1 Mira Trail JPG
Mira’s trail through space. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/C. Martin-Caltech/M. Seibert-OCIW)
This Week’s Sky: November 3 to 9

Taurid meteors, famous variables, and Herschel’s Garnet Star

November 3

Daylight Saving Time ends at 2 a. m. (except in Saskatchewan). Instead of sleeping that extra hour, enjoy it under the night sky!

November 5 and 6

(Stellarium)

The constellation Taurus is high in the sky when the mid-gibbous Moon sets after midnight on November 6. The Southern Taurids meteor shower is active tonight. With Taurus well up in the sky, the shower’s radiant will be deep in our planet’s shadow. See if you can bag a few extra-bright meteor sightings. The Southern Taurids number about five per hour and are associated with the orbit of Comet Encke. This comet’s debris is pebble-sized so watch for bright meteoric trails and fireballs.

November 8 and 9

(Stellarium)

With Halloween just past, look for eclipsing multiple star Beta Persei, also known as Algol, the old winking demon star of our autumn and winter sky. The two central components of Algol orbit one another so closely that we see them eclipse every 68.9 hours. A third star farther out orbits the inner pair. This week, an eclipse begins at 10:17 p.m. (EST) on November 8, with the star dropping to visual magnitude 3.4 from its usual 2.1. Nearby Alpha Persei and Gamma Andromedae are good naked-eye reference stars to compare Algol’s 10-hour dip in brightness.

All Week, 9 p.m.

Try binoculars to find Herschel’s Garnet Star in mid-evening. First, find the constellation Cepheus. It’s identifiable by a group of five stars in the shape of a tallish house right next to Cassiopeia. Between the two stars marking the house’s floor is the star Mu Cephei, a deeply reddish-orange point. Mu Cephei is a slowly-variable M2 supergiant so huge that its tenuous hydrogen envelope is wider than Saturn’s orbit. No wonder these bloated old stars are nicknamed “red-hot vacuum!” Mu, too, is fittingly the star marking the North Pole in the night sky of Mars, the red planet.

All Week, Midnight

(Stellarium)

Mira is the famously variable star in the constellation Cetus, the Whale. Designated Omicron Ceti, this old red giant can vary by a whopping factor of 1,600 in brightness over 332 days. At its very brightest, Mira can reach magnitude +2. By September it reached 3.5. Mira’s predicted peak is for late October through early November, so now is the time to see this pulsating M-type giant at its greatest brightness. During these pulsations, Mira throws off material that has been imaged in ultraviolet light by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer. A trail of ejecta stretches 13 light years across our sky as the old star hurtles through space.

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