Nov 07

What’s Up in the Sky

What’s Up in the Sky – November, 2013

Royal Sky Has Visitor (We Hope)

Robert Wade is the most accomplished and dedicated amateur astronomer I have ever known. A group of us were out observing in November of 2001, dutifully recording what we saw in our log books when Robert suddenly realized that, in twenty years of observing, this was the first entry he had ever made in his journal dated November. He was probably more surprised than we were, but this is a testimonial to the weather around here at this time of year.

If we luck out again this year, your best bets for observing this month will include the crescent Moon and Venus in the southwest one hour after sunset on Wednesday, November 6.

Later in the month you may be hearing a lot about Comet ISON, which may or may not be spectacular in December. It is currently on its way in toward the sun and will pass within 725,000 miles of its surface (less than one solar diameter) on Thanksgiving Day. This could either make for a very nice tail or destroy the nucleus, we won’t know for a while.

Do not despair, though, because it may be possible to spot it before it almost burns up. On the weekend before Thanksgiving, go outside about 7 a.m. and look toward the southeastern horizon. You should be able to spot two “stars” (actually Mercury and Saturn) close together near the horizon. With a pair of binoculars, scan to their right and you should be able to see the comet. This whole endeavor requires a clear horizon at dawn in November. Good luck with that.

Regardless of the weather we can always enjoy the mythology of the stars and this month we have some interesting figures to enjoy. Facing north, look almost directly overhead for the Great Square of Pegasus and use binoculars to scan straight up for the Andromeda Galaxy. Farther north you will see the “W” – shaped Cassiopeia.

Because of her boastful vanity, Queen Cassiopeia is ordered to sacrifice her beautiful daughter Andromeda to the sea monster, Cetus. Andromeda is chained to a rock on the sea coast but is saved by Perseus who kills the monster after her parents agree offer their daughter’s hand in marriage. The two are joyfully married, but the gods are still angry with Cassiopeia and she must spend half of every night upside-down.

What more could you ask for 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. 13: Mariner 9 is first spacecraft to orbit Mars – 1971
Nov. 18: Alan Shepard born – 1923
Nov. 27: First photograph of a meteor shower – 1885