Welcome to the November night sky. This is the opposition month of the gas giant planet Jupiter. It will be on the 3rd of this month when this planet will be seen to rise at sunset and will be visible all night in the constellation of Aries.
At the same time, over in the southwest, the ringed planet Saturn is now setting. Seen below Jupiter during early November evenings, the small but very noticeable star cluster of the Pleiades is now above the eastern horizon. This is a sure sign of the fast-approaching winter.
Halfway between the Pleiades cluster and Jupiter is the gas giant planet Uranus. This planet is often overlooked by amateur astronomers as it is barely visible with the naked eye, and binoculars or a small telescope are needed to be able to see it.
The planet Uranus orbits beyond Saturn and was discovered by William Herschel in 1781. Herschel used a small homemade reflector telescope of seven inches aperture. The view he had was of a tiny green disc and not a starlike point. Herschel noticed this and initially he thought it might be a small comet, but when the orbit was computed, it was recognised as a planet.
Uranus has five major Moons visible in amateur telescopes. These are called Miranda, Ariel, Titania, Umbriel, and Oberon. The Moon Miranda is 470 kilometres in diameter and orbits close around Uranus. It is mainly made from huge blocks of broken ice, and its surface has spectacular ice cliffs with shear vertical drops of 20,000 metres, the largest in the solar system.
The OSIRIS-REx NASA probe mission to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu returned samples to Earth in late September. These samples contain carbon-rich materials from the early solar system. This asteroid is 500 metres in diameter and is one of a group of objects that could potentially hit the Earth in the coming centuries.
Meanwhile, the OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft – on a new mission with a new name – is on a course toward asteroid Apophis, which it will reach in 2029.
On the night of the 17th and until the morning of the 18th is the peak of the Leonid meteor shower. These shooting stars are dust from the tail of comet Swift-Tuttle. This shower is strong every 33 years and 1999 was a good year, so the next major one should be in 2032; but there many variables, so any year is worth a look.
The Moon is last quarter on the 5th, new on the 13th, first quarter on the 20th and full on November 27.
Clive Jackson is the director of the Camera Obscura – Tavira EYE attraction, located near the Castle of Tavira. Specialising in education and public outreach.
281 322 527 | [email protected] www.torredetavira.com
To see the November Sky Map click on the pdf link below