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Looking Up

Looking Up

 

 

Have you seen Venus yet? A few of us caught a glimpse at an observatory training session in mid-October. It was literally just above the corn in the southwest. Venus gets higher in Novem-ber, rising at 6pm (CST) near the beginning of the month and 6:30pm at the end of the month. But it also gets dark later so the set time goes from an hour after sunset to nearly two hours. Each day Venus seems to creep closer to Jupiter. On November 1, Venus, Jupiter and a crescent Moon make a fairly straight line. You can draw a line from the Moon, through Jupiter and it should point close to Venus. They start the month 23 degrees (a bit over two fists) and move to within 1.5 degrees on the evening of November 23rd (see the image on p.7). During the time. Venus appears to move to the left along the horizon and Jupiter seems to dip down to meet it. Telescopically, Venus is a very thick gibbous phase. Look for a very thin crescent Moon just above and left of Venus early in the evening on the 29th. Jupiter has been the brightest object in the southwest, but, at magnitude -3.9, it easily outshines Jupiter.
Jupiter’s set time goes from 7:30pm (CST) early in the month to 6pm late in November. You still have time to check out the moons.
Saturn sets just after 8pm in mid-November. Did you hear about Saturn having 20 more moons? That was announced on October 7. Saturn’s total is now 82 natural satellites, thanks to the Suburu telescope atop Mauna Kea! Compare that to Jupi-ter’s 79 moons. Anyone remember when Jupiter had 12 moons (or am I showing my age)? Each of the new Saturnian moons is about 3 miles across and 17 of the 20 orbit Saturn backwards. Saturn’s moons appear to be arranged in three groups – maybe a larger body that got destroyed at one time? Want to help name the new moons? If so, visit: https://carnegiescience.edu/NameSaturnsMoons. The contest ends December 6. The moons must be named after giants from Norse, Gallic, or Inuit mythology. Look at the rings early in the month to catch Saturn at its highest. The rings are still at maxi-mum tilt. A beautiful thin crescent Moon is just below and left of Saturn on November 29th.
After Saturn gets too low to observe, the next easily visible plan-et is Mars, rising near 4:30am all month, about a half hour be-fore the start of morning twilight. For the early risers, start looking a bit south of east for Mars near the bluish star Spica. Spica is to the right of Mars on the morning of the 10th, then the two are closest (about 2.8 degrees).
Of course, the big event this month is the transit of Mercury. From our point of view, Mercury usually passes either above or below the Sun as it passes between the Earth and Sun. Every now and then, Mercury appears to cross the face of the Sun. There can be either 13 or 14 transits of Mercury in a century and, given the inclination of Mercury’s orbit, they an occur in either May or November. The last one was May 9, 2016 (and it was cloudy here). The next one is November 13, 2032. This one occurs on Monday, November 11 starting at 6:35am and ending at 12:04pm. The main thing is do not look at the Sun! Unlike the last transit of Venus, those eclipse glasses won’t be beneficial either. You really need some magnification. Do NOT put on eclipse glasses and look through a telescope either! Your best bet is to project an image of the Sun on a piece of paper, then you’re looking at the paper. IF you use a solar filter on a telescope, be sure the filter goes on the end of the tele-scope facing the Sun and does not thread into the eyepiece – those are dangerous. Since you obviously don’t need a dark sky for this, anyone interested can come to the planetarium where, weather permitting, we’ll try to have a telescope or two outside checking out the event. Feel free to join us! IF someone wants to print them out, we can even offer Mercury transit certifi-cates! (https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/download-view.cfm?Doc_ID=653)
After the transit, Mercury moves into the morning sky where it has the second of two great pre-dawn views. Mercury gets higher in the sky each morning until November 28, when it is separated farthest from the Sun. It rises at 5:15am, just before twilight begins. A line drawn from Spica through Mars will point to Mercury. Mercury’s descent towards the Sun is slower and it’ll be tough to see Mercury by the December holidays.
The Leonid Meteor Shower peaks this month (Nov. 16-17) though there’s a waning gibbous Moon brightening the sky and it’ll be tough to see most of the meteors.
-DCL