This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, November 15, through Sunday, November 17, written by Sam Salem.
On Friday, Sun rises at 6:47am and sets at 4:33pm; the waning gibbous Moon rises at 7:04pm and sets at 9:44am. The Moon is high by late evening on Friday. It sits in constellation Gemini. Stars Castor and Pollux sit far to the Moon’s lower left. Constellation Orion is also fairly close to the Moon on Friday. Several days from now, when the Moon drops out of the constellation Gemini, you can always star-hop to Castor and Pollux from Orion. Draw an imaginary line from Orion’s Belt through the bright star Betelgeuse to find the Gemini stars Castor and Pollux.
Mars, at magnitude +1.8, in constellation Virgo, is low in the east-southeast in early dawn. Mars rises few minutes after 4:30am. Venus, at magnitude –3.8, in constellation Ophiuchus, is very low in the southwest during bright twilight. Look for it just above the horizon starting about 20 minutes after sunset. The gap between Venus and Jupiter is shrinking by a degree a day. It shrank from 16 degrees last Friday to 9 degrees this Friday. Venus sets few minutes before 6pm. Jupiter, at magnitude –1.9, is crossing from constellation Ophiuchus to constellation Sagittarius. It is the creamy-white dot low in the southwest as twilight fades. Saturn sits between Saturn to its upper left and Venus to its lower right, creeping closer to the Venus. Jupiter sets around 6:30pm. Saturn, at magnitude +0.6, lies in Sagittarius. It is the steady yellow object in the south-southwest during and after dusk. It’s about 20 degrees upper left of Jupiter.
Still below Saturn is the handle of the Sagittarius Teapot. Barely right of Saturn is the dimmer, smaller, triangular bowl of the Sagittarius Teaspoon. Saturn sets around 8pm.
Vega is the brightest star in the west early on November evenings. Its little constellation Lyra extends to its left, pointing in the direction of Altair, the brightest star in the southwest. Three of Lyra’s leading stars, after Vega, are double stars. Barely above Vega is 4th-magnitude Epsilon Lyrae, the famous Double-Double. Epsilon forms one corner of a roughly equilateral triangle with Vega and Zeta Lyrae. Binoculars easily resolve Epsilon. A small telescope should resolve each of Epsilon’s wide components into a tight pair. Zeta Lyrae is a much tougher double star for binoculars, but plainly resolved in any telescope. Delta Lyrae, upper left of Zeta, is a much wider and easier pair.
Asteroid 4 Vesta, at magnitude 6.5, reached opposition and peak visibility the night of November 11/12 when the Moon was full. There is a better chance watching the astroid on Saturday night as it lies in northeastern constellation Cetus, 3 degrees west of the 4th-magnitude star Omicron Tauri and 5 degrees northeast of 3rd-magnitude Alpha Ceti.
The Leonid meteor shower reaches its peak before dawn on Monday morning. This year’s Leonid display comes just a few days after Full Moon. Still, the Leonids produce more fireballs than most meteor showers, so it should still be worth keeping an eye on the predawn sky.
Sir William Herschel, the German-born British astronomer, was born on November 15 1738. Herschel is considered the founder of sidereal astronomy for the systematic observation of the heavens. He systematically studied the sky. Through this study he discovered the planet Uranus, many new nebulae, clusters of stars and binary stars. In 1789, he discovered Saturn’s satellites Mimas and Enceladus, and in 1787 he discovered Uranus’ satellites Titania and Oberon. Herschel hypothesized that nebulae are composed of stars.