November night sky
The dark skies in rural New Mexico make it easier to see the wonderful sights of the night that are not easily visible to city dwellers. With the movement from the city to the surrounding areas, more and more homes bring more and more light pollution. Several dark-sky objects we have enjoyed viewing in the past are getting difficult to find with all the new outside lighting. So, for us diehards who enjoy the crisp, clear air of fall and winter to observe the night sky, please reduce your outdoor lighting to a minimum. Shade your lights so that they throw light downward, not out and up. And, please, turn off your outdoor lights when you are not using them. We all moved out of the city for the peace and quiet. Many of us also moved for the dark skies. So, turn off your lights and step outside to see what November has to offer.
November will bring several interesting astronomical events: three meteor showers and a lunar eclipse.
For starters, there is the Taurid meteor shower, expected to peak on November 5. This is one that only really dedicated meteor hunters will want to stand in the cold to watch; about five meteors per minute are expected. This shower is produced by the trail of dust left by the comet Encke.
On the November 8, get ready for a full lunar eclipse, the second one of the year! The eclipse will begin with the Moon entering the faint outer portion, or penumbra, of the Earth's shadow. This happens more than an hour before it begins moving into the dark inner shadow, called the umbra. The most noticeable part of this eclipse will be when the Moon enters the Earth’s umbra. A small scallop of darkness will begin to appear on the Moon's left edge at 4:32 p.m. MST.
Unfortunately for us in New Mexico, the eclipse will begin before moonrise. So for observers across the western-third of the United States, a peculiar crescent Moon will rise opposite to the setting Sun. For the Albuquerque area, moonrise is at 5:02 p.m. Thirty-one percent of the Moon will already be eclipsed. Totality will be short, as lunar eclipses go, lasting only twenty-five minutes. At 6:06 p.m. MST, the moon will slip completely into the southern part of the Earth’s umbra. At mid-eclipse the southernmost edge of the Moon is tucked inside the umbra by less than fifty miles. The next total lunar eclipse will be on May 4, 2004, but will only be seen in Eastern Europe. The next total lunar eclipse that will be readily available to North Americans will occur just about a year from now, on the night of October 27-28, 2004.
This is the one to watch! Though it is predicted to be less of a shower than 2001, the Leonids always put on a good show. Comet Tempel-Tuttle is responsible for this shower.
This year's Leonids will offer an interesting twist. There will be not just one shower, but three. The first arrives November 13 and the last is on November 18
The first encounter will be a bit earlier than usual for the Leonids. On November 13 at 10:17 p.m. MST, Earth will pass within about 243,000 miles of a dust trail shed by Tempel-Tuttle in the year 1499. Western Asia, Indonesia, and Australia are favored for this one.
The evening of November 19 is the best show for North America. At 12:28 a.m., Earth will pass within three thousand miles of a trail of comet dust ejected in 1533. The good news is that the moon will be only a small crescent. The bad news is that this dust trail is expected to contain very tint grains, so the meteors will be dim. (Dark skies will really be important to help spot these meteors.) How many can you expect to see? Well, meteor scientist Esko Lyytinen of Finland predicts a rate of thirty Leonids per hour during this second peak, while a forecast issued by Jeremie Vaubaillon of the Institut de mécanique céleste et de calcul des éphémérides in France suggests perhaps a hundred or more per hour. I suggest you step outside just to see who was right.
The final Leonid show will be centered around 10:25 p.m. MST on November 18. This timing will highly favor western Africa and Western Europe.
Finally, the Andromedid shower will close the month with a modest shower of about five meteors per minute. The peak of this shower will occur around the November 26. This shower is thought to be associated with Biela’s Comet.
Part Three of the Top Ten List Delayed
I apologize for keeping you in suspense another month, but because November is an active month, the last of the top ten brightest starts will be described in December’s issue.