It is now late fall, and winter is almost here. The Sun sets at around 6pm on November 1st, and it is dark enough to begin observing by 7pm. Daylight-saving time ends the next day, so it is suddenly dark enough to begin observing at 6pm, which is four hours earlier than an observer could have started in July! The challenge quickly becomes, especially if setting up a telescope, getting home from work early enough to set up while there is still some remaining daylight. The evenings are becoming much chillier, so be sure to dress warmly if going out to gaze. As late fall weather produces some of the best seeing conditions, be alert for opportunities to get out under the stars.
With six constellations to cover, this a busy month for an observer who is learning the constellations. None of these constellations are very bright, so this will be a challenging month. Also, many of the constellations from the past few months are still visible, so this is a good time for a refresher. A planosphere or smartphone app like Google Sky Map can help determine where to look to find each constellation, and a Wikipedia link is provided to further aid in identifying each constellation’s appearance.
A Group of Four Small Constellations
First up is a group of four small and dim constellations placed rather high in the sky at sunset: Sagitta, Vulpecula, Equules, and Delphinus, As two of the constellations are located within the Summer Triangle (July 2014), it is easy to find the right area of the sky for an observer who can locate the Triangle and the constellations that surround the group of four. Find the boundry constellations by starting with Aquila (July 2014). From there move counterclockwise around the group by locating locate Hercules (June 2014), Lyra (July 2014), Cygnus (July 2014), Pegasus (Oct 2014), and Aquarius (Oct 2014).
Sagitta (The arrow)
Find this tiny constellation by starting with Altair in Cygnus, and move directly north toward Vega in Lyra. Yep, it looks like an arrow, and can be readily seen under a reasonably dark sky. This is one of the 48 constellations cateloged by Ptolemy in the 2nd century.
Vulpecula (The little fox)
This small constellation of just a few moderately bright stars occupies the center of The Summer Triangle. This constellation bears little resemblance to a fox.
Delphinus (The dolphin)
Locate Delphinus by returning to Sagitta, and moving west toward Pegasus. This is perhaps the most interesting of these four constellations as it loosely resembles a dolphin.
Equuleus (The little horse)
Located west and south of Delphinus, this little constellation of just a few stars does not at all resemble a horse.
Pisces (The fish)
Our zodiacal constellation this month is a rather dim grouping of stars that are strung out low across the southern sky. I have seen this constellation under a clear summer sky in Hawaii where it is placed higher in the sky, and there is no light pollution sources near Hawaii’s southern coast. Under these conditions, I could identify all of its stars, and it is quite striking to behold. This constellation is a worthwhile challenge for northern observers. How many stars can you see? Locate this constellation just south of the Great Square of Pegasus.
Cetus (A sea monster in Greek mythology)
This is another constellation of somewhat dim stars hanging even lower in the southern sky, thus compounding the difficulty of seeing it. I have also seen this whale-like constellation from Hawaii, and it is pretty impressive.
SOLAR SYSTEM OBJECTS
The Sun. We see a lot less of the Sun this month. The days continue to grow shorter, but at a much slower rate. This allows star gazers to get out earlier, and perhaps right after getting home from work. Unfortunately, the Sun’s low angle brings colder weather, so be sure to bundle up!
|November 6||Full Moon|
|November 14||Last Quarter|
|November 14||Conjunction with Jupiter|
|November 22||New Moon|
|November 25||Conjunction with Mars|
|November 29||First Quarter|
Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun on the morning of November 1st. This is Mercury’s best morning apparition of 2014, so be sure to look for in the east just above and to the right of the sunrise point about forty-five minutes before sunrise.
Mars moves into Sagittarius and will remain low on the western horizon above and to the left of the sunset point throughout the month as it is quickly reaching the end of its present apparition.
Jupiter continues to grow larger (telescopically) and brighter, and rise earlier each morning. Look for it by starting at the eastern horizon and moving half way up toward the zenith. It rises above the eastern horizon at about 2am in early November, and at about 11pm by late November.
November 17-18 – Leonid Meteor Shower
Look for this meteor shower at around midnight on these two nights. The radiant (the apparent point of origin) is in the constellation Leo, which will be high overhead at midnight. Interestingly, at any given time of the year, the Earth is moving toward whatever stars happen to be directly overhead at midnight, and it “smashes” into the debris field that crosses the Earth’s orbit and creates the shower.
The Leonid shower of 2002 was the best meteor shower that I have ever witnessed. I went out at around midnight near the peak, and the origin was nearly directly overhead. I could see about six to eight meteors per minute that seemed to fly out of the origin in all directions. While lying on my back and looking straight up at the origin the visual effect was very much like the old Windows screen saver that gave the appearance of flying through a star field.
© 2014 James R. Johnson.