Sunday, November 1, 2015

The November Sky

With new month of November upon us, the nights are coming increasingly early on account of both the Sun's motion and the big event of the month: the return to Standard Time, which occurs on the morning of the 1st. Also by November, the fall sky has firmly taken its place high overhead by nightfall (not to be confused with sunset), which will be happening at its earliest time of the year late this month thanks to some odd celestial.

Cool Constellations
By nightfall in November the fall constellations are all very well-placed for early (emphasis, early!) evening viewing. First up, with the return to Standard Time, we will have one last chance to see the summer constellations, provided you have a good South and West horizon. Hurry, though, they'll quickly disappear for good for the year, though. Moving onto more mainstream for the time of year sights, the Great Square of Pegasus is high overhead, the Big Dipper is scraping the Northern horizon, and the Summer Triangle is starting to dive in the West. Starting at the Great Square, look at the double string of stars coming of third base as they constitute Andromeda. High in the Northeast is ‘W’-shaped Cassiopeia, house-like Cepheus, and a twisted ‘V’ of stars, the mythological hero Perseus. Below Perseus is the bright Capella, alpha Auriga, and below his feet, the cloudy patch that is the Pleiades. In the South, save bright Fomalhaut, all the constellations, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, and Cetus, are very dim. If you stay up later into the middle of the night, you'll see bright Orion, Gemini, and Canis Major. Early birds? Leo and Virgo will be headlining the spring (it's only 4 ½ months away!) constellations.

Planetary Perceptions
On the planet front, if you want to see any of our solar system neighbors, you had better be an early bird because 4 of the 5 naked eye planets make their appearances in the predawn morning sky. For starters, Jupiter and Mars both continue their climbs in the predawn Eastern sky while Venus continues dropping, which is what it began to do in October. At the start of the month, Mercury will still be hanging around low in the Eastern predawn sky but not for long as it will quickly drop into into the Sun's glare and out of sight for the remainder of November. Lastly, there's Saturn, the sole evening planet, which presents a last chance to view it as it will disappear into the Sun's glare by mid month.

Last but not least, mark your calendars for the morning of the 26th, which is the day the Moon will occult (eclipse) Aldebaran around 5:30am EST. While lunar occultations of stars are not overly rare, an occultation of such a bright star is a bit of a rarity. To see the show, go out about 5am and train your telescope on the Moon. To get exact time Aldebaran will suddenly blink off (there being no atmosphere on the moon, there will be no dimming, only an abrupt disappearance) go to this website and plug in your latitude and longitude. As the time approaches, tare into the eyepiece and wait for the eye of Taurus to abruptly vanish. Another idea: hook up a video recording device to the telescope and record the event as it happens! Yes, it comes at anything but a convenient hour for most people but this is an event worth getting up early for! 

Tonight's Sky for November 1: Cross-Quarter Day, “Standard” Time Returns
Today marks 2 interesting dates for astronomers in that November 1 is a cross-quarter day, which is a fancy way of saying that it represents the mid-point of a season. For the ancient farmers, timekeeping was a matter of life and death and cross-quarter days provided a more precise way of dividing the year into parts (8) than seasons (4). For that reason, a cross-quarter day marking the mid point of a season was very important to our distant ancestors.

Additionally, “Standard” (it only lasts 4 months and is hardly “standard” if you ask me) Time returned at 2am this morning. Hopefully you set back your clocks before bed last night!

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