Every week, SkyNews publishes a list of key events in the Canadian sky in This Week’s Sky. This series gives you all the latest news in Solar System movements, including where the planets are in our sky and Moon phases. From eclipses to meteor showers, This Week’s Sky keeps you updated on the best in upcoming astronomical highlights.
Monday, November 14 – Half-Moon buzzes the Beehive
When the waning gibbous Moon rises in the east during late evening on Monday, November 14, it will be positioned several finger-widths to the upper left (about three degrees to the celestial north) of the large open star cluster known as the Beehive (and Messier 44) in Cancer. Both objects will fit within the field of view of binoculars (green circle), although the bright moonlight will obscure the cluster’s dimmer stars. To better see them, hide the Moon just beyond the upper left edge of the binoculars’ field of view.
Wednesday, November 16 – Third quarter Moon (at 13:27 GMT)
The Moon will complete three quarters of its orbit around Earth, measured from the previous new Moon, on Wednesday, November 16 at 8:27 a.m. EST, 5:27 a.m. PST, or 13:27 GMT. At the third (or last) quarter phase, the Moon appears half-illuminated on its western, sunward side. It will rise around midnight local time, and then remain visible until it sets in the western daytime sky in early afternoon. Third quarter Moons are positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the Sun. About three and a half hours later, Earth will occupy that same location in space. The week of dark, moonless evening skies that follow this phase are the best ones for observing fainter deep sky targets.
Thursday, November 17 – Leonids meteor shower peaks (all night)
The annual Leonids meteor shower, derived from material left by repeated passages of periodic Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, runs from November 6-30. The peak of the shower, when up to 15 meteors per hour are predicted, will occur on Thursday evening, November 17 in the Americas. At that time, Earth will be traversing the densest part of the comet’s debris train.
While you should see some Leonids after dusk on Thursday evening — many with persistent trains — more meteors will be apparent on Friday in the hours before dawn, when the radiant in the head of Leo will be highest in the southeastern sky. Unfortunately, the bright waning crescent Moon, which will rise at around 1 a.m. local time on Friday morning, will reduce the quantity of fainter meteors we see.
Saturday, November 19 – The Andromeda Galaxy (all night)
In late November, the Andromeda Galaxy is positioned very high in the eastern sky during the evening. This large spiral galaxy, also designated Messier 31 and NGC 224, is located 2.5 million light years from us, and covers an area of sky measuring three by one degrees. That corresponds to six-by-two full Moon diameters!
Under dark skies, M31 can be seen with unaided eyes as a sizeable faint smudge located 1.4 fist diameters to the lower left (or 14 degrees to the celestial northeast) of Alpheratz, the star that occupies the northwestern corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. The three westernmost stars of Cassiopeia, Caph, Shedar, and Gamma Cas, also conveniently form an arrowhead that points towards M31. Binoculars will reveal the galaxy very well.
In a backyard telescope, use your lowest magnification eyepiece and look for M31’s two smaller companion galaxies, the foreground, brighter Messier 32 and the more distant, fainter Messier 110 (inset).
Chris Vaughan is a science writer, geophysicist, astronomer, planetary scientist and an “outreach RASCal.” He writes Astronomy Skylights, and you can follow him on Twitter at @astrogeoguy. He can also bring his Digital Starlab portable inflatable planetarium to your school or other daytime or evening event. Contact him through AstroGeo.ca to tour the Universe together.