The Night Sky November 2015
Compiled by Ian Morison
This page, updated monthly, will let you know some of the things that you can look out for in the night sky. It lists the phases of the Moon, where you will see the naked-eye planets and describes some of the prominent constellations in the night sky during the month.
Cambridge University Press has recently published two book by the author.
'An Amateurs Guide to Observing and Imaging the Heavens'is a handbook to bridge the gap between the beginner's books on amateur astronomy and the books which cover a single topic in great detail. Stephen James O'Meara and Damian Peach have both given it excellent reviews.
'A Journey through the Universe'covering our current understanding of the Universe (up to June 2014) was also published last year. Martin Rees has written a very nice review of it.
Image of the Month
2015 HST image of Jupiter
Image: ESA, NASA.This wonderful image of Jupiter was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in January this year. It shows that the Great Red Spot is still shrinking, though it is still bigger than the Earth. Down to its lower right is Oval BA, otherwise known as Red Spot Junior. This image is the first in the 'Outer Planets Atmosphere Legacy program
Highlights of the Month
November early mornings: November Meteors.
In the hours before dawn, November gives us a chance to observe meteors from two showers. The first that it is thought might produce some bright events is the Northern Taurids shower which has a broad peak of around 10 days but normally gives relatively few meteors per hour. The peak is around the 10th of November and, pleasingly, the Moon is new on the 11th. The meteors arise from comet 2P/Encke. Its tail is especially rich in large particles and, this year, we should pass through a relatively rich band so it is possible that a number of fireballs might be observed!The better known November shower is the Leonids which peak on the night of the 17th/18th of the month. The Moon sets at 21:30 on the 17th so will not be a problem for observing the first predicted peak at 21:00 UT on the 17th and the second at 04:00 on the 18th. As one might expect, the shower's radiant lies within the sickle of Leo and meteors could be spotted from the 15th to the 20th of the month. The Leonids enter the atmosphere at ~71 km/sec and this makes them somewhat challenging to photograph but its worth trying as one might just capture a bright fireball. Up to 15 meteors an hour could be observed if near the zenith. The Leonids are famous becaus every 33 years a meteor storm might be observed when the parent comet, 55P/Temple-Tuttle passes close to the Sun. In 1999, 3,000 meteors were observed per hour but we are now halfway between these impressive events hence with a far lower expected rate.
November 3rd - before sunrise: Venus and Mars under a degree apart.
Before dawn on the 3rd, brilliant Venus shining at magnitude -4.5 will be very close to Mars at magnitude +1.7. Jupiter will lie ~7 degrees to their upper right.
November 7th - before sunrise : A thin crescent Moon joins the morning planets.
An excellent imaging opportunity arises before dawn on the 7th as a thin crescent Moon lies close to Venus and Mars with Jupiter some 9 degrees to their upper right.
Around the second week of November (with no Moon in the sky): find M31 - The Andromeda Galaxy - and perhaps M33 in Triangulum
In the evening, the galaxy M31 in Andromeda is visible in the south The chart provides two ways of finding it:
1) Find the square of Pegasus. Start at the top left star of the square - Alpha Andromedae - and move two stars to the left and up a bit. Then turn 90 degrees to the right, move up to one reasonably bright star and continue a similar distance in the same direction. You should easily spot M31 with binoculars and, if there is a dark sky, you can even see it with your unaided eye. The photons that are falling on your retina left Andromeda well over two million years ago!
2) You can also find M31 by following the "arrow" made by the three rightmost bright stars of Cassiopeia down to the lower right as shown on the chart.
Around new Moon (11th November) - and away from towns and cities - you may also be able to spot M33, the third largest galaxy after M31 and our own galaxy in our Local Group of galaxies. It is a face on spiral and its surface brightness is pretty low so a dark, transparent sky will be needed to spot it using binoculars (8x40 or, preferably, 10x50). Follow the two stars back from M31 and continue in the same direction sweeping slowly as you go. It looks like a piece of tissue paper stuck on the sky just a bit brighter than the sky background. Good Hunting!
November 25th to 30th - 1 hour before sunrise: Jupiter rises higher in the sky.
In the last week of November, Jupiter, rising 40 minutes after midnight, has reached an elevation of 20 degrees or more for 2 hours of astronomically dark sky. Then will be the time start seriously observing and imaging it. Is the Great Red Spot still shrinking?
November 25th - evening: The full Moon close to the Hyades Cluster.
This evening, the full moon will be seen just to the right of the Hyades Cluster in Taurus. Lying half way towards the cluster is the red-giant star Aldebaran.
Learn the Mare on the Moon.
Why not use the annotated image of the full Moon to learn the locations of the Moon's Mare. You can see some of them with your unaided eye and binoculars will enable you to spot them all.
