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November Skies

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November Skies

by Dick Cookman


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

Focus Constellations: Lynx, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, Cygnus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Camelopardalis, Auriga, Perseus, Pegasus, Andromeda

Comet Journal

The three comets of November are ISON, Lovejoy, and Enke in order of diminishing brightness. ISON may reach a magnitude of 3.0 or better while Lovejoy and Enke are at 5th and 7th magnitude respectively. The naked eye limit of magnitude 6.0 obviates viewing the latter without binoculars or telescopes but the first two should be well within the visual capabilities of most observers in dark skies.

Comets 2P (Enke) and C/2012 Ss1 (ISON) will circuit through Virgo and Libra during the predawn hours in November while Comet C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy) rises in Canis Minor at after midnight on the 1st and moves through Cancer, Leo MInor, and Canes Venetici until rising at 2 AM in northern Bootes on November 30th.

Enke and ISON will be best viewed as they approach perihelion on the 21st and 28th respectively. Enke starts the month at magnitude 7 and ISON enters November at magnitude 9 or 10 when it passes above the January part Earth's orbit. It will then drop below the orbits of Venus and Mercury before circling below the Sun. After passing through perihelion behind the Sun, the remnants of the comet will emerge above the Sun and began its retreat from the inner Solar System. Lovejoy will not peak until it reaches perihelion in December but will start the month at 7th or 8th magnitude and get brighter throughout November.

Mars Landers

Opportunity reached the northeast edge of Solander Point in late August and proceeded to skirt around the northern margin of the point in September and October, seeking contacts between different geologic formations by checking out the rock outcrops and individual rocks in the large boulder field at the margin of the point. Solander Point is on the north end of an elevated ridge of material thrown out of Endeavor Crater by impact. The higher parts of the ridge are comprised of older layers of rock tossed on top of younger sulfate rich layers formed in an acidic water rich environment. Scientists speculate that older, higher layers may have formed in water with a more moderate neutral pH.

In mid-September, Opportunity was at the extreme northern end of Solander Point and turned southwestward to continue the circuit of the perimeter. In early October, the rover arrived at the base of a westward trending valley descending from the top of the point. Since the valley slopes are dotted with exposed rock outcrops targeted by mission scientists, the rover started its ascent as it approached the north facing southern slope of the valley on October 10th (Sol 3453). The first outcrop investigated was Kangaroo Paw on October 17th. The rover has been maintaining its atmospheric testing program and panoramic imaging of the immediate environment throughout its journey. It even attempted (unsuccessfully) to image Comet ISON when it passed Mars on October 1st.

Curiosity completed a detailed measurement of atmospheric Argon which confirms a Mars origin of the meteorites found on Earth which have been attributed to Mars. The ratio of Argon 38 to Argon 36 on Mars matches that found in the meteorites examined.

The science laboratory measured ratios of these two isotopes because Argon is an inert gas with isotopes unaffected by chemical reactions which may transpire during a planet's history and alter the initial primordial ratio. Argon is therefore a good tracer of the atmospheric history because the differing weights of the isotopes influence the rate at which each is lost to outer space, the lighter isotope is more likely to escape. Ratios of Argon measured in the light spectra from the atmospheres of the Sun and Jupiter maintain their initial relationship because the intense gravity of those bodies minimizes significant escape.

The degree to which a smaller planet's Argon ratio differs from that of the Sun and Jupiter reflects the amount of atmospheric loss to which the planet was subjected. Each planet has a unique ratio based on the intensity of its gravitational field. Measurements made by Curiosity nailed the ratio of Argon 36 to Argon 38 at 4.2, matching ratios found in the meteorites found on Earth that were thought to have come from Mars. There are 4.2 times as many Argon 36 atoms as there are Argon 38 atoms in each. Larger planets and the Sun and Jupiter have much higher ratios because they lost less Argon 36 than did Mars.

These findings of massive atmospheric loss have also been measured in other isotope ratios in Martian elements and reflect the likelihood that early Mars was a much different place with a relatively dense atmosphere containing abundant water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane, good greenhouse gases which would make a warm, wet planet possible.

Meteor Showers

The Northern Taurids (November 12), the Leonids (November 17), and the Alpha Monocerotids (November 21) are the best meteor showers this month. The Taurids consistently peak at about 5 meteors per hour in dark skies, the Leonids are at about 15, and the Monocerotids are extremely variable. All three showers are presented with major competition from the gibbous and full Moons and none are expected to display any enhanced activity in 2013.

