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The November 2016 night sky

Welcome to the November night sky. This month has no bright planets visible in the early evenings. You need to get up just before dawn to see Jupiter rising in the constellation of Virgo.

The traditional bonfire night on November 5 falls this year on a Saturday and it is also the night of the Taurid meteor shower. Unfortunately, this year the Taurids are not expected to be very strong and the first quarter Moon will brighten the night sky making it difficult to see any faint meteors.

The famous Leonid meteor shower is on the 17th and every 33 years it can put on a spectacular display. The last memorable one was in 1999, so 2016 is potentially the worse possible year, but being optimistic, we never know.

As night falls, looking over towards the north-east, the brilliant white star Capella can be seen rising. Because this star is now low in the sky, its light travels through more of our turbulent atmosphere. This breaks up the white light of the star into all the colours of the rainbow and makes Capella appear to flash like a celestial “traffic-light”.

This star is relatively close to us at 42 light-years and it is a multiple star system consisting of two giant stars brighter than the Sun closely orbiting each other and, with two red-dwarf stars some considerable distance away, this makes a four-star system.

If any of these stars have planets orbiting them, they will have an incredible view with possibly four Suns in the daytime sky.

It used to be thought that red dwarf stars would be unlikely to have planets orbiting them but, recently, the closest star to our solar system, called Proxima Centauri, has been discovered to have a possibly Earth-like planet in its habitable zone and its now very probable that all red dwarf stars have planets. And, as the vast majority of stars in our galaxy are of this type, Earth-like planets would be common.

There is a project to send micro probes to Proxima Centauri pushed along by laser beams, but this would still take decades to do, so the prospect of sending humans to alien planets is probably something for the 22nd century.

The moon is first quarter on the 7th, full on the 14th, last quarter on the 21th and new on November 29.

By Clive Jackson
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Clive Jackson is the Director of the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.
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To see the November Sky Map click on the pdf link below