By Colin White, NASA Solar System Ambassador
The end of Fall and the beginning of Winter is a great time to go out in the evening and look at the night sky. The Sun is now beginning to set in the early evening (around 5 PM on November 1), which means you can go out well before bedtime and before it gets too cold. Most of the objects discussed can be seen by the naked eye or using a pair of binoculars.
Most amateur astronomers with telescopes prefer to examine the night sky when the sky is dark and the Moon is not too bright. The Moon, however, is a fascinating object to look at as it waxes (gets brighter) and wanes (gets dimmer) through its roughly 29-day cycle. Each of the eight phases in this cycle has a name: New, Waxing Crescent, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous, Full, Waning Gibbous, Last Quarter, Waning Crescent.
In November, the New Moon will be on November 14 and the Full Moon will be on November 30. Usually, there is only one Full Moon in any given month, but occasionally (about once every 2 or 3 years) there are two. This happened in October when a Full Moon occurred on October 1 and on October 31. When a second one occurs in a month is sometimes called a “Blue Moon.” You may have heard of the phrase “once in a blue moon,” which means something that occurs only rarely. You may find it interesting to research the origin of this phrase, which is more than 400 years old.
The Full Moon each month is usually given a name, which reflects the changing seasons and nature. For example, the one in October is called the “Hunter’s Moon.” Take this challenge: find out the name for the Full Moon in November and why it has this name. Answer next month.
When people look at the Moon they often imagine they can see people or shapes. A second challenge is to go out when the Moon is full or nearly full and find: “Man in the Moon”, “Woman in the Moon” and “Rabbit in the Moon.”
NASA has an extensive amount of information on the Moon at its moon.nasa.gov website. There are two interesting projects that NASA created that you may be interested in doing this month. The first is to keep an observation log of the Moon’s phases during November. A blank log can be found at Moon Observation Journal. A second project is to cut out and assemble a Moon phase calendar. The calendar can be found at Moon Phases
The last few months have been a great time to view three bright planets in the evening sky: Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. In October, Mars came closer to Earth than it will be for another 15 years. Mars will still be very bright in November and will be viewable all evening. It is easy to spot as it is bright and very red. Jupiter and Saturn will also appear as bright evening stars in November. On November 1, Jupiter sets at 9:32 PM and Saturn at 9:57 PM. At the end of November, Jupiter sets at 8:02 PM and Saturn at 8:14 PM. If you have a pair of binoculars you can use them to see the rings of Saturn and the Galilean moons of Jupiter. Many websites help you find the planets in the evening sky. This one is easy to use (just click on the planet you are interested in): www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/night.
Meteor shows are also fun to watch. In November, the Leonid shower peaks on November 16 and 17. You can expect to see about 20 meteors per hour. To spot them it is best to face north-east or roughly where the Big Dipper is located.
That is about all for this month. One last challenge: There is a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse on November 29. It will last for over four hours. The challenge is to find out what such an eclipse looks like.
See you next month!