening sky tonight.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2013
VENUS AT GREATEST SOUTHERN DECLINATION (-27.2 DEGREES)
This one is not precisely an "academic" event, as one does observe something. "Declination" refers to a celestial object's position relative to the Celestial Equator, defined as Earth's equator projected onto the sky. Any celestial body's position can be specified with two values - the declination (altitude relative to the Celestial Equator) and the "right ascension," the position with respect to the vernal (March) equinox. Venus' southern position keeps it much lower than it might otherwise have been were it north, as opposed to south, of the celestial equator. Consequently, it sets rather early, despite having recently reached its greatest elongation. Sometimes, one can find Venus setting as late as 11:00 p.m. (rarely). Tonight, the sister world sets before 9:00 p.m.
[An 'academic' note: Venus hasn't been this far south of the celestial equator since 1938! That statistic tickles some of us. Others hear crickets.]
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2013
No matter how advanced we become, we cannot get over our ancient tendencies to think geocentrically. By this statement, we mean, we still regard the Universe as though it were a festival presented for our own amusement and that all the empheryeal orbs turn around us specifically. While astronomy finally cured us of this narcissicism, old habits die hard. Jupiter will not actually stop in its orbit. Instead, it will seem to halt its prograde (west to east) motion before beginning retrograde (east to west) movement. We hasten to point out that one cannot directly observe Jupiter's motion. Instead, Jupiter can only be tracked night to night by noting its position relative to "fixed" stars. Jupiter appears to 'stop' and then move backward because Earth will soon move between it and the Sun: a configuration called 'opposition.' Just before and just after opposition, Jupiter describes a retrograde loop as the faster moving Earth swings around the Sun. Think of passing a slower car on the freeway. Relative to the background, that automobile seems to go into reverse, even though it does no such thing. The same principle applies to superior planets (planets which are outside Earth's orbit.)
Jupiter reaches opposition on January 5, 2014
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2013
FIRST QUARTER MOON
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2013
We've already established that planets do not stop. They continue revolving around the Sun. Their apparent halts and reversals all result from a combination of the planets' motion and that of Earth. Mercury has been moving along a retrograde loop but will now proceed with prograde motion. We see Mercury, and the other inferior planet, Venus, move in this manner because we're watching their orbits from the outside. Just as an audience at a Nascar race observes cars change direction as they roar around a track, we see Mercury and Venus run around their own track and therefore they will move in different directions depending on their positions. The only complication for us is that we're moving, too. Our restless Earth revolves at 67,000 miles per hour. As we're observing mobile objects from our mobile platform, the computations of these planetary orbits become a lot trickier.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2013
JUPITER AND PLUTO AT HELIOCENTRIC OPPOSITION
Again, not much to see here, for we still think it is two clicks shy of fantastic. Jupiter and Pluto occupy opposite sides relative to the Sun. Remember that 'heliocentric' means 'sun centered.' Jupiter rises in the mid evening sky; a bright beacon in Gemini the twins. Pluto sets in the early evening; a dim phantom in Ophiuchus the Serpent Charmer. These two superior worlds won't be in heliocentric opposition again for slightly more than a dozen years, so we thought we'd mention this event.
(Side note: Jupiter is more than two million times brighter than Pluto (Jupiter mag: -2.6; Pluto mag: 14.0)
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 13
We all know that planets don’t' sto….oh, who cares….
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17
LEONID METEOR SHOWER PEAKS
Every solar eclipse will be a gold; every Venus-Moon encounter will rank a silver. But, meteor showers? Well, they can literally be hit or miss events depending on various factors. Meteor showers occur when Earth ploughs roughly through a stream of comet particles, called meteoroids. When this swarm descends through the atmosphere, we have a meteor shower. Earth doesn't run through precisely the same part of the stream each time, and within any comet trail one will find different particle density regions. These "trails" would be more aptly described as "fields," for they are quite dispersed. In fact, the Leonid Meteor shower begins on November 6 and ends on November 30th. The Leonid's parent comet, Tempel-Tuttle, was last at perihelion in 1998 and isn't due for a return visit until 2031. About four years after its last perihelion, the Leonids produced a veritable meteor storm (November 2002) with hundreds of meteors visible in the pre-dawn sky. This year, we expect no such spectacle. First of all, the Moon is full. Lunar light interference makes short work of most meteor showers. The full moon is not only bright (nine times brighter than the quarter moon) but is up all night. One truly needs a dark sky to see a lot of meteors. A full moon keeps the sky bright from dusk to dawn.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17
A hunter's moon. A frosty moon. The November full moon has its fair share of monikers. Now, the harvest has ended and the world slowly lapses into dormancy. The full moon's names reflect this seasonal transition.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17
MERCURY AT GREATEST WESTERN ELONGATION (19.5 DEGREES)
Remember: when an inferior planet is at western elongation, one can find it in the EASTERN early morning sky. When an inferior planet is at eastern elongation, one can find it in the western early evening sky. Mercury quickly retreats into the morning twilight by month's end, so one should find it now.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 21
MOON 5.0 SSW OF JUPITER (BRONZE EVENT)
