November brings us the Leonid Meteor Shower, which can be one of the year’s best, but can also vary enough so that it will not be so good. What has been usual lately, as Earth crossed the regions that the shower’s parent comet, 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, passed during perihelion in its orbit around the Sun in 1998, has been 20 to 30 meteors per hour coming from the sky region occupied by the zodiac constellation Leo. This year the shower’s peak favors observers in North America. The peak will happen on the morning of November 17th, from 4:30 am to dawn, in the East sky.
Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle has been known since 1865 and orbits the Sun every 33 years. Most meteors originate from comet debris, and Earth moving at speeds of 66,000 mph in its orbit slams into this debris all along its path, causing the meteor particle to heat up by friction with Earth’s air and burn up, mostly no lower than 30 to 35 miles above our heads. This year’s Leonid Meteor Shower is worth taking a look at; though it means rising early.
Remember to turn your clocks back an hour when you go to bed on November 3rd (Saturday) as we make the annual shift back to Eastern Standard time. This change will mean that night will start sooner, as, by the clock, the Sun will appear to set an hour earlier.
Jupiter is heading toward this year’s closest approach to Earth in early December, and provides some great views this month as opposition(closest approach) draws near. In early November Jupiter rises 2 hours after sunset in the East and rises in twilight by Thanksgiving time. By then it reaches magnitude –2.8 and cannot be missed in the middle of the stars of zodiac constellation Taurus. It will be 6 times brighter even than Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, and one of the sky’s 15 brightest stars. The best views of Jupiter this month will be from 8 or 9 pm until midnight after it has gained some altitude above the horizon; but it will be seen all the way until dawn (over in the western sky by then). The passing Moon will also visit Jupiter in the sky twice; on November 1st and 28th — both times in a nearly Full Phase.
In the early morning eastern sky Venus commands attention because it is even brighter than Jupiter; at magnitude –3.9. Venus is lower to the horizon than when we saw it in October, because it is moving closer to the Sun in its orbit as we see it from Earth. Meanwhile, Saturn is moving in its own orbit away from the Sun. So eventually the two planets will appear to pass each other —— on November 26 and 27. Venus will be seen much brighter and just above Saturn on the morning of the 26th, and just to the right of Saturn on the 27th. With a telescope, one could see both in the same low power field of view on both mornings.
Work has begun on this year’s Planetarium Christmas Program which will be presented digitally and with even more video clips than last year. We are exploring the Perfect Christmas Gift in this year’s program theme. Public nights will be scheduled and announced for the week of December 17 to 21. Stay tuned.
This month’s major Moon Phases: New – 13th; 1st quarter – 20th; Full – 28th. Last quarter is November 6th.