11/8/10

November Skies



Optical & Chandra X-ray Image of Andromeda Galaxy
(image credit)

November skies have many offer many fine targets for back yard observing of our universe.  Check out the monthly sky guide tab for a video with more about what's up in November.  The video barely scratches the surface, though.  Here are a few of my favorites under November skies...




Galaxies:

M31 the Andromeda Galaxy as seen through
 binoculars from a dark location
(image source)
The Andromeda Galaxy is a fine object to start with.  Because of it's size, it is best viewed with low powers from a dark location.  Good binoculars or an 80mm f/5 telescope will give nice views, even from suburban locations.  The rule of thumb with any galaxy is, the darker the location, the better the view. 

This galaxy covers well over two degrees of sky, so a smaller, wide field instrument is needed to see all of it at once.  Larger telescopes will give more detailed views of the central portion, and it's two nearby companion galaxies.



Variable Stars:

There are always many variable stars that are interesting to monitor.  Two of my favorites are Algol, and Herschel's "Garnet Star".

Algol, also known as Beta Persei, is an eclipsing binary system that varies in brightness from magnitude 2.1 down to 3.4 every 2.867 days.  The drop in brightness to minimum, and the return to magnitude 2.1 all takes place over just a few hours, making it possible to view the entire process in one long night of observing.

For more about viewing Algol, try this link.

Herschel's "Garnet Star" aquired this moniker from Sir William Herschel, who described it as having "a very fine deep garnet colour".  Also known as Mu Cephei, the star varies in brightness from a relatively bright magnitude 3.6 down to 5th magnitude, much fainter yet still visible to the unaided eye from most backyards.

Mu Cephei is one of my favorite stars not so much because of it's variablity, but because of it's fine color and the facts about the star.  Mu Cephei is one of the 5 or 6 most massive stars known.  It's estimated distance of about 1,500 light years makes it look a lot fainter than it really is.  This star has a diameter of about 15 astronomical units, one A.U. being the mean distance from the earth to the sun.  If this was our sun, it would extend beyond the orbit of Jupiter!

Check it out with binoculars and see how red you think this star is.  I think it looks ruby red in 10x50's, while in an 8" SCT it looks bright orange with yellow tints.

Here is a link to a wiki about the constellation Cepheus that has a chart.  Mu Cephei is the star just above I.C. 1396 towards the bottom of the chart.

Star Clusters:

So many star clusters, so little time.  That's how I feel on a clear night with a telescope once I get started cluster hopping.  I truly enjoy observing star clusters with my 8" SCT.  Many of the brighter clusters look great, or even best in a smaller, wider field scope.  The 8", however, really opens the door to a wide vista of lesser known objects, some of which are beautiful.

For some clusters and asterisms, a small telescope or even binoculars are hard to beat.  Some fine examples are M45, the Pleiades; NGC 869 & 884, the Double Cluster; the Haydes Cluster in Taurus; and Collinder 399, the Coathager in Vulpecula.  These are all visible in November.

A larger scope of 4-8 inches will showcase some less frequented star clusters which can hold their own with some of these apparently larger, more popular targets.  Among these are NGC 457 and 663 in Cassiopea; NGC 6910 in Cygnus; NGC 7160 and I.C. 1396 in Cepheus.  These are just a few of the interesting objects I enjoy in November.

The Moon & Planets this month:

Of course, Jupiter is still a fantastic sight all of November.  Venus is easily visible as a huge crescent shape just before sunrise, even in 10x50 binoculars.  Last but not least, our moon cycles through the sky each and every month, offering different targets each night as the phase changes.  Here's a link to a fun and informative site about the moon.  Check it out.

Thanks for dropping in,

Dale

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