November Skies

The watery part of the heavens now gives us Pisces and Andromeda


Sun: a total eclipse of the Sun occurs on the 3rd, visible across Africa and the Atlantic Ocean.

Moon: New, 3rd;.First Quarter, 10th; Full, 17th; Last Quarter 25th. , Perigee on the 6th, apogee on the 22nd.

Mercury: visible before dawn later in the month. Greatest elongation West of 19 ° on the 18th. Rapidly increases in brightness to mag. -0.6 by month's end.

Venus: farthest from the Sun at the end of the month as the Evening Star/ and very bright at mag. -4.8.

Mars: rises about 4 a.m. nearly due East, mag. +1.5. Can be identified by his distinctive redness.

Jupiter: rises before 7 p.m. MST near Aldebaran in the Northeast.

Saturn: emerges from the Sun's glare at dawn not far from Mercury. Very close to Mercury around the 28th.

Meteors: This is the month of the Leonids. Expect to see only a few meteors during the shower at a location such as Denver. The city light pollution makes the more frequent dimmer meteors invisible, and we only see the bright ones. The radiant is in the sickle of Leo, and rises after midnight. It is no use looking for shower meteors until the radiant is up. The Leonids occur on 15-20 November, peaking on the 17th. Taurids (slow meteors) are also possible until the 30th. Neither the Leonids nor the Taurids are very numerous, so patience is required. The interesting thing is to note that the shower meteors have the same radiant, not the fireworks.

The Stars This Month

When the Water Jar is past the meridian, Pisces, the Fishes, comes into view to the southeast of the Square of Pegasus. The delight of this constellation is the Circlet of seven stars of 4th to 6th magnitudes that is just south of Pegasus and just east of the Water Jar, a little northwest of the Vernal Equinox. Binoculars allow me to see this even in the lights of Denver. The Circlet more than fills the field of view, and the binoculars must be moved around to see it all. The Circlet represents the Western Fish, swimming towards Aquarius. The fish represent Venus and Cupid, who leapt into the Euphrates to escape the monster Typhon, and the river carried them to safety.

The Circlet is shown in the Figure. TX is a red variable star, but the visible magnitude only changes in the range of 5.5-6.0. It is an N-type Carbon star, a low-temperature giant, and is very distant, perhaps 1000 light years away. It is one of the few deep-red stars visible in binoculars. From the Circlet, a string of stars of 4th to 6th magnitudes stretches due East nearly 30°, curving down to the 4th magnitude α Piscium at the very southeast corner of the constellation, named Al Rischa, the cord. From this star, another string of stars extends northwestward towards the bright, 2nd magnitude β Andromedae, the middle star in the group of three bright stars extending from the northeast corner of the Square of Pegasus. Just south of β is the Eastern Fish, a ragged kite-shaped figure of 5th and 6th magnitude stars, much less distinct than the Circlet, swimming towards Andromeda. These strings of stars represent the flaxen cords binding the tails of the two fish to α. β Piscium is an inconspicuous 5th magnitude star west of the Circlet, on the other side of the constellation. Refer to Norton if you want to trace all these faint stars.

There are some interesting objects in this region that cannot be seen with binoculars, or even with modest telescopes. One is Van Maanen's Star, a little south of δ Piscium, which is about halfway between the Circlet and α on the cord. This is a white dwarf, the size of the Earth but with the mass of the Sun, slowly cooling, its nuclear fires burnt out. It is only of 12th magnitude. Its matter has an average density of 20 tons per cubic inch, and it is one of the oldest stars in the galaxy. It is only 13.8 light years distant, and moves nearly 3" per year.

Some interesting galaxies can also be seen, but not with binoculars. The difficult M74 is a face-on spiral galaxy; another has delicate, tightly wound spiral arms, and there are also some with nuclei of strange shapes. Since we are not far from the Galactic Pole, dust from our galaxy does not cut off the view of such distant objects, so they are common in these regions.

Extending northeastward from the Square of Pegasus is an arc of three bright stars that mark the constellation Andromeda. They are α, β and γ, all second magnitude. δ is third magnitude, between α and β Note the fourth-magnitude stars π and μ to the northwest of δ and β, marking an arc parallel to the main one. They lead us to an extraordinary feature, the great galaxy in Andromeda, M31, one of the closest to our own, and the only one that can be seen with the unaided vision (but not in Denver, of course). To find it, start at β, go to μ, and then an equal distance further in the same direction. M31 is a hazy oval spot easily seen in binoculars. Comets look a lot like this, except that they are round. It is 2.2 million light years away, an inconceivable distance, yet it is one of the closest galaxies to our own. If we go north from Andromeda, we reach the familiar Cassiopeia.

We have now observed three watery constellations this Autumn: Capricornus, Aquarius and Pisces. There is one more to go, the giant Cetus, the Sea Monster, before we return to dryness on crossing the Eridanus. The sun is in these constellations in the rainy part of the year (February-April), which gave them their liquid reputations.

North of the zenith is the easily-recognizable W of Cassiopeia. Her brightest stars, 2nd magnitude β (Caph) and α (Schedar) are on the west. The furthest west, β marks the hour circle of 0h right ascension, and can serve as a hand of a clock showing sideral time. The W is completed by γ, δ and ε, which extends to about 2h right ascension, all near declination 60° N. The galactic equator also passes through Cassiopeia, which is seen before the glow of the Milky Way. Cassiopeia is almost exactly opposite the Plough or Big Dipper, which marks 12h right ascension. κ, mag. 4, forms a rectangle with α, β and γ. It was just northwest of κ that Tycho's supernova burst out in 1572. It became brighter than Venus, so it could be seen by day. In about 16 months, it was gone, and has left no trace, except for faint nebulosity detected by radio waves.

The View From Sydney

The usual band of bright stars across the sky is not seen this month. In the east is Orion, with Saturn between Orion and Auriga (altitude 14°:) on the horizon to the north, and Sirius to the south at 8° elevation. To the north is the Square of Pegasus. To the WNW is Altair, at elevation 9°. On the southern horizon is Crux, with the Centaur to the west, with its bright pair of α and β--Rigil Centauri and Hadar. Bright, of course, because of nearness to Earth. Overhead, Achernar, the mouth of the Eridanus, is not far south of the Zenith.


Return to The Night Sky

Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 4 October 2000
Last revised 15 September 2012