Yes, you might have noticed that the Moon figured into all three medal winning events this month. (In case you've forgotten, the Gold event was the November 3 partial solar eclipse.) One will see Jupiter and the gibbous moon rising mid evening. Though dimmer than Venus, Jupiter remains brighter than any night sky star. So, one will hardly need the Moon to find Jupiter. However, beholding them both is 1000 calorie eye candy.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23
SUN ENTERS SCORPIUS
Some find it curious that we call Scorpius the "Thanksgiving Constellation," as scorpions are hardly holiday fare. Scorpius is the Thanksgiving Constellation because the Sun passes through Scorpius during Thanksgiving. In fact, the Sun's time passing through Scorpius is almost equal to the range of possible thanksgiving dates (November 23 - 28.) On November 29, the Sun moves into Ophiuchus the Serpent Charmer. Each year the Sun progresses through thirteen constellations - SCORPIUS THE SCORPION, Ophiuchus the Serpent Charmer, Sagittarius the Archer, Capricornus the Seagoat, Aquarius the Water Bearer, Pisces the Fish, Aries the Ram, Taurus the Bull, Gemini the Twins, Cancer the Crab, Leo the Lion, Virgo the Maiden, and Libra the Scales.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25
LAST QUARTER MOON
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25
MERCURY 0.31 DEGREES SSW OF SATURN
Saturn ascends; Mercury descends. While Saturn will gradually return to prominence over the next few months, Mercury is about to bow out for the rest of 2013. See both planets low in the pre-dawn eastern sky. At magnitude -0.7, Mercury is slightly more than three times brighter than Saturn (magnitude 0.6)
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 27
MOON 5.4 DEGREES SSW OF MARS
Mars and the waning crescent moon are both deep night objects: defined as those that appear after midnight. Having the Moon close by will help one locate the red planet. The fourth rock is dimmer than the other planets still, and though it will come into its own in 2014, Mars remains comparatively obscure, at least by planetary standards.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 29
MOON OCCULTS SPICA (PLATINUM EVENT!)
Ha ha! Surprise. We added another medal, at least for this month. Now, unfortunately, the Moon occults (moves in front of) Spica in the mid-day sky, so we won't actually see that event. However, they'll remain quite close when the evening arrives. Platium events are hereafter defined as those celestial spectacles that we come CLOSE to witnessing.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 30
SUN ENTERS OPHIUCHUS
The "thirteenth" constellation of the zodiac. The star pattern the astrologers obstinately refuse to acknowledge. This serpent charmer looms above Scorpius and Sagittarius. The Sun slices across its ankle, more specifically, above its southern star, Theta Ophiuchi. Consequently, Ophiuchus is considered part of the "zodiac," otherwise known as the ecliptic. The thirteen constellations are , OPHIUCHUS THE SERPENT CHARMER, Sagittarius the Archer, Capricornus the Seagoat, Aquarius the Water Bearer, Pisces the Fish, Aries the Ram, Taurus the Bull, Gemini the Twins, Cancer the Crab, Leo the Lion, Virgo the Maiden, Libra the Scales and Scorpius the Scorpion.
The first world is not visible the first week in November. However, it emerges in the pre-dawn eastern sky and brightens rapidly. By month's end, Mercury will vanish into the twilight and won't return until the new year. VERDICT: Best to find Mercury the third week of November in the early morning eastern sky. Take this opportunity to observe elusive Mercury before it leaves for the rest of 2013.
VENUS (PICK PLANET!!)
We’ve been waiting all year for Venus to appear this bright. Even by Venusian standards, Venus is spectacular! It reaches its maximum brightness for the year by month's end. However, even at month's beginning, it is more than fifteen times brighter than Sirius. VERDICT: An easy sight in the western evening. A gorgeous adornment to our late autumn/early winter sky. You should see it. Your neighbors should see it…and even that cranky relative who thinks astronomy is the world's most pointless form of devil worship should be dragged outside to see it.
We'll make it up to Mars next year, we promise! Right now, Mars still lurks in the late evening deep night sky. It is still the dimmest of the visible planets, though by year's end it will equal Saturn in brightness. One can find Mars in the eastern post midnight sky. VERDICT: Not a sight for the faint hearted, Mars will still beguile with its crimson light.
Curiously, later this month, Jupiter will rise when Venus sets. So, we'll lose a furiously bright terrestrial planet and gain a dimmer, but still brilliant gas giant. We'll see Jupiter become all the more prominent through the winter. Now, it is approaching its January 2014 opposition. The only thing Venus has on Jupiter right now, apart from being six times brighter, is convenience. Venus is up and bright soon after dusk, whereas Jupiter stumbles on stage a couple of hours after nightfall. No worries, though. Jupiter will get some of its own back in the new year. VERDICT: What could be better? See Venus setting in the west and then watch Jupiter rise in the east.
Saturn shined bright in the summer, but now is only just returning to the pre-dawn eastern sky. One won't see Saturn at all for most of November. Only during the last week will Saturn creep on stage just before dawn draws down the curtain. It is also dimmer than all the other naked eye planets except Mars. VERDICT: If you're one of those who has to occasionally capture Saturn's light in a self luminous looking glass for incantation purposes, don't bother until the wee end of November. Otherwise, just wait. Saturn is destined to enliven the spring and summer sky yet again in 2014!
*"Fixed" is yet another throwback to our geocentric days when we smugly assumed the stars to be tacky adornments on spinning spheres. We know that the stars are hardly fixed, but instead move through the galaxy at rapid velocities. However, as the stars are so unfathomably distant, they appear fixed relative to each other even over human lifetimes. They therefore serve as convenient markers by which to measure planet positions.