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November 2019 Skies

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November Skies

by Dick Cookman


Highlights: Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Asteroid Surprises, The Transit of Mercury, Planet Plotting, November Moon

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

Comet Journal

There are no November comets brighter than 10th magnitude and Comet C/2017 T2 PanSTARRS is the only 10th magnitude comet. It is a long period comet which rose out of the Oort Cloud below the solar system on an orbit tilted at over 60 degrees to the solar system plane. It crossed the plane into northern skies in August and will move westward through Auriga this month reaching closest proximity to Earth when in Perseus on Dec. 29. It may brighten to 8th magnitude as it approaches perihelion (closest to the Sun) on May 4, 2020 before dropping back through the plane of the solar system in September and embarking on its long journey back to the Oort Cloud.

C/2018 N2 (ASASSN), is an 11th magnitude comet in northern Pegasus in November. It rises before sunset and sets before sunrise. It will reach perihelion on November 11, then will slowly move through northern skies for the next two years.

Martian Landers

The Insight lander, at its landing site on Elysium Planita and carrying the Heat Flow and Physics Properties Package (HP3), placed its robotic arm next to the self hammering heat probe which was stuck at a depth of 14 inches and was unable to dig deeper on its own. Mission scientists used the robotic arm to “pin” the probe, known as the “mole” against the side of the hole already dug in order to increase friction and hopefully permit deeper digging. The plan worked in mid-October as the probe was able to dig down to a depth of 38 centimeters through the soil compacted by the hammer blows previously executed.. On the 27th, operations were halted when the mole backed halfway out of the hole. The robotic arm applied insufficient pressure to hold the mole in place. Further lab testing on Earth will be needed to develop better techniques.

The Curiosity rover is in Glen Torridon, the clay-bearing unit in the valley adjacent to Vera Rubin Ridge on 16,404 foot Mt. Sharp at the center of Gale Crater. "As we climb Mount Sharp, we see an overall trend from a wet landscape to a drier one," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "But that trend didn't necessarily occur in a linear fashion. More likely, it was messy, including drier periods…, followed by wetter periods, like what we're seeing in the 'clay-bearing unit' that Curiosity is exploring…”.

Gale Crater is the ancient remnant of a massive impact. Sediment carried by water and wind eventually filled in the crater floor, layer by layer. After the sediment hardened, wind carved the layered rock into the towering Mount Sharp, which Curiosity is climbing today. Each layer now exposed on the mountain's slopes reveals a different era of Martian history and holds clues about the prevailing environment at the time.

Meteor Showers, Asteroid Surprises

The best showers in November are the Leonids which will have to compete with glare from the waning gibbous Moon. Try to block out the Moon with a building or tree to enhance views of the meteors emanating out of Leo in the hours before dawn.

  • November 5: Southern Taurids. Active Oct.1-Nov. 25. Radiant 3h20m +13°. ZHR 5. 27 km/sec. Waxing Gibbous Moon. Progenitor: Comet Enke.
  • November 10: Northern Taurids. Active Oct.1-Nov. 25. Radiant 3h52m +22°. ZHR 5. 29 km/sec. Waxing Gibbous Moon. Progenitor: Asteroid 2004 TG10.
  • November 17-19: Leonids Active Nov. 14-Nov. 21. Radiant 10h12m +22°. ZHR variable to storm. 70 km/sec. Waning Gibbous Moon. Progenitor: Comet Tempel-Tuttle.
  • November 21: Alpha Monocerotids. Active Nov. 15-Nov. 25. Radiant 7h48m +01°. ZHR 2. 70 km/sec. Waning Crescent Moon. Progenitor: Asteroid 3200 Phaethon.

On Oct 29, 5 meter wide Asteroid 2019 UO8 passed within 100,000 kilometers of Earth at 25.3 km/s and on Nov 2, eight meter wide Asteroid 2019 VA passed slightly more than 70,000 kilometers from Earth at 8.6km/s/sec.

The Transit of Mercury

Transits of the Sun have remade our models of the solar system! The first planetary transit seen was that of Venus in 1643. Venus has since had 8 more transits. Mercury transited the Sun 17 times in the last 112 years and will again transit the Sun on November 11.

