FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 10
■ Vega, magnitude zero, is the brightest star high in the west. Almost as high in the southwest (depending on your latitude) is Altair, not quite as bright at magnitude 1.
Just right of Altair, by a finger-width at arm's length, is little orange Tarazed (Gamma Aquilae), looking like Altair's sidekick at magnitude 2.7. But it's actually a much bigger and brighter star far in the background. Altair is only 17 light-years away. Tarazed is an orange giant about 360 light-years away, and it's 100 times as luminous!
Down from Tarazed runs the dim spine of Aquila the Eagle. It runs alongside the Milky Way, if you have a dark enough sky to see the Milky Way.
This arrangement reminds me of another Summer Triangle bird, Cygnus the Swan, whose long neck and spine also run along the Milky Way. Cygnus currently flies high to Aquila's upper right.
■ Action at Jupiter. The Great Red Spot should cross Jupiter's central meridian this evening around 7:58 p.m. EST. Then at 10:28 p.m. EST, Io crosses the planet's eastern edge onto its bright face, followed by Io's little black shadow 23 minutes later at 10:51 p.m. EST. Satellite and shadow exit from Jupiter's western limb a little more than two hours later.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11
■ By about 9 p.m. Orion has cleared the eastern horizon (depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone). High above Orion shines orange Aldebaran. Above Aldebaran is the frosty little Pleiades cluster, the size of your fingertip at arm's length.
Far left of Aldebaran and the Pleiades shines bright Capella.
Down below Orion, watch for Sirius rising around 10 or 11.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12
■ Vega remains the brightest star in the west in early evening. Its little constellation Lyra extends to its left. Somewhat farther left and a bit higher, about a fist and a half at arm's length from Vega, is 3rd-magnitude Albireo, the beak of Cygnus. This is one of the finest and most colorful double stars for small telescopes.
Farther on in roughly the same direction you come to Tarazed and, a finger-width past it, Altair.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 13
■ Perseus is high in the northeast these November evenings, below W-shaped Cassiopeia. The W is standing on end. To find the famous Double Cluster in Perseus, count down the segments of the W starting from the top. The third segment points almost straight down. Follow that direction down by twice its length, and there you are. Binoculars show the cluster-pair fairly easily.
But Perseus has many other open clusters! One of the nicest is M34 between Algol and Gamma Andromedae (just off the right edge right of the photo above). Use the finder chart with Matt Wedel's Binocular Highlight column in the November Sky & Telescope, page 43. Using large binoculars or a small telescope, Matt writes, "Look for a compact, boxy core surrounded by a ragged outer loop of eight or so 8th- to 10th-magnitude stars. I envision [M34] as a medieval city, ringed by a strong defensive wall. The illusion of a dark moat between the core and the loop is most pronounced in 7x binos [in a black sky], whereas 15 x 70s may fill the gap with a dusting of faint suns, at least in very good conditions."
The Double Cluster itself is closely surrounded by an array of telescopic double stars, obscure clusters, and little asterisms. See Ken Hewett White's Suburban Stargazer column starting on page 54 of the November issue.
■ New Moon (exact at 4:27 a.m. on the 13th EST).
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 14
■ Around 7 or 8 p.m. this week, the Great Square of Pegasus stands in its level position very high when you face south. If you're as far south as Miami, it's straight overhead.
The Square's right (western) edge points very far down toward Fomalhaut. Saturn glows about two fists to Fomalhaut's upper right.
The Great Square's eastern edge points less directly toward Beta Ceti (Deneb Kaitos or Diphda), less far down.
■ M33, the low-surface-brightness Pinwheel Galaxy in Triangulum, may be gravitationally bound to the bigger, brighter Andromeda Galaxy 15° away. They're at nearly the same distance from us. If you have a big telescope and a very dark sky, see the thorough telescopic guide to M33 that fills eight pages of the November Sky & Telescope starting on page 58. This guide is going to become a permanent classic! After all, M33's subtle visual details will stay the same for at least the next few million years. . . .
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15
■ Whenever Fomalhaut is "southing" (crossing the meridian due south, which it does around 8 p.m. this week), the first stars of Orion are just about to rise above the east horizon. And the Pointers of the Big Dipper stand upright low due north, straight below Polaris.
Starting from that time, it takes Orion's figure about an hour and a half to completely clear the horizon.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 16
■ Vega is the brightest star high in the west on November evenings. Its little constellation Lyra extends to its left, pointing as always toward Altair, the brightest star high in the southwest.
Three of Lyra's leading stars, after Vega, are interesting doubles. Barely above Vega is 4th-magnitude Epsilon Lyrae, the Double-Double. Epsilon forms one corner of a roughly equilateral triangle with Vega and Zeta Lyrae. The triangle is less than 2° on a side, hardly the width of your thumb at arm's length.
