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November Skies Of The Gulf Coast

The full moon, the Hunter’s Moon, occurs on Halloween. The last quarter moon is on Nov. 8. The waning crescent sits three degrees north of Venus on Nov. 12. The new moon is Nov. 15. and will not interfere with peak for the Leonid meteor shower on the morning of Nov. 18. The waxing crescent moon passes two degrees below brighter Jupiter and three degrees below Saturn on Nov. 19. The waxing gibbous moon is five degrees south of fading Mars on Nov. 25, and The Full Moon, the Beaver Moon, is on Nov. 30. 

Mercury and Venus are both in the dawn sky. Mercury can be spotted easily on the morning of Nov. 13 when it lies below the waning crescent moon, with brilliant Venus to the upper right of them. Venus is waxing gibbous, getting fuller in phase but smaller in size as it orbits to the far side of the Sun this winter. It rises three hours before the Sun on Nov. 1 but only about two hours by months end.

We are losing Jupiter and Saturn from the evening sky fast. Both lie in the southwest evening sky, moving from Sagittarius into Capricornus as closer and brighter Jupiter overtakes more distant Saturn in mid-December; around Dec. 19 both will be in same telescopic field of view, but low in the southwest twilight just after sunset. By New Years, both lie behind the Sun.

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 for 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. North of Fomalhaut, in southwest Aquarius is the Helical Nebula, MGC 7293, the closest of the planetary nebulae. Appearing half as big as the full moon, this stellar tombstone is faintly visible with big binocs under very dark, clear moonless skies. At its center is a collapsed white dwarf the size of Earth, but the expelled outer layers now stretch over a light year across, glowing from the ultraviolet radiation of the core star.

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 west of Cassiopeia, and look for a faint blur with the naked eye. M-31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is the most distant object visible with the naked eye, lying about 2.5 million light years distant. 

Credit Péter Feltóti/NASA gallery
Galaxies in Pegasus

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. 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. In fact, 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 more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers and our stargazes, visit the Escambia Amateur Astronomer’s Association Facebook page. You can also call the Pensacola State College sponsor, Lauren Rogers at Pensacola State College at (850) 484-1155, or e-mail her at lrogers@pensacolastate.edu.