THE NOVEM­BER PLAN­E­TARY TRIO IN A TE­LE­SCOPE

Canal Boat - - Big Sky -

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.

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