September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

California Skies for November and Early December 2011

Posted: Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

by Robert Victor

See brilliant evening planets Venus and Jupiter wide apart, and Mercury in a close pairing with Venus visible with binoculars in the first half of November. Early risers can enjoy two planet-star pairings (Mars-Regulus and Saturn-Spica) in November, and a total lunar eclipse on Saturday morning, December 10.

Evening Planets: In the middle of autumn 2011, Venus starts to become noticeable in evening twilight. Within one-half hour after sunset on Friday, October 28, look for Venus 11° lower right of a thin crescent moon low in southwest. Binoculars may show Mercury about 2° below or lower left of Venus until mid-November. After that, Mercury pulls away to the lower right of Venus and fades.

This November, whenever you spot Venus, remember to turn around to face Jupiter in the eastern sky. These two planets will remain the brightest “stars” in the evening sky until Jupiter disappears into the west-northwest evening twilight glow in late April 2012. (Venus will depart by the end of May.) In November 2011, Venus-Jupiter appear 150° apart on November 5, 135° apart on November 16, and 120° apart on November 27. Students and teachers will enjoy following these two brilliant planets as they progress toward their rendezvous just 3° apart on March 13, 2012.

Morning planets and bright stars: On Wednesday, November 9, about 1.5 hours before sunrise, look low in the west-northwest to find the nearly full moon with Jupiter 5° to its left. At the same time, the striking pair of reddish Mars and blue-white Regulus, just 1.5° apart, is high in east-southeast to southeast, and Saturn-Spica, 4.4° apart, have just risen in east to east-southeast. If you look after Saturn rises and before Jupiter sets, you’ll catch all three bright outer planets simultaneously!

Sirius, the brightest star, twinkles in south south-west, more than a third of the way from horizon to overhead. To its right, in the southwest, stands Orion, the Hunter. His prominent 3-star belt extended to the left locates the Dog Star Sirius. Extend Orion’s belt to the right to find Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster, comprising the V-shaped head of Taurus, the Bull, and farther to the right, the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster.

Follow the moon for the next two weeks as it moves through the zodiac constellations and passes the two other morning planets. On November 11, the moon appears below the Pleaides star cluster; on November 12, near Aldebaran and the Hyades; and on November 13, near the Bull’s horns.

On November 15 and 16, the moon passes widely south of Pollux and Castor, the Twins of Gemini. Those stars are 4.5° apart, and serve to help you compare the separations of Mars-Regulus and Saturn-Spica to the gap between those stars. Mars-Regulus appear closer together than the Twins during November 3-19, and within 1.4° apart in a very striking conjunction on November 10 and 11. Saturn-Spica appear within 4.5° during Nov. 4-24, and closest, 4.3° apart, on Nov. 14. That will be the closest of their three-times pairing in 2011-2012. At no time during their common apparition which ends in September 2012 will Saturn-Spica be more than 7.2° apart.

On November 18 and 19, the moon passes Regulus and Mars, and on November 22, the moon appears near Spica and Saturn. November 23 is the last easy old moon. Look for the thin waning crescent below Saturn and Spica one to 1.5 hours before sunrise.

The moon is new on Thanksgiving night, Thursday, November 24, at 10:10 p.m. PST, coinciding with a partial solar eclipse in the Antarctic. The first easy chance to see the young crescent after the new moon will be at dusk on Saturday, November 26. Half an hour after sunset, the thin crescent will be very low in the southwest, just three degrees to the lower right of Venus. On the next evening, Sunday, November 27, the lunar crescent appears 11° to the upper left of Venus. Note Jupiter shining brightly in the east. That evening these two brightest planets appear 120° apart in the skies of Earth.

Direct a telescope toward the moon and both planets to rediscover what Galileo observed four centuries ago: Mountains and craters on the moon, Jupiter accompanied by four satellites of its own, and Venus now in gibbous phase, 90% full, even though it appears close to a crescent moon in the sky on November 26 and 27. What can you deduce about Venus’ location in 3-D space in relation to the sun, Earth, and moon?

Continue following the moon each evening for two weeks after it passes Venus. On December 5 and 6, it will appear close to Jupiter. On Friday, December 9, the moon, nearly full, rises shortly before sunset. Lunar eclipse: Late that night, at 4:45 a.m. PST on Saturday morning December 10, the moon begins to enter the umbra, or dark central core of Earth’s shadow. By 5:21 a.m., the upper half of the moon’s diameter is in deep shadow. The moon is then sinking in west northwest, appearing against the background of Taurus, the Bull, above setting Aldebaran and the Hyades, and below the horns. By 6:06 a.m. the moon is completely immersed in the umbra, marking the beginning of total eclipse. Brightening twilight will make it difficult to observe the dim totally eclipsed moon, especially in southern California where sunrise and moonset occur earlier than for the rest of the state. Binoculars may help you keep the eclipsed moon in sight longer.

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs.

 

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by Jill Grace

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Written by Peter AHearn

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