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Starwatch November 2011

October 20, 2011

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November is a good time to train a telescope on Jupiter and its Great Red Spot, a persistent storm system visible below the equator. The black dot is the shadow of Jupiter's moon Europa.

By Deane Morrison

November may be nippy, but both morning and evening skies have shows worth a trip outside.

Early risers can watch Mars as it moves in on Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, and makes its closest approach on the 11th. The period of best visibility begins about 1 a.m., when reddish Mars and white Regulus appear not far above the eastern horizon, at the base of the "Sickle" of stars marking Leo's head. As the morning wears on, the pair moves westward, ending quite high in the southeast at dawn.

Mars doesn't stick around, though. The Red Planet moves ever eastward and ends the month below the lion's belly.

Also toward the end of November, you may catch Saturn rising in the east next to another star: Spica, representing an ear of grain held by Virgo, the virgin. The pair rises in the predawn hours, so look around 90 minutes before sunrise. Try comparing the colors of Saturn and Spica with those of Mars and Regulus, which will be to their upper right. Can you contrast the white of the stars with the red of Mars and the soft gold of Saturn?

For evening viewers, Jupiter still reigns. The king of planets is now up in the east at sunset, but it is being carried, along with the stars, toward the west as a result of Earth's movement around the sun. It's still very bright and unmistakable, sandwiched between the Pleiades star cluster to the east and the Great Square of Pegasus to the west.

This is a good month to see the constellation Andromeda, represented by a string of stars anchored to the northeastern corner of the Great Square. Above the middle of this string, look for a fuzzy oval; this is the great Andromeda galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to our Milky Way.

Astronomers first realized that this smudge in space was actually a galaxy in 1923, when the legendary Edwin Hubble, using a 100-inch telescope at Mt. Wilson in California, obtained data showing Andromeda to be an "island universe" just like the Milky Way. Today, images from the Hubble Space Telescope are revealing details of its structure in all their glory. Andromeda may be relatively close, but even so we're seeing the galaxy as it was 2.5 million years ago, because that's how long it takes light from Andromeda to reach us.

November's full moon shines the night of the 10th, when it follows Jupiter across the night sky. Algonquin tribes called this the beaver moon, as now is the season when the industrious rodents go full tilt preparing their lodges for winter. Also, this was the time to lay in a supply of beaver pelts.

Between the 16th and the 18th, the moon will have waned significantly, but will still be bright enough to interfere with the annual Leonid meteor shower. On the 22nd, however, a thin lunar crescent makes amends by rising next to Spica and Saturn.

Standard time resumes at 2 a.m. on the 6th. Set your clocks back one hour.

The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. For more information and viewing schedules, see:

Duluth, Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium:

Twin Cities, Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics (during fall and spring semesters):

10/20/11 Contact: Deane Morrison, University Relations, (612) 624-2346,

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