The nights are getting very dark and there is a definite chill in the air. Hello November, and hello to some brilliant stargazing opportunities. The Earth’s tilt means that now the southern hemisphere is in its summer, and sadly we here in the northern hemisphere are tilted away from the Sun so that we are heading towards our winter season. When going out to stargaze this month, don’t forget to wrap up warm and bring a nice thermos filled with hot cocoa.
We’ve become rather obsessed with meteor showers in recent months, and for good reason. Meteor showers are cool, as are bow ties. We’re lucky to have quite a few meteor showers in the month of November, so if you’ve missed them in the past, here is your chance to see one. The first meteor shower peaks around 11- 12 November too, so keep an eye out. This is the Northern Taurids Meteor Shower, and it is a meteor shower that only produces around 5-10 meteors an hour. It does however last for a very long time and you can usually see meteors from the Northern Taurids between 7 September and 10 December. The parent comet of this meteor shower is Comet Encke, which was first recorded in 1786 by Pierre Méchain, but not recognised as a periodic comet until 1819, when its orbit was computed by Johann Franz Encke. The best time to view these meteors will be just after midnight, in a dark location away from any light pollution. The meteors will radiate from the constellation of Taurus, but they can appear anywhere in the sky.
On 11 November there will be a New Moon, so the night sky will not be flooded with moon light. More stars will be visible and other celestial objects too. This will be a great time to try and view something fascinating. Here is what we recommend you look for.
Aldebaran is a brilliant star, and it is easy to spot with the naked eye in this month. Aldebaran is an orange giant star located roughly 65 light years away from the Earth in the constellation of Taurus. It has an average apparent magnitude of 0.87, making it the brightest star in Taurus and one of the brightest stars in the night sky. Try using a pair of binoculars or even a telescope to take a closer look at this magnificent star.
The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters or M45, is another brilliant celestial object to try and locate. It is an open star cluster that is readily visible to the naked eye. It can be found on the “back of the bull,” as it is located just slightly above the constellation of Taurus. The Pleiades contains hot, blue luminous stars that are thought to have formed around 100 million years ago. The Pleiades are among the first stars mentioned in literature, appearing in Chinese annals around 2350 BC. The earliest European references come a little later, in a poem by Hesiod in about 1000 BC, and in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were seven sisters: Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Taygete, Asterope, Celaeno and Merope. Their parents were Atlas, the Titan who was punished to hold up the sky, and the Oceanid Pleione, the protector of sailing. After a meeting with the infamous hunter Orion, the Pleiades and their mother became the object of his hunt. Infatuated with the young women, Orion pursued them over the face of the Earth. Taking pity on the sisters, Zeus changed them into a flock of doves, which he set in the heavens.
When looking at the Pleiades, most people can only really see six stars. The ancient Greeks explained the sudden disappearance of the seventh star in different narratives. In one of these narratives, the Pleiades were consorts to the gods, with the exception of Merope. She deserted her sisters, after having chosen to take a mortal husband, Sisyphus, the king of Corinth. Another reason for the ‘lost’ star relates to the myth of Electra, an ancestor of the Royal House of Troy. After the complete destruction of Troy, a grief stricken Electra abandoned her sisters and transformed into a comet, forever to be a sign of impending doom.
On 17-18 November we have the peak of another meteor shower to look forward to. The Leonids meteor shower is one of the most reliable, large meteor showers of the year, so this will be the one that you will want to put on your winter woollies to go and see. The parent comet of this meteor shower is Comet Tempel-Tuttle or 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. This comet completes its orbit of the sun every 33 years. In 1366, Comet Tempel-Tuttle passed 0.0229 AU from the Earth, one of the closest “near misses” in the past 1,000 years by any comet. You can expect roughly 10 to 15 meteors per hour at the peak with this shower. The meteors will radiate from the constellation of Leo the Lion and as always, it is best to view them in a location away from light pollution.
On 21 and 22 of this month the Alpha Monocerotid meteor shower will be at its peak. Normally this is a relatively weak meteor shower with the meteors hitting the Earth’s atmosphere at 65 km/s.
Finally we will see a Full Moon on 25 November. There will be too much light from the Moon in the sky to see any deep sky objects; however you will still be able to see noticeable night sky objects such as the Great Square of Pegasus and the Plough. To early Native American tribes, this full moon was known as the Full Beaver Moon, as it was the time of the year to set the beaver traps before the swamps froze over for the winter.
(Article by Heather Taylor, Education Support Officer)