The Night Sky This Month: November 2019

Night Sky 1
Image Credit: Jackson Hendry

A multitude of fascinating astronomical objects await stargazers in November’s cold crisp night sky, when it’s not cloudy of course! This includes prominent constellations such as Pegasus, Andromeda and Cassiopeia.

High on the list of celestial targets, however, is the Leonid meteor shower which will takes place from November 6-30. This spectacular shower is noted for its fast moving meteors which appear to hang in the sky for several seconds. The shower is due to peak on the 17th when around 20 meteors per hour are expected.

The Planets in November

Mercury will transit the Sun on Nov. 11, although a telescopes with special solar filters will be required to see the innermost planet as a small black dot crossing the Sun’s face.

The planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will also be visible throughout the month. On the 28th, Venus, Jupiter and the Moon will then appear in the sky within a 5° diameter circle, while Saturn will appear nearby towards their upper left.

November’s Prominent Constellations

The asterism known as the Great Square of Pegasus appears in the south during the evening and dominates the November night sky. The asterism represents the body of the winged horse and as such forms just a part of the overall constellation of Pegasus. The Greek mythological hero Perseus rode Pegasus on his way to freeing princess Andromeda from the clutches of the sea-monster Cetus. Andromeda was the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia, and together these are the names of major constellations associated with the Perseus Constellation Family.

– Pegasus

Pegasus appears highest in the sky from September to November. The Great Square is also a good test of a person’s eyesight as well as the general transparency of the night sky. If you can count 4+ stars within the square then it will be an good night for observing the faint galaxy known as M15. This galaxy lies 37,000 light years distant and consists of around 30,000 stars packed into a volume only 22 light years across.

– Andromeda

The Great Square of Pegasus and the Andromeda constellation are linked. In fact, The Great Square is formed by three bright stars in the Pegasus constellation (Markab, Scheat and Algenib) and the star Alpheratz in the constellation Andromeda. Of course, the Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is the most spectacular to view in the constellation.

The Andromeda Galaxy is around 2.5 million light years away, and is the most distant object that can be see with the naked eye. Interestingly, M31 is around six times bigger than our moon as we see it in the night sky, with a pair of 7×50 binoculars helping to resolve the distant galaxy on a clear night.

Leonid Meteor Shower

In the U.K. Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night or Firework Night, is held on 5 November. Interestingly enough, the following day will herald the start of a celestial fireworks show called the Leonids. This is one of the most spectacular showers of the year, and while it takes place from November 6-30th, its peak date is November 17/18.

In order to be considered a meteor storm the Leonids would have to produce around 1,000 meteors per hour. The Leonids have managed to do this several times in history, most notably a couple of centuries ago during the Great Leonids Meteor Storm of 1833 when terrified spectators witnessed more than 100,000 meteors per hour. More Leonid meteor storms took place in 1866, 1867 and more recently in 1966 and 2001. This year, however, the annual celestial spectacle is expected to produce 15-20 meteors, which needless to say will be a much more subtle affair altogether. Look for the showers radiant in Leo, a magnificent looking constellation that closely resembles the lion it depicts.

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