This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, November 13th, and Thursday, November 14th, written by Louis Suarato.
The 99% illuminated, waning gibbous Moon rises among the stars of the Hyades Star Cluster in the constellation Taurus at 5:31 p.m. Wednesday. Look 3 degrees below the Moon for Taurus’ brightest star, Aldebaran, and 11 degrees above the Moon for the Pleiades star cluster. Aldebaran, also know as Alpha Tauri, is the 14th brightest star in the sky, shining at magnitude 0.85. It is a red giant star located approximately 65 light-years from our solar system. In Arabic, Aldebaran translates to “The Follower”, named for its location in Taurus seeming to follow Hyades star cluster which forms the head of the Bull. You can star hop to Aldebaran by following the stars forming Orion’s belt from left to right. The first bright star beyond the belt is Aldebaran. On this night of a bright Moon, you can still see the Pleiades Star Cluster through binoculars. The Pleiades is the 45th object in Messier’s catalogue. M45 is 444 light-years away, and is comprised of about 1,000 one hundred million year old, hot, blue stars. Under optimal conditions, about 14 of these stars, can be seen with the naked eye. The Pleiades are also known as The Seven Sisters, after the seven sisters of Greek mythology, the daughters of Atlas and Pleione. These stars form the central core and are the brightest within the cluster. The seven sisters, and stars names are Sterope, Merope, Electra, Maia, Taygeta, Calaeno, and Alcyone.
Wednesday and Thursday night’s easily visible planets include Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. The only planet visible before sunrise is Mars. Venus sets at 5:48 p.m., about an hour and fifteen minutes after sunset. Jupiter sets at 6:36 p.m., and Saturn sets at 8:09 p.m.. Mars rises at 4:36 a.m., approximately 2 hours before sunrise. Mars will be 4 degrees to the lower right of Virgo’s brightest star, Spica. Spica is the 16th brightest star in our sky, shining at magnitude 0.95. Spica’s brightness is not only a factor of its size, about 7.4 times the diameter of the Sun, but also of its proximity to our solar system, which is 260 light-years away.
On November 13, 1971, Mariner-9, the first man-made object to orbit another planet, reached, and began to circle Mars. This unmanned spacecraft returned photos mapping 70% of the Martian surface. Mariner-9 also returned data of the planet’s thin atmosphere, clouds, and surface chemistry during different seasons.