Another month, another lockdown. We have one very good outdoor socially distanced activity that everyone can do – stargazing! November does have a few meteor showers and interesting objects to see, so why not give it a go this month?

Venus, Mars and Saturn as seen from the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium. Image Credit: Yanina Metodiva

Just remember, as always, to give your eyes around 20 minutes to adapt to the dark – you won’t initially be able to see all the observable stars if you’ve just come from a well lit room or if you’ve been staring at your phone screen. If you live in a large town or a city you may find the glow from streetlights interferes a little with visibility. If it’s safe to do so, maybe take a drive to one of the better spots to view stars from (relatively free of light pollution)! 

Graph from Go Stargazing 
The First Norther Irish Darksite – Davagh Forest! Photo by Ursula Mezza

So, what can we see this month?

Moon

The full moon this month is right at the end, 30th November which is a Monday. It’s called the Beaver Moon! Why, I hear you ask? This is the time of year in North America when beavers begin to take shelter in their lodges, having laid up sufficient stores of food for the long winter ahead. We sadly don’t have any beavers in Northern Ireland, but this month we pay homage to their dam building efforts with our eponymous moon.

The Beaver Moon! Image credit: Express

Planets

There isn’t much in terms of planet spotting this month, except Mars. It’s still the best view you’ll get of Mars until 2035 so it’s well worth a peep! Last month was the opposition of Mars but it’s still visible in the sky. Look out for the orange glow in the sky from what might initially look like a star. Remember, planets don’t “twinkle” like stars do – they give off a flat light instead. 

Mars. Credit: NASA

Meteor Showers

This month the Leonids are the thing to look out for! Peaking around 17th to 18th this month between midnight and dawn. The shower happens as our world crosses the orbital path of Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. Like many comets, Temple-Tuttle litters its orbit with bits of debris. It’s when this cometary debris enters Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes that we see the Leonid meteor shower. Good news for this year – the Moon will be at the waxing crescent phase and definitely won’t interfere with this spectacular light now. 

image-of-Leonids-1833
This famous depiction of the Leonids was based on a first hand account of a meteor storm by a minister, Joseph Harvey Waggoner. Note: The Leonids this month will not look like this, sorry to get your hopes up! Image credit: via Wikimedia.org

Constellations – Cassiopeia

Why not take a look for one of our ever-present circumpolar constellations this month?

Cassiopeia and the other circumpolar constellations. Credit: Stellarium

Cassiopeia is one of the dominant constellations seen at this time of year with it’s clear ‘W’ shape. She was also a very domineering personality with a very interesting life according to Greek Mythology. Cassiopeia was an attractive and beautiful Queen and is pictured in the sky combing her long hair. However, she was not afraid to boast about her beauty, so much so that she claimed she was more beautiful that the lovely sea nymphs (all 50 of them). Revenge was sweet for the sea nymphs as when they heard the news they got Poseidon, the King of the Sea, to send Cetus the horrifying sea monster to Cassiopeia’s Kingdom. Things didn’t get much better for the Queen as on her death, she was placed in the sky as a constellation close to the north star – condemned to circle for all eternity, often hanging upside-down.

Her most famous pose: According to Greek myth, queen Cassiopeia pictured here fixing her long hair, was extremely beautiful, however her accompanying vanity was the main source of her problems and ultimately led to her undoing. NB. The super-bright ‘star’ marked on the sky map left of Cassiopeia as a tribute to its historic astronomical significance is the now-disappeared supernova of 1572. Credit: Copyright: Tartu Observatory Virtual Museum/1661 edition of Bayer’s Uranometria (USNO copy)

However awful Cassiopeia’s life became she is a great constellation to find and if you have access to a powerful telescope you should be able to find the Cassiopeia Supernova Remnant. Astronomers believe that here a massive star exploded around 330 years ago and approximately 11,000 light years away from us. The expanding cloud of debris from the supernova is now around 10 light years across.  The rarified gas with the remnant is at a staggering 30 million degrees celsius, so hot that it emits its “light” in X-rays!

Cassiopeia Supernova Remnant. Image Credit: NASA


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