NGC 891 imaged with the Faulkes Telescope
Galaxy NGC 891, imaged by Daniel Duggan.
This image was taken using the Faulkes Telescope North by Daniel Duggan - for some time a member of the Faulkes telescope team. NGC 891 is an edge-on spiral lying in the constellation Andromeda at a distance of 27 million light years. We think that this is very much as our own galaxy might look when seen edge-on.
Learn more about the Faulkes Telescopes and how schools can use them: Faulkes Telescope"
Observe the International Space Station
The International Space Station and Jules Verne passing behind the Lovell Telescope on April 1st 2008.
Image by Andrew Greenwood
Use the link below to find when the space station will be visible in the next few days. In general, the space station can be seen either in the hour or so before dawn or the hour or so after sunset - this is because it is dark and yet the Sun is not too far below the horizon so that it can light up the space station. As the orbit only just gets up the the latitude of the UK it will usually be seen to the south, and is only visible for a minute or so at each sighting. Note that as it is in low-earth orbit the sighting details vary quite considerably across the UK. The NASA website linked to below gives details for several cities in the UK. (Across the world too for foreign visitors to this web page.)
Note: I observed the ISS three times recently and was amazed as to how bright it has become.
Find details of sighting possibilities from your location from: Location Index
See where the space station is now: Current Position
The Moon at 3rd Quarter. Image, by Ian Morison, taken with a 150mm Maksutov-Newtonian and Canon G7.
Just below the crator Plato seen near the top of the image is the mountain "Mons Piton". It casts a long shadow across the maria from which one can calculate its height - about 6800ft or 2250m.
|new moon||first quarter||full moon||last quarter|
|November 11th||November 19th||November 25th||November 3rd|
Some Lunar Images by Ian Morison, Jodrell Bank Observatory: Lunar Images
A World Record Lunar Image
To mark International Year of Astronomy, a team of British astronomers have made the largest lunar image in history and gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records! The whole image comprises 87.4 megapixels with a Moon diameter of 9550 pixels. This allows details as small as 1km across to be discerned! The superb quality of the image is shown by the detail below of Plato and the Alpine Valley. Craterlets are seen on the floor of Plato and the rille along the centre of the Alpine valley is clearly visible. The image quality is staggering! The team of Damian Peach, Pete lawrence, Dave Tyler, Bruce Kingsley, Nick Smith, Nick Howes, Trevor Little, David Mason, Mark and Lee Irvine with technical support from Ninian Boyle captured the video sequences from which 288 individual mozaic panes were produced. These were then stitched together to form the lunar image.
Please follow the link to the Lunar World Record website and it would be really great if you could donate to Sir Patrick Moore's chosen charity to either download a full resolution image or purchase a print.
Jupiter is now a wonderful morning object, rising soon after midnight by the last week of November. On the morning of the 24th of October I saw it lying close to brilliant Venus as a prelude to this month's morning parade of the planets Mars, Venus and Jupiter. Jupiter starts the month shining at magnitude -1.8 with an angular diameter of 33 arc seconds. During the month, these increase to -2.0 and 35.5 respectively. It lies in Leo, 8 degrees over to the right of Denebola and is gradually moving down towards Virgo before it starts its retrograde motion in January. With a small telescope, early risers should be able to see the equatorial bands in the atmosphere and the four Gallilean moons as they weave their way around it.
See highlight above.
Saturn passes behind the Sun on the 29th of November. It might just be seen using binoculars at the very beginning of the month just a few degrees above the southwestern horizon 45 minutes after sunset but, really, we will have to wait for a while yet to see it in the pre-dawn sky.
Mercury reaches superior conjunction (that is, on the far side of the Sun) on November 17th and could not be seen for much of the month. It might just be picked up using binoculars low in the east about 20 minutes before sunrise in the first few days of the month.
Mars rises about 3:30 am as the month begins shining at magnitude +1.7. This increases to magnitude +1.5 as the month progresses with its angular diameter increasing from 4.2 to 4.7 arc seconds. This is still too small for any details to be seen on its salmon-pink surface. As the highlights will detail, at Novembers start it will lie close to both Jupiter and Venus making a wonderful grouping in the sky. But, by month's end, Mars will be about 20 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter and 14 degrees to the upper right of Venus. It starts the month in Leo moving down into Virgo later and makes a close approach to Eta Virginis on the 21st.
See highlights above.
Venus, rising at ~03:30, starts the month dominating the eastern sky before dawn in a close grouping with both Jupiter and Mars as detailed in the highlights above. Its magnitude drops only slightly from -4.4 to -4.2 during the month whilst its angular diameter drops from 22.7 to 17.6 arc seconds. But, as the illuminated disk increases from 54 to 63% at the same time, the observed magnitude stays almost constant. Venus is rapidly moving closer to the Sun and will have dropped by around 30 degrees towards the horizon so will have become less prominent by the end of the month. Moving from Leo into Virgo, it passes 0.4 degrees from magnitude 3.6 Beta Virginis on the 13th and less than 0.2 degrees from Eta Virginis on the 21st.
