Sky Notes for November 2012, with James Abbott #stargazing

There are two eclipses this month but unfortunately neither are favourable from the UK. There is a partial eclipse of the Sun on November 13th, but only visible from the southern hemisphere. Then there is a penumbral eclipse of the Moon on November 28th that is just visible from the UK but only as the Full Moon rises, low in the North East after sunset.

As the night progresses on the 28th it will be worth watching as the Moon makes a close pass of Jupiter, with the separation distance down to only 1 degree (2 Moon widths) at midnight, compared to over 3 degrees at 6pm.

Also by the end of November, Jupiter is reaching its nearest point to Earth and hence its brightest for the year. Opposition is on December 3rd. Although this is still at a distance of some 380 million miles, Jupiter’s huge size and bright cloud tops reflect a lot of sunlight back to us across space. At mag -2.8, with a diameter of nearly 50 arc seconds and at an altitude of 60 degrees when due South, the weeks around opposition will present some of the best observing conditions for Jupiter for many years.

Throughout November, the Taurid meteors are active. Although at a low rate compared to the more active Geminids in December and the Perseids in August, the Taurids are noticeable due to their relatively slow speed across the sky and the occasional bright, coloured meteor. They appear to eminate from 2 distinct radiants in Taurus (the Northern and Southern Branches). The best chance of seeing them is when the waning Moon has left the evening skies from about November 5th onwards. The Taurids are associated with comet 2P/Encke and there have papers suggesting a link to the Tunguska object, though this is disputed by some.

In the pre-dawn Eastern skies Venus remains fairly prominent throughout November and will pass very close to Saturn on the morning of the 27th.

As November draws on the nights lengthen as the North pole of the Earth’s axis starts to point away from the Sun, with the longest nights being around the winter soltice in December. A compensation for the long nights is that when the clouds clear, the winter constellations are on full view. Orion and Gemini will be well up in the East by 10pm mid-month.

Orion is a fascinating constellation. Not only does it have many bright stars, but it is a part of the sky where we can easily see star formation taking place. Even with the unaided eye, the Orion Nebula M42 can be seen as a misty patch beneath the belt of Orion. In this swirl of gas and dust, new stars are being born. The whole of the Orion region is a spectacular sight in binoculars and has enough objects of interest to keep observers with telescopes occupied for hours. The brilliant star Rigel has a companion star visible in medium sized telescopes which can be a challenge to see due to the 7 magnitudes difference in brightness and so needs a fairly high power and a good night to see it.

James Abbott is an astronomer, NEAS member and CfDS Regional Information Officer.

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Posted on 5 November, 2012, in Astronomy News, Popular Science, Society News, Stargazing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Sky Notes for November 2012, with James Abbott #stargazing.

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