Night Falls Earlier, the Frost Moon covers Taurus’ Eye, and Saturn Shines Solo!
Bright Stars to Look For
As the evening sky darkens, a number of bright stars will pop into view this time of year. Last week, I wrote about them. Find it on my Tumblr post.
The Moon and Planets
This week the moon lights up our evening sky, waxing until this weekend’s Full Beaver or Full Frost Moon. While it grows every night, enjoy the dramatic vistas along the terminator — the boundary between the dark and lit sides. The full phase, when the moon sits opposite the sun in the sky, occurs about 1:30 am on Saturday morning, so the moon will appear fullest starting on Friday evening and lasting until dawn. From Saturday night onwards, the moon wanes towards next week’s last quarter phase.
Hey! A head’s up for observers in North America (except the west coast), northern Europe, and northwestern Asia. Shortly after the still quite full moon rises in the east on the evening of Sunday, November 5, it will pass in front of (or occult) the naked eye star Aldebaran, the star that marks the reddish eye of Taurus (the Bull). At approximately 8 pm EST (Daylight Savings Time will be over by then), the moon’s lit leading limb will cover Aldebaran. The star will emerge from behind the opposite dark limb about 9 pm. Times vary by region.
You can watch this event in binoculars or, better yet, a small telescope. Start watching a few minutes ahead of time, while Aldebaran is still nicely separated from the moon. Over the next minutes, you’ll see the moon close the gap — and then the star will suddenly disappear behind the moon’s edge. Feel free to zoom in with your telescope for that part. For the emergence, if you’re not sure where Aldebaran will pop out, use a lower power eyepiece that shows all or most of the moon, especially the darkened right-hand edge. Start looking a few minutes beforehand. And don’t look away — it re-appears suddenly!
With elusive Mercury hiding low in the western evening twilight, and Jupiter hidden beside the sun, Saturn is the only naked eye planet in the evening sky. Look for it as a medium bright, yellowish object partway up the southwestern sky as the evening darkens. It sets in the west about 8:45 pm local time this week. Enjoy it while you can. In a few weeks, it will be too low to see clearly. Even a small telescope will reveal its rings and, once it’s dark enough, some of the brighter moons around it. The teapot-shaped arrangement of stars in Sagittarius (the Archer) sits to Saturn’s left this year. Next summer, Saturn’s orbit will move it to a position above the teapot’s lid.
Blue-green Uranus is still at nearly its minimum distance from Earth for this year. It is situated between the two chains of stars that form the dim constellation of Pisces (the Fishes). It’s about 1.5 fist diameters (15°) above the southeastern sky at dusk and observable for the rest of the night in binoculars under a dark sky (or telescopes, the rest of the time) as it crosses the sky. To help guide you, there’s a medium-bright star called Omicron Piscium about two finger widths to the lower left of Uranus.
Tiny blue Neptune is located in the southern evening sky about half a finger’s width to the lower right of the medium-bright star Hydor in Aquarius (the Water-Bearer). It is observable from full darkness until about 2 am local time, but it is too faint to be seen without a telescope.
This week, extremely bright Venus has moved so low in the eastern pre-dawn sky that it can only be seen for about an hour after it rises at about 6:30 am local time. Much dimmer and reddish tinted Mars is much higher, rising about 5 am. I’ll post sky charts for the visible planets here.
Stargazing News for this week (from October 29th, 2017) by Chris Vaughan.