Welcome to the November night sky. Now with the end of summertime and the clocks going back, the long dark and cool nights of autumn are truly here.
As the Earth revolves around the Sun, it passes through streams of cosmic debris; the resulting meteor showers can light up night skies from dusk to dawn, and if you don’t mind staying up late, you might be able to catch one.
This month, we have five notable meteor showers, starting with the Taurids on Bonfire night, November 5. We will also have the Cepheids on the 9th, the Pegasids on the 12th and the Andromedids on the 14th.
On the night of the 17th and into the morning of the 18th, we also have the famous Leonids meteor shower. This shower can be spectacular when the Earth orbit intersects with the densest part of the dust cloud from comet Tuttle, and this occurs every 33 years. 1999 was memorable with thousands of fast-moving shooting stars seen. This year should be about average with possibly many dozens of meteors visible in a dark sky.
The early morning of the 19th sees an almost total lunar eclipse, although from Europe the event starts at about 7am as the full Moon sets and the Sun rises. With a clear north-western horizon, the full disk of the Moon will be seen to turn a deep red colour just at it slips below the horizon as if illuminated by some distant inferno out of sight below the Moon.
Looking towards the south and slightly east, we can see the small but very beautiful star-cluster of the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. When this object is seen rising before midnight, it’s a sure sign that winter is coming. This would have been used in pre-historic times as a symbol of the changing seasons.
The gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn are now low on the south-eastern horizon as darkness falls.
The Moon is new on the 4th, first quarter on the 11th, full on the 19th and last quarter on November 27.
By Clive Jackson
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Clive Jackson is the director of the Camera Obscura attraction (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