Leonids purr, Jupiter rules, and the Moon is new.
The early evening sky’s sole planet is Mars. It’s keeping ahead of twilight by moving steadily eastward, but now it’s also heading slightly north along the ecliptic, which gives it a little extra altitude. Were it as pokey as Saturn, the red planet would have succumbed to twilight’s glare week’s ago. As it is, Mars will hang in until mid-April!
The only well-placed telescopic planet at the moment is Jupiter. Big Jove rises in the late evening, just before 11 p.m., local standard time, and crosses the meridian (the imaginary line that joins north and south and passes directly overhead) at 6 a.m. in brightening twilight. Jupiter shines at magnitude -2.2 in the constellation Leo.
Finally, solar observers take note: October’s giant sunspot has rotated around and is crossing the solar disc once again. Although not as spectacular as it was last month, the spot group is still (barely) discernible in non-magnifying eclipse glasses.
The Leonid meteor shower peaks tonight and into the predawn hours of November 18. Those of us who were lucky enough to witness the great Leonid meteor storms that occurred at the turn of the century, can’t help but get excited by the very mention of the shower. However, the display has settled down into its non-storm, modest level of activity. Attentive observers under good conditions may see a dozen or so meteors radiating from a location near the sickle-shaped head of Leo the lion — more a gentle purr than a roar.
Saturn is in conjunction with the Sun today, an event that marks the official end of one apparition and the start of a new one. The ringed planet will emerge from the glare of morning twilight in early December.
As the thin crescent Moon rises this morning for observers in Ontario, it’ll be a little more than three degrees from Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. By the time the pair are up on the West Coast, they’ll be a degree closer together. Binoculars will show the close couple at their best.
New Moon occurs today at 7:32 a.m., EST. Deep-sky observers rejoice!
The November 21 – 23 weekend is a great one for watching Algol wink. Also known as Beta (β) Persei (as well as the Demon Star), this variable star changes from magnitude 2.1 to 3.4 and back again, over a period of just under 69 hours. That might not sound like much, but it equates to a 3½× brightness change. Algol is an eclipsing binary, so when its luminosity dips, we’re actually seeing a kind of partial eclipse as its smaller, dimmer companion passes in front of the main star. Mind you, the companion is actually slightly larger than our Sun.
Algol spends most of its time at the bright end of its range, but as it happens, it’s expected to reach minima this weekend at a time convenient for evening observing: 11:50 p.m., EST (8:50 p.m., PST) on Saturday night (November 22). You’ll want to check in a couple hours early though since the exact time of minima differs depending on what source you consult, and because the dimming lasts for about two hours. As the star grows fainter, it will go from being about as bright as nearby Gamma (γ) Andromedae, to as dim as Alpha (α) Trianguli. And this is one event you can take in without a telescope or even binoculars.
As it is a new-Moon weekend, you might be up for some extra deep-sky observing. Check out Ken Hewitt-White’s article describing two interesting objects in Cassiopeia. One is easy, the other isn’t.
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