Here are the monthly sky watch highlights. Each month, we share the wonders of the universe to help you explore the night sky from your own backyard. (Note: Times listed below are ET.)
by Bob Berman, as featured in
The Old Farmer's Almanac
The year’s only total eclipse is of the Sun, occurring on the 3rd for observers in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean and west central Africa. Saturn is gone, but Venus starts to show some elevation gain as it noticeably brightens to magnitude -4.8. The Moon, dangling below invisible Pluto, stands above Venus on the 6th. The Moon hovers just above Uranus on the 13th, to the lower right of Jupiter on the 21st, and to the right of faint Mars on the 27th. Orange Mars is now rising at 1:00 A.M. Mercury, at magnitude -0.7, appears low in the east at about 40 minutes before sunrise, where it closely meets returning planet Saturn, which shines at a bright magnitude 0.6, on the 25th and 26th
Sky Map November 2013
by Jeff DeTray
Visit Jeff's site at AstronomyBoy.com
Astronomer Jeff DeTray has created the sky map below to help you navigate the November sky.
This month's highlight: Keeping an Eye on ISON
Comet ISON continues its long journey from deep space to the inner solar system. A key milestone in the life of the comet occurs on November 28, when Comet ISON swings around the Sun, passing very close to the blazingly hot surface of our star. It's only after this close encounter that we will know if Comet ISON will become a celestial celebrity or merely an interesting visitor.
What is a comet, anyway? A comet is comprised of material left over from the formation of our solar system. Comets are often described as “dirty snowballs.” Imagine a mixture of water, carbon dioxide (“dry ice”), dust, dirt, pebbles and other debris all packed together and frozen into a solid lump by the extremely cold temperature of deep space. That's a comet for most of its existence. In the case of Comet ISON, the “lump” is estimated to be somewhere between 1 and 3 miles in diameter. This icy lump is the nucleus, the only solid portion of the comet.
Like nearly all comets, Comet ISON spent most of its life in deep space, one of trillions of icy lumps (comet nuclei) floating on the very fringe of our solar system, a place so remote that the Sun is just another star in the sky. For eons, Comet ISON was nothing more than an anonymous, invisible “dirty snowball.” Then, something disturbed the motion of this particular lump. It might have been nothing more than a chance collision with another lump of ice and dust. This random event changed the motion of our nucleus ever so slightly, but just enough to nudge it slowly toward the Sun.
Once on its way inward, the Sun's gravity pulled on the nucleus, weakly at first, but drawing it ever closer and ever faster. Eventually, our “dirty snowball” began to be affected by the heat from the Sun, and as the outer surface of the icy nucleus started to un-freeze, a cloud of gas and dust formed around the nucleus. This cloud, called the coma, reflects sunlight, and so the comet brightened to the point where it could be seen in the telescopes of Earthbound astronomers and given a name: Comet ISON. The photo below from astronomer Adam Block shows Comet ISON as photographed on October 8 using a large telescope. Chemical elements “boiling” from the nucleus give the coma a greenish hue, and the long tail is comprised of dust and gas being pushed by the solar wind.
Credit: Adam Block
Also, here is a video of Comet ISON from October 27, showing the comet moving in front of the stars since it is closer to Earth than the stars.
On the morning of November 17, before sunrise, you may be able to spot Comet ISON with large binoculars (or a telescope) just above the bright star Spica, as shown on this month's map. At best you will see the comet as a faint, fuzzy spot of light. If you can't see the comet, all is not lost. With luck, we will have a much better viewing opportunity in December. More on that next month!
While you are comet watching, don't miss the parade of planets on display in this part of the sky. Starting from the horizon, you may see Saturn and above it, Mercury. Higher in the sky sits Mars. Mercury is an especially good catch, and relatively few people have ever seen it. Mercury seldom gets very far from the Sun, so it is normally lost in the Sun's glare.
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott's Skymap Pro
Explore the sky night from your own backyard. A printable black and white map is provided below!
Click for Printable Sky Map (PDF)
Just click, print, and bring outside!