FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3
■ Look high in the southwest soon after dark to spot bright Altair. Brighter Vega is far to its right.
Two distinctive little constellations lurk above Altair: Delphinus the Dolphin, hardly more than a fist at arm's length to its upper left, and smaller, fainter Sagitta the Arrow, slightly less far to Altair's upper right. Is your sky too bright for them? Use binoculars! They are 6° and 5° long respectively, so each of them fills, or maybe overfills, a binocular's view.
■ In early dawn Friday and Saturday the 3rd and 4th, the waning Moon shines high with the head stars of Gemini, as shown below.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4
■ Algol shines at its minimum brightness for a couple hours centered on 7:01 p.m. EDT.
■ Last-quarter Moon tonight (exact at 3:37 a.m. Sunday morning Eastern Standard Time). The half-lit Moon rises around 11 or midnight tonight, in Cancer. Watch for it to come up over the horizon about two fists at arm's length below or lower left of Castor and Pollux.
■ Daylight-saving time ends at 2 a.m. tonight for most of North America. Clocks fall back an hour. (For most of the past century clocks did not actually "fall back" in the fall; you had to turn them back. Now, if they're internet-connected, they do.)
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 5
■ Capella shines in the northeast after dark this week. The Pleiades are up in the east-northeast three fists to Capella's right. As evening grows later, you'll find orange Aldebaran climbing up below the Pleiades. And by about 10 p.m. (depending on your location), Orion clears the eastern horizon farther below Aldebaran.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 6
■ Perseus is high in the northeast these November evenings. Maybe you're familiar with finding the Perseus Double Cluster with binoculars or the naked eye. It's below W-shaped Cassiopeia; the W is currently standing on end. 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.
But Perseus has many other open clusters! One of the nicest is M34 between Algol and Gamma Andromedae. Use the finder chart with Matt Wedel's Binocular Highlight column in the November Sky & Telescope, page 43. 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 the cluster 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 15x70s may fill the gap with a dusting of faint suns, at least in very good conditions."
And 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.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7
■ Around 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.
Now descending farther: If you have a very good view to a dark south horizon — and if you're not much farther north than roughly New York, Denver, or Madrid — picture an equilateral triangle with Fomalhaut and Beta Ceti as its top two corners. Near where the third corner would be (just a bit right of that point) is Alpha Phoenicis, or Ankaa, in the constellation Phoenix. It's magnitude 2.4, not very bright but the brightest thing in its area. It has a yellow-orange tint (binoculars help check). Have you ever seen anything of the constellation Phoenix before?
■ 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 dark sky, take note of the very thorough telescopic visual 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, the subtle visual details in M33 will stay the same for at least the next few million years. . . .
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 8
■ Look east before and during early dawn Thursday morning the 9th. If the sky is clear, the close pairing of Venus and the waning crescent Moon will grab your eye. These are the two brightest celestial objects after the Sun. Note the earthshine on the Moon's night portion. A telescope reveals the Moon's terminator running along the edge of Oceanus Procellarum, and Venus displaying its slightly gibbous phase.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 9
■ 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 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.
■ Happy 89th birthday, Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996). If only.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 10
■ Action at Jupiter. The Great Red Spot should cross Jupiter's central meridian around 7:58 p.m. EST. Then Io crosses onto Jupiter's face from the east edge at 10:28 p.m. EST, followed by its little black shadow 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 8 or 9 p.m. Orion is clearing 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 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 or 11 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 12
■ Vega remains the brightest star in the west in early evening. Its little constellation Lyra extends to its left. Somewhat farther left, 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 3rd-magnitude Tarazed and, a finger-width past it, 1st-magnitude Altair.
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is hidden deep in the afterglow of sunset.
Venus, brilliant at magnitude –4.4 under the hind feet of Leo, shines high in the east before and during dawn. It rises nearly 2½ hours before dawn's first light — a weird late-night apparition coming up over the east horizon.
Mars is out of sight behind the glare of the Sun.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.9, in Aries) is barely past its November 2nd opposition. It rises around sunset, dominates the east during evening, stands highest in the south around midnight or 1 a.m. daylight-saving time (11 or midnight standard time), and sets around sunrise. In a telescope Jupiter now appears as big as it gets: 50 or 49 arcseconds wide all week. Don't miss this chance!
Saturn (magnitude +0.7, in dim Aquarius) glows steady yellowish high in the south these evenings. Fomalhaut, similarly bright, twinkles nearly two fists at arm's length to Saturn's lower left.
Uranus, magnitude 5.6 in Aries, is 11° east of Jupiter. It comes to opposition 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 25° 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 Daylight Time (EDT) is Universal Time minus 4 hours. Eastern Standard Time (EST ) is UT 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