May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Celestial Highlights for November 2014

Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller.

Annually in late November, catch the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster visible all night: Low in ENE at dusk, high in S in middle of night, and low in WNW at dawn. A view of this beautiful star cluster through a pair of binoculars is a sight not to be missed!

The brightest stars in November at dusk:

(1) Arcturus, the “Bear-chaser” star, can still be spotted very low in WNW at dusk at start of November but disappears below the horizon by second week. Mountains to your west would hasten its departure. (2) Vega is very high in WNW, 3/4 of the way from horizon to overhead on Nov. 1, and still halfway up to overhead at month’s end. (3) Capella, the “Mother-goat” star, is very low in NNE to NE at dusk in November and very slowly gaining in altitude. Note how stars near the horizon such as Arcturus and Capella twinkle much more than stars nearly overhead, such as Vega. The twinkling, as well as the considerable dimming of stars near the horizon, is caused by the passage of their light through Earth’s atmosphere.

Other bright stars at dusk: Altair, high in SSW to WSW, marks the southern point of the Summer Triangle it completes with Vega and Deneb. Fomalhaut, “Mouth of the Southern Fish”, is low in SSE, climbing toward its highest point in S. Late in month, Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull, begins rising before mid-twilight. Look in ENE, about 14° below the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster. Aldebaran’s name is Arabic; it means “the follower”, because that star follows the Pleiades cluster across the sky. (The cluster does not appear on our star maps, because its brightest star is of 3rd magnitude; the maps plot only the stars of first magnitude or brighter, and the naked-eye planets.)

Every year around December 1, the Earth passes between Aldebaran and the Sun, and the first magnitude star appears at opposition, nearly 180° from Sun and above the horizon nearly all night. About ten days earlier, around Nov. 20-21, the Pleiades star cluster comes to opposition, rising in the ENE in deepening twilight. The scene is well described in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Locksley Hall:

“Many a night I saw the Pleiades,
rising thro’ the mellow shade
glittering like a swarm of fireflies
tangled in a silver braid.”

Evening planets: In Nov. 2014 at dusk, Mars is the only planet visible to unaided eye. It glows at first magnitude in SSW to SW all month. Look 1-1/4 hours after sunset to follow the eastward motion of Mars past the background stars of Sagittarius. On Nov. 4 Mars passes only 0.6 degree north of the 3rd-mag. star marking the top of the Teapot. On Nov. 10, Mars passes 2° north of a 2nd-mag. star in the Teapot’s handle. Venus passed superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun on Oct. 25. Wait until just after the Sun disappears below your horizon in late November, and start searching for Venus. By November 30, Venus is 9° upper left of Sun and sets 33 minutes after sundown. In December, Venus will become easier to see with unaided eye, and during spring and early summer of 2015, it will be very impressive indeed.

Moon near bright objects: Moon, Full on Nov. 6, draws closer to Aldebaran overnight on the next night, Nov. 7-8, and pulls away from that star on night of Nov. 8-9, from two hours after sunset until dawn. A waxing crescent Moon appears near Mars at dusk on Nov. 25 and 26.

November’s dawn sky has many bright stars!

Six brightest objects are Jupiter of mag. –2.1 to –2.2, very high in SE to SW; Sirius, the “Dog star”, in SSW to SW; Mercury –0.6 to –0.9 low in ESE until it drops below mid-twilight horizon near end of 3rd week; Arcturus climbing in ENE to E; Vega emerging in NE at month’s end; and Capella well up in NW.

Other stars: The huge Winter Hexagon now appears entirely west of the meridian (N-S overhead line). In clockwise order, its stars are Sirius, Procyon, Pollux (with fainter Castor nearby, not shown), Capella, Aldebaran, and Rigel. Betelgeuse, Orion’s shoulder, is inside the Hexagon. Rigel will be the first star of the Hexagon to reach the western horizon, near month’s end. Jupiter and Regulus cross the meridian in pursuit of the Hexagon. Arcturus and Spica ascend the eastern sky all month. Brighter descending Mercury passes 4° N of Spica on Nov. 4, as Spica climbs higher daily.

Moon near bright objects at dawn: Moon appears near Aldebaran at dawn on Nov. 8 and 9; widely N of Betelgeuse at dawn on Nov. 10; between Procyon and Pollux at dawn on Nov. 12. At dawn on Nov. 14, find the Last Quarter (morning half moon) 5° from Jupiter, with Regulus about 8° E of the bright planet. At dawn on Nov. 15, the Moon will appear within 6° of Regulus. On Nov. 19, the waning crescent Moon will appear within 3° of Spica. Using binoculars, watch for Mercury rising 13° lower left of Moon Nov. 20, and just 2° lower right of the last old crescent Moon 40 min. before sunrise on Nov. 21.

  Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts, did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

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, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

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

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California Science Teachers Association

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

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NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

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, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.