THE NOVEMBER PLANETARY TRIO IN A TELESCOPE
ABOVE: To Find the Andromeda Galaxy simply star hop across from the Square of Pegasus; TOP RIGHT: The constellation of Leo is a focus in the morning sky on 17-18 November; BOTTOM RIGHT: The Andromeda Galaxy by Dave Eagle.
the same distance above this fainter star and you should see an oval ‘smudge’ of light. What are you looking at? Basically the aggregated light from more than a trillion stars all circling around a supermassive black hole more than 20 million trillion kilometres away.
Much closer to home and I have a specific date for your diary. It’s for an event taking place just 60 miles above our heads, and one that promises plenty of drama. The peak of the annual Leonids meteor shower can be seen on 17-18 November. In excess of 100 meteors Each of our three morning planets offers something uniquely special when viewed through a large telescope. Here is a run down of what you can expect to see of each of the three planets this November. Venus: Appears like a small version of a half-moon. Sometimes delicate cloud structures can be seen on the illuminated side. Jupiter: See two dark horizontal belts working their way across Jupiter’s disc. These are dark cloud bands in its atmosphere. Jupiter’s four biggest moons can also be seen in orbit. Mars: Look for a tiny red disc topped with a bright white arc of light. The white area is carbon dioxide ice packed over the planet’s earth-facing pole.
are likely to be visible that night. They’ll blaze across the sky from the east and south-east, some leaving behind bright white trails lasting several seconds.
You’ll certainly need some stamina for this one. Best views will be from midnight until dawn when the shower radiant is above the horizon. The Leonids can sometimes produce fireballs too. Few sights in nature are as spectacular as a red-hot fiery space rock spewing out flames as it burns up in the atmosphere above us!
The Leonids are named for the constellation from which they appear to radiate across the sky, this being the constellation of Leo. It’s an easy star pattern to identify, mainly because it looks like a giant clothes iron with a backwards ‘question mark’ for its handle. Just before dawn on a November morning, Leo sits high up towards the south-east. More eye-catching still though might be the trio of bright lights that shine in the sky below it.
Venus, Jupiter and Mars are the players in this celestial line up. Venus takes up position at the lower left of the line and shines brightest. Jupiter is second brightest at top right, both planets outshining all other stars in the pre-dawn sky. Between the two bright planets is Mars. It’ll shine with less intensity than the other two, but still a snap to identify from its pinkish-red glow.
At the start of November, Mars and Venus are very close together in the sky. For a time, binoculars will show both planets in the same field of view. By the morning of 6 November, they’ll have drifted apart. The view will still be worth getting up for though – more particularly because a thin crescent moon will create a very pleasing four-way photo opportunity.
An even thinner lunar crescent hangs about in the same part of the sky the following morning. It’ll have closed up to Venus and Mars by then, forming a beautiful celestial triangle over the eastern horizon. Gliding through the constellation of Virgo late in November is Comet Catalina US10. By month’s end it’ll sit neatly above the south-east horizon at 6am, not far beneath Venus and the bluewhite star Spica.
This isn’t going to be a knock-yoursocks-off bright comet. You’ll need at least a pair of binoculars to see it. A small telescope is preferable and should reveal the comet to be, well, comet-like with a tail of gas, ice and rock particles streaming back from a brighter nucleus. Best views will be at the end of November and then into December. By Christmas it should brighten enough to be visible to the naked eye from a dark spot along the canal network.