What’s Up in the Sky – November, 2014
Asterisms and You
We batted .500 for October with the lunar eclipse being spectacular under clear skies but the partial solar eclipse last Thursday being invisible through clouds that appeared on the scene about an hour prior to the start of the eclipse. And that was after a beautiful, clear day.
November does not have anything that spectacular to witness but there still is a lot of cool stuff up there. Although most fall constellations are dim, it can be interesting to watch the stars of summer give way to the winter constellations. Looking southwest just after sunset, you should spot the Summer Triangle. Look up. It’s big. The stars are the brightest in the region and each is in a different constellation with Deneb in Cygnus, the Swan, Altair in Aquilla, the Eagle, and Vega in Lyra, the Lyre. Right now Deneb is almost overhead but Altair and Vega are about halfway to the horizon. Watch all three sink in the west as the month progresses.
The summer triangle is an example of an asterism. In astronomy, an asterism is a recognizable group of stars, usually forming a portion of a constellation or composed of stars from different constellations. The Big Dipper is an example of the former (it’s part of Ursa Major, the Great Bear) and the Summer Triangle is an example of the latter, as described earlier. There are a number of asterisms visible in this part of the sky near the Summer Triangle.
Start with the Great Square of Pegasus. It lies just to the left of the Summer Triangle and is also big – about two fists held at arm’s length wide. Below it is the Circlet, depicting the head of the western fish in Pisces. It’s a little smaller – only one fist wide – and its name is self descriptive. To the right and slightly below the Circlet look for the sideways Y of Aquarius also known as the Urn or the Water Jar. Being small and faint, binoculars are recommended.
Continue toward the west almost to the Summer Triangle and look for the little constellation Delphinus. The four bright stars that make up the dolphin’s body are also known as Job’s Coffin. Further west is one of my favorite asterisms because it looks just like its name. Known as the Coat Hanger, you will know it when you see it. It lies about one third of the way from Altair to Vega, along a straight line.
A note of caution: other than the Triangle and the Square, we are talking about small, faint groupings of stars. Binoculars are a must and I recommend looking these things up with a phone app or Google before going out to observe. You will definitely be rewarded for your efforts when you are able to find some of the best things up in the sky.
This month in history:
Nov. 3: The dog Laika is first living creature to orbit Earth aboard Sputnik 2 – 1957
Nov. 9: Carl Sagan born. – 1934
Nov. 16: Interstellar message broadcast from Arecibo radio telescope – 1974
Nov. 20: Edwin Hubble born – 1889
Nov. 27: First photograph of a meteor shower – 1885
Nov. 30: Ten-pound meteorite strikes and bruises Alabama woman, Elizabeth Hodges – 1954