Find more planetary images and details about the Solar System: The Solar System
The Evening November Sky
This map shows the constellations seen towards the south in early evening. To the south in early evening moving over to the west as the night progresses is the beautiful region of the Milky Way containing both Cygnus and Lyra. Below is Aquilla. The three bright stars Deneb (in Cygnus), Vega (in Lyra) and Altair (in Aquila) make up the "Summer Triangle". East of Cygnus is the great square of Pegasus - adjacent to Andromeda in which lies M31, the Andromeda Nebula. To the north lies "w" shaped Cassiopeia and Perseus. The constellation Taurus, with its two lovely clusters, the Hyades and Pleiades is rising in the east during the late evening.
The constellations Lyra and Cygnus
This month the constellations Lyra and Cygnus are seen almost overhead as darkness falls with their bright stars Vega, in Lyra, and Deneb, in Cygnus, making up the "summer triangle" of bright stars with Altair in the constellation Aquila below. (see sky chart above)
Lyra is dominated by its brightest star Vega, the fifth brightest star in the sky. It is a blue-white star having a magnitude of 0.03, and lies 26 light years away. It weighs three times more than the Sun and is about 50 times brighter. It is thus burning up its nuclear fuel at a greater rate than the Sun and so will shine for a correspondingly shorter time. Vega is much younger than the Sun, perhaps only a few hundred million years old, and is surrounded by a cold,dark disc of dust in which an embryonic solar system is being formed!
There is a lovely double star called Epsilon Lyrae up and to the left of Vega. A pair of binoculars will show them up easily - you might even see them both with your unaided eye. In fact a telescope, provided the atmosphere is calm, shows that each of the two stars that you can see is a double star as well so it is called the double double!
Between Beta and Gamma Lyra lies a beautiful object called the Ring Nebula. It is the 57th object in the Messier Catalogue and so is also called M57. Such objects are called planetary nebulae as in a telescope they show a disc, rather like a planet. But in fact they are the remnants of stars, similar to our Sun, that have come to the end of their life and have blown off a shell of dust and gas around them. The Ring Nebula looks like a greenish smoke ring in a small telescope, but is not as impressive as it is shown in photographs in which you can also see the faint central "white dwarf" star which is the core of the original star which has collapsed down to about the size of the Earth. Still very hot this shines with a blue-white colour, but is cooling down and will eventually become dark and invisible - a "black dwarf"! Do click on the image below to see the large version - its wonderful!
M56 is an 8th magnitude Globular Cluster visible in binoculars roughly half way between Albireo (the head of the Swan) and Gamma Lyrae. It is 33,000 light years away and has a diameter of about 60 light years. It was first seen by Charles Messier in 1779 and became the 56th entry into his catalogue.
Cygnus, the Swan, is sometimes called the "Northern Cross" as it has a distinctive cross shape, but we normally think of it as a flying Swan. Deneb,the arabic word for "tail", is a 1.3 magnitude star which marks the tail of the swan. It is nearly 2000 light years away and appears so bright only because it gives out around 80,000 times as much light as our Sun. In fact if Deneb where as close as the brightest star in the northern sky, Sirius, it would appear as brilliant as the half moon and the sky would never be really dark when it was above the horizon!
The star, Albireo, which marks the head of the Swan is much fainter, but a beautiful sight in a small telescope. This shows that Albireo is made of two stars, amber and blue-green, which provide a wonderful colour contrast. With magnitudes 3.1 and 5.1 they are regarded as the most beautiful double star that can be seen in the sky.
Cygnus lies along the line of the Milky Way, the disk of our own Galaxy, and provides a wealth of stars and clusters to observe. Just to the left of the line joining Deneb and Sadr, the star at the centre of the outstretched wings, you may, under very clear dark skys, see a region which is darker than the surroundings. This is called the Cygnus Rift and is caused by the obscuration of light from distant stars by a lane of dust in our local spiral arm. the dust comes from elements such as carbon which have been built up in stars and ejected into space in explosions that give rise to objects such as the planetary nebula M57 described above.
There is a beautiful region of nebulosity up and to the left of Deneb which is visible with binoculars in a very dark and clear sky. Photographs show an outline that looks like North America - hence its name the North America Nebula. Just to its right is a less bright region that looks like a Pelican, with a long beak and dark eye, so not surprisingly this is called the Pelican Nebula. The photograph below shows them well.
