November 2014

The Time, It Is a-Changin’

At 2 am on Sunday morning, November 2, most of the United States will be asleep as we “fall back” from Daylight Saving to Standard Time. Don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour before going to bed or you risk arriving at all your Sunday activities an hour too early. This is also a good time to replace the batteries in your smoke detectors to improve safety in your home.

Not Many Planets in November

Almost everyone loves looking for planets. Earth is one of our personal favorites, and it’s very easy to locate. While five other planets can be seen with your unaided eyes, they are not always well-placed for our viewing.

For example, Venus and Saturn are both currently on the opposite sides of the Sun as seen from Earth and are lost in the glare of our star. Mercury might be observable during the first half of the month in the hour just before dawn. The closest planet to our Sun will be a white point of light near the eastern horizon in the early morning twilight. Scan the sky with binoculars first to help you locate Mercury so you know exactly where to look with your unaided eye.

Meanwhile, Mars is a pale orange dot low in the southwestern sky right after sunset. You will need a clear horizon with no trees, houses, hills, or clouds to block the view. The planet isn’t very bright, but it stands out in an area of dim stars.

This month’s single planetary show-off is Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. Jupiter rises above the east-northeastern horizon along with the constellation Leo the lion late in the evening, around 10 pm. Wait another hour for the planet to clear the trees, and you can easily see how Jupiter outshines even Sirius in Canis Major the big dog, the brightest star we see in Earth’s night sky.

Jupiter will appear near Regulus, the bright star that marks the lion’s heart. Notice how planet Jupiter doesn’t twinkle like the stars do.

Lost Without the Dipper?

Many people know the best way to find the North star, Polaris, is to look for the Big Dipper. The two stars on the outside of the bowl point toward Polaris and the direction north, but that only works when the Big Dipper is visible above the horizon.

Fall is generally a bad time to look for the Big Dipper because in this season it appears very low above the northwestern horizon in the early evening hours. If you live south of 40 degrees north latitude (Nashville is at 36 degrees north) part of the Dipper actually dips below the horizon. Plus, buildings, hills, trees and other obstacles will almost certainly block any of the Big Dipper that is still above the “ideal” flat horizon.

Your next option then is to find the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen, which is shaped like a wide, lazy letter W. The three central stars of the W point toward Polaris. Cassiopeia is your “backup plan” for finding north because it is located on the opposite side of Polaris from the Big Dipper. When the Dipper is low on horizon, Cassiopeia is high in the sky. When Cassiopeia is low in the sky, you can always count on the Dipper to show you the way.

No Turkey in the Sky

Of the 88 standard constellations used by astronomers around the world, nine are named for birds. Cygnus the swan and Aquila the eagle are easy to find. Their bright stars, Deneb and Altair respectively, are part of the Summer Triangle, which hangs in the western sky after sunset at this time of year.

Corvus the crow is best viewed in the spring and summer from our part of the world. The other six (Apus the bird of paradise, Columba the dove, Grus the crane, Pavo the peacock, Phoenix the phoenix, and Tucana the toucan) are only visible from the southern hemisphere. Road trip, anyone?

Star Parties Can Be Cool

There are three FREE public star parties in November, all from 7:00 to 9:00 pm.

Members of the Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society set up their telescopes at these family-friendly events so everyone can observe the Moon, star clusters, galaxies, and more. With the change in seasons, be sure to bundle up so you can fully enjoy looking through the telescopes.

Star parties require good weather and may be cancelled if it’s cloudy. Visit our web site for updates before making the trip, especially if the weather is iffy. The web site also features star party tips, driving directions, and a list of future events.

Experience Bella Gaia

The Sudekum Planetarium presents Dome Club Nashville monthly to showcase immersive and artistic experiences that envelop visitors within the unique planetarium environment.

Join us for the next Dome Club on Thursday, November 20, from 7:30 to 8:30 pm. The feature program, Bella Gaia, is followed by a short piece called Waiting Far Away.

Bella Gaia takes you on a poetic musical journey utilizing scenery from around the world and NASA science data. Explore humanity’s relationship with and impact on our ecosystem and nature. Bella Gaia simulates the transformative effect astronauts feel while orbiting our beautiful Earth.

Waiting Far Away features an explorer of the cosmos who has travelled too far… and can’t find home. Produced at the Charles Hayden Planetarium in Boston, this is “a hybrid form of storytelling where imagination is mixed with real science data.”