January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Celestial Highlights for November and Early December 2015

Posted: Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

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

In evening twilight in the course of November, the Summer Triangle with brightest member blue-white Vega at its northwest corner, drifts slowly from nearly overhead into the high western sky. Meanwhile lonely Fomalhaut, Mouth of the Southern Fish, moves from southeast toward the south. Bright Arcturus departs in west-northwest, making way for almost equally bright Capella rising in northeast. Low in southwest to west-southwest, Saturn and Antares 8 degrees to its left are challenges for binoculars early in month, until their quick departure. Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull, is at opposition to Sun around December 1, so may be seen rising in east-northeast during twilight in late November.

In November’s morning twilight, Venus in east to southeast easily ranks first in brilliance. Next is Jupiter, climbing 6 to 34 degrees to Venus’ upper right and almost reaching south. The next dozen slots are taken by stars, headed by Sirius in southwest, Arcturus climbing in east-northeast to east, and Capella well up in northwest. Sirius and Capella mark the southern and northern vertices of the Winter Hexagon. In clockwise order beginning at Sirius, its other members are Procyon, Pollux (with Castor), Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel, and back to Sirius, with Betelgeuse inside. Regulus, heart of Leo the Lion, reaches its high point in the south while chasing the Hexagon across the sky. Following Regulus is the line of planets Jupiter-Mars-Venus, and finally Spica, spike of grain in Virgo, rising up from low in east-southeast to well up in southeast. In late November or early December, watch for the rising of Vega far to the northeast. From its appearance until Rigel sets in west-southwest, 11 stars of first magnitude or brighter are visible, along with the three planets.

Watch for These Events

 

Thurs. Nov. 12, about half an hour after sunset: Binoculars may show young crescent Moon very low in WSW, with Saturn 2°-3° to its lower left.

Fri. Nov. 13: Last morning Venus-Mars within 5°.

Fri. Nov. 22: Last morning Venus-Mars within 10°. First morning Venus-Spica within 10°.

Wed. Nov. 25 at dusk: Watch for Aldebaran rising 4° lower left of Full Moon in ENE. Binoculars will help you see the star in Moon’s glare throughout the night. Early Thanksgiving morning, the Moon passes narrowly north of Aldebaran, without covering it. From southern California this happens around 2:48 a.m. PST, when the star appears less than one-quarter of a moon’s width from Moon’s southern limb. From near the OR-CA border to SC, there will be a grazing occultation, as the star repeatedly disappears and reappears from behind mountains on the Moon’s S limb. From north of that path, Aldebaran is occulted by the Moon.

On Thanksgiving Nov. 26 in morning twilight, Moon is low in WNW, with Aldebaran just over a degree to its lower right.

Nov. 29 & 30, morning: Venus-Spica appear closest, 4.2° apart.

Fri. Dec. 4, morning: Jupiter 5° upper right of Moon.

Sat. Dec. 5, morning: Mars 5°-6° lower left of Moon.

Sun. Dec. 6, morning: Spica 5° lower right of Moon.

Mon. Dec. 7, morning: Spica midway between Venus and Mars, 10° from each. Spectacular close conjunction of crescent Moon and Venus in morning twilight. Continue observing after sunrise and witness a daytime occultation of Venus by the Moon. From Palm Springs, binoculars and telescopes show the leading sunlit edge of Moon covering Venus at 8:09 a.m. PST, and trailing dark edge of Moon (invisible in daylight) uncovering Venus at 9:59 a.m. Times vary with observer’s location.

After Dec. 7, the waning Moon can be followed for 2-3 additional mornings. On Thurs. Dec. 10, 40 minutes before sunup, try for the very thin old crescent, only 20-21 hours before New, very low in ESE. Binoculars will be helpful for spotting it, and possibly emerging Saturn, rising within 3° to Moon’s lower right.

Resources

Illustrations of events in this article appear in Sky Calendar. For a sample issue and how to subscribe, visit www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar/

An activity, Modeling seasonal visibility of stars and visibility of the planets, to help students investigate visibility of bright planets and first magnitude stars, is available at the CSTA website. As stars and planets come and go in morning and evening skies and display beautiful pairings and groupings, students can model these changes and explain their observations with the aid of items provided: Two planet orbit charts, Mercury through Mars and Mercury through Saturn; a table of data for plotting planets on orbit charts (.docx file); and a table of data for plotting planets on orbit charts (.docx).

A Selection of Media for the Science Classroom

Take your classes on a field trip to a planetarium, or arrange for a portable planetarium to visit your school!

Stellarium: www.stellarium.org

Astronomy Picture of the Day: www.apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html

NASA and JPL: www.nasa.govwww.spaceplace.nasa.govwww.jpl.gov/edu

Sky and Telescope magazine: www.skyandtelescope.com

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.

Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit 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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