The Sky This Week, November 24 – December 1, 2015 !

The Sky This Week, 2015 November 24 – December 1

The Thanksgiving Star.
Lunar Terminator, 2015 November 20, 22:30 – 22:45 UT
Imaged with USNO’s 30.5-cm (12-inch) f/15 Clark/Saegmüller refractor
1.6X Antares Barlow Lens, and Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR

The week begins with a bright Full Moon lighting up the evening sky. November’s Full Moon is popularly known as the Frosty Moon or Beaver Moon. The latter name derives from the frenzied activity of beavers as the frozen nights of winter fast approach. Full Moon occurs on the 25th at 5:44 pm Eastern Standard Time. Look for the bright star Aldebaran just over three degrees to the east of the Moon’s fully illuminated disc on the evening of the 25th. Over the course of the next few nights Luna will pass north of the rising stars of the Great Winter Circle.

Besides Aldebaran, one of the other early-rising stars of winter is the golden-hued star Capella, sixth-brightest stars in the sky. You’ll find this star nearly overhead at midnight around the time of Thanksgiving. It’s very appropriate that Capella occupies such a prominent place at this time of the year. In Roman mythology Capella represented a she-goat which nursed the infant Jupiter. During some rather rambunctious play by the super-human toddler one of the goat’s horns was accidentally broken. From the severed horn a virtually limitless supply of food and drink emerged, and the horn became known as the “cornucopia”, or “horn of plenty”. When Jupiter matured he placed the goat in a prominent place in the sky. Indeed, of all the first-magnitude stars, Capella is the closest to the north celestial pole, and so is visible in northern skies for a longer period of time than any other of the bright stars. On a clear night you may be able to spot a small triangle of stars adjacent to Capella; these are her three kids, which a grateful Jupiter also placed in the sky according to legend. These stars have been seen as harbingers of bad weather for over two millennia. Their visibility is highly dependent on the presence of high clouds, so if they are easily seen the weather tended to be favorable, but if they weren’t so easily seen it was time for mariners to batten down the hatches.

Capella and Aldebaran lead the bright stars of the Great Winter Circle into the sky, and by midnight all of them are well above the horizon. They will gradually work their way into the earlier evening, and by the time of the winter solstice they will straddle the meridian at midnight, providing bright companionship for skywatchers throughout the year’s longest nights. Nine of the 25 brightest stars in the sky fall within the Circle’s boundary, and a full spectrum of stellar colors add variety to the black of night.

The pre-dawn sky is where you’ll find most of the action for the next several weeks. Three bright planets appear like beads on a string above the eastern horizon. The brightest of these is Venus, whose brilliant glow will immediately grab your attention. During the course of the week Venus will catch up to and pass the bright star Spica. The pair will be closest on the mornings of the 29th and 30th. Jupiter is also easily seen, 50 degrees up among the stars of Leo, the Lion. In between them is the more subdued glimmer of Mars, but he lies in a very sparse star field and his ruddy tint should easily identify him.

Before the Moon moves into the morning sky you might want to take a look for a rare visitor from the distant solar system. Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) is visible in binoculars about an hour before sunrise. If you extend an imaginary line from Mars through the star Spica to the same distance on the other side of the star you might be able to pick it up about 15 degrees above the horizon. It’s been seen by many amateurs over the past week or so, and appears to be quite condensed with two tenuous tails.


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