Nov 08

What’s Up in the Sky

What’s Up in the Sky – November, 2015

The Morning Planet Show, Act 2

Normally, this time of year does not bode well for observing due to cloudy skies and generally bad weather. I don’t care. I always enjoy writing about it anyway.

Last month I recommended you observe the planets in the morning and this month the show continues. Unfortunately, the end of Daylight-Saving Time on November 1 means the Sun will rise one hour earlier so you will have to be out no later than 6:30 a.m. in order to catch the scene.

Starting on November 1, look toward the east one hour before sunrise and you will see the familiar sight of brilliant Venus with bright Jupiter above and to the right. With binoculars, look for much dimmer Mars slightly below and to the left of Venus, about one Moon diameter away. Watch as these two planets pass each other from day to day until the real show, which runs from Thursday, the 5th through Saturday, the 7th, when the main players are joined by a lovely crescent Moon. On Friday it will be right next to Jupiter and on Saturday very close to Venus, with Mars just above. Binoculars will add extra enjoyment.

If you’re really an astro-nut and are looking for a rare observing opportunity, you are in luck because this month you may have a chance to observe something I never saw in thirty years until last month – a full-Moon occultation. You may recall an occultation occurs when one object, such as the Moon or a planet, passes between Earth and a distant object, such as a planet or star. One of my first, and still most memorable, observations was of the Moon occulting Aldebaran in April of 1979. Readers with planetarium software should check out that date.

Anyway, full-Moon occultations occur when the full Moon passes in front of a star, which is fine except almost all stars are invisible when they are right next to a full Moon – like a candle next to a spotlight. I was fortunate enough to have witnessed such an event during September’s lunar eclipse. With the Moon embedded in Earth’s shadow, it no longer drowns out the nearby stars and I was able to observe it moving in front of a star – very exciting.

Your chance this month will not involve an eclipsed Moon, but rather a bright star. Each month the Moon follows a regular, rather narrow path across the sky which includes very few bright stars, but this month it occults Aldebaran, the brightest star it can ever pass across.

To witness this event, you will again have to be an early riser as the star disappears close to 5:40 a.m. Because of the Moon’s glare, you will need a telescope at high power, but because of the star’s brightness, you have a rare chance to make a difficult observation of something very cool up in the sky.