Starry Night: Early November 2012

Posted Wednesday, October 31, 2012 in Features

Starry Night: Early November 2012

The Pleiades, located on the shoulder of Taurus, the Bull, now visible in the southern sky.

by Tristan Radtke

 As the Orionids draw to a close after a more prolific shower than expected, with fireballs and “shooting stars” spotted by observers across the world, the Taurid meteor showers are poised to keep the night sky active for astronomers. The Taurids, which are actually two separate streams having shifted orbits to create the Northern and Southern Taurid showers, are well-known showers which produce more fireballs than most showers as the particles which make up the showers are larger – some as large as small rocks. In fact, according to this article at Space.com, this year is expected to be a more active year for fireballs, and a study in 1992 showed that the cloud of particles that make up this shower actually contains several full-size asteroid objects. It is believed that a larger-than-usual piece of debris from this shower cloud may have been the source of the Tunguska Event in 1908 – however, this would have been from the earlier Beta Taurids in the summer months, although the showers are related. To view the fall Taurid showers this year, seek out Taurus the Bull, which will rise around sunset and be almost directly overhead at around 1 a.m., and look for the shower to peak in the first week of November.

On to human endeavours in space – the SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully launched and docked with the International Space Station, completing one half of its mission in the beginning of October. With its return to a successful parachute-retarded splashdown in the Pacific on October 28, the first privately funded replenishment mission to space ended without any major issues. However, the mission did raise some questions about the Falcon 9 rocket which may delay future missions to the ISS. According to SpaceX, the Falcon 9 rocket experienced a “rapid loss of pressure” in one of its first-stage engines as it lifted to orbit. The engine was shutdown automatically by the onboard computer and did not have any major adverse effect on the mission, however NASA and SpaceX will review the problem before the second mission, flown under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, can take place, possibly delaying the second mission by a few months.

Meanwhile, as the East Coast prepared for the so-called “superstorm” Hurricane Sandy, scientists on the International Space Station managed to capture a number of videos of the storm from space, illustrating why this storm was so damaging. The sheer size of the storm, now being touted as the largest (in size) tropical cyclonic storm in Atlantic history, combined with a number of environmental factors including astronomically high tides caused by the Moon, caused a massive swath of destruction with major cities along the east coast being slammed, and effects from the storm felt from Virginia to the Atlantic provinces in Canada.

**The Stars**

Taurus is back in the early evening sky, with its lovely little group of passengers, the star cluster the Pleiades riding along on the Bull's back.  The Pleiades are one of the closest star clusters to Earth, and one of the youngest. The bluish light around the cluster is hydrogen gas,  from which many of the young, blue-white stars are born.


** The Planets **
• Mercury: On November 1, Mercury will set around 6:30 p.m. By the middle of the month, Mercury will have moved back into the sunlight, and will be lost to the glare of the sunset, setting around 4 p.m.

• Venus: Venus will be the “Morning Star” at the beginning of November, rising at 4:15 a.m. on November 1. By mid-month, Venus will rise a bit earlier, at 3:45 a.m.

• Mars: Mars will set around 7:30 p.m. on November 1. By November 15, Mars will set at about 6 p.m.

• Jupiter: Jupiter will rise around 7:30 p.m. to begin the month of November. By mid-November, Jupiter will rise just after twilight, around 5:15 p.m.

• Saturn: Saturn will begin the month of November lost in the Sun’s glare, but will return as a companion for Venus by mid-month in the early morning sky, rising around 4:45 a.m.

• Uranus: Uranus will set at 4 a.m. on November 1, and will set around 2 a.m. on November 15.
• Neptune: On the first of the month, Neptune will set at 1 a.m. By November 15, Neptune will have moved into the late evening sky, setting around 11:30 p.m.

• Pluto: On November 1, Pluto will set at 9 p.m. By mid-month it will set around 7 p.m.

** The Moon **
On November 1, the Moon will be waning towards third quarter, but nearly full. It will reach third quarter on November 7, and wane to new phase by November 14. It will wax to first quarter by November 21, and will be full on November 28, waning into the early part of December.

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