M45, Pleiades cluster or the seven sisters

Minnesota Skies: November 2019

Your local guide to observing celestial objects and events

Published10/30/2019 , by Deane Morrison, Thaddeus LaCoursiere & Sarah Komperud

Mars begins November as a dim reddish dot close above the east-southeastern horizon. Look for it just before the day starts to break. Don’t confuse it with the bright star Arcturus, which is also near the horizon early in the month. As the days go by, Arcturus climbs rapidly away from Mars while Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, clears the horizon and heads toward the planet. During the second week of the month, Spica climbs past Mars on the right.

By the last week of November, Mercury will have popped into the sky below Mars. For several days between about the November 22-27, Spica, Mars and Mercury will be nearly equally spaced, in that order top-to-bottom, along a diagonal line.

Meanwhile, Venus is slipping into the evening sky. The brightest of planets, it comes out in the southwestern twilight not far below Jupiter. But while Venus is climbing, Jupiter is falling, and on the November 24 the planets come closest to each other, with Venus just to the lower left of Jupiter. On the 28th, a young crescent moon appears above Venus, en route to a rendezvous the next night with Saturn. In mid-December the ringed planet has its own brush with Venus.

All month long, watch the bright winter constellations make their annual grand entrance into the evening sky, appearing over the eastern horizon earlier each night. Most recognizable is hourglass-shaped Orion, thanks largely to the three stars of his famous belt.

Excerpted from Minnesota Starwatch by Deane Morrison, a publication of the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics at the U of M. 

Featured image: The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters and Messier 45, are an open star cluster in the constellation Taurus. See “Deep Sky Objects” below for more.

Sky-lights

November

Highlight

Comments

3 Daylight savings time ends
Fall back 1 hour
2:00 am
11 Transit of Mercury
Mercury will be seen as a small dot moving across the Sun throughout the morning. The transit will be in progress when the sun rises.Because Mercury is so small and far away, you will need to use a telescope with a solar filter on it to see the transit.  (Warning: Never look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection.)The next Transit of Mercury visible from Minnesota will be in 2049.
7:07 am Sunrise
9:20 am Mercury closest to the Sun’s center
12:04 pm Transit ends
17-18 Leonids Meteor Shower
Meteors will radiate from the constellation Leo.
After midnight, E
24 Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus
Jupiter and Venus will appear to be close together, about 1.4 degrees, in the southwestern sky for a short while after sunset.
6-7 pm, SW

Resources

When viewing planets, stars or other objects in the night sky, it is helpful to use a sky map. You can download our Minnesota Skies guide or customize your own map on stellarium-web.org. Minnesota Starwatch is another great resource. Meet up with other stargazing enthusiasts via Twin Cities Sidewalk Astronomers, MN Astronomical Society & MN Institute for Astrophysics.


Lunar Highlights

November’s full moon arrives at 7:34 am on November 12. The moon will have set by then; to catch it at its roundest, go outside an hour beforehand – even earlier in eastern parts of the state. If you prefer moonrises, look for one in the east around sunset on the 11th and about half an hour afterward on the 12th.

In the predawn hours of Monday, the 18th, a bright waning moon puts a damper on the peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower. On the 24th, however, a thinned-out crescent makes partial amends by rising close to Mars.

November 4—First Quarter Moon
The Moon is one quarter of its way through its orbit around
the Earth, which makes half the Moon illuminated and half
dark from our perspective.

November 12—Full Moon
The Moon is located on the opposite side of the Earth as the
Sun and the side we see is fully illuminated.

November 19—Last Quarter Moon
This phase occurs when the Moon is three-quarters of the
way through its orbit around the Earth.

November 26—New Moon
The Moon is located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun
and is not visible in the night sky. This is the best time of the
month to observe faint objects like galaxies and star clusters
because there is no moonlight to interfere.

Deep Sky Objects

As we enter the depths of winter, warm summer days are far, far away. As distant as those are, we can look into the cold, clear night sky during the winter and find objects even farther away.

Grab a blanket, lie back with your feet pointing north, and look straight up to the zenith. We can see the bright “M” of Cassiopeia. The five stars that make
up this constellation range in distance from 50 to more than 500 light years away! The stars can be imagined as Queen Cassiopeia’s throne, and three of the stars form a triangle that can guide us even farther away.

The star at one tip of the triangle is called Shedar. Follow an imaginary line straight from Shedar out of the top of the triangle and one hand-length away to a dim, fuzzy patch in the sky. This is M31, or the Andromeda Galaxy, containing a trillion stars more than 2.5 million light years away. That’s a huge distance—one light year is about 6 trillion miles—and a huge amount of time. The light we see from M31 has been traveling through space for 2.5 million years. To give that
some perspective, 2.5 million years ago on Earth the first humans were evolving in Africa.

Looking east, and about halfway between the horizon and zenith, we can pick out M45. Better known as the Pleiades, this star cluster is much closer to home, only 450 light years away. That makes the light we see from the Pleiades almost twice as old as the United States! But people have been looking at the Pleiades much longer than that. The Navajo knew the Pleiades as the “Planter.” The Planter becomes visible in the east in the fall, moves overhead by mid-winter, and disappears with the Sun as spring comes. The Navajo used the Planter’s position and visibility as the basis for a planting calendar.