November Sky Star Gazing: Orion, Leonids meteor shower and Venus! Good Time To Go Camping


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This month, a cosmic saucepan enters the evening November sky, the Leonids meteor shower peaks, and Venus steeps itself in the teapot. If you watch the eastern horizon about 9:00pm in mid-November, you will see Larnankurruk, the young maidens, dancing above the horizon.

They are followed by old man Gellarlec, beating time and singing, and then finally rising over the horizon, Kulkunbulla, the two young men dancing for Larnankurruk.

These are the Boorong people’s stars that we know by the names of the Pleiades, Aldebaran and the sword and belt of the mighty hunter Orion.

To the Adelaide Plain’s people, Orion’s sword and belt were Tinniinyarra, youths who hunted on the celestial plain.

In the southern hemisphere, Orion is “upside down” compared to the northern hemisphere view, so the stars seen as a sword and belt by northern Europeans, and young men by many Indigenous Australians, are seen as a rather prosaic saucepan by European Australians.

Yet this cosmic saucepan holds some of the skies best sights for amateur sky watchers.

The saucepan itself is one of the most distinctive asterisms in the night sky, composed of bright white and blue white stars.

The handle is where the most beautiful and iconic nebula is. The middle star of the handle of the saucepan appears slightly fuzzy if you are under dark skies.

But, if you look through binoculars, you’ll see the star is actually composed of multiple stars, and is embedded in a pearly haze.

This haze is the great Orion Nebula. It looks a lot more spectacular in images from the Hubble telescope, but even in binoculars the pearly glow is beautiful, and even small telescopes will show delicate traceries of gasses.

The bottom star of the handle is another nebula called the Running Man Nebula, which can be seen through binoculars.

As well as these major sky landmarks, hunting around the handle of the saucepan will reveal many more small clusters and nebula to keep a sky watcher entranced for some time.

Pulling back a bit, directly above the saucepan is a bright blue white star, Rigel (Orion’s foot), and directly below is a bright red star that rejoices in the name Betelgeuse (Orion’s shoulder, Madletaltarni to the Kaurna people).

These stars, along with the blue-white Bellatrix off to the left of the saucepan and the fainter Saiph to the right of the saucepans handle make up the bulk of the constellation of Orion, which will dominate our evening skies over the next few months.

Leonids meteor shower — November 18

The Leonids meteor shower, which is associated with the debris from the comet Tempel-Tuttle originates in the constellation of Leo.

The shower peaks on November 18, but you’ll need to be lucky — and keen — to see it in the November sky.

Every few decades this shower produces amazing meteor storms, but this year the combination of a bright just-past-full Moon and low predicted rates means that we can expect at most only a meteor every 10 minutes or so.

And you’ve to get up early — the best rates will occur between 3 and 4:00am.

The best place to look for meteors is the north east horizon, unfortunately due north is where the bright Moon is so you may try and block the Moon out with buildings or trees to keep your night vision at its best.

You may also see a few meteors from other showers such as the northern Taurids.

Venus, Saturn and Mars

Venus is very obvious in the dusk shortly after sunset and in the early evening it is the brightest object above the western horizon (outside of the Moon) providing a signpost to other celestial objects).

On November 2 the thin crescent moon forms a kite shape with Saturn, Venus and Antares.

The next night, November 3, the crescent moon is close to Venus and forms a diamond shape with the planets and bright Antares.

As November goes on, Venus climbs higher into the sky towards Sagittarius leaving behind the pair of Saturn and Antares.

Venus enters Sagittarius — “the teapot” — on November 9.

On November 13, Venus and the dim globular cluster NGC 6553 will appear close together when seen through a telescope, although the brightness of Venus may make it difficult to see the cluster.

On November 19 Venus will be close to the bright classical globular cluster M22. M22 is visible to the unaided eye under dark skies. This pairing should look excellent in binoculars. However, in wide field telescopes the brightness of Venus may wash out M22 unless you use special filters.

On November 22 Venus is close to Nunki, the brightest star in the “handle” of the “Teapot”, then it leaves the teapot behind and heads towards Capricorn and Mars.

By the end of the month Venus is a distinct “half Moon” shape in small telescopes.

Saturn is low in the twilight by the end of the month, as Mercury enters the evening twilight.

On November 22 Saturn and Mercury can be seen side by side low above the western horizon in the dusk.

Mars has dimmed substantially and now is an undistinguished ember. Initially it is still in Sagittarius, but in an area with few stars or blight clusters.

On November 9 the waxing crescent Moon and Mars are at their closest. Mars is also close to the dim globular cluster M75, this requires a telescope to see properly. As the month wears on, Mars and Venus come closer.

Jupiter reappears in the dawn sky

After a long absence from our skies when it was too close to the Sun to be seen, Jupiter is visible in the dawn skies, low above the eastern horizon.

On November 25 Jupiter is close to the waning crescent Moon.

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