This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, November 27, through Sunday, November 29, written by Alan French.
Having reached full last Wednesday, a bright waning gibbous Moon will rise early in the evening this weekend. Moonrise is at 6:28 pm Friday, 7:27 pm Saturday, and 8:27 pm Sunday. The Sun will be setting around 4:24 pm and the last vestiges of twilight will not vanish until just after 6:00 pm, so there will be only a short window between full darkness and moonrise.
If you look toward the northeast around 6:30 pm you’ll easily spot a very bright star. This is Capella, the brightest star in Auriga, the Charioteer. In older star charts, which often depicted the mythological figures represented by the constellations, this star marked the left shoulder of the Charioteer.
While it may be difficult to picture a charioteer made up of the stars of Auriga, it’s not hard to find the main stars in this conspicuous constellation. Anchored by and including Capella, they form a rough pentagon stretching downward and right. The Charioteer was responsible for the king’s livestock, and the lovely atlases of long ago often depicted him carrying a goat and kids.
The name Capella means “little she-goat.” A small triangle of stars to the right of Capella is known as “the Kids,” representing the young goats.
Capella is the sixth brightest star in the night sky and is just slightly fainter than Vega, which we found high in the sky in the summer. You can still spot Vega in the early evening sky, fairly high toward the north northwest in the early evening, and low in the northwest by 9:30 pm. Like Vega, Capella shines brightly in our skies because it is one of our nearer neighbors, lying at a distance of 42 light years. The light you see tonight left the star in 1973.
Swedish astronomer, physicist, and mathematician Anders Celsius was born on November 27, 1701. He is best known for the Celsius temperature scale. In astronomy he used colored glass plates in the first attempt to make actual measurements of the brightness of stars. All previous estimates were done by eye.
On November 28, 1961, North American Aviation was awarded the contract to design and build the Apollo spacecraft. The first manned Apollo mission blasted off less than 7 years later, on October 11, 1968 and man landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became to the first humans to set foot on the Moon.
Amazingly, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has taken photographs of the various Apollo landing sites so detailed that they show evidence of our visits. The LRO’s view of the Apollo 11 landing site shows the base of the lunar module and two experiments left on the lunar surface.