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The Sky This Week, 2011 November 8 - 15

Busy beavers and plenty of planets.

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Jupiter, with Io and its shadow, 2011 NOV 6, 01:21 - 01:50 UT 


The Moon brightens the late night and early morning skies this week, starting off in the vicinity of bright Jupiter and ending among the rising winter constellations. Full Moon occurs on the 10th at 3:16 pm Eastern Standard Time. November’s Full Moon is variously known as the Frosty Moon or the Beaver Moon. The latter appellation comes from the enhanced activity these industrious rodents show as they prepare their environs for the long winter to come. Look for Luna near Jupiter on the evenings of the 8th and 9th. On the 12th she rises between the Pleiades star cluster and the bright star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus, the Bull. By the week’s end she will be passing through the stars of Gemini as she wanes toward last quarter.

The bright light of this week’s Full Moon will effectively wipe out the fainter stars of the already dim autumn constellations. Fortunately there are plenty of bright targets that the strong Moonlight won’t affect. You can still see the bright stars of the Summer Triangle in the early evening high in the western sky. Vega, Deneb and Altair offer fine starfields for binocular skywatchers, and once the Moon exits the scene by the end of the week you can still catch a glimpse of the summer Milky Way in the triangle’s heart. By the time the Triangle sets the bright stars of the Great Winter Circle ascend in the east. By the midnight hour nine of the 25 brightest stars in the sky will have crested the eastern horizon, forming a large oval around the striking figure of Orion, the Hunter.

Twilight is the time to start enjoying the celestial show this week. Shortly after sunset look toward the southwest for the bright glimmer of Venus, whose unblinking stare will separate her from sun glints off of transcontinental jetliners. Traveling nearly step-by-step with the dazzling planet is the more subtle glow of the fleet planet Mercury, which stays within two degrees of the dazzling planet all week long. Look for Mercury with a pair of binoculars just below the brighter light of Venus. This is your last opportunity to see Mercury in the evening sky until the spring of 2012, and he won’t have Venus nearby to help guide you to him then.

Jupiter has been occupying a considerable amount of my evening time of late. The recent spate of good weather has kept me out in the front yard until all hours of the night perusing the giant planet’s clouds and ever-shifting moons. We are in the peak observing window for Old Jove right now, and he is in the sky essentially all night long. Under steady skies my 8-inch telescope is showing a wealth of detail by eye and even more to the CCD camera. The change back to standard time now means that I can observe Jupiter at a higher altitude earlier in the evening, so last week’s early morning bedtimes are now occurring at a more civilized hour. You may not feel the same obsession with observing the giant planet, but on a night of steady skies and clear air take the time to look for the fine details. They are constantly changing, and unlike most objects in the sky Jupiter will never look the same whenever you get him in the eyepiece.

The pre-dawn hour now finds Mars high in the southeastern sky as he continues to move eastward through the stars of Leo. On the mornings of the 9th, 10th, and 11th he passes just over a degree north of the bright star Regulus, offering a very nice color contrast between his ruddy face and the blue tint of the star. If you look toward the eastern horizon an hour before dawn you’ll see the yellow glow of Saturn less than five degrees from blue-hued Spica as the first rays of twilight gather. Both objects are only about 10 degrees up at the time, so you’ll need a good view to the east to catch them.

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