Wayne Wooten: November Skies Of The Gulf Coast

Oct 30, 2019

The moon is a slender waxing crescent for Halloween setting in the west about the time that trick or treaters should be getting worn out. So get out the scopes and give your guests a telescopic treat as well, with Jupiter just south of the moon, and Saturn east of them in the western twilight.  

The moon will just south of Saturn on November 2 and the first quarter moon is November 4.  The big event for this month, however, is on Veterans’ Day, November 11, when the planet Mercury transits the sun that morning.  Shortly after sunrise, the tiny disk of Mercury moves in front of the Sun’s eastern limb at 6:35 a.m. CST, and moves all the way across it, leaving the western limb at noon CST.  The Escambia Amateur Astronomers will set up scopes outside the Pensacola State College Planetarium for the public to observe this very rare event, which will not recur for the US until 2049. 

This month's feature photo is by EAAA member Tom Dragon, contrasting the round black ball of the innermost planet with a typical sunspot; this particular spot was about as large as the Earth. Now is sunspot minima, so probably Mercury will be the only thing visible on the Sun’s disk during the transit, however.
Credit Tom Dragon

Be sure to bring your smartphones to capture it through our safely filtered scopes.  Do not try to observe this without safe solar filters; just as with solar eclipses, staring at the Sun will result in permanent eye damage.  The tiny disk of Mercury is too small to observe without a good telescope as well.  For more info on safe solar observing and photography, email wwooten@pensacolastate.edu.

The full moon, the Beaver Moon, is on November 12.  The waning gibbous moon on November 17 interferes with the peak of the Leonid meteor shower.  The last quarter moon is on November 19. The waning crescent moon is four degrees north of Mars in the dawn on November 24; that evening Venus overtakes Jupiter in the evening sky, passing 1.4 degrees south for a spectacular grouping of the two brightest planets in the southwest just after sunset.  The new moon is November 26.  On Thanksgiving, look for both fainter Jupiter and brighter Venus south of the slender crescent moon for a spectacular photo op in the SW twilight skies.  The moon passes south of Saturn on November 29.

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 the Sky Maps website.

We are losing Jupiter and Saturn from the evening sky fast.  Venus passes Jupiter on November 24, and it catches up to Saturn on December 10.  By years end, only Venus will remain in the western sky.  Mars and Mercury are in the morning sky this month.

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.

The constellation Cassiopeia makes a striking W, 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 with the naked eye, lying about 2.5 million light years distant. 

Andromeda Galaxy
Credit NASA

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.

Events:

Deep Sky Gazes at Big Lagoon State Park: November 2 and 23 and December 7 and 21.  

For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers visit the Escambia Amateur Astronomer’s Association Facebook group or call the Pensacola State College sponsor, Lauren Rogers at Pensacola State College at 484-1155, or e-mail her at lrogers@pensacolastate.edu

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. He and his wife, Merry, have been married since 1980 and they have two sons, Michael and Trevor.