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> Planets, meteors, comets = plenty to see in Nov.

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Posted: Nov 2 2007, 11:58 AM
Quote Post
Planets, meteors and comets mean plenty to see in November's sky
Glenn K. Roberts
The Guardian
Thu, 01 Nov 2007
Though the nights are definitely chillier now, there's much to see in the night sky worth getting out for, especially this month.

Dress warmly and head for a dark site away from city lights and enjoy the special treats on display for those with the fortitude to venture forth.

The show starts just after sunset, with Jupiter shining brightly low in the southwest sky. You'll have to be quick to spot Jupiter's four largest moons - Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede - as Jupiter will follow the sun below the horizon soon after darkness falls. On Nov. 12, look for the slender, three-day old crescent moon just to the lower left of Jupiter.

Mars is preparing for its best showing in the past two years next month by nearly doubling in brightness and increasing significantly in apparent size in November. Mars is heading towards opposition in December, when it will be at its brightest and peak visibility.

It begins November in a slightly gibbous phase, but by month's end, its disk will be nearly full. Look for Mars rising in the east about three hours after sunset in the constellation of Gemini - the Twins. If you have a telescope, begin observing just before midnight, watching for subtle dark and bright markings. Make a note of your observations, perhaps even making a coloured sketch, so that you can compare your observations with those in December.

As November opens, Saturn struts onto the night's celestial stage in the east around 2 a.m. By month's end, it will rise shortly before midnight. Always a spectacular sight in a telescope, Saturn's ring system is worth looking for. If your telescope is a decent size and has good optics, you might catch a glimpse of Saturn's brightest moon - Titan - north of the planet on Nov. 3 and 19, and south of the planet on Nov. 11 and 27.

Bright Venus returns to the early morning sky this month, rising an hour and a half after Saturn appears above the eastern horizon and four hours before the sun. An excellent photo opportunity is in the pre-dawn sky of Nov. 4, when the crescent moon sits between Saturn and Venus. The next morning, the moon will sit to the right of Venus.

Mercury makes its best showing of the year this month, reaching its highest point in the east-southeast sky (approximately a hand's width at arm's length) about 45 minutes before sunrise on Nov. 8. The solar system's innermost planet rises about 90 minutes before the sun.

On Nov. 7, look for the crescent moon to the right of Mercury, with bright Spica (the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo - the Maiden) just below. If you've never seen Mercury, try and see it this month as by month's end it disappears from view.

The second of the year's two premiere meteors showers - the Leonids (radiant in Leo - the Lion) - arrives this month, peaking in the pre-dawn sky of Nov. 18. Although it is expected that the peak, which arrives about 3 a.m. on Nov. 18 when the Leo is high in the eastern sky, will generate 20-40 meteors/hour, in the Maritimes we may be treated to increased numbers of meteors just before midnight on Nov. 17 when Earth crosses the orbital node of the Leonids' parent comet, Temple-Tuttle. Dress warmly, get comfortable with a chair or lots of blankets, get out early and get ready for the show. It just might be one of those rare times when we will be treated to a meteor storm.

In the hours just preceding dawn, when the Leonids strike Earth's atmosphere almost head on, expect to see some very bright meteors and perhaps even some fireballs, streaking across the sky.

Even as the stars fade and the eastern horizon starts to glow, keep watching, as fireballs can easily be seen through the twilight.

Two comets can be found in the November night sky. Soon after the sun has set and twilight deepens, use binoculars or a telescope to scan just above the southwest horizon. Comet LONEOS should be visible just above the horizon, with its tail angling up towards Jupiter. A decent telescope should show the comet's two tails - the bright, yellowish, dust tail curving towards the north and the duller, bluish, ion tail streaking straight out from the comet's southeastern flank. Be quick to see this visitor to the solar system as after the first week of November, the comet will be all but impossible to see in binoculars or small telescopes.

The other comet now in the sky is something of a pleasant surprise. Just last week, in the latter days of October, Comet Holmes (discovered in 1892 by British astronomer, Edwin Holmes) suddenly blossomed from an extremely faint comet (visible in only the largest of telescopes) to naked-eye visibility, a million-fold increase in brightness. It now sits in the constellation of Perseus - the Warrior Prince in the northeast sky as darkness falls. It is clearly visible to the naked-eye as a bright, fuzzy ball which, as has just been reported, has swollen in size to an object larger than Jupiter (at an equal distance). Go to for more information, pictures and a sky chart on this amazing comet and get outside the first clear night available and have a look at Comet Holmes.

Until next month, clear skies and good hunting.

"Ye shall know them by their fruits"
~ Matthew 7:16

"Believe nothing. No matter where you read it, or who said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
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