Winter Stars on the Rise…Farewell Summer Stars
This weekend we go back to Central Standard Time, and that’s just fine with me. First off, we get an extra hour of sleep, but more importantly for stargazers it’s dark enough for stargazing long before 7:00. Enjoy the stars without sleep deprivation the next day!
Even with the chill really setting in We’re entering my favorite stargazing season of the year. Many celestial gems are waiting for you in the November night sky. Just bundle up!
After all the fun we had with all the planets in the summer and early autumn skies the only one that’s left to enjoy is Mars. Early in the evening it’s still the brightest star-like object in sky with its orange-red glow. At the star of evening it pops out in the fairly low south-southwest sky. You can’t miss it. Mars isn’t nearly as bright as it was in early August and it’s not nearly as close to Earth as it was back then. Right now it’s about 77 million miles away, more than double its distance on August 1st. Through a small to moderate telescope you might see one of its polar caps and some dark splotches that are part of its extensive valley system, but honestly be all that great of view. It’s just getting so far away and the disk of the planet is getting smaller and smaller
Over in the western sky there are still a few summer constellations hanging in there. Cygnus the Swan, Lyra the Harp, Aquila the Eagle, Delphinus the Dolphin and a few others are slowly migrating to the west a little more each night, making their slow exit from our celestial stage.
In the high southern sky is the primo autumn constellation Pegasus the Winged Horse, with Andromeda the Princess tagging along. Turn around and face north and you’ll see old friends like the Big Dipper, barely above the horizon, with the Little Dipper hanging by its handle higher in the northern sky. Cassiopeia the Queen, the constellation that looks like a giant sideways W, is proudly showing off her stuff in the high northeast sky. The W outlines the throne of the Queen, and Cassiopeia is tied up in that throne. She really ticked off Hera, the queen of the gods, by proclaiming that she was even more beautiful than Hera’s godly self. So Hera threw Cassiopeia up into the sky, eternally bound to her throne for all to see.
In the eastern sky you’ll really notice a lot of bright stars on the rise especially after 8pm. The later you stay up, the more of these wonderful winter constellations you’ll see. I call this part of the sky “Orion and his Gang” because the majestic constellation Orion the Hunter is the centerpiece. Orion is up by 10pm, but before then you’ll see the Pleiades, the best star cluster in the sky, which looks like a miniature Big Dipper.
Later on this month, the Leonid Meteor shower could put on quite a show. It will peak out for us in the early morning pre-twilight skies around November 17th. You may see over 40 meteors an hour in the dark countryside.
Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and is author of the book, “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations” published by Adventure Publications. Available at bookstores and online at www.adventurepublications.net.
If you have any astronomical questions or want me to write about something you’re seeing in the night sky drop me a line at email@example.com