The night sky in November 2015

posted 31 Oct 2015, 09:54 by Pete Collins   [ updated 31 Oct 2015, 10:50 ]
by Anne Holt

Sunset  1 Nov:  16.36     30 Nov:  15.54

We're back to Greenwich Mean Time at last, which is good news for astronomers.

According to the rhyme ,

'Dull Novemeber brings the blast,  then the leaves are falling fast.'

So, fingers crossed that the blast blows away some of the clouds - especially on Thursdays!

Highlights of the month - some nice conjunctions of planets before dawn, two meteor showers and a possible comet later in the month.

Constellations

If it is clear you will see that the Summer Triangle comprising the 3 bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair is now sinking slowly in the West, giving way to the stars of winter now rising in the east.

Mid-evening the square of Pegasus, the signature constellation of autumn, is fairly high in the south but not particularly prominent, containing only 2nd magnitude stars. It's an easy star-hop from Alpheratz, the top left star of the square of Pegasus to the Andromeda Galaxy, M31, which is now nicely placed fairly high in the south east.


The Winter Hexagon is a beautifully rich area bounded by Sirius (Canis Major), Rigel (Orion), Aldebaran (Taurus), Capella (Auriga), Pollux (Gemini) and Procyon (Canis Minor).  This relatively small region contains half of the ten brightest stars. It will be above the horizon not long after midnight at the start of November and before 11pm by month end.

The Pleiades, just outside the Hexagon are also very well placed and are a beautiful sight in binoculars or a small telescope.

Cassiopeia is still riding high leaving the Plough, on the opposite side of Polaris, low in the Northern sky for much of the night.

Planets

As always, check  theskylive.com   for exact positions

Early morning is still the best time for planetary observation,  but as in October the two ice giants are the exceptions.

Uranus:  in Pisces,  mag 5.7
Still at the limit of naked eye visibility, should be fairly easy to see in binoculars but the blue green colour only shows when it is viewed through a telescope.
It is above the horizon for most of the night throughout November -  at the start it sets around 5am, by month end at 3am. On 22nd it will be just 1.75 degrees north of the 86% lit waxing moon.

Neptune:  in Aquarius,  mag 7.9
Above the horizon as darkness falls throughout the month.  In early November it reaches its highest point (27 degrees) at about 8.30pm  (which means we should be able to see it at one of our meetings) and sets by 2am.  At month end it sets soon after midnight. Through a telescope it can be seen as a deep blue disc.

Mercury: in Virgo, mag minus 1.
Not a good month for seeing this planet, despite its brightness,  as it appears very close to the sun.  During the first week it might just be spotted very low in the SE just before sunrise. It reaches superior conjunction on 17th, then becomes an evening object, though setting too soon after the sun to be visible.

Venus:  in Virgo, mag minus 4.2
Still dominating the morning sky, though losing altitude throughout November.  At the start of the month it rises around 2.30 am,  but not until 4am by month end.
On 2nd it will be separated by only 50 arcminutes from Mars. On 7th, Venus, Mars and the crescent moon form a triangle in the morning sky. At the end of November, Venus will be very close to Spica - alpha Virginis.

Jupiter:  in Leo, mag minus 1.8
Outshone by Venus, but still very bright.  It rises just half an hour before Venus at the start of November but, by the end of the month, will be above the horizon by midnight and will have brightened slightly to mag minus 2.

Mars:  in Virgo, mag 1.6.
The faintest of the three planets at the moring gathering but still easily seen as a reddish hued 'star'. As last month, it is far from its best because it is so distant from Earth - only a small disc, without much detail, will show in a telescope. It does not reach its highest point in the sky before the dawn sky brightens.

Saturn: Not visible this month

Meteor showers

The predominant shower this month is the Leonids, dust fragments from comet Tempel Tuttle.  These are active from 10th to 24th of November, with 2 short peaks during the night of 17th/18th - the first at 9pm, the second around 4am. ZHR 15-20.  These are very fast moving meteors - some have been recorded travelling at 70km per second - which makes them very difficult photographic targets. The shower is said to contain many faint meteors but also some fireballs and many meteors leaving persisting trains or, as one website says 'Leonids are often trained'.  It didn't say who by or what they have been trained to do. The moon sets around 9.30pm on 17th, so won't interfere with viewing.

The Northern Taurids are  also active during the first part of November. Like the southern Taurids, they originate from a comet which broke up to form comet Enke and the two meteor showers. Unlike other showers, they do not have a sharply defined peak but have the highest rates around the 12th. ZHR 5 but some predictions say there could be many more this year. They are fairly slow moving, less than half the speed of the Leonids, best seen late evening onwards after the radiant rises at 10.30pm.  The shower includes very bright meteors, and some fireballs, as the dust particles which cause them are larger than average. One site which I looked at helpfully warns observers to be careful when observing around November 5th - some of the moving stars which you see in the sky might actually be fireworks! The new moon is on 11th, so this is the best time to look.

A comet?

Finally, we may have a chance to see another comet this month.

C/2013 US10 Catalina was discovered on Hallowe'en 2013, but was thought to be an asteroid.  Further obserations of its movement revealed that it was a long period comet, with an orbit of several million years, originating in the Oort cloud. When first seen it was at mag 19 and 7.7 AU (more than 700 million miles) from Earth. It is thought to be intrinsically very bright. It's currently in Libra, moving into Virgo and is only visible from the southern hemisphere. It reaches perihelion on November 15th, after which it wll become visible from more northerly latitudes. Its orbit is inclined from the ecliptic by 149 degrees, so it won't only travel through zodiacal constellations - on January 1st it will be only one degree from Arcturus. Estimates of the maximum magnitude it is likely to reach vary from 4.7 to as high as 3. It will be low down in the south east late in the month, so it would be worth sweeping just above the horizon and below Venus with binoculars. It should get easier to spot during December.

Its position is not yet given in the skylive.com as this site only shows objects currently visible.    Try checking in mid to late November when the information should be there.
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