This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, November 9 through Sunday, November 11, written by Sam Salem.
On Friday, the Sun rises at 6:40am and sets at 4:39pm; the waxing crescent Moon rises at 8:28am and sets at 6:21pm. This weekend showcases the Moon and Saturn at early evening and the North Taurid meteors around the midnight hour. On Sunday evening the Moon sits near planet Saturn. The earlier you look the closer the two objects will be. The lunar crescent is three degrees east of the Saturn, roughly 45 minutes after sunset. Saturn, at magnitude 0.6, is roughly 15 degrees up in the south-southwest and sets three hours after the Sun. This month presents your last full month to observe Saturn in the evening sky. Saturn will become lost in the Sun’s glare in December and will move over into the morning sky in early January. Mars, at magnitude –0.5, reaches the meridian at around 7 pm. The Martian disk currently spans 11 arc-seconds. It’s still big enough to see some surface markings in a telescope.
Enjoy the return of Venus as the “morning star.” Venus, gleaming at magnitude –4.4, rises nearly 1½ hours before the Sun. Venus is rapidly emerging from the glow of sunrise. It is a little higher and easier to spot every morning. Look for it just above the east-southeast horizon. In a telescope Venus is a dramatically thin crescent. Follow it up higher past sunrise and into the day for sharper telescopic views.
The nominal peak of the North Taurids is on the night of Sunday-Monday. Generally, this shower is at its strongest for several hours, centered around midnight. This weekend the waxing crescent Moon sets at relatively early evening, providing moon-free skies for the expected peak date of the North Taurid meteor shower. This shower has been known to produce fireballs, or very bright meteors.
On Friday, Algol should be at its minimum brightness, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for a couple hours centered on 11:21pm. Algol in the constellation Perseus, is a known variable star, which waxes and wanes in brightness. The star Algol takes its name from an Arabic word meaning “the Demon’s Head.”
This moon-free weekend could be a good opportunity to acquaint yourself with the constellations of autumn. Identifying the constellations of autumn can be somewhat challenging for new stargazers, especially those observing in light-polluted conditions. The autumn constellations are known for being “big” and relatively “dim”, especially when you compare them to the brighter figures residing near the meridian in summer and winter. Autumn’s most distinctive constellations are Capricornus, Pegasus, Andromeda, and Cassiopeia. None of these groups features a star brighter than magnitude 2. Cassiopeia is the easiest to recognize and a good place to start. Its distinctive W shape is almost directly overhead and a snap to visualize. Next, try to locate the Great Square of Pegasus high in the south. Once you have the Square in sight, finding the two curving rows of stars making up Andromeda is much easier. Shift your gaze southwestward to identify the squashed V of Capricornus. It’s a slightly more difficult to spot than the other patterns. Once you’ve found the main constellations, expand your search to the less conspicuous constellations: Pisces, Cetus, Aquarius and Piscis Austrinis.