Binoculars easily resolve Epsilon. And a 4-inch telescope at 100× or more should resolve each of Epsilon's wide components into a tight pair.
Zeta is also a double star for binoculars; much tougher, but plainly resolved in a telescope. And Delta Lyrae, upper left of Zeta by a similar distance, is a much wider and easier binocular pair.
■ Sagittarius in November?? As twilight fades away, look for the thin crescent Moon very low in the southwest. Just upper left of it, binoculars will help show the four stars of the Sagittarius Teapot's handle, always the last of the Teapot's stars to sink down and away. The handle is a bit less than 5° wide, so it will fit into the field of view of most binoculars.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 17
■ Look south-southwest at nightfall for the waxing crescent Moon. It forms a huge, nearly equilateral triangle with Saturn far to its upper left and Altair far to its upper right. Each side of the triangle is nearly four fists at arm's length long.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18
■ By about 8 p.m. Orion is clearing the eastern horizon (depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone). Above Orion shines orange Aldebaran. Above Aldebaran is the little Pleiades cluster, the size of your fingertip at arm's length.
Far left of Aldebaran and the Pleiades is bright Capella.
Down below Orion, Sirius rises around 10 p.m. No matter where in the sky they are, Sirius always follows two hours behind Orion. Or equivalently, one month behind Orion.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 19
■ This evening and tomorrow evening the Moon passes Saturn while going through first-quarter phase, as shown below. Here are the (probably) two most popular telescopic objects in the sky, just a few degrees apart.
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is still hidden deep in the afterglow of sunset.
Venus, brilliant at magnitude –4.4, shines in the east-southeast before and during dawn. It rises a good 2 hours before dawn's first light, a weird late-night apparition coming up over the east horizon.
Watch Venus this week passing much fainter Gamma Virginis, 3rd magnitude. They appear closest together on the morning of the 17th, with Gamma Vir (a fine telescopic double star) 1.2° to Venus's left.
Mars is out of sight behind the glare of the Sun.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.9, in Aries) is a little past its November 2nd opposition. It dominates the east during evening, stands highest in the south around 11 p.m. It sets before sunrise. In a telescope Jupiter is still 49 or 48 arcseconds wide, nearly as big as we ever see it.
Saturn (magnitude +0.7, in dim Aquarius) glows steady yellowish high in the south in early evening. Fomalhaut, similarly bright, twinkles almost two fists at arm's length to Saturn's lower left.
Uranus, magnitude 5.6 in Aries, is 12° east of Jupiter. It's at opposition on November 13th. In a telescope at high power Uranus is a tiny but distinctly nonstellar ball, 3.8 arcseconds in diameter. See the finder charts for it in the November Sky & Telescope, pages 48-49.
Neptune, magnitude 7.8 at the Aquarius-Pisces border, is high in early evening 24° east of Saturn. Neptune is only 2.3 arcseconds wide: harder to resolve as a ball than Uranus is, but definitely nonstellar at high power.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions and graphics that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America.
Eastern Standard Time (EST) is Universal Time minus 5 hours. UT is also known as UTC, GMT, or Z time.
Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
This is an outdoor nature hobby. For a more detailed constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy.
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a much more detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The basic standard is the Pocket Sky Atlas (in either the original or Jumbo Edition), which shows all stars to magnitude 7.6.
Next up is the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0, plotting stars to magnitude 8.5; nearly three times as many. The next up, once you know your way around, are the even larger Interstellarum atlas (stars to magnitude 9.5) or Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to mag 9.75). And be sure to read How to Use a Star Chart with a Telescope. It applies just as much to charts on your phone or tablet as to charts on paper.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook. A beloved old classic is the three-volume Burnham's Celestial Handbook. An impressive more modern one is the big Night Sky Observer's Guide set (2+ volumes) by Kepple and Sanner.
Can computerized telescopes replace charts? Not for beginners I don't think, especially not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically. Unless, that is, you prefer spending your time getting finicky technology to work rather than learning the sky. And as Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
But finding a faint telescopic object the old-fashioned way with charts isn't simple either. Learn the tricks at How to Use a Star Chart with a Telescope.
Audio sky tour. Out under the evening sky with your
earbuds in place, listen to Kelly Beatty's monthly
podcast tour of the naked-eye heavens above. It's free.
"The dangers of not thinking clearly are much greater now than ever before. It's not that there's something new in our way of thinking, it's that credulous and confused thinking can be much more lethal in ways it was never before."
— Carl Sagan, 1996
"Facts are stubborn things."
— John Adams, 1770