Brocchi's Cluster An easy object to spot with binoculars in Gygnus is "Brocchi's Cluster", often called "The Coathanger",although it appears upside down in the sky! Follow down the neck of the swan to the star Albireo, then sweep down and to its lower left. You should easily spot it against the dark dust lane behind.
The constellations Pegasus and Andromeda
The Square of Pegasus is in the south during the evening and forms the body of the winged horse. The square is marked by 4 stars of 2nd and 3rd magnitude, with the top left hand one actually forming part of the constellation Andromeda. The sides of the square are almost 15 degrees across, about the width of a clentched fist, but it contains few stars visibe to the naked eye. If you can see 5 then you know that the sky is both dark and transparent! Three stars drop down to the right of the bottom right hand corner of the square marked by Alpha Pegasi, Markab. A brighter star Epsilon Pegasi is then a little up to the right, at 2nd magnitude the brightest star in this part of the sky. A little further up and to the right is the Globular Cluster M15. It is just too faint to be seen with the naked eye, but binoculars show it clearly as a fuzzy patch of light just to the right of a 6th magnitude star.
The stars of Andromeda arc up and to the left of the top left star of the square, Sirra or Alpha Andromedae. The most dramatic object in this constellation is M31, the Andromeda Nebula. It is a great spiral galaxy, similar to, but somewhat larger than, our galaxy and lies about 2.5 million light years from us. It can be seen with the naked eye as a faint elliptical glow as long as the sky is reasonably clear and dark. Move up and to the left two stars from Sirra, these are Pi amd Mu Andromedae. Then move your view through a rightangle to the right of Mu by about one field of view of a pair of binoculars and you should be able to see it easily. M31 contains about twice as many stars as our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and together they are the two largest members of our own Local Group of about 3 dozen galaxies.
M33 in Triangulum
If, using something like 8 by 40 binoculars, you have seen M31 as described above, it might well be worth searching for M33 in Triangulum. Triangulum is
the small faint constellation just below Andromeda. Start on M31, drop down to Mu Andromedae and keep on going in the same direction by the same distance as you have moved from M31 to Mu Andromedae. Under excellent seeing conditions (ie., very dark and clear skies) you should be able to see what looks like a little piece of tissue paper stuck on the sky or a faint cloud. It appears to have uniform brightness and shows no structure. The shape is irregular in outline - by no means oval in shape and covers an area about twice the size of the Moon. It is said that it is just visible to the unaided eye, so it the most distant object in the Universe that the eye can see. The distance is now thought to be 3.0 Million light years - just greater than that of M31.
The constellation Taurus
Taurus is one of the most beautiful constellations and you can almost imagine the Bull charging down to the left towards Orion. His face is delineated by the "V" shaped cluster of stars called the Hyades, his eye is the red giant star Aldebaran and the tips of his horns are shown by the stars beta and zeta Tauri. Although alpha Tauri, Aldebaran, appears to lie amongst the stars of the Hyades cluster it is, in fact, less than half their distance lying 68 light years away from us. It is around 40 times the diameter of our Sun and 100 times as bright.
More beautiful images by Alson Wong : Astrophotography by Alson Wong
To the upper right of Taurus lies the open cluster, M45, the Pleiades. Often called the Seven Sisters, it is one of the brightest and closest open clusters. The Pleiades cluster lies at a distance of 400 light years and contains over 3000 stars. The cluster, which is about 13 light years across, is moving towards the star Betelgeuse in Orion. Surrounding the brightest stars are seen blue reflection nebulae caused by reflected light from many small carbon grains. These relfection nebulae look blue as the dust grains scatter blue light more efficiently than red. The grains form part of a molecular cloud through which the cluster is currently passing. (Or, to be more precise, did 400 years ago!)
Close to the tip of the left hand horn lies the Crab Nebula, also called M1 as it is the first entry of Charles Messier's catalogue of nebulous objects. Lying 6500 light years from the Sun, it is the remains of a giant star that was seen to explode as a supernova in the year 1056. It may just be glimpsed with binoculars on a very clear dark night and a telescope will show it as a misty blur of light.
Its name "The Crab Nebula" was given to it by the Third Earl of Rosse who observed it with the 72 inch reflector at Birr Castle in County Offaly in central Ireland. As shown in the drawing above, it appeared to him rather lile a spider crab. The 72 inch was the world's largest telelescope for many years. At the heart of the Crab Nebula is a neutron star, the result of the collapse of the original star's core. Although only around 20 km in diameter it weighs more than our Sun and is spinning 30 times a second. Its rotating magnetic field generate beams of light and radio waves which sweep across the sky. As a result, a radio telescope will pick up very regular pulses of radiation and the object is thus also known a Pulsar. Its pulses are monitored each day at Jodrell Bank with a 13m radio telescope.