This month, when you wish upon a star, you’ll see a whole galaxy


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODDESIGNERS - CASE RIJSDIJK

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”.

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