This month, when you wish upon a star, you’ll see a whole galaxy
THE MONTH starts with a waning crescent moon that becomes new on the 3rd with the first crescent becoming visible on the following evening. When there is a new moon, it is possible to get a total solar eclipse, and this month there is one, but in South Africa it will only be a partial eclipse at best and visible in the northern parts, and not visible at all in Cape Town and the southern coastal areas.
Venus still shines brightly in the west as the “Evening Star” – a misnomer as it is not a star and can appear as the “Morning Star” as well. Anyway, just after sunset Scorpio can be seen setting in the west with its pincers down and tail up. Venus can be seen to the upper right of the Scorpion and for the entire month it can be seen passing the constellation of Sagittarius, which hides the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy.
There is a pretty asterism to start the month with – look west just after sunset, from the 4th to the 7th when a thin waxing crescent moon starts off just below the Scorpion’s pincers, passes by Antares, the heart of the Scorpion, a red supergiant star, on the 5th and by the 7th is to the right of the constellation of Sagittarius, the Archer.
Later on in the evening, around 9.30, the northern sky is truly spectacular for most of the month. Orion is clearly visible low in the north-eastern sky. To the left the small open cluster of the Hyades, looking somewhat like a large A is visible, with the red giant star Aldebaran on the lower end of the right leg of the A. Further left is the small bright cluster of isiLimela (Pleiades or the Seven Sisters).
Finally, further left, in the north, the Great Square of Pegasus dominates the evening sky and this is probably the best time of the year to see the Andromeda galaxy. This is the remotest object visible to the naked eye. It is in fact our “sister” galaxy, being a part of what is known as our “local group”. It is about the same size, possibly a little larger and about 2.3 million light years away. You are looking back in time – the light we are seeing now left Andromeda 2.3 million years ago when Mrs Ples (now Master Ples!) was walking on Earth. A pair of binoculars will certainly help, but make sure you have a clear view of an unobstructed and dark northern horizon.
This month also gives viewers the unique opportunity to see Venus in the daytime. It can be seen on the 6th at about midday, high up in the east to the right of a crescent moon and a little lower.
There will be an open night at the SA Astronomical Observatory from 8pm to 10pm on November 9. Weather permitting there will be opportunities to look through some telescopes at the night sky, followed by a lecture by UCT’s Dr Kurt van der Heyden, entitled “Capacity building and science with SKA”.