Clear November night skies offer incredible celestial treats for stargazers, so bundle up and get outside for stargazing fun!
- Leonids Meteor Shower - The nights of Sunday, November 16th and Monday November 17th mark the peak of the annual Leonids Meteor Shower. The waning crescent Moon will be in the sky during the peak, but it should still be easy to spot meteors as they appear to radiate out of the constellation Leo. The Leonids are the 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!
- Big and Bright, Jupiter Season is here - In early November the gas giant planet Jupiter rises in the east about 1:30AM, but by the end of the month it will rise before 10:30PM and be quite high in the eastern sky by midnight - a perfect position to get great views. Jupiter will be the brightest object in the eastern sky. Nearly any telescope, and even a pair of good astronomy binoculars, will show the four brightest Galilean Moons (discovered by Galileo, the inventor of the telescope) and a 3" or larger refractor will show detail on the planet itself with moderate to high power. Use a blue Jupiter Observation Filter to enhance contrast of the planet's major equatorial cloud bands.
- Best Star Cluster - M45, the Pleiades. November is sometimes called "the month of the Pleiades," since the star cluster is visible all night long for observers in the Northern hemisphere. From a dark sky site, it is easy to see with the unaided eye and resembles a small "teaspoon" pattern in the sky, but this open star cluster is best appreciated in a good pair of astronomy binoculars or a telescope with a lower-power eyepiece.
- Best Galaxy - M31, The Andromeda Galaxy. If you view the sky often, you've been watching this object for months now; around 9 PM in early November the Andromeda Galaxy is just north of the constellation Andromeda and positioned high in the eastern sky for great telescopic views. M31 is the nearest neighboring galaxy to our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
- A Bright Spot in the Milky Way - High in the northern sky at 10 PM is a brighter knot in the Milky Way, between the constellations of Perseus and Cassiopeia. With astronomy binoculars you can tell that it is really two open star clusters side by side, the famous Double Cluster in Perseus. Also called NGC 884 & NGC 889, these star clusters are relatively very close to Earth, about 7-8,000 light years away. They're also very young star clusters. Astronomers believe these are only about 3-5 million years old, just youngsters on the cosmic timescale!
- A Dark Sky Test - On the opposite side of Andromeda is another nearby galaxy, M33. 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 can even detect this galaxy with the unaided eye. In fact, M33 is used as a test by many 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. IC5148 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.