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THE NIGHT SKY FOR NOVEMBER 2014

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during November 2014.

The four stars of the Square of Pegasus are in the south after dark, with the Horse's head and mane to their lower right. Just beyond the head is the globular cluster M15, visible in binoculars or a telescope. Starting at Alpheratz, the top-left star of the Square, you can find M13, the Andromeda Galaxy. The W-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia is almost overhead, and the V of the upper-right stars also points towards M31. Pisces is to the lower-left of Pegasus, with Aries further left still. Orion and Taurus rise higher in the sky as the night wears on, with the Pleiades Cluster climbing in the south-east and the Hyades Cluster to its lower-left. The red-orange star Aldebaran appears to be part of the Hyades, but is actually around halfway between us and the cluster. Orion is below Taurus, the three stars of his Belt pointing up towards Aldebaran and the brightest night-time star, Sirius. The lower-right star of Orion is the blue giant Rigel, while the upper-left is the red giant Betelgeuse. Coming down from Cassiopeia, along the plane of the Milky Way, you reach Perseus. It contains the Perseus Double Cluster, between Cassiopeia and the star Mirfak, and also hosts Algol, known as the Demon Star due to a periodic dip in brightness that results from the eclipse of one star by another in a binary system. Descending from Perseus, you get to the yellow star Capella in Auriga, with the three open star clusters of M38, M36 and M37 nearby. Further down is Gemini, rising in the east after nightfall, with the stars of Castor and Pollux representing the Twins and the open cluster M35 near to the feet of the figure of Castor.

The Planets

  • Jupiter is beginning its apparition, shining at magnitude -2.1 and rising around 23:30 UT (Universal Time) at the start of the month. It is about 10 degrees up and right of the star Regulus in Leo. By the end of November, it rises around 21:40 and has a magnitude of -2.3, reaching an elevation of 53 degrees by 05:30. Its angular has increased from 37 to 39" by this point, allowing surface details and larger moons to be seen with binoculars or a telescope.
  • Saturn reaches conjunction (passing behind the Sun) on the 18th, and is only just visible at the end of the month, rising an hour before the Sun.
  • Mercury has a good apparition in the pre-dawn sky this month, reaching greatest western elongation (its greatest separation from the Sun in our sky) at 18 degrees from the Sun on the 1st. It is then 15 degrees above the east-south-eastern horizon at sunrise, with a magnitude of -0.5, an angular diameter of 7" and a phase of around 50 percent. By the 15th, Mercury measures 5" across and is sliding back towards the horizon.
  • Mars is moving eastwards in Sagittarius, appearing low in the south-west after sunset. It dims from magnitude +0.9 to +1 and shrinks from 5.5 to 5.2" during the month, preventing surface details from being seen easily. It passes the globular clusters M28 on the 2nd and M22 on the 6th, and approaches M75 towards the end of the month.
  • Venus reached superior conjunction (behind the Sun in the sky) on the 26th of October, and it will be December before it truly appears as an evening object, but it may just be visible after sunset during the last week of November.

Highlights

  • Mercury lies above the star Spica in Virgo from the 1st to the 8th, passing within 5 degrees on the 1st. You may need binoculars to spot them, low in the east-south-east, but don't use them after the Sun has risen.
  • The Moon passes just above the planet Uranus in our sky from 17:00-18:00 UT on the 4th. They are just 2' apart at 17:00 for observers in north-west England, but Uranus may be hard to spot against the twilight sky. The separation is 6' at 17:30, but the growing darkness makes for easier viewing using binoculars or a telescope. The Moon is 19' from Uranus at 18:00. It should be possible to spot the planet's turquoise colour, but making out its tiny disc, at 3.3" across, may be harder.
  • Jupiter is close to a third-quarter Moon 1 hour before sunrise on the 14th.
  • Mars lies just above the Teapot asterism in Sagittarius 1 hour after sunset on the 14th.
  • The Leonid meteor shower is at its best after midnight UT on the 17th and 18th, and is not spoiled by moonlight this year. Originating from Comet Tempel-Tuttle, the dust that enters the atmosphere to produce the Leonids has its radiant in the constellation of Leo, and around 12 meteors per hour may be visible at the shower's peak.
  • Mars is close to a thin crescent Moon an hour after sunset on the 25th and 26th, near to the Teapot of Sagittarius.

Southern Hemisphere

Claire Bretherton from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the southern hemisphere night sky during November 2014.

As Scorpius sets in the west after dark, Orion, Taurus and Canis Major rise in the east. The red star Antares, in Scorpius, is just above the south-western horizon at 23:00 NZDT. Known to Maori as Rehua, it marks one of the four Pou, or pillars, holding up the Sky Father, Ranginui. The other Pou are Matariki (the Pleiades), Tautoru (Orion's Belt) and Takurua (Sirius), and line the eastern horizon in the late evening. Their rising positions are close to those of the Sun at the winter solstice, the equinoctes and the summer solstice respectively. Stretching between Orion and Scorpius is Te Waka o Tama-rereti, a canoe represented by the tail of Scorpius (also known as Te Waka o Mairerangi) at its front and Orion's Belt (Tautoru) at its stern, with Crux (Te Punga) and the Pointer Stars (Te Taura) as its anchor and anchor line. Tama-rereti was said to have been a man who sailed across the sky in his canoe, placing the stars from his Kete (basket) into the heavens to allow navigation on Earth. He then capsized the canoe and spilled the remaining stars to form the Milky Way, or Te Ikaroa. The Maori new year is celebrated at the summer solstice, when the bright star Atutahi (Canopus), the Ariki (high chief) of the heavens, pulls up the anchor and sets the canoe in motion across the sky. Canopus is midway up the south-eastern sky in the evening in November.

A little higher and further south are two fuzzy patches of light called the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC and SMC), a pair of dwarf galaxies neighbouring the Milky Way and each containing several billion stars. The LMC is the lower of the two, and young star clusters within it may be seen as small patches of light through binoculars or a telescope. Prominent among these is the Tarantula Nebula (also called 30 Doradus or NGC 2070), an active starburst region containing over 800,000 stars and protostars. It was here that the most recent supernova visible to the naked eye on Earth, SN 1987A, occurred. The SMC appears close to the globular cluster 47 Tucanae, but is actually over ten times further away from the Earth than is the cluster. 47 Tucanae is the second-brightest globular cluster in our sky at magnitude +4.9, and is visible to the naked eye when the sky is dark. A telescope reveals a dense core of over a million stars, surrounded by a sparser sprinkling of many more.

The Planets

  • Mars remains visible in the western evening sky, moving through the constellation of Sagittarius and setting around midnight NZDT (New Zealand Daylight Time, 13 hours ahead of Universal Time). It is moving away from the Earth and becoming smaller in our telescopes.
  • Venus is just visible at the end of the month, setting 50 minutes after the Sun in the west-south-west.
  • Jupiter rises around 03:00 NZDT at the beginning of November, and around 01:00 by the end. Its four largest moons are visible in binoculars, orbiting around the giant planet.

Highlights

  • The Leonid meteor shower peaks around the 17th, with meteors appearing to radiate from the constellation of Leo, which rises about two hours before the Sun.
Compiled by Ian Morison