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by Dick Cookman 11/03/12 | Email Author

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November Skies

by Dick Cookman

Highlights: Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Planet Plotting, November Moon

Focus Constellations: Taurus, Auriga, Perseus, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Camelopardalis, Ursa Minor, Ursa Major, Draco, Lyra, Cygnus, Pegasus, Pisces, Aries, Andromeda

Comet Journal

Newly discovered (Sept. 21st) 17th magnitude Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) is currently moving through northern Gemini. It is beyond the orbit of Jupiter and moving toward the Sun. It is projected to reach naked eye visibility in next autumn. In late November, 2013 the comet may approach the brightness of Venus in the predawn skies near Libra when it is near perihelion less than 1.3 million miles from the Sun.

Comet 2011 F1 (Linear) is approaching 9th magnitude and moves southward between Serpens and the western horizon in November. It is immediately northeast of the Sun and will be buried in the glow of sunset throughout the month. It will descend through the inner asteroid belt on the other side of the Sun in mid-December and will be closest to the Sun in early January when it may be viewed in predawn skies by southern observers.

Comet 168P/Hergenrother came out of the southern skies and surprised comet viewers on October 1st when it jumped over 500 times in brightness from 15th to 8th magnitude as it approached perihelion near the orbit of Mars. Later observation confirmed that partial disintegration of the comet head caused the brightness increase. It is currently at 9th magnitude and is north of Pegasus. It will move southwestward as it dims in November.

Comet C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS) is still behaving like it may approach naked eye visibility in the winter. It is currently southwest of the Sun at sunset and is at magnitude 10-11. The comet is moving south and eastward subparallel to the path of the Sun south of Libra and will not be visible for observers in the northern USA until it appears in the southern predawn sky near perihelion in March, 2013.

Martian Landers

On October 1st - 3rd (Sol 58) Curiosity arrived at a wind blown area called Rocknest which contains a ripple of sand where its sampling tools will be tested and samples examined by its analytical instruments. During October four scoops of soil were sampled. On October 7th (Sol 61), the first scoop was made. The first two scoops were to be run through the analysis equipment in order to remove any residual material from Earth and replace it with material of Martian origin. After completing this cleaning process with the 1st scoop, a 2nd scoop was collected on the 12th and discarded in case it contained debris from the rover. A 3rd scoop was collected on the 15th and run through the analysis equipment, and a 4th scoop was collected on the 18th with plans to utilize it for further scrubbing of the equipment.

On the 11th, a large chunk of basalt was examined by the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument and the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. Tests revealed that the rock was similar to Earthlike Alkaline Basalt which is derived by partial melting of water rich parent rock at "Hot Spots" in the Earth's upper mantle and injected to the surface through fissures to form volcanic features in continental rift zones and oceanic islands such as Hawaii. Lunar basalts are quite different and appear to be more similar to the dominant basalts on Earth which are characteristic of the oceanic rises and ridges. These are the spreading centers from which the large plates involved in plate tectonics separate, causing the continents to drift.

From September 13th (Sol 3071) through October 23rd (Sol 3110), Opportunity traveled about 250 meters while examining an area surrounding a feature called Matijevic Hill. The area is characterized by light-toned exposed rock which may be composed of hydrated minerals identified from earlier satellite imagery. The rover is on the western margin of Endeavor Crater on the south end of Cape York, the elongated ridge stretching one half mile north-northeastward from Botany Bay. The Panoramic camera and microscopic imager were utilized in data collection along with the Rock Abrasion tool and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer.

Meteor Showers

The three best meteor showers of November are the Northern Taurids which peak in mid-November, the Leonids which may have double peaks on the 17th & 20th, and the Alpha Monocerids which peak on the 20th. The former is normally a minor shower of less than 5 meteors per hour in dark skies but it could be accompanied by a swarm of larger dust particles such as those associated with the 1995, 1998, 2005, and 2008 showers. The shower is favored by the absence of lunar glare during New Moon on the 14th. The shower will appear to emanate from a radiant near the Pleiades.

The waxing crescent Moon on the 17th and the 1st quarter Moon of the 20th will not interfere with the Leonids as its radiant does not rise until almost midnight. Although the Leonids occasionally produce meteor storms as last observed in 2002, they will probably be more normal this year and limited to no more than 30 meteors per hour with favorable viewing conditions in dark skies.

The Alpha Monocerids normally produce 15-25 meteors per hour in dark skies and emanate from a radiant well positioned high the southern sky in the hours before dawn, long after moonset. The outburst which produced 30-40 meteors in a 5 minute period at the peak of the 1995 shower is not expected to be repeated during the next thirty years.

