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November Stargazers

This page is dedicated to the practical observer including :


Observing highlights
By Neill McKeown


Observing challenges for November 2008

Have a look for these objects below and let us know about them on the EAAS Forum
(Please note all times are UT unless otherwise stated and are based on an observing location of Belfast)

The Sun

At the start of the month the Sun rises at 07:30 and sets at 16:50. By the end of the month, it rises at 08:20 and sets at 16:05.

The Planets

Jupiter and Venus will lie less than two degrees apart on the evening of the 30th, low in the South-West. Jupiter will lie to the North of Venus with a 8% illuminated waning crescent moon lying to the West of the two planets.

Mercury is at superior conjunction on the 25th and as such is only really observable for the first week of the month, before it moves back towards the Sun. At the start of the month, it rises at 05:55, an hour and an half before the sun and is mag -0.9 and can be located in Virgo.

Venus is an evening object this month and is currently moving slowly away from the Sun. It is not well placed for observation as it appears very low in the sky at sunset, but its situation is improving. It sets more than an hour after the Sun at the start of the month at 18:05 and by month’s end; it sets over two hours after the Sun at 18:50. It brightens from mag -4.0 to mag -4.1 and moves from Scorpius into Sagittarius during the month.

Mars is not visible this month.

Jupiter can be found in Sagittarius. It is currently low down in the sky and as a result poorly placed for observation. It slips further westward this month. At the start of the month, it rises during daylight hours and sets at 20:30. By month’s end, it sets at 19:05. It fades from mag -2.1 to mag -2.0 during the month. The four Galilean moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto are visible with 10x50 binoculars or a small telescope and are worth a look.

Saturn is a morning object this month and can be located in Leo. It rises at 02:20 at the start of the month and by month’s end; it rises at 00:40. It brightens from mag +1.1 to mag +1.0 during the month. With the planet’s ring plane almost edge on, this is not a good time to try and observe the rings, but it is a good time to try and observe the fainter, inner moons with the rings out of the picture.

Uranus can be found in Aquarius and is well placed for observation. At the start of the month, it rises during daylight hours and sets at 02:35. By month’s end it sets at 00:40. It is just within naked eye visibility and maintains its brightness at mag +5.8 during the month. It can be located just to the East of Phi Aquarii (mag +4.2).

Neptune can be found in Capricornus. At the start of the month, it rises during daylight hours and sets at 23:50 and by month’s end it sets at 22:00. The planet lies to the North and slightly to the West of the pair of stars Delta and Gamma Capricorni (mag +2.9 and mag +3.7). It maintains its brightness at mag +7.9 during the month.


The Moon

The first quarter moon is on the 6th with the full moon on the 13th. The last quarter moon is on the 19th with the new moon on the 27th.

On the evening of the 1st, look out for the 13% illuminated waxing crescent moon, lying South-East of Venus, very low in the South-West.

On the evening of the 3rd, a 27% illuminated waxing crescent moon lies within four degrees to the South of Jupiter.

On the evening of the 6th, a 55% illuminated waxing gibbous moon occults Neptune. The details are that the planet will disappear behind the East South-Easterly dark limb of the moon at around 18:30 and reappear from behind the South South –Westerly bright limb at around 19:15.

On the evening of the 8th, a 77% illuminated waxing gibbous moon lies close to Uranus, to the North-West of the planet.

On the evening of the 13th, the full moon occults M45 – The Pleiades. The recommended timings for this are to start observing at around 18:30 through to around 20:55.

On the evening of the 15th, a 89% illuminated waning gibbous moon passes within two degrees to the North of M35 at around 21:30.

On the morning of the 18th, a 68% illuminated waning gibbous moon lies within three degrees to the South-West of M44 – The Beehive Cluster.

On the morning of the 21st, a 36% illuminated waning crescent moon lies to the South-West of Saturn.

On the morning of the 23rd, a 17% illuminated waning crescent moon lies within three degrees to the North of M104 – The Sombrero Galaxy.  


TThe ZHR or Zenithal Hourly Rate is the number of meteors an observer would see in one hour under a clear, dark sky with a limiting apparent magnitude of 6.5 and if the radiant of the shower were in the zenith. The rate that can effectively be seen is nearly always lower and decreases as the radiant is closer to the horizon. The Zenith is the overhead point in the sky for an observer. The radiant is the point in the sky, from which (to a planetary observer) meteors appear to originate, i.e. the Perseids, for example, are meteors which appear to come from a point within the constellation of Perseus. A fireball is defined by the International Astronomical Union as a meteor brighter than any of the planets, i.e. magnitude -4 or brighter. The International Meteor Organisation alternatively defines it as a meteor which would have a magnitude of -3 or brighter at the zenith.

There are three showers this month. The first one is the Taurids. It is a combination of two streams – the Northern and Southern Taurids. Both streams have ZHRs of 5-7. This shower’s meteors are slow moving when compared to other showers, e.g. a Taurid meteor travels on average at 19 miles/second. This is pedestrian when compared with a Perseid which travels on average at 37 miles/second and a Leonid which travels on average at 45 miles/second. This shower has produced fireballs in the past and this year there are predictions of increased fireball activity. This is because it is believed that a third stream of larger pebble-sized particles is accompanying the two streams. A normal Taurid meteoroid is about the size of a grain of sand. The peaks of the two streams are spread over several days and the Northern stream is predicted to have peak rates between the 4th and the 7th, with the Southern stream’s peak rates predicted for between the 1st and the 7th. The best time to try and observe this shower is after 22:00 when the radiant has risen. Lunar conditions are generally favourable for this shower during the peak periods. However as the period progresses, the lunar phase increases and the moon sets later and later, i.e. on the 1st, it sets at 18:00, but by the 7th, it sets at 01:10 on the morning of the 8th.