The Taurids are thought to result from a debris stream left by previous passages of Comet Enke and the Leonids from Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle which is, according to the Irish Night Sky Hunter, Martin Mckenna,
"a large ancient comet which falls into the inner part of the solar system every 33 years producing the annual Leonid meteor shower. This is without doubt the most famous meteor shower in recorded history, once every 33 years when Tempel-Tuttle reaches perihelion it replenishes the Leonid meteoroid stream with a young dense swarm of material which can produce a meteor storm.
There have been several spectacular storm periods recorded and one of the most famous was the storm of 1833 when an estimated 200,000 meteors per hour were seen by startled witnesses who described the stars "falling like rain"."

Galactic Neighborhood

Since the Milky Way spans the evening skies of November from east to west, we are provided an even better view than that described last month (in Skies of October) of the deep space region beyond the Milky Way southern hemisphere.

Planet Plotting

Venus in Sagittarius is the evening planet low in the southwest after sunset. Neptune (+7.9 in Aquarius) and Uranus (+5.7 in Pisces) rise before sunset and can be found throughout the evening. Neptune sets after midnight in early November and before midnight on the 30th. Uranus sets before midnight throughout November.

Mercury and Saturn have conjunctions with the Sun on the 1st and 6th respectively and move into the morning sky in Libra in the latter part of November. Jupiter and Mars are morning planets. Jupiter in Gemini and Mars in Leo rise in the northeast about 11PM EDT and 3AM EDT on the 1st and about 8PM EST and midnight on the 30th.

Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter will get brighter in December and the latter three will continue the process in early 2014 as Neptune and Uranus gradually dim.

PlanetConstellationMagnitudePlanet Passages
SunLibra, Scorpius-26.8New Moon, 11/3, 7:50AM EST
MercuryVirgo, Libra+1.0 to -0.6Saturn, 0.3°N, 11/25, 11PM EST
Inferior Conjunction 11/1, 4PM EDT
Max Western Elongation 11/17, 10PM EST
VenusSagittarius-4.5 to -4.8Max Eastern Elongation 11/1, 4AM EDT
MarsLeo+1.5 to +1.2 
JupiterGemini-2.4 to -2.6 
SaturnLibra+0.5 to +0.6Mercury, 0.3°S, 11/25, 11PM EST

November Moon

The New Moon of November is on the 3rd at 7:50AM EST. It is the start of Lunation 1124 which is 29.48 days long and ends with the December New Moon on the 2nd. There is an Annular/Total (Hybrid) Solar Eclipse centered on the South Atlantic on the 3rd. Observers in North America as far west as Cleveland will witness a partial Solar Eclipse. Observers in western Africa will experience a brief Annular Eclipse followed by a Total Eclipse ending with another brief Annular Eclipse.

The Full Moon in Aries on November 17th at 10:16AM EST is the Hunter's Moon this year. It is also known as the "Frosty" or "Beaver Moon". Colonial Americans preferred the latter term. Celts referred to the November Moon as the as the "Dark Moon" and the Chinese call it the "White" Moon. Medieval English named it the "Snow Moon". The Anishnaabe (Chippewa and Ojibwe) of northern Michigan call it "Gashkadino-giizis(oog)" (Freezing Moon).

The Moon is closest to Earth at perigee on the 6th at 4:22AM EST. It will be 227,025 miles away or 57.28 Earth Radii. At apogee on the 22nd at 4:49AM EST, the Moon will be 251,931 miles away or at a distance of 63.57 Earth radii.

PlanetConstellationMagnitudeMoon PassageMoon Phase/Age
SunVirgo-26.87:50AM EDT, 11/3New ~ 0 days
MercuryVirgo+1.01.3°WNW, Midnight EDT, 11/2Waning Crescent ~ 29.14 days
VenusLibra-4.38.0°N, 8PM EST, 11/6Waxing Crescent ~ 3.51 days
MarsLeo+1.66.0°S, 11AM EST, 11/27Waning Crescent ~ 24.13 days
JupiterGemini-2.45.0°S, Midnight EST, 11/21Waning Gibbous ~ 18.67 days
SaturnLibra+0.71.9°SSE, 2PM EST, 11/3Waxing Crescent ~ 1.26 days
UranusPisces+5.73.0°N, 10PM EST, 11/13Waxing Gibbous ~ 10.38 days
NeptuneAquarius+7.96.0°N, 6AM EST, 11/11Waxing Gibbous ~ 7.92 days


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