Go Stargazing! November Edition

Jupiter is up virtually all night long as November begins.  

Hubble Images Suggest Rogue Asteroid Smacked Jupiter
Creative Commons License photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

That’s because on Friday night, October 28, Earth passed between the Sun and Jupiter.  In this alignment (‘opposition’) Jupiter rose at dusk and set at dawn.   Face east at dusk and look for the brightest thing there—that’ll be Jupiter.   For the first half of the month, Jupiter does not set until after 5am. 

Venus has begun to emerge from the Sun’s glare.  Look for it low in the southwest in twilight. (Venus is slightly higher in the twilight sky each night this month). This is the beginning of Venus’ apparition as evening star; it gets higher and easier to see for the rest of this year and is spectacular for about the first half of 2012.  For more of a challenge, try to find Mercury under Venus during the first half of the month, as they both set in twilight.

Mars is now high in the east-southeast at dawn.  It now approaches the first magnitude star Regulus in Leo.

Saturn emerges from behind the Sun into the morning sky this month.  Look low in the southeast at dawn, near the star Spica.  (From the Big Dipper’s handle, arc to Arcturus and speed on to Spica).  

The Summer Triangle is high in the west as Sagittarius, the Archer, sets in the southwest.

 As the stars of summer shift to the west, those of autumn fill the sky.   Watch for the Great Square of Pegasus high in the east now and almost overhead at dusk by Thanksgiving.  Pegasus is one of several patterns which depict characters in a single Greek myth (later made into two movies called ‘Clash of the Titans’).  The story begins with Cassiopeia, a queen of Ethiopia who offended the gods by comparing her beauty to that of the Nereids (sea nymphs).  To punish Cassiopeia, the sea god Poseidon sent a giant sea monster, Cetus, to ravage Ethiopian shores.  Cassiopeia’s husband, King Cepheus consulted an oracle and learned that the only way to appease Poseidon was to sacrifice their only daughter, Andromeda, to Cetus.  Andromeda was chained to a rock as everyone waited for Cepheus to come and feed.  However, at just the right moment, the hero Perseus came by.  He had just won great fame by killing Medusa, a woman so hideous that anyone who looked at her turned to stone.  Upon Medusa’s death, the winged horse Pegasus sprang fully formed from her blood, and flew away.  On his way home from that adventure Perseus (flying on winged sandals loaned from Hermes) passed by Ethiopia.  As Cetus rose from the waters to claim his prize, Perseus slew him, saved Andromeda, and married her.  They lived happily ever after. 

Star Cloud Over Saskatchewan.jpg
Creative Commons License photo credit: Space Ritual

In the sky, she is always across the North Star from the Big Dipper. 

In late autumn, as the Big Dipper hugs the horizon and actually sets for us in Houston, Cassiopeia is high in the north, looking like an ‘M’.  In the sky, Cetus swims the very dim region of sky to the south, under Pegasus and Pisces.  Cepheus stands next to his wife in the northern sky, a little to her left as you face north tonight.  Andromeda’s head is Alpheratz, the northeastern star in the Great Square of Pegasus.  From Alpheratz, a curve of stars similar in brightness to Alpheratz and the rest of the Great Square forms her body.  That same curve leads to Perseus in the northeast.
  

Moon Phases in November 2011:
First Quarter November 2, 11:28 am
Full November 10, 2:17 pm
Last Quarter September 20, 8:39 am
Full November 25, 12:10 am

By the way, on most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.

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