By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter
Looking at the sky in the late evening, around 11 p.m., prominent constellations and stars are the Big Dipper, part of Ursa Major, high in the northeast, and the Little Dipper high in the north. Cygnus with Deneb, Lyra with Vega and Aquila with Altair are now low in the northwest. These three stars form the summer triangle. It’s perhaps comforting that in Alaska we can see this summer triangle all winter along, albeit near the horizon.
Cassiopeia appears overhead, in the zenith, and Pegasus’ square/diamond in the southwest. In the east, Gemini with Castor and Pollux, Cancer with the Beehive cluster and Leo have risen, following Orion with red Betelgeuse and blue Rigel, which are now quite high in the southeast — which is why I chose late evening for my description this month. Auriga with Capella, Taurus with Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster with, currently, the very bright Jupiter, now appear high in the south.
If we could observe it, we’d see that around 5 p.m., Mars, Mercury, the sun, Saturn and Venus all set at the same time. But, of course, when the sun is out, our atmosphere’s brightness outpowers the planets.
Neptune and Uranus can be seen low in the south all evening. Uranus, especially, should be a fine target with good binoculars. A good finder chart can be found at www.nakedeyeplanets.com/uranus.htm and /neptune.htm. Start right beneath Pegasus’ square. The full moon leads the way to these gaseous planets on Nov. 1 and Nov. 4, respectively. On Nov. 4, view our moon with binoculars, go right to the Pisces’ circlet of seven stars and then find greenish Uranus between the moon and the circlet.
A very bright Jupiter can be seen rising around 1 a.m. It appears in Leo’s mane, making a nice pair with Regulus, although it appears much brighter than the 21st-brightest star seen from our solar system. The third-quarter moon is near on No. 14.
Mercury is visible in the morning. Around Nov. 1, it shows its best appearance of the year,
making a nice pair with Virgo’s Spica very low in the southeast (Mercury is above Spica). Jupiter appears to their upper right, high in the south. Try about half an hour before sunrise.
Daylight saving time ends the evening of Nov. 1/morning of Nov. 2. That Sunday will have 25 hours. Thus, sunrise and sunset occur one hour earlier, locally at around 1 p.m.
The Leonid meteor shower peaks in the morning hours Nov. 17.
The October eclipses were a success. The total lunar eclipse happened in the middle of a clear night. (The next one, April 4, 2015, will hopefully also be cloudless). It was also clear during the partial solar eclipse. A good number of people joined me at Soldotna Creek Park, viewing a really nice and large sunspot group (while still small compared to the sun’s area, it is 100 times larger than Earth), and seeing how the moon kept obscuring more and more of the sun.
Andy Veh is an associate professor of physics, math and astronomy at Kenai Peninsula College.