November night sky diagram
Night Sky November 2005
Mars is the talk of the night sky this month. Look east late these
evenings and you'll see a big fiery "star" shining much
brighter than any other. This is the planet Mars, and it's passing
unusually close to Earth during late October and early November
2005. Anyone can see it no matter how little you know about the
stars or how badly light-polluted your sky may be. Mars will be
its closest to Earth on the night of October 29-30, just 43.1 million
miles from our planet. This is the nearest that Mars has come since
its record-breaking close approach in August 2003.
Surface details on Mars are always a pretty tough target in a
telescope. You'll need at least a moderate telescope with high-quality
optics to have much luck. To begin with, Mars is only about half
the size of Earth. Even at its closest, under high magnification
it will appear as only a surprisingly small, bright ball with some
subtle dark markings, possible white clouds around its edges, and
perhaps a tiny remnant of the white south polar cap shrunken in
the warmth of the Martian summer. The brightest yellow areas are
deserts covered by fine windblown dust. The darker markings are
terrain displaying more areas of bare rock or darker sand and dust.
Mars rotates every twenty-four hours, so you can see it turning
in just an hour or two of watching.
The one set of constellations everyone knows by name are all members
of the Zodiac.
Thousands of years ago, objects in the sky were believed to be
affixed to transparent celestial spheres, and their motions were
thought to be a result of the motion of these spheres as they revolved
around the Earth. Groups of bright stars were observed to form patterns
in the night sky called constellations, which have been historically
ascribed to mythological figures, such as Orion the Hunter, and
Gemini the Twins. The early astronomers recognized that constellations
"appeared" and "disappeared" with the change
of the seasons throughout the course of a year. The Sun, Moon, and
planets were seen to move in relation to the fixed background of
stars, or constellations. Because of their perspective from Earth,
early astronomers observed that all the planets visible with the
naked eye, as well as the Sun, seemed to pass in the course of a
year through a region in the sky occupied by twelve specific constellations.
More than three thousand years ago, astronomers wondered how the
sky would appear if the stars could be seen during the daytime.
Based on their observations of the night sky, some astronomers determined
that during the daytime, the Sun would appear to "enter"
or pass through a different constellation each month. These twelve
constellations are called the zodiac: Aries (the ram), Taurus (the
bull), Gemini (the twins), Cancer (the crab), Leo (the lion), Virgo
(the virgin), Libra (the balance), Scorpio (the scorpion), Sagittarius
(the archer), Capricornus (the goat), Aquarius (the water bearer),
and Pisces (the fishes).
The zodiac constellations, as envisioned by ancient astronomers,
were assigned to specific patterns that resemble the shapes of animals,
half-animals, and human beings. The constellations of the zodiac
actually form an imaginary belt in the sky that extends about eight
degrees above and below the plane of the ecliptic.
In reality, there are thirteen zodiac constellations. If you were
born between the first and fifteenth of December, then your star
sign is not Sagittarius, as you thought, but Ophiuchus. Ophiuchus
is the thirteenth constellation through which the sun passes, but
it isn't included on astrological calendars.
And if the thirteenth sign isn't alarming enough to an astrologer,
the twelve zodiac signs don't match the actual positions of the
constellations in today's sky. The reason is that while the earth
spins once in twenty-four hours, it also has other movements. Just
like a spinning top, the earth has a slow wobble, called precession,
as it spins. It's really slow, taking twenty-six thousand years
to do one wobble. This causes the zodiac constellations to drift
through the sky. The Egyptian and Greek astrologers chose signs
that more or less matched the constellations. But, because of precession,
the moving constellations have left the signs far behind. Today
they are seriously out of step by about one sign. For example, if
you were born the first part on November, your sign astrological
is Scorpio. The actual sign by the position of the Sun and the stars
today would be Libra.
The drift in signs will only get worse over the next few thousand
years, but will realign again in about twenty-two thousand years.
THE PLANETS AND THE MOON
• Mercury is a morning planet early in the month, but may
be seen very low on the horizon. Look for it low on the western
horizon on November 3 at 7:00 p.m. near the Moon.
• Venus is in the evening sky all month. Look for the crescent
Moon between Venus and Mercury on November 4 just after sunset.
• Mars reaches opposition on November 7 and shines at a
brilliant -2.1 magnitude. Look for Mars in the eastern evening sky.
• Jupiter is missing from the night sky until late in the
month, when it slowly emerges in the morning sky.
• Saturn rises about midnight and shines in the south at
• The Moon is new on November 1 and full on November 15.
Charlie Christmann will be leading a discussion
and a Night Under The Stars on November 3, beginning at 7:00 p.m.,
at the Placitas Library. Participants should bring jackets and binoculars.
Astrophotography exhibition opens
The LodeStar Astronomy Center and The Albuquerque Astronomical
Society have opened the fourth annual "Astro-Images of New
Mexico: Portraits from the Foothills of Space" astrophotography-contest
The exhibition, a celebration of the beauty of the New Mexico
sky, features twenty-nine celestial images taken throughout the
state of New Mexico by amateur photographers. Images were submitted
in four categories: Land & Sky, Plate/Film/Digital, Photo Illustration,
and CCD (very light-sensitive digital imaging).
Jim Gale, of Albuquerque, was awarded best of show for Windows
to the Sky, his image of star trails over Ventana Arch in El Malpais
National Monument. "It's essentially a simple star-trail time
exposure using the arch to create the impression of windows opening
towards the sky," said Gale. He added, "To help add a
more earthly and familiar context to the image, I chose to photograph
on nights when the moon would light part of the arch to show both
the texture and structure of the sandstone."
The images will be on display through February 28 at the LodeStar
Astronomy Center, located in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History
and Science, in Old Town Albuquerque. The exhibit is open daily
from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is included with LodeStar or museum
admission. For further information, call (505) 841-5955 or visit