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November skies of the Gulf Coast

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EAAA member Sheryl Williams shot the lunar eclipse on December 21, 2010, with a 6” reflector and digital camera.

The new moon is November 4. The waxing crescent moon passes one degree below Venus on November 7 and on November 10, the moon passes four degrees south of Saturn. The first quarter moon is four degrees south of Jupiter on November 11. The Full Moon, the Beaver Moon, is on November 19. It will also be an almost total lunar eclipse, easily visible just after midnight locally. Check with our EAAA Facebook page for updates on possible club gazes.

This should be a very colorful eclipse. It will start with the penumbral eclipse beginning at midnight, and the partial eclipse (much darker umbral bite) at 1:15 a.m. CST. The maximum eclipse is at 3 a.m. with 98% of the full moon on the umbra, and the partial eclipse is all over by 4:50 a.m. The earth’s umbral shadow is not black, but deep red, as evident at the bottom of the moon. But the leading edge of our shadow has a bluish cast due to the ozone layer absorbing some of the red light above 50 miles above our heads, leaving mainly blue to refract around the rim of our atmosphere.

Mercury is behind the Sun this month, but Venus dominates the western evening sky. It was the greatest eastern elongation late in October and now appears as a waning crescent in the telescope. It will get closer to us, and a more slender but larger crescent, in December. Mars also lies still behind the Sun now. Jupiter and Saturn are well placed for evening observing now, on opposite sides of Capricornus in the southern sky after sunset.

While the naked eye, dark-adapted by several minutes away from any bright lights, is a wonderful instrument to stare up into deep space, far beyond our own Milky Way, binoculars are better for spotting specific deep sky objects. Visit Skymaps and download the map for November 2021; it will have a more extensive calendar, and list of best objects for the naked eyes, binoculars, and scopes on the back of the map.

Setting in the southwest is the teapot shape of Sagittarius, which marks the heart of our Milky Way Galaxy, with Saturn just above the lid of its teapot. The best view of our Galaxy lies overhead now. The brightest star of the northern hemisphere, Vega dominates the sky in the northwest. To the northeast of Vega is Deneb, the brightest star of Cygnus the Swan. To the south is Altair, the brightest star of Aquila the Eagle, the third member of the three bright stars that make the Summer Triangle so obvious in the northeast these clear autumn evenings. Use binocs and your sky map to spot many clusters here, using the SkyMap download to locate some of the best ones plotted and described on the back.

Overhead the square of Pegasus is a beacon of fall. South of it is the only bright star of Fall, Fomalhaut. If the southern skies of Fall look sparse, it is because we are looking away from our Galaxy into the depths of intergalactic space. The constellation Cassiopeia makes a striking west, rising in the northeast as the Big Dipper sets in the northwest. Polaris lies about midway between them. She contains many nice star clusters for binocular users in her outer arm of our Milky Way, extending to the northeast now. Her daughter, Andromeda, starts with the northeast corner star of Pegasus’ Square and goes northeast with two more bright stars in a row. It is from the middle star, beta Andromeda, that we proceed about a quarter the way to the top star in the W of Cassiopeia, and look for a faint blur with the naked eye. M-31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is the most distant object visible to the naked eye.

To the northeast, Andromeda’s Hero, Perseus, rises. Perseus contains the famed eclipsing binary star Algol, where the Arabs imagined the eye of the gorgon Medusa would lie. It fades to a third its normal brightness for six out of every 70 hours, as a larger but cooler orange giant covers about 80% of the smaller but hotter and thus brighter companion as seen from Earth. south. Look at Perseus’ feet for the famed Pleiades cluster to rise, a sure sign of bright winter stars to come. This is probably the best sight in the sky with binoculars, with hundreds of fainter stars joining the famed “Seven Sisters” with 10x50 binocs. To the northeast, yellow Capella, a giant star the same temperature and color as our much smaller Sun, rises at 7 p.m. as November begins along the northeastern horizon. It is the fifth brightest star in the sky, and a beacon of the colorful and bright winter stars to come in December.

We have set new dates for our public gazes at Big Lagoon State Park west of Pensacola for these Saturdays: October 30, November 13 and 27, December 11, January 8 and 22, February 5 and 19, March 12 and 26, and April 8 and 23. Be sure to check-in at the gate before sunset.

For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, visit our website.