What's Up in the Night Sky?

November 2023 - Vol. 27, No. 11

Astra's Star Gate

This Month's Night Sky - NOTE: The next paragraph describes the sky as it appears at 10 pm EST (11 pm EDT) near mid- month. The sky also looks this way at 11 pm EST (midnight EDT) during the beginning of the month and at 9 pm EST (10 pm EDT) by month's end.

If you are blessed with a dark observing site, the Orion arm of the Milky Way (the galaxy we inhabit) arches overhead from horizon to horizon. Embedded are the stars of constellations Cassiopeia, denoted by its familiar "W" or Sigma asterism, and Perseus. The Summer Triangle finally disappears early in the West before midnight. Although there are no bright stars due South, red Aldebaran and the tiny dipper asterism of the Pleiades's, a famous open star cluster (Taurus), as well as yellow Capella (Auriga) glow in the soiutheast. Later follows the twins, Castor and Pollux (Gemini), and the hour-glass asterism of constellation Orion with fuzzy M42 (Great Orion Nebula) just below its three "belt" stars, that heralds the coming of winter.

MERCURY returns to the evening sky the second week of the month in Scorpius. VENUS still dominates the morning sky this month, has a superb conjunction with the Moon on November 9th. MARS too close to the Sun to be seen, reaching solar conjunction on the 18th. Brilliant JUPITER shines at -2.9, dominating the night sky, reaching opposition on November 3rd. SATURN in Aquarius begins prograde motion on November 4. URANUS in Aries reaches opposition on November 13th. NEPTUNE visible most of the night moves from Pisces into Aquarius.

Review how to determine Angular Measurement.

Calendar of Events

NOTE: For those observers not in the ET zone, convert the calendar times to your zone's time by subtracting one hour for CT, two for MT and three for PT. Don't forget to adjust for Daylight Savings Time when necessary by subtracting one hour from your planisphere's time. Dawn and dusk times must also be corrected. See your local newspaper, TV news, or cable TV's Weather Channel for sunrise and sunset times or check with the U.S. Naval observatory. Unfortunately some of these events may occur during daylight hours in your area.

03 Jupiter at opposition.
Pollux, Alpha Geminorum 1.4 deg. N of the Moon.
04 Saturn stationary.
05 Daylight Savings Time (DST) ends for affected areas.
06 Moon at apogee.
Mercury at aphelion.
S. Taurid meteor peak. The South and North Taurid shower originate from the periodic comet, Encke. Each shower can generate up to 15 meteors per hour.
09 Venus 1.0 deg. S. of Moon, occultation from extreme N. Canada, most of Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, W. Russia, Europe except the Iberian Peninsula, parts of N. Africa, and most of Middle East
13 N. Taurid meteor peak.
Uranus at opposition.
14 Mercury 1.7 deg. N. of Moon.
Antares, Alpha Scorpii, 0.9 deg. S of the Moon, occultation from North America (except Alaska and N. Canada), northern Central America, North Caribbean, and Bermuda.
18 Leonids meteor shower peak, producing up to 20 meteors per hour.
Mars in conjunction with the Sun.
20 Saturn 3.0 deg. N. of Moon.
21 Moon at perigee.
22 Neptune 1.5 deg. N. of Moon.
25 Jupiter 3 deg. S. of Moon.
26 Mercury at greatest helicentric lat. S.
Uranus 3 deg. S. of Moon.
27 November's full moon is often called the "Beaver Moon" because it is the busy time of year for beavers in North America.
Moon 1.1 deg. S. of the Pleiades (M-45).
28 Venus at perihelion.

Lunar Almanac for November 2023

Phases of the Moon Phase and Date(s) Best viewed before local midnight
new moon New
Deep Space Objects
first quarter moon 1st. Qtr
Planets & Moon
full moon Full
last quarter moon Last Qtr
Deep Space & Planets

Topic of the month: The Charioteer, Auriga

Awash in the winter Milky Way, rising behind Perseus is the constellation of the charioteer, Auriga. The constellation of Auriga is completely over the horizon in the mid-fall when evening comes to the northern latitudes. For some unclear reason, the charioteer is depicted with goats under his arm perhaps from the time that the constellation was associated with the Good Shepard. Auriga features Capella, whose name means little she goat, the northernmost first magnitude star as seen from planet Earth. At 45 light years distant, this star was discovered to be a double by spectroscope just before the turn of the 20th century. Later observations revealed that Capella was actually a multiple star system with at least 4 components.

The constellation Auriga is usually identified as a pentagon, but the star in the southern tip is El Nath, the Beta star of the constellation Taurus and not "officially" recognized as part of Auriga. Near Capella, three stars form an elongated triangle. Eta and Zeta are known as "the kids," part of the triangle formed with Epsilon Aurigae. Eta Auriga (Almaaz, or "he-goat") is one of the most interesting stars in the night sky. It is an eclipsing binary star, containing two stars that revolve around a common center, every 9,883 days or 27 years. For two years, the eclipsing binary system dims from 3.0 to 3.8 magnitude as an unseen companion star hides the view of the primary for Earthbound viewers. The last time this happened was in 2009-2011 and the star was studied intensely by variable star observers. Still, a conclusive model has not been constructed that explains the complete system dynamics.The best theories will be tested again in 2036.

Auriga the Charioteer
Auriga the Charioteer

Other stars in the constellation have well-known proper names as well. Beta Auriga is known as Menkalinan, itself an eclipsing binary, shines around mag 1.92 to 2.01 about 10 deg. East of Capella. Perhaps best remembered in Auriga, are the fine star clusters M36, M37, and M38. M36 is the smallest, consisting of 60 stars. M37 is the largest containing about 150 stars and is about 20' in diameter. M38 contains perhaps 100 stars and also has a smaller and fainter cluster of stars nearby, NGC 1907.

A number of galactic clusters lie in this region of the Milky Way, including NGC 1664 containing 40, 10th magnitude stars. NGC 2281 consists of 30 stars arranged in a crescent shape. Auriga offers a wealth of star clusters as well as variables and doubles to intrigue amateurs. This constellation never disappears in the Sun from the northern hemisphere and can be seen at some time every night of the year.

--See You Under the Stars!
Astra for Astra's Almanac

This installment of "What's Up?" is ©2023 by Dawn Jenkins for Astra's Stargate. View Ron Leeseburg's Farewell Issue for information on where to find information such as is presented in this almanac.