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Astro Mark's Astro Alert: What's Up Above? November Stargazing


By “Astro” Mark Laurin

November is a yin and yang month for stargazers in the northern hemisphere. Daylight Saving Time comes to an end Nov. 6th, so the sun sets around 5:30pm. That gives us plenty of time to stargaze! Plus, the spectacular winter constellations begin to rise in the east at a more reasonable viewing hour. That’s all great yin! Now the yang. The act of stargazing, (being outside) is a cold experience. Is being cold worth it? Without a doubt it is. Go ahead and put on a heavier coat (and maybe a hat), step outside, and look up. There’s two more meteor showers, a total lunar eclipse, and an amazing line up of 4 gas giant planets, 1 dwarf planet, and the Moon too! By the way, all times noted here are in Mountain Standard Time.

Total Lunar Eclipse: November 8th

Viewing this eclipse earns you a few stargazing medals since totality happens at the wee morning hours and with the deepest chill of the night. On the morning of the 8th a lunar eclipse begins at 1:03am as the Moon enters the Earth’s penumbra. At 2:10am the Moon enters the Earth’s umbra shadow and the partial eclipse begins. Totality starts at 3:17am and ends at 4:42am. The Moon departs the Earth’s umbra shadow at 5:49am, and exits the Earth’s penumbra at 6:56am. Put the coffee on, you’ll need it to view this total lunar eclipse from beginning to end.

Leonid Meteor Shower: Peak November 17th -18th

The annual Leonid meteor shower is active from the 6th through the 17th. The meteors radiate within the constellation Leo. This year it is estimated there will be approximately 15 meteors per hour. Meteor showers arise when the Earth passes through streams of debris left in the wake of comets and asteroids. Over time, the tiny debris inside the stream spreads along the entire length of the object's orbit. Look for meteors between the hours of 11pm and 6:15am for meteors radiating slightly above the east-northeast horizon and then moving to the west across the sky as night progresses. The maximum meteors per hour is anticipated to be around 6am on the morning of the 18th. Tailor made viewing for all of your early risers!

Orionid Meteor Shower: Peak November 28th

The Orionid meteor shower streak across the sky this year between November 13th and December 6th. At peak, the Orionid produces around 3 meteors per hour. The shower becomes visible when the constellation Orion rises above the eastern horizon around 6:40pm and can be seen throughout the night until it sets in the west at 6:25pm. Anticipate peak activity to be around 7pm on the 28th. Here’s that yin and yang again. The yin about this shower is that it is viewable early in the evening (you don’t have to stay up late), and you don’t have to crank your neck (since the shower begins when Orion rises above the horizon); the yang is that this year, only 3 meteors per hour are anticipated.

Uranus, the Moon, Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn, and Pluto All Lined Up: November 1st – 15th

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And it is quite a line up. The uniqueness of this event is reason enough to grab your coat and sit outside because it is infrequent that our solar system’s gas giants, our dwarf planet, and our Moon all line up in a row, viewed across the entire sky, all at once. At the beginning of the month, use the Moon, and the visible planets of Jupiter, and Saturn as your guides. Grab your binoculars to observe Uranus and Neptune. You’ll need a telescope to glimpse our dwarf planet Pluto. The key to finding Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto is knowing the ecliptic. Simply, the ecliptic is the arc the sun follows across the sky, generally rising in the east and setting in the west. This arc can then be projected on the night sky’s celestial dome. Why is this important? Because the planets, the Moon, and other solar system objects move along the ecliptic, making it much easier for us to find them.

On the 1st and the 28th, the Moon is next to Saturn. On the 4th, the Moon is nearest to Jupiter. On the 8th the Moon makes a close approach with Uranus.

Clear skies to you!