Nepali Times Asian Paints
Star Gazing
November Sky


Dear Stargazers!

Hope you had a wonderful Dasain holiday with lots of stargazing. Some of you also might have observed partial eclipses of the Sun (3 October) and Moon (17 October). During these events, astrologers worldwide were busy forecasting the fates/futures of people and many in Nepal were fearful to observe even the Moon's eclipse. Remember: the Zodiac, planets or eclipses do not determine your future. Your future depends on YOU-what you do and what you learn.

November is generally called the month of the Pleiades (Kritika) because this most famous of star clusters adorns the November night sky from dusk till dawn. The Pleiades star cluster-sometimes referred to as the Seven Sisters-is a misty-looking dipper-shaped formation of six stars that marks the shoulder of the constellation Taurus, the Bull.

The Great Summer Triangle, made of the three bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair, is also pretty obvious. Soon after sunset you can find the Great Summer Triangle directly overhead. Low on the southwest horizon immediately after sunset is a large beautiful constellation called Scorpius, a giant scorpion with a complicated curved tail. The most obvious feature in Scorpius is the bright red star Antares in the scorpion's "heart". Behind Scorpius, just to the west, is another easy constellation, Sagittarius. This is supposed to be an archer but it looks like a teapot.

However, the major celestial event for November is the close approach (30 October) and opposition (7 November) of the red planet Mars. Opposition refers to the period when a planet is opposite the Sun in the sky, with Earth between the two. At a brilliant magnitude of -2.3, Mars rises at sunset, is out all night and is quite high at midnight in Aries. The nearly full Moon joins Mars on the 14 November.

The possibility of the red planet having once sustained life has been the subject of endless speculation. Currently, spacecrafts are circling the frigid and arid surface of Mars taking detailed images and searching for hidden water, while NASA's two robot explorers range over it.

Venus achieves greatest elongation on 3 November but its 47-degree solar separation is wasted since it's south of the ecliptic and not very high. Still, watch it closely when it meets the Moon on the 5 November.

By a strange coincidence, both Mercury and Venus are at their greatest elongation east positions on 4 November. Mercury will be seen about a hand span below Venus, in the twilight sky above the west-south-western horizon. Also, the thin crescent Moon will be seen between these two planets. Just below the Moon's southern limb the red giant star Antares will be visible.

Saturn is the brightest object in Cancer. Rising before 11PM at mid-month, it floats alongside the Moon on the 21 November. Jupiter rises about half an hour before sunrise so it is difficult (but not impossible) to see in the predawn sky on the first morning of the month. However, Jupiter rises earlier and earlier each morning so that by the end of the month it rises more than two hours before the Sun and can be seen as a bright object along the "edge" of Virgo and Libra.

Uranus is in the centre of Aquarius but it is at the limits of naked eye visibility (6.0 magnitude). Neptune is in the centre of Capricornus but its low magnitude (8.0) makes it impossible to see without optical aid and detailed maps. Pluto is in "Eastern" Serpentis (east of Ophiuchus) but at a magnitude of 14, it is well beyond the sight of all but the best telescopes.

Meteor Showers: The Taurids meteor shower reaches its peak on 3 November but you'll see less than 10 meteors an hour, not very impressive. These meteors are the "offspring" of Comet Encke-a frequent short-period comet well known to the comet-hunting fraternity.

The Leonids should be more interesting. This meteor shower is caused by the remains of the comet Tempel-Tuttle. The Leonids last only a few days, starting around 15 November, peaking on the 17th and tailing off by the 19th.

Kedar Sharma Badu of the Pokhara Galileo Astronomical Society writes this column on the last Friday of every month,

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)