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The Sky This Week, 2016 November 8 - 15

First Quarter Moon, 2016 November 7, 22:42 UT
Imaged at the U.S. Naval Observatory with the
vintage 1895 30.5-cm (12-inch) f/15 Clark/Saegmüller refractor
and a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR

The Moon waxes in the evening sky this week, brightening from First Quarter to Full Moon, which occurs on the 14th at 8:52 am Eastern Standard Time. November’s Full Moon is popularly known as the Beaver Moon, named by Native Americans and early fur trappers who noticed increased activity by these industrious rodents to finish their dams and winter dens before their ponds froze over.

This is a great week to enjoy the changing aspect of the Moon’s face. Each successive evening reveals a new set of features along the lunar terminator, and the variety of craters, plains, mountains, rilles, domes, and ridges should keep viewers entertained for hours. Small- to medium-aperture telescopes work best for viewing the Moon’s stark features. Larger instruments tend to be affected more by turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere, and as the phase approaches full the glare can become overwhelming. No doubt by now you have heard much ado about the so-called "super Moon" which has been bandied about on social media for the past few lunations. This term has been liberally applied to Full Moons that occur close in time to the year’s closest lunar perigees, and the one that occurs this month fits the bill. In fact, this is the closest lunar perigee we’ve seen so far in the 21st Century. At 6:21 am EST on the 14th the centers of Earth and Moon will be 365,508 kilometers (221,524 miles) apart. We’ll have to wait until November 25, 2034 for a closer perigee. So what does this all mean to the average skywatcher? The Moon will appear about 14% larger than an "average" Full Moon, and it will be about 30% brighter. This is actually pretty difficult for most of us to judge, since the small disc of the Moon in a star-poor area of the sky is very difficult to measure quantitatively with the naked eye in terms of both apparent size and brightness. However, a crisp autumn landscape illuminated by the Full Moon is still a thing of beauty. Try taking some time exposures with your digital camera under Luna’s pale light. You’ll get some interesting results with the ground illuminated as if it were daylight with stars hanging in the sky at the same time. Point your tripod-mounted camera to the west to get the stars of the Summer Triangle in the view and try exposures of 10 or more seconds.

With sunset now occurring at around 5:00 pm the late afternoon and early evening hours are dominated by the bright glow of Venus, who currently holds court in the southwest. The dazzling planet continues to pull farther eastward from the Sun, and after the 14th begins to slowly climb northward along the ecliptic. She now sets well after the end of evening twilight.

Saturn now sets before the end of evening twilight, making him a difficult object to locate in the early evening. In just over a month he’ll disappear behind the Sun and emerge into the morning sky by the year’s end.

Mars is still quite bright and easy to identify in the south as twilight fades. His distinctive reddish hue gives him away. Through the telescope he presents a small gibbous disc with a bright pink color, but any detail requires lots of magnification and very steady air.

Jupiter continues to climb higher in the pre-dawn sky. He now clears my roof top when I go out to get the paper, so it won’t be long before I’ll be out with the telescope to greet him.

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