Russell Eberst's Sky View

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November 2017

With the Sun now well south of the equator, the nights in Britain are lengthening, towards a maximum duration of 16 hours or so. This provides prolonged opportunities to observe the night sky. However, much of the action occurs in the morning sky, visible before dawn. This means that some dedication is required to leave the comfort of a bed, and exchange it for the cool night air. Once the effort has been made, the reward is a parade of planets that stretches towards the south-east. The first of these morning planets is Mars. It is still on the far side of its orbit, and has a rather weak brightness at magnitude +1.8 when it passes to the south of Porrima (gamma Virginis) on November 8. We will have to wait until July 2018 for Mars to reach its brightest in our midnight skies. The next planet in our dawn parade is Venus, goddess of Beauty. The unmistakable brilliance of the planet Venus means that it has been the source of many enquiries from the public as to its identity. The number of these enquiries is likely to multiply in early November as Venus passes close to Jupiter in the morning sky. On the morning of November 13, the two planets are about 0.3 degrees apart,which is less than the apparent size of the Sun or Moon. This conjunction of the two brightest planets will undoubtedly attract a great deal of attention from those aware of the dawn sky. There will be reports of unidentified bright lights, similar to previous occasions when these two planets have made a close encounter.

One such very close conjunction occurred on 1975 February 17, when these planets came to a separation of one-quarter of this year's event. They were visible in the early evening sky, when many people were around. Furthermore, there had been a prolonged period of cloudy weather, so their gradual approach together, over previous evenings, had not been observable. So when a pair of close, bright lights was presented to public, it led to a huge flood of U.F.O. reports from all over the country of a strange object in the western sky. It can be expected that this year there will be fewer reports. Venus is pulling in rapidly towards the Sun, and presents a nearly full but rather featureless disc. Jupiter will show its attendant four Galilean moons, and will display the wonderful and artistic intricacies of its whirling upper atmosphere, in images taken by the Juno space probe in orbit about this majestic planet. The other bright planets are poorly placed, with Saturn drawing into the glare of the Sun to pass beyond the Sun next month. Mercury does reach eastern elongation on November 23, but it will be an achievement for those in U.K. to spot it in the dusk twilight, since this appearance favours those in the southern hemisphere. British watchers have a much more accessible event on November 6, The Moon in its monthly passage around the sky can occasionally pass directly in front of a star. This is referred to as an occultation. There are four very bright (First magnitude) stars that can undergo an occultation. They are Aldebaran, Antares, Pollux and Regulus. Occultations of these four are infrequent, On November 6, the nearly full Moon can be seen from the U.K. to hide Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. The Moon will be just two days past full, so its light will prove a limitation for those attempting to see this event.

The Moon can occult or hide stars that lie on its path around the zodiac. Every 18 years, this track is in the area of the Hyades which includes Aldebaran, so there will be a series of occultations of this red giant star. Many of the series will happen with the star and Moon below the horizon or during bright daylight. However, November's occultation will be well timed for northern U.S. and northern Europe, including the U.K. From Edinburgh the star will be hidden from 02h 26.8 U.T. to 03h 25.6 U.T., with similar times elsewhere in Scotland. The disappearance is at the bright limb of the Moon, and the reappearance at the dark limb. Binoculars or a telescope is recommended to overcome the brilliance of the moonlight. A more anticipated worldwide event is the annual meteor shower known as the Leonids. One peak of the shower takes place during the morning of November 18 (UK time). This means that the best locations for viewing these particles entering the atmosphere will include the U.K. Observers in the U.K. may see other arrivals by scanning the skies on the mornings of November 16,17 and 19. On the morning of November 18, meteor numbers may reach 20 or more per our. These 'shooting stars' originated as meteoroid particles from Comet Tempel-Tuttle, and they enter the atmosphere at around 70 km/second. Although they all appear to come from the direction of the 'sickle' of Leo, the lion, they can be seen in any part of the sky. Observers may like to concentrate on areas of the sky well away from Leo, such as Orion, Auriga or Ursa Minor, where meteor paths are likely to be much longer. Fortunately, this year the New Moon falls on November 18, so there won't be interference from moonlight.

Moon phases:

  • Full Moon: November 4
  • Last Quarter: November 10
  • New Moon: November 18
  • First Quarter: November 26

Sky View Image

The maps show the sky at 21:00 GMT on the 1st, 20:00 on the 16th and 19:00 on the 30th.