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The Sky This Week, 2016 November 1 - 8

Remember to "fall back"!
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Moon, Jupiter, and the second-magnitude star Porrima
Imaged from Alexandria, Virginia on 2016 October 28

The Moon returns to the evening sky this week, waxing to the First Quarter phase on the 7th at 2:51 pm Eastern Standard Time. Luna’s thin crescent can be seen in the company of the bright planet Venus and the somewhat subdued planet Saturn in the early evening of the 2nd. Luna will be close to ruddy Mars on the evenings of the 5th and 6th. She then enters the dim starfields of the autumnal constellations.

You may have noticed that I used "standard time" in the above paragraph. Once again it’s that time of the year when we adjust our clocks back by one hour. This will result in more daylight in the morning hours at the expense of earlier sunsets in the afternoons. The idea of adjusting our clocks to manipulate available daylight has been around for nearly 100 years, having first been implemented by Germany and Great Britain during World War I. The United States adopted Daylight Time in 1918. In Europe the move was seen as a way to keep factories in production for a longer time, while in the U.S. the incentive was to allow people more daylight to tend their "victory gardens". The idea was immensely unpopular from the start, and after the war daylight time regulations fell to state and local jurisdictions. Federal regulation returned in 1966 with the passage of the Uniform Standard Time Act, which placed enforcement authority under the Department of Transportation. The dates of effect for Daylight Time were changed in 1986 and modified in 2005 to the current system when we advance an hour on the third Sunday in March and "fall back" on the first Sunday in November. An ironic twist of this system is that we now spend more of the year on "Daylight Time" than we do on "Standard Time". Whether we like it or not, remember to set your clocks back one hour before you go to bed on the night of the 4th unless you live in Arizona or Hawai’i.

The return to Standard Time means that sunset will occur at around 5:00 pm EST, giving us ample time to watch the changing constellation patters as the night passes. Early in the evening we can still enjoy the bright stars of the Summer Triangle, which will be just west of the meridian at the end of evening twilight. Vega, Deneb, and Altair will gradually give way to the Great Square of Pegasus, which crosses the meridian at around 9:00 pm. Look to the east at this time and you will see one of the age-old harbingers of approaching winter in the form of the Pleiades star cluster. This small group of stars is a true star cluster located about 410 light-years from the Earth. It figures very prominently in the sky lore of almost every culture that has existed throughout history, and the evening appearance of the cluster has been associated with stormy weather for thousands of years. In mythology they are associated with another group of stars, the Hyades, which form a "V"-shaped grouping of stars around the bright star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus, the Bull. Taurus is one of the first of winter’s constellations to appear, and it is followed by Orion and the rest of the star patterns that create the asterism known as the Great Winter Circle. You’ll see all of the bright winter stars by local midnight on Standard Time.

Venus steadily moves eastward against the stars sky and passed by Saturn just before Halloween. She is joined by the slim waxing crescent Moon on the evening of the 2nd. Go out about an hour after sunset and look to the southwest to see the duo. If it’s clear you should see Saturn between them in the darkening twilight sky.

Saturn watches as Venus leaves him in her wake, then sets just after the end of evening twilight. The ringed planet will soon be lost in the glare of the encroaching Sun, but he’ll return to the early morning sky in the late winter months next year.

Mars moves into the stars of the dim constellation of Capricornus this week. The red planet will remain visible in the early evening sky for the rest of the year as he traverses autumn’s other faint constellations, Aquarius and Pisces.

Jupiter is becoming well-placed for telescopic viewing in the pre-dawn hours. He rises an hour before the beginning of morning twilight and offers a fine sight in the gathering light of dawn.

 

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