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November skies of the Gulf Coast

Rod Bell
The EAAA’s Rocking Rob Bell took this shot of the huge spiral, larger than our own Milky Way, and its two companion elliptical galaxies last week. Here the disk of the largest companion, M-110 below, is as big as the half degree disk of our Moon, and the whole outer faint dusty arms stretch over seven degrees across the sky, as long as the bottom of the Big Dipper’s famed bowl.

The first quarter moon is Nov. 1, with the moon passing four degrees south of Saturn in the southern fall sky.  On Nov. 4, the gibbous moon passes two degree south of Jupiter in twilight.  The big event is the total lunar eclipse on Nov. 8, in the predawn hours — more on it below. The waning gibbous moon passes two degrees north of Mars on Nov. 11. In December, the full moon will occult Mars for most of the U.S. We, alas, will see a very close miss!  More on that next month. 

The last quarter moon on Nov. 16, will hide the fainter Leonid meteors when it peaks in the dawn hours on the following morning.  New Moon is on Nov. 23.  The moon passes four degrees south of Saturn again on Nov. 28 — note this is the sidereal month of 27.3 days, based on the moon returning to the same star field (Saturn moves very slowly, so almost the same place in sky).  On Nov. 30, the moon is again first quarter phase.  This marks 29.5 days since the same phase at the first of this month.  This phase based month is called the synodic month.  The reason for this two day difference is of course we the earth did not stay put relative to the light giving (and phase making) sun in our yearly orbit of our home star. We are each day (by design) moving about one degree eastward (counter clock wise) in our annual revolution, so when the moon gets to where it left us among the stars 27.3 day later, we are already 30 degrees ahead of it, hence the extra two days for it to catch up.

This should be a very colorful eclipse, perhaps comparable to this fine shot by Sheryl Williams.

Sheryl Williams

Her shot comes from December 21, 2010, with a 6” reflector and digital camera. It will start with the partial eclipse (much darker umbral bite) at 3:10 a.m. CST. Total lunar eclipse finds the moon entirely within the Earth’s umbra at 4:10 p.m. Maximum eclipse is at 5 AM locally, with the moon setting, still totally eclipsed in the SW at 6:15 AM. Only farther west can you see all of this eclipse. 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.

Mercury and Venus are lost in Sun’s glare in November. But Mars is coming to opposition early next month, and getting very big and bright now in the east just after sunset. Compare its brightness to Jupiter, also in the evening sky west of it; at this opposition, Mars is not at its closest to us, so will not get quite at bright as Jupiter even in December. Jupiter dominates the eastern sky now, at its closest approach to Earth in 59 years; in now lies in faint Pisces. Saturn is now in the tail of Capricornus, well east of Jupiter in the southern sky as night falls.

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. For a detailed map of northern hemisphere skies visit skymaps.com.

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. 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 NE as the Big Dipper sets in the NW. 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 NE now. Her daughter, Andromeda, is noted for the nearest big galaxy to ours, below:

M-31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is the most distant object visible with the naked eye. Our first view of M-31 is with my new eVscope Equinox imager, hooked by WiFi to my iPhone 12s. This two minute exposure shows the way it looks in smaller scopes. This new technology from France is locally available at Calagaz Photo at 7160 North Ninth Avenue in Pensacola. This scope will be a loaner for the Escambia Amateur Astronomers next year.

M31 - Andromeda Galaxy
Rob Bell
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, is noted for the nearest big galaxy to ours as pictured.

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.

For Okaloosa and Walton Counties, the Northwest Florida Amateur Astronomers will also host it's final public gaze at Topsail on Nov. 11. For more on their activities and meetings, visit nwfastro.org.

For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, visit eaaa.net or join us on Facebook. For more on our solar eclipse glasses and plans for the solar eclipse coming up next October and again in April 2024, contact me, Dr. Wayne Woote, by email at johnwaynewooten@gmail.com. You can also call 291-9334 for telescope recommendations for Christmas. All EAAA events are free and open to the public.

Dr. John Wayne Wooten has been teaching science since 1970, with a special concentration on astronomy. He received his Doctor of Education in Astronomy from University of Florida in 1979. He was an educator at Pensacola State College since 1974 and University of West Florida since 1984 before retiring in 2017. He still continues to teach distance learning astronomy for Tennessee colleges.