Minnesota Starwatch: November 2017

In November, the Milky Way arches high across the mid-evening sky from east to west. At its eastern end, winter constellations Orion, the hunter; the Gemini twins; Taurus, the bull; and Auriga, the charioteer, enter the sky. At its western end, the Summer Triangle of bright stars wheels toward the horizon.

Face north to see scraggly Perseus just to the right of M-shaped Cassiopeia. Below them the Little Dipper hangs from its anchor—Polaris, the North Star—and the Big Dipper hugs the horizon. Look high in the south to see the Great Square of Pegasus above the somewhat dim Circlet of Pisces. Immediately northeast of the Great Square is a faint oval smudge; this is the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way’s nearest large neighbor. Binoculars—and a good star chart—will help you find it.

In the morning sky, Mars is a reddish dot in the east-southeast before dawn. On the 14th it appears between a waning moon above and the bright star Spica, in Virgo, below. Low in the east, Venus smolders in the sun’s foreglow.

On the 13th, Jupiter, charging up from the horizon, sweeps to the right of Venus, coming within a moon’s width. The king of planets is climbing as Earth catches up to it in the orbital race, while the queen is dropping en route to disappear behind the sun. On the 16th, a lovely sliver of moon appears above the planets.

The full hunter’s moon shines the night of the 3rd-4th. Between midnight and dawn on the mornings of the 17th and 18th, no moon interferes with the peak of the Leonid meteor shower. Some 20 meteors per hour may fly from the head of Leo, the lion, which clears the eastern horizon by midnight. Bundle up, find an open space, lie back on a blanket or lawn chair and enjoy the show.

The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth campus. For more information and viewing schedules, see the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium at: d.umn.edu/planet.

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