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Youth Astronomy

Night Sky

What's visible in November and December 2017

Constellations/star groups: Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, the Summer Triangle, the Big Dipper (part of Ursa Major, the Great Bear) and Orion

Double Stars: Alcor & Mizar

Solar System: The Moon (Planets will not be visible until January)

Star Cluster: The Pleiades

Nebula: Orion


Bundle Up!

With cold weather now upon us, stargazers are shortening their observing time.  However, some spectacular wonders await those who brave freezing temperatures by putting on lots of winter clothing.

Here’s a tip on keeping warm: BUNDLE UP TWICE AS NORMAL.

Put on layered clothing, like two sweaters under a winter jacket. Ski pants, insulated boots and warm gloves are a must.

Because you’ll be standing still on frozen ground while scanning the sky, don’t stay outdoors too long. Limit your stargazing to about 15-to-20 minutes, then come indoors to warm up. Then go out again to make some new discoveries!

Sure it’s cold, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun finding constellations and the Moon’s craters just as you did in the summer.

Winter stars are the brightest of the entire year, because the crisp arctic air creates clean, clear skies.

What will you see in November and December?  Briefly, the slow retreat of one star group to the west--the SUMMER TRIANGLE--to make room for another from the east—ORION THE HUNTER. And of course, the early evening phases of the MOON.

The Summer Triangle

Even though summer has long gone, the SUMMER TRIANGLE--a dramatic arrangement of stars—is still with us. Although technically not a constellation, the enormous Summer Triangle comprises three very bright stars that are moving west.

Leading the western march is VEGA, the brightest of the three stars. The remaining two stars comprise DENEB in the northern sector and ALTAIR in the south.

The three stars are in three constellations: Vega is in LYRA (the Lyre), Altair is in AQUILA (the Eagle) and Deneb is in CYGNUS (the Swan). Unfortunately, because of light pollution, we can’t make out the rest of these constellations from our backyards.

The star Deneb serves as the swan's tail while the star Alberio at the far end is the swan's head. Alberio is inside the Summer Triangle. The swan's wings are at right angles to the body.

Cygnus is also known as the NORTHERN CROSS due to its shape. The swan's wings double as the arms of the cross while the swan's body doubles as the cross's shaft.

Since last spring, the Summer Triangle moved from the eastern sector of the sky to the western sector because most constellations relocate from east to west as the Earth orbits the Sun.

Star groups such as the Summer Triangle and constellations like ORION THE HUNTER--which are far from the NORTH STAR-- rise above the eastern horizon and then disappear below the western horizon during a portion of the year.


Orion

The most dramatic of all constellations - Orion - starts to rise in the east, in early November with his 3-star belt around his waist.

Upper left of his belt and lower right are his shoulders. Lower left and lower right are his feet. The entire head-to-foot hunter won't appear until mid-Dec.

Despite the cold, Orion is a must-see night sky object.  Hanging from the Hunter’s belt is his sword. In fact, the sword is the GREAT ORION NEBULA—the only star nursery that can be spotted with the naked eye.  (A nebula is a giant cloud of gas and dust lit up by stars).

This fuzzy star zone is dramatic with a pair of binoculars. A telescope will produce a fantastic close-up of new stars!

Orion is a good guidepost to other stars. That very bright star that you will spot lower left of the constellation by late December will be SIRIUS, the brightest star in the night sky.

Orion


Can you see another fuzzy group of stars upper right of Orion? That's the PLEIADES CLUSTER that looks similar to the bowl of the Big Dipper through binoculars. Even though you'll be able to pick out half a dozen stars, the Pleiades actually consist of about 500 stars!


The Big Dipper

The most popular group of stars is the BIG DIPPER. Look north and you'll spot the four-star bowl with its three-star handle. This time of year, however, because the Big Dipper is at its lowest point to the horizon, you need a clear view.

The seven-star Big Dipper is in the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear). The Big Dipper is a well-known group of stars as it can be seen year-round. It never sets below the west because it is close to the NORTH STAR (POLARIS), making it a CIRCUMPOLAR grouping.

Most constellations are known as SEASONAL constellations because they are far from the North Star and slip beneath the western horizon after travelling for a few months across the night sky.

   Big Dipper



The Big Dipper can be used to find the North Star. First, find the bowl. Then draw an imaginary line up and beyond the two end stars of the bowl and you will see the north star. Many people think that the North Star is the brightest in the night sky. Not true! It's way down on the brightness scale at about 50.

The North Star (which remains in one spot year-round) is the lead star of the seven-star LITTLE DIPPER, which pours into the Big Dipper. But you have to be at a very dark site—like a farm or a cottage away from city lights—to make out the Little Dipper.

There is something unique about one of the seven stars of the Big Dipper. Look carefully at the second star from the end of the Dipper’s handle and you’ll spot a double star, ALCOR & MIZAR. The star duo is more definitive with binoculars or a telescope.


The Moon

The brightest object in the night sky--some astronomers say the most rewarding—is the MOON. Between Nov. 4-to-26 and between Dec. 3-to-26, the Moon will display it’s early evening phases:

Nov. 4 & Dec. 3: full Moon.

Nov. 23 & Dec. 23: crescent Moon.

Nov. 26 & Dec. 26: first quarter Moon.

This photo shows the Moon between crescent and first quarter.


Craters and "seas" (the grey areas of the Moon) can be easily picked out with binoculars or a low power telescope. The secret to viewing the night sky with binoculars is to keep them as steady as possible: either mount them on a tripod or sit back in a lounge chair. Yes, even in winter a lounge chair is useful to amateur astronomers!

Where to look for the Moon after sunset? The crescent phase will appear in the west, the quarter phase in the south and the full Moon in the east.
Did you know that the Moon’s craters are the result of our closest celestial object being pummelled and battered by giant space rocks or meteorites?

If the Moon had an atmosphere, the craters would have long eroded away from wind and water erosion like what happened on the Earth. But because there is no atmosphere on the Moon, the craters have not changed ever since they were formed billions of years ago.

The Moon's craters and mountains are most dramatic if you look near the terminator—the line that separates the dark side from the sunlit side. That’s because the shadows created by the Sun are the longest. If you look through a telescope, you can even spot crater walls disappearing into the shadows.

Planets

There are no planets visible at this time.  Although the planets are still up there, they are all in the direction of the Sun so we cannot see them in the night sky in Nov. & Dec.