The clocks went back last weekend so we can see the evening sky a bit earlier and at present with quite mild conditions but I’m sure it will get colder.
The following chart represents the night sky at 11.00pm GMT on the 8th of November and at 10.00pm GMT on the 23rd November. To use the chart, face your southern horizon at the appropriate time and you will see the stars in the chart. If you are observing earlier in the evening just turn eastwards by 15 degrees for every hour before the stated time but objects will be lower in the sky.
Some parts of the chart are the same as last month so a little familiarity should help with navigation. I hope you have been enjoying Cassiopeia at its best, high in the sky going from autumn to winter. Locate Cassiopeia and drop down slightly towards the horizon and to the left of Andromeda you will see the prominent constellation Perseus- representing the mythological Greek hero of the same name, and containing the two bright stars Mirphak and Algol. Again a human shape isn’t obvious but the branch up from the bright star Mirphak is meant to be his right arm and sword while the lower right hand branch is his left arm with the head of Medusa, depicted by Algol, in his left hand. The third branch represents his left leg. Mirphak is a magnitude 1.8 yellow supergiant while Algol has the distinction of being the first eclipsing binary to be observed. In fact it is part of a triple system whose magnitude dips from 2.1 to 3.4 as its components pass in front of each other. With another five stars brighter than magnitude 3 Perseus stands out in the night sky.
To the left of Perseus lies the unmistakeable Capella, the fourth brightest star in the northern hemisphere at magnitude 0.1 and the brightest star in the constellation Auriga- The Charioteer. Its seven brightest stars form the rough shape of a septagon although its lowest star Alnath is actually in Taurus. Capella is ‘only’ 42 light years from Earth and is a binary system consisting of two yellow giants too close to be resolved in most amateur telescopes.
As mentioned above, Alnath is in the constellation Taurus- The Bull lying just below Auriga and extending down and towards the right. It is a zodiacal constellation lying between Aries and Gemini. Its brightest star Aldebaran is readily picked out as it is a red giant of magnitude 1 supposedly representing the red eye of the angry bull at the base of the lower horn. The ‘V’ shape to the right of Aldebaran represents the face of the bull and is an open star cluster called the Hyades. The more famous open cluster, the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, is in the constellation Taurus but lies to the northwest of Aldebaran roughly in the direction of Algol. It is worthy of observation in its own right and is one of my favourites for viewing with the unaided eye.
Something to look out for
Mars reaches opposition on the 8th December so it is becoming the planet to watch. It is currently shining at magnitude -1.2 and lies between the tips of the horns in the constellation Taurus and so enables a comparison to be made with the star Aldebaran. Mars just started retrograde motion on the 30th October so it will be moving from east to west against the starry background throughout the month.
There will be several close approaches of the Moon with different planets, starting with Jupiter on the 4th November. Visible from early evening but best viewed about 9.15pm, 36 degrees above your southern horizon. This is followed by Mars on the 11th November, again visible from early evening but highest in the sky in the early hours. Finally Saturn joins in on the 29th November about 20 degrees above your southern horizon in the early evening.
For those of you who like to see a ‘shooting star’ the Leonid meteor shower should be at its best around the 18th November from 10.30pm onwards.