Nepali Times
Star Gazing
November sky


Breaking News: This just as we were going to press. Comet 17P/Holmes stunned comet watchers across planet Earth during the past week. On 24 October it increased in brightness over half a million times in a matter of hours. The outburst transformed it from an obscure and faint comet quietly orbiting the Sun every seven years to one rivalling the brighter stars in the constellation Perseus. The comet will be easier to spot late at night if it remains bright, when Perseus is more nearly overhead.

Many planets are hard to find this month, but the moonless nights of Tihar offer good opportunities to see the stars and constellations. The Zodiac consists of a series of constellations positioned along the imaginary path of the Sun in the sky.
In November you can see, from east to west, the constellations of Gemini, Taurus, Aries, Pisces, Aquarius and Capricornus. On the north-south meridian, you will find Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Pisces and Cetus, the Whale.

Due east of Cassiopeia is the constellation of another mythical hero, Perseus. It contains the star called Algol (see star chart), one of the most remarkable and most famous individual stars in the sky. Its Arabic name is Al Ghul, meaning 'demon'. Why a demon? Because it winks! Its brightness fades every three days before returning to normal after about 10 hours.

The reason is it has an unseen, smaller companion star which orbits it every three days. When that passes in front of Algol, some light is blocked from us and the star appears dimmer.

Another attraction in this constellation is the famous Double Cluster, which is visible with binoculars between Perseus and Cassiopeia. To the south of Perseus, you can enjoy two small constellations-Triangulum and Aries, the Ram. Pre-dawn sky-watchers can observe the brilliant sight of the Big Dipper (Saptarshi) and Polaris, the North Star.

Among the planets, Mercury is at maximum western elongation from the Sun on 8 November, so we have a chance to see the planet before sunrise between 4-10 November. Venus, looking intensely bright, comes up in the east around 3 am, and by dawn it is well up in the south-eastern sky. Use binoculars to look for Mercury, to the left and far below Venus.

Mars is the only planet well placed for viewing in the evening sky, since it is now closer to us than it has been for nearly two years. It rises in the north-east at 7.30 pm and is visible for the rest of the night. Jupiter may still be seen hanging low in the western horizon after sunset, but the planet is growing dimmer as it gets closer to the Sun. Saturn is rising in the east around midnight this month, and it is well up in the south-eastern sky by dawn. Don't miss the sight of four planets in the pre-dawn sky: Mars overhead, Mercury on the eastern horizon, and Venus and Saturn in between, all in a straight line!

Meteor watchers should prepare for the Leonid shower that peaks in the early hours of 18 November. The meteors will seem to spread out from a single radiant point, close to the sickle shape in Leo. Leonid meteors tend to be fast-moving, and the brighter ones often leave persistent trails. At their peak, we might hope to see one meteor every five minutes or so.

Fellow star-gazers, if you wish to share your experiences with us, you can always write to me. I wish you all clear skies and great star-gazing during Tihar, Diwali, Chhath or Ramadan.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)