Click here to listen to our November astronomy podcast with our partners at Jodcast, from the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory.
and check out our latest news for space with RadioActive.fm
Three Royal Stars are in the sky of November, and here in Wellington New Zealand we are looking at a Māori asterism called Te Waka O Tama Rereti (or Tamarereti), which is the great canoe that placed the stars in the sky. We are also talking about the circumpolar stars, the Magellanic Clouds and latest research results revealing they collided in the not so distance past, which resulted in a MiniMe Magellanic Cloud hurrying behind one of them. Fomalhaut is my favourite star this month, the loneliest star in the sky as it’s called and the Pleiades are back in the east just in time for Halloween.
In the evening sky, when the Sun sets around 8:20 pm, you can just see Mercury is hanging over the western horizon. Slightly higher, on the back of the Milky Way Kiwi is Saturn. The Moon has a close encounter with this on Monday, passing within almost one degree from it (remember one degree is the width of your pinky held at arm’s length). On Friday, will be near Mars. Te Matau a Maui, the fish-hook of Maui, or Scorpius has almost dragged, the Milky Way (Te Ikaroa, the big fish, in Māori) down from the sky. It is now time for the great waka of Tama Rereti to show up in the sky. Mars is at meridian, the imaginary line that goes from North to South via zenith (the point overhead). Hidden to the human eye but not our telescopes lie Neptune in Aquarius and Uranus in Pisces. Pluto is in Sagittarius close to Saturn. This week the Sun sets around 8:20 PM and rises around 5:50 AM. The Moon is a crescent so it looks like the letter C. Crescent in Latin means to grow so that’s how you can remember when is like a C is growing.
Where to find the planets in the sky: if you know where to find the path of the Sun or the Moon in the sky, then look for the planets in the same direction. They would be following an imaginary arc that stretches from East and to West stretching through the northern part of the sky in the Southern Hemisphere. They might be anywhere on that arc so look carefully for brightest lights along that way.
The planets visible with the naked eye in the night sky are all aligned in front of the Zodiacal Band: starting from west: Mercury, Saturn, and Mars. Neptune makes an appearance early in the evening but you’ll have to hang around until after 9 PM to spot the planet Uranus. Venus is in the morning sky rising before the Sun. Mercury looks like a crescent too and visible in the evening sky. Saturn is still out there in Sagittarius, brighter than Antares. It’s 10 Astronomical Units away, that’s ten times further than the Earth is from the Sun, 1590 million kilometres. Saturn gives the name of Saturday. Mars is in Capricornus and is the only planet that adorns the night. Uranus is approaching opposition and is visible after 9 pm. Neptune is an early evening object but you will need binoculars or a telescope to see the last two planets of our solar system.
The brightest star in the sky is, of course, our very own Sun which is a relatively common main sequence G2 star, meaning it’s an average star in it’s hydrogen burning phase of its life. It’s definitely not average in our Solar System though where it contains about 99.86% of the entire mass of the Solar System.
Another G2 main sequence star is our closest neighbour (that we can see in visible light) Alpha Centauri. The closest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri, which is a red giant and very dim so we cannot see it with the naked eye. On the other side of the horizon and of the Milky Way is Altair which is a yellow-white star a little under twice the diameter of our own Sun. It has a high apparent motion and moves about 1 degree every 5000 years (no need to print a new star chart just yet).
In the southern part of the sky, following the trail of the Milky Way we can see Alpha and Beta Centauri and low on the horizon, Canopus, the second brightest star in the night sky and the brightest star always visible in our night sky. Canopus is a circumpolar star. Canopus is no longer burning hydrogen in its core and the bright supergiant is probably entering the last phases of it life, don’t panic though, it’ll outlive all of us.
The Pleiades are back in the evening sky, they make a beautiful sight to the north-eastern part of the sky. Pleiades were harbingers for Halloween in the Northern Hemisphere and always have been associated with death and rebirth. At this time of the year they are the ripples on the water of the great Waka o Tama Rereti.
The western part of the sky was dominated by the Milky Way for the last month but now the galactic bulge that holds the centre of the Galaxy is sinking around the horizon. Since that is the thickest part of our galaxy you will still find plenty of objects just by swapping the area with a pair of binoculars.
We had an amazing weekend when we had a swipe of the night sky with the most beautiful telescope in Wellington, the Ruth Crisp our 40 cm Cassegrain. Here’s what we saw
Mercury, looks like a crescent, and it was very low on the horizon. Saturn, that’s all we need to say about the most beautiful breathtaking object in the sky. Neptune, had a bluish tinge. Mars was obviously red. M7 Ptolemy’s Cluster, it stars are very bright and prominent in the field of view. M22 globular cluster, NGC6541 globular cluster are very beautiful sights. You could clearly see the wisps of the amazing NGC2070 Tarantula Nebula. Tuc 47 globular cluster is as ever absolutely superb in the southern part of the skies, we also spotted another nebula in LMC, 🙂 we looked at M77 Galaxy, which is so far away at 47 million light years in the constellation of Cetus. We then dared to look very low on the southern horizon and to our surprise we glimpsed the Jewel Box as beautiful as ever, even Eta Carina Nebula was well resolved too. Then we finished with the Orion Nebula, the Southern Pleiades and Alpha Centauri double star. And of course we looked at the Moon!
The Moon this week is a crescent and visible on the first part of the night.
In average, the Moon rises or, if it’s already in the sky, sets about 50 minutes later than the previous day, every day.
Next New Moon: Friday 7 December
Next First Quarter: Friday 16 November
Next Full Moon: Friday 23 November
Next Last Quarter: Friday 30 November
Next Lunar Eclipse: 17 July 2019
This month’s Astronomy on Tap we talked about Polynesian Navigation and Te Waka O Tama Rereti.
Check here for our telescope viewing schedule at Space Place if the weather is good and definitely come see all these jewels in our planetarium and make sure to let us know how it went either on Facebook, twitter or Instagram or by sending me an email email@example.com
Clear skies for the week ahead,
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Closed on Christmas day
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7 July – 22 July 2018
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40 Salamanca Rd, Kelburn, Wellington 6012 located at the top of the Cable Car, just a short stroll from the terminus.