November is a great month for star gazing. Cold and dry autumn nights combined with Balsam’s dark skies will provide great viewing conditions. Just remember to dress warmly!
Jupiter is still king of the night skies and well positioned for viewing the entire month. See how many moons you can see with your naked eyes. If Jupiter were black, four brightest moons (Io, Gallisto, Ganymede and Europa) would be easily visible to the unaided eye. One trick is to block the light from Jupiter’s’ brilliant disk by standing next to a tree or building. You have to have really good eyesight and a night of perfect conditions but it is possible to spot Io when its furtherest away from Jupiter’s disk. The moons are easily seen with even opera binoculars and the smallest telescope.
Saturn returns to the morning skies after completing its solar conjunction. Look for a bright object in east about 20 degrees above the horizon just before dawn. Mars rises earlier (around midnight) and will be setting by the time Saturn rises.
On the evening of the 26th, a thin crescent new moon will pass very close to Venus just after sunset. Look for them low in the west. You might also spot elusive Mercury just below the Moon if you have a clear view of the horizon.
The annual Leonid meteor shower peaks the night of the 17th and into the early morning of the 18th. Astronomers don’t expect a spectacular show this year but accurate prediction is notoriously difficult. Any meteors will be competing with a last quarter Moon which will be passing through the showers ‘radiant’ in the glorious constellation of Orion the Hunter.
Speaking of Orion, it is directly overhead in the pre-dawn skies this month as it gradually rises earlier each night. The brightest stars are easily visible even in light polluted skies. Its been easy to spot in the morning this week as late as 7:30 AM when I am out walking Sam, the Astro dog.
The beautiful Pleiades star cluster will be very easy to spot high in the sky and a few degrees east of Jupiter. Its brilliant stars and bluish nebulosity are easy to spot with binoculars. Also known as the Seven Sisters from Greek mythology (for the seven brightest stars) and Subaru by the Japanese (take a look at the stars on the Subaru badge next time you see the Kitchens drive by).
Thats all for this month. Please leave or comment here or email questions about astronomy.