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Touring the Skies By: Jim Bonser (

November 1, 2013
Northern-Sun Print
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. ork of his hands. November has arrived with much cooler (brrrr..) temps. If you dress properly though, November can still be a very rewarding month for stargazers like us. I always look forward to the Leonid meteor shower in November but unfortunately the moon will be full on the 17th which is when the shower peaks. The Leonids can be challenging to observe in Iowa because it is often cloudy in November and when it is not cloudy it can be very cold. I can recall a number of Leonid observing sessions with friends where frost appeared on my sleeping bag before we finally gave up and went home for hot chocolate and carryout pizza. Oh, those were the good old days when I was much younger and obviously much more foolish. We have two bright planets to watch in the evening skies this month, Venus and Jupiter. Jupiter rises fairly early as the month begins at about 8:30 in the constellation Gemini – The Twins. It is great to have Jupiter back in the evening skies. Observing Jupiter with almost any size telescope is a real treat. The Great Red Spot, Jupiter’s always changing Galilean Moons and the colorful cloud belts always keep things interesting. A very bright waning gibbous (just past full) moon will join Jupiter in Gemini on the 21st and 22nd. Venus shines bright but low near the southwestern horizon this month. Don’t wait too long after sunset to go out to find it, or it will be hidden behind trees and buildings. A beautiful crescent moon will join Venus on November 6th. The Moon will be about 7 degrees above and to the right of brilliant Venus that evening. If you can, put your camera on a tripod and snap some pictures with a pretty tree or building in the scene. Experiment with exposure settings and I am sure you will be able to take a memorable shot. Shorter exposure times at sunset bring out the beautiful colors and since the Moon and Venus are so bright, they will both still stand out nicely. If predictions are right, it will not be Venus or Jupiter or the Moon that will be the hits this month. Instead, everyone is talking about Comet ISON. Whether or not Comet ISON will live up to its billing is still anyone’s guess, but we are long overdue for another bright comet and I am hoping that ISON will fill the void. Comets that have followed similar orbital paths in the past have actually been visible in the daytime next to the Sun! Wouldn’t it be awesome to see a comet bright enough to be visible in a deep blue sky? Let’s hope it happens! This month, as ISON speeds toward its rendezvous with the Sun, it moves through the constellation Virgo. It starts the month leaving Leo and entering the western end of Virgo. It glides along steadily toward Virgo’s brightest star: Spica until on the 18th it is less than 1 degree from that bright white star. By the end of the month ISON will leave Virgo but not before passing within just a few degrees of Saturn on the 24th. I don’t do a lot of early morning astronomy, especially in late fall and winter but you can be sure I will be listening to the weather forecasts and getting up before sunrise with binoculars and camera if the forecast is for clear overnight skies! I hope you will too! Clear skies, and Happy Thanksgiving!


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