Martin Lunn from Earby Astronomical Society, tells us what can be seen in the November skies
This month sees the second of a series of Super Moons, when the Moon will appear larger than normal in the sky when it is full. This, however, is no ordinary super moon. The Full Moon on November 14th will be the closest to the Earth so far during the 21st century, at a distance of 221,524 miles or 356,509 kilometres. The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 238,855 miles or 384,400 kilometres. This proximity will make the full moon look about 7% larger than a normal full moon. There will not be another close full moon until November 2034.
The Moon takes around a month to orbit or go around the Earth. It used to be said that the Moon took one ‘moonth’ to go once around the Earth. It is from this old word moonth that we get our modern day word month.
The Moon does not orbit the Earth in a circle but an ellipse or egg shape. This means that there is a point in its orbit when it is closest to the Earth and a corresponding point when it is furthest from the Earth.
The Moon plays a major role in affecting the tides on the Earth due to its gravitational pull. So, will a super moon cause high tides and flooding? Scientists will watch the weather patterns very closely because if the extra pull from the Moon coincides with any strong stormy weather systems there will be the potential for much higher tides and the all the problems these can cause.
We describe the Moon when it is at its closet as a super moon, however, when it is at its furthest and looks a little bit smaller we call it a micro moon. A super moon will appear to be about 14% larger than a micro moon.
The end of British Summer Time means that it becomes darker earlier in the evening. The November night sky reintroduces a familiar and brilliant constellation in the night sky before midnight: Orion the Hunter. However, Orion is very much a winter constellation and we will look at Orion in much more detail later in the winter. Some of the other bright winter stars which can be seen before midnight include Aldebaran (in Taurus the Bull), and Castor and Pollux (in Gemini the Twins).
By around 9.00 pm the Plough will be at its lowest point in the sky above the northern horizon. The ‘W’ of Cassiopeia is now at its highest in the sky, which means that the Square of Pegasus is also very high in the south. November is the very best month to try to find the Andromeda Galaxy which is the most distant object we can see without a telescope.
The Andromeda Galaxy is 2.2 million light years away. It is sometimes referred to as M31 after the catalogue drawn up by the French comet hunter Charles Messier in the 18th century. Messier was continually confused by seeing fuzzy looking objects that he mistook for comets. He therefore drew up a catalogue of over 100 of these objects to avoid this confusion. Sadly for Messier the comets he discovered were unimportant and have been confined to the history books, but his list of non-comet like objects is still used by astronomers all around the world today.
The bright star Capella is halfway to the overhead point in the north eastern sky while Vega is at the corresponding height in the south west. Vega is part of the summer triangle and together with Deneb can still easily be seen. Altair has become very low in the south west. Fomalhaut, the brightest star in the autumn sky, is now very low down and will be difficult to see.
During November evenings the Milky Way passes overhead and on a clear frosty night it is a superb spectacle.
The Planets in November
It is still difficult to see many of the naked eye planets with Mercury, Mars and Saturn all being too close to the Sun, while Venus might be glimpsed just after sunset. The only planet that can be easily seen is Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, but you will have to be up before the sun rises.
The only major meteor shower during November is the Leonids, which appear to come from the constellation of Leo the Lion. Many people refer to meteors as shooting stars but they have nothing whatsoever to do with stars. They are small pieces of dust burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. These meteors are the remains from comet Temple-Tuttle.
Although there hasn’t been a spectacular outburst since 1999, previous displays have produced some of the greatest meteor storms in history, and in 1966 the rates were as high as thousands of meteors per minute during a span of 15 minutes on the morning of November 17th. Indeed, on that beautiful night, the meteors did, briefly, fall like rain. Some who witnessed the 1966 Leonid meteor storm said they felt as if they needed to grip the ground, so strong was the impression of Earth ploughing along through space.
This year the Leonids will be around the 15 meteors per minute rate. If you are around on the morning of the November 17th and see a meteor it will probably be a Leonid.
Phases of the Moon for November
New Moon 29th, First Quarter 7th, Full Moon 14th, Last Quarter 21st
This month’s full moon is called the ‘Frost Moon’. It is often during November that the first frosts of the year occur, heralding the approach of winter.
The next meeting of the Earby Astronomical society will be on Friday November 25th at All Saints’ Church, Earby from 7.30pm-9.00pm. The speaker will be Martin Lunn MBE FRAS, and the title of the talk will be ‘The Star of Bethlehem’.