The Leonid shower peaks on the 17th. As noted above, it produces very fast meteors and has a ZHR of 20. However this is not a good year for this shower as a 69% illuminated waning gibbous moon in Cancer rising at 20:30 on the evening of the 17th badly disrupts the shower. If you do want to try and observe any activity, please note that the radiant does not rise until around midnight.

The final shower of the month is the Alpha Monocerotids. It peaks around the 21st-22nd with a variable ZHR of around 5; however outbursts have been recorded in the past with ZHR’s up to 400. Lunar conditions are good for this shower with a 27% illuminated waning crescent moon only rising at 02:10 on the morning of the 22nd and a 18% illuminated waning crescent moon rising at 03:30 on the morning of the 23rd. The radiant rises around 23:00.



(9) Metis is at opposition on the 4th in Cetus when it will be mag +8.5. It was discovered by Andrew Graham in 1848 and until recently was the only one discovered as a result of observations from Ireland. There have since been two new asteroids discovered by observers from Ireland in the last few weeks, the first being Dave McDonald last month discovering 2008 TM9 and the latest being Dave Grennan discovering 2008 US3, only last week.  (4) Vesta which is just past opposition itself can be found in the same area of sky as (9) Metis.


Comet 17/P Holmes is visible during November as a morning comet low in the East. It can be located in Cancer, moving South-Easterly towards Sextans and Hydra. It should be visible from about 01:00 onwards at the start of the month and from about midnight onwards by month’s end. Current predictions estimate its brightness around mag +7 with it expected to slowly fade.

Comet 2006 OF2 Broughton spends November in Lynx. It is circumpolar and thus well placed for observation. It is predicted to remain around mag +10 for the month. The star 2 Lyn (mag +4.5) is a good place to start when trying to observe this comet.

Comet 2006 W3 Christensen travels through Cepheus in November towards Lacerta. It is also circumpolar and is predicted to remain around mag +10 for the month.

Comet 85P/Boethin is currently estimated at mag +10 with predictions of it brightening to mag +8 by the end of November. During the month, it can be located low in the South-West, moving North-Easterly through Capricornus towards Aquarius. It lies within two degrees of the North of Neptune at around midnight on the evening of the 26th. By month’s end it lies within several degrees to the North of 42 Capricorni (mag +5.1).

Up to date information and finder charts for comets can be found at and

Deep Sky

On the deep sky front this month, galaxies M81 and M82 can be observed in Ursa Major. In Andromeda, M31 – The Andromeda galaxy can be observed along with its satellite galaxies M32 and M110. In Perseus, there is the open cluster M34 and the excellent Double Cluster – NGC 869 and 884. In Triangulum, there is the galaxy M33. In Auriga there are three open clusters M36, M37 and M38 and also M35 in Gemini. Taurus has the excellent Pleiades – M45, the Hyades and also M1 – The Crab Nebula. Orion returns to our skies with M42 – The Great Orion Nebula and also Cancer with M44 – The Beehive Cluster.

General Notes

Always keep an eye out for Aurorae. Check out for the most up-to-date information on the aurorae.

Other interesting naked eye phenomena to look out for include the Zodiacal Light and the Gegenschein. Both are caused by sunlight reflecting off dust particles which are present in the solar system. The Zodiacal Light can be seen in the West after evening twilight has disappeared or in the East before the morning twilight. The best time of year to see the phenomenon is late-Feb to early-April in the evening sky and September/October in the morning sky -- it's then that the ecliptic, along which the cone of the zodiacal light lies, is steepest in our skies. The Gegenschein can be seen in the area of the sky opposite the sun. To view either, you must get yourself to a very dark site to cut out the light pollution. When trying to observe either of these phenomena, it is best to do so when the moon is below the horizon. If you are observing them when the moon has risen, restrict your efforts to the period 4 days either side of the new moon as otherwise the moonlight will be sufficient to drown them out.

Finally check out for the latest passes of the International Space Station and satellites, details of Space Shuttle launches and passes and for details of Iridium Flare activity.

Clear Skies

Neill McKeown


ISS Passes

For detailed sightings information and sky charts, check out Heavens Above or Calsky .


Iridium Flares

Every night there are a number of Iridium flares of varying brightness, some can be up to Mag-8 which are very impressive to watch. Check out Heavens Above or Calsky for the latest predictions.

IFAS Observing Challenges

The Observing Challenges Programme is a new initiative by IFAS (Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies) of which the EAAS are members. It is hoped it will encourage better observation, systematic and dedicated observation, but more importantly; enjoyable observation.

The programme is very simple. All you’ve got to do is pick a challenge, get hold of a copy of the observing handbook which you can download for free from the IFAS website, and spend some pleasant time looking at the sky.

Once you have completed all of the required observations, just return the handbook to the Observations Secretary for that Challenge. They will confirm your observations and then arrange for a certificate to be prepared in recognition of your effort and success. Your certificate will be presented to you at one of the three Star Parties arranged by IFAS member societies. Alternatively the certificate can be posted to you. Your name and club details will also be entered in the relevant Hall of Fame section.

There are currently 3 observing challenges to get your hands on.

  1. The Novice Observing Challenge
  2. The Binocular Observing Challenge
  3. The Messier Objects Observing Challenge

For more information check out the IFAS Observing challenges page.

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