The cold months offer clearer skies for stargazers. Cold air holds less water vapor, making the sky easier to see with the naked eye and telescopes. As atmospheric vapor clears, Earth’s orbit directs us away from the center of the Milky Way galaxy to where there are fewer stars and celestial bodies. Fewer stars means less light pollution to filter through, making the visible stars appear particularly bright. Clear visibility and brightly shining stars are the reason even urban dwellers can clearly view many of November’s celestial events. Be on the lookout for shooting stars as well — clearer skies make these wish-carriers even easier to spot. If you’d like a little more help with stargazing, or would like to help the scientific community study the night sky, check out Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope project. (Take a look at the TechRepublic gallery WorldWide Telescope brings stargazing online.)
These are some notable astronomical events and happenings this month:
- Comet 2009 P1 Garradd turns toward Delta Herculis this month.
- Mercury, Venus, and Mars are this month’s planetary highlights.
- Saturn becomes increasingly easier to spot just above the horizon in the mornings.
- Take an after-dinner walk to view Uranus and Neptune to the south/southeast.
- Visible constellations this month include Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Phoenix, Pisces, Sculptor, and Tucana.
- Daylight savings time ends for most of the Northern Hemisphere at 2:00 A.M. on November 6th.
I compiled the following calendar to help Geekend readers who live in the Northern Hemisphere know what to expect this month when heading outdoors for some backyard stargazing.
- November 2 — First quarter moon
- November 5-6 — The South Taurids meteor shower isn’t very bright; you’ll likely need a telescope to see this event. The South Taurids meteor shower comes from the comet Encke.
- November 10 — Full moon
- November 14 — Mercury can be seen very close to Venus.
- November 17-18 — This year’s Leonids meteor shower, courtesy of the Temple-Tuttle comet, is expected to be less dazzling than the usual Leonid meteor display.
- November 18 — Last quarter moon
- November 25 — New moon
Do you keep a stargazing journal? If so, please share tips in the discussion on the best ways to track our stargazing efforts. Thanks for all the handy stargazing tool tips last month!