In 1543, Nicholas Copernicus proposed that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of revolution for the planets. In the late 1500’s, Tycho Brahe made detailed measurements and proved that Copernicus’ heliocentric theory could be used to accurately predict planetary positions. With Brahe’s data, Johann Kepler modified heliocentric models by replacing circular with elliptical orbits (1st & 2nd law), making prediction of planet position even more accurate. In addition, he determined the ratio of Earth’s and Mars’ distance from the Sun with triangulation. In 1619, he used this and planet periods to deduce that planet period squared is proportional to solar distance cubed (3rd law). However, His best efforts were limited to relative planetary distances from the Sun in comparison with Earth. Neither he nor the astronomical community knew actual distances. In 1716, Edmond Halley’s paper described how to use transits to measure the Sun's distance. His method uses parallax. Observers stationed far apart simultaneously measure the transiting planet’s position on the Sun and triangulate theresults to determine planet distance. The next transits of Venus in 1761 and 1769 were used to determine its actual distance for the first time. This information was plugged into Kepler’s third law to compute actual distances of all the known planets.

Planet Plotting

November evening planets include Venus (-3.8) in Libra, Scorpius, and Sagittarius, Jupiter (-1.7) in Ophiuchus, Saturn (+0.6) in Sagittarius, Neptune (+7.9) in Aquarius, and Uranus (+5.7) in Aries. Venus sets about 1.5 hours after the Sun in November and is close to the horizon in the southwestern sky immediately after sunset. Jupiter is close behind at the beginning of the month and drops into the glow of sunset after Venus appears to graze past during the spectacular near conjunction on the 24th. Saturn is higher in the early evening sky at sunset setting about 3 hours after the Sun. Neptune is in the southern sky in the early evening and sets around midnight EST in November. Uranus is In the southeastern sky after sunset and sets well before dawn. Mars was in conjunction with the Sun in September and rises well before dawn in November. It will be slightly north of Spica in Virgo on the 8th and will increase brightness as Earth catches up to it in orbit during the next year when it reaches opposition in October. Mercury (-2.5 to -0.5) is at inferior conjunction on the 11th when it will transit the Sun between 7:35AM and 1:04PM EST.

The waxing crescent Moon is 0.6° from Saturn at 3:00AM EDT on the 2nd, 0.7° from Jupiter at 6:00AM EST on the 28th, and 1.9° from Venus at 2:00PM EST on the 28th, and 0.9° from Saturn at 4:00AM EST on the 29th. The waxing gibbous Moon is 4.0° from Neptune at Midnight EST on the 6th, and 4.0° from Uranus at 11:00PM EST on the 10th. The waning crescent Moon is 4.0° from Mars at 4:00AM EST on the 24th, and 1.9° from Mercury at 10:00PM EST on the 24th.

PlanetConstellation(s)MagnitudePlanet PassagesTime, Date
SunVirgo, Scorpius-26.8New Moon10.06AM EST, 11/26
MercuryLibra-0.2 to +0.7Inferior Conjunction, Transit
Max. East Elongation
10:00AM EST, 11/11
5:00AM EST, 11/28
VenusLibra, Scorpius,
-3.8Jupiter, 1.4°N9:00AM EST, 11/24
MarsVirgo+1.8 to +1.7  
JupiterOphiuchus-1.7Venus, 1.4°S9:00AM EST, 11/24

November Moon

The New Moon of November on the 26th at 10:06AM EST is the beginning of Lunation 1199 which ends 28.43 days later with the New Moon of December on the 26th at 12:14AM EST. The November Full Moon is on the 12th at 8:34AM EST. It has been known as the “Frosty or Beaver Moon” since colonial times. It was named the “Snow Moon” in Medieval England. Celts called it the “Dark Moon” and since the Chinese are on the opposite side of the world they call it the “White Moon”. Anishinaabe (Odawa and Ojibwe) people recognize it as “Baashkaakodin-Giizis” ((Freezing Moon).)

Lunar Apogee (maximum orbital distance) occurs on the 7th at 3:36AM EST when the Moon is at 251,691 miles (63.51 Earth radii).

PlanetConstellationMagnitudeMoon PassagesMoon PhaseMoon Age
SunScorpius-26.810:06AM EST, 11/26New0 days
MercuryLibra-0.21.9°N, 10:00PM EST, 11/24Waning Crescent27.44 days
VenusSagittarius-3.81.9°N, 2:00PM EST, 11/28Waxing Crescent2.17 days
MarsVirgo+1.74.0°NNE, 4:00AM EST, 11/24Waning Crescent27.18 days
JupiterOphiuchus-1.70.7°N, 6:00AM EST, 11/28Waxing Crescent1.83 days
SaturnSagittarius+0.60.6°S, 3:00AM EDT, 11/2Waxing Gibbous5.18 days
SaturnSagittarius+0.60.9°S, 4:00AM EST, 11/29Waxing Gibbous2.75 days
UranusAries+5.74.0°S, 11:00PM EST, 11/10Waxing Gibbous13.97 days
NeptuneAquarius+7.94.0°S, Midnight EST, 11/6Waxing Gibbous9.01 days


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