What's In The Sky — November 2017
Clear November night skies offer incredible celestial sights for stargazers to be thankful for, so bundle up and get outside for stargazing fun!
Best Galaxy — M31, The Andromeda Galaxy
In early November, the Andromeda Galaxy will be just north of the constellation Andromeda and positioned high in the eastern sky for great views. Use a 6" or larger telescope for the best views of this spiral galaxy. Massive M31 is the nearest spiral galaxy to our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
Best Star Cluster — M45, the Pleiades
November is sometimes called "the month of the Pleiades," since the famous open star cluster is visible all night long for observers in the Northern hemisphere. From a dark sky site, M45 is easy to see with unaided eyes and resembles a small "teaspoon" pattern in the sky, but this open star cluster is best appreciated in a good pair of 50mm or larger astronomy binoculars.
Venus Joins Jupiter Before Dawn
Set your alarm to wake up before sunrise on November 13th to enjoy a close conjunction of planets Venus and Jupiter. Look just above the eastern horizon before dawn to see giant Jupiter and bright Venus appear just 0.3° apart. Use a pair of big astronomy binoculars for amazing views of this pretty pairing.
Leonids Meteor Shower
Go outside around midnight on Friday, November 17th into the early morning hours of the 18th to see the peak of the annual Leonids Meteor Shower. The best viewing will be after midnight, and the nearly New Moon promises dark conditions perfect for spotting "shooting stars". Look for meteors as they appear to radiate out from the constellation Leo. The Leonids meteors are left-over debris of comet Temple-Tuttle, a comet that orbits the Sun every 33 years. Grab a warm blanket or coat and enjoy the show!
Our Favorite Nebula
Our namesake constellation Orion will be in a great viewing position in late November, placed nice and high in the southeastern sky around midnight. Use 50mm or larger binoculars or a telescope and look in the area below the three recognizable stars of Orion's belt for a great view of M42, the Orion Nebula. Any telescope will reveal this nebula, but we recommend a 6-inch or larger telescope with a wide-angle, low-power eyepiece for the best views. If you'll be observing from the city or near a lot of streetlights, use an Orion Oxygen-III Nebula Filter to boost contrast for more pleasing views.
Two Clusters Side by Side
High in the northern sky around 10 PM is a bright knot in the Milky Way, located between the constellations of Perseus and Cassiopeia. With astronomy binoculars you can tell this bright patch is really two open star clusters side by side, the famous Double Cluster in Perseus. Also called NGC 884 & NGC 869, these star clusters are relatively very close to Earth, about 7-8,000 light years away. Astronomers believe these open clusters are about 3-5 million years old, just youngsters on the cosmic timescale!
A Dark Sky Test
On the opposite side of Andromeda from M31 is another nearby galaxy, M33, also known as the Triangulum Galaxy. Use a star chart to look for it in 50mm or larger astronomy binoculars. If you have a dark sky site to observe from, you may be able to detect this galaxy with the naked eye. In fact, M33 is used as a test of sorts by experienced observers to judge the darkness and transparency of a potential observing site.
Catch a Dying Star
High in the western skies of November, early in the evening, the constellation Cygnus is still prominently visible and topped off by the bright star Deneb at the top of the "Northern Cross." Use a star chart to track down the Veil Nebula on the eastern side of Cygnus near the star 52 Cygni. Use an Oxygen-III Filter and low power while you scan for this object. The Veil is a remnant of a supernova explosion, where a star has died! We recommend a 4" or larger telescope to catch it (but it has been seen in smaller scopes from good dark sky locations with excellent seeing conditions).
November's Challenge Object
Low in the southern sky, in the constellation Grus, lies a BIG planetary nebula called IC5148. You'll need at least a 6" telescope to see it, and an Oxygen-III Filter really helps. This 13th magnitude planetary is 120" x 120" of arc across, so it's nice and big, but it's tough for most observers to catch since it is so low in the south and the surface brightness is low. IC 5148 is about 3000 light years away and is sometimes called the "Spare Tire" Nebula.
All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.