Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 6, 1998.

The Moon, disappearing from the early evening sky, passes its third quarter this week the night of Tuesday the 10th a few hours before it rises among the dim stars of Cancer to the west of Leo, moving toward the bright star Regulus, which it will pass the next day. The morning of Thursday the 12th, the Moon will be seen to the east of the star and the morning of Friday the 13th to the west of reddish Mars, which will pass this month into Virgo.

Mars, for all its brilliance when it is close to us, is now far away, twice as far as the Sun, and rather dim, only second magnitude. Very gradually, the Earth is catching up with it, and the planet will slowly brighten as it rises earlier and earlier, though even by the end of the year it is still rising after midnight.

Much more accessible are Jupiter and Saturn, brilliant Jupiter now dominating the evening sky, Saturn about 35 degrees to the east. Mercury also makes an evening appearance this week, though finding it will be a challenge. The planet passes greatest eastern elongation, when it is its maximum angle to the east of the Sun and therefore visible in southwestern evening twilight, on Wednesday the 11th. Like all planets, Mercury must stick close to the ecliptic plane, the path of the Sun, and this time of year the ecliptic in the evening lies very flat relative to the horizon, so the little planet is not very high when the sky gets dark enough to see it. Mercury passes close to the bright star Antares in Scorpius on Monday the 9th. Venus lurks invisibly below it as it prepares for its evening appearance toward the end of the year.

November features the classic autumn stars. Look high in the sky around 10 PM to the north and nearly overhead for the upside down W-shaped figure of Cassiopeia, the stream of stars that makes Perseus falling off to the right. High to the south and a bit to the west of the meridian find the Great Square of Pegasus. Nearly overhead, in the constellation Andromeda, a dark sky will reveal a fuzzy patch of light, the Andromeda Galaxy, M 31, a lovely sight in binoculars. A galaxy much like our own at a distance of some 2 million light years, and consisting of hundreds of billions of stars, M 31 is the most distant celestial object that can be seen with the unaided eye.
Valid HTML 4.0!