Planet Plotting

Planets in the sunset skies in November include Mars (+1.2 in Ophiuchus) in the southwestern sky near the horizon, dim Neptune (+7.9 in Aquarius) in the southeastern sky, and Uranus (+5.8 in Pisces) in the east. Mars sets two hours after sunset as Jupiter (-2.5 in Taurus) rises in the east. By month's end Mars moves into Sagittarius and is still visible in the early evening sky. Throughout November, Jupiter grows brighter as it approaches opposition on December 2nd and dominates the southeastern evening sky and is high in the predawn southern sky.

Venus (-4.0 in Virgo) gleams brightly in the eastern sky before sunrise in early November and dims slightly as it drops deeper into the glow of sunrise. Saturn (+0.6 in Virgo) passed through solar conjunction in October and is barely visible near the sunrise horizon in early November. It rises higher during the month as it fails to keep pace with the more rapidly orbiting Earth. Mercury (-0.3 in Scorpius) reaches solar conjunction on the 17th and is lost in the glare of sunset until it makes a brief appearance in sunrise skies at the end of the month.

Planet Constellation Magnitude Planet Passages
Sun Libra, Scorpius, Ophiuchus -26.8  
Mercury Scorpius, Libra -0.1 to +3.2 to -0.3 Inferior Solar Conjunction, 11/17, 11AM EST
Venus Virgo, Libra -4.0 to -3.9 Saturn, 0.53° NNE, 11/26, 8PM EST
Mars Ophiuchus, Sagittarius +1.2  
Jupiter Taurus -2.7 to -2.8  
Saturn Virgo +0.6 to +0.7 Venus, 0.53°SSW, 11/26, 8PM EST
Uranus Pisces +5.8  
Neptune Aquarius +7.9  

November Moon

October's New Moon on the 15th marked the beginning of Lunation 1111 which ends 29.38 days later with the New Moon at 5:07 PM EST on November 13th. The South Pacific will be treated to a total Solar Eclipse on the 13th-14th.

A penumbral Lunar Eclipse in western North America accompanies the Full Moon of November on the 28th at 9:46AM EST. This Full Moon is part of Lunation 1112 which ends with the New Moon of December 13th. It is known as the "Hunter's, Frosty, or Beaver" Moon. Colonial Americans referred to it as the latter.

Celts called it the "Dark" Moon and Chinese call it the "White" Moon. Medieval English named it the "Snow Moon" and northern Michigan Anishnaabe (Chippewa and Ojibwe) call it "Gashkadino-giizis(oog)" (Freezing Moon).

The Moon is at apogee and farthest from Earth on the 1st at Noon EDT. Despite Hurricane Sandy coinciding with a "Spring Tide" when higher tides occur because the Sun, Earth, and Moon are lined up at Full Moon, this "Spring Tide" is lower than normal because the Moon is approaching its largest distance of the month at 63.67 Earth Radii or 252,329 miles. The tides would make the storm surge higher if the hurricane occurred at the Moon's 3rd closest perigee of 2012 which is on the 14th at 6AM EST when it will be at 222,051 miles or 56.03 Earth radii. This is slightly more than 12 hours after the high "Spring Tide" associated with New Moon.

Planet Constellation Magnitude Moon Passage Moon Phase/Age
Sun Libra -26.8 8:02AM EST, 11/13 New ~ 0 days
Mercury Scorpius +2.0 1.2° NNW, 5AM EST, 11/14 Waxing Crescent ~ 0.50 days
Venus Virgo -4.0 5.1° SSW, 11AM EST, 11/11 Waning Crescent ~ 27.12 days
Mars Sagittarius +1.2 4.1° NNW, 6AM EST, 11/16 Waxing Crescent ~ 2.54 days
Jupiter Taurus -2.7 0.9° SSW, 9PM EDT, 11/1 Waning Gibbous ~ 17.54 days
Jupiter Taurus -2.8 0.7° SSW, 8PM EST, 11/28 Waning Gibbous ~ 15.12 days
Saturn Virgo +0.6 4.3° S, 3PM EST, 11/12 Waning Crescent ~ 28.29 days
Uranus Pisces +5.8 4.9° NNW, 6AM EST, 11.23 Waxing Gibbous ~ 9.54 days
Neptune Aquarius +7.9 6.0° NNW, 2PM EST, 11/20 Waxing Gibbous ~ 6.87 days

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