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November 2015: Spooky

November 2015

Spooky. In the show this time, we talk to Dr. Caroline D'Angelo about accretion around extreme objects, Ian rounds up the latest news, and we find out what we can see in the November night sky from Ian Morison and Haritina Mogosanu.

The News

In the news this month: gravitational wave rumours abound, Great Red Spot shrinks and astronomers open a discussion about sexual harrasment.

Interview with Dr. Caroline D'Angelo

Dr Caroline D'Angelo is a research associate at the University of Leiden, Netherlands. She is currently studying accretion around extreme objects such as neutron stars, and discusses the role accretion plays as 'the most efficient engine in the Universe' in the evolution of neutron stars, and describes how some may transition on timescales of around one month between incredible brightness and extreme dimness. She also discusses a very special pulsar which displays properties reminiscent of a theoretical model which she developed over the course of her PhD!

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during November 2015.

Highlights of the month

November early mornings - meteors

In the hours before dawn, November gives us a chance to observe meteors from two showers - the Northern Taurids shower and the better known Leonids. The Northern Taurids shower has a broad peak of around 10 days but normally gives relatively few meteors per hour. The peak is around the 10th of November and, pleasingly, the Moon is new on the 11th. The meteors arise from comet 2P/Encke, which has a tail especially rich in large particles, so it is possible that a number of fireballs might be observed!

The Leonids are also expected to produce bright events, peaking on the night of the 17th/18th of the month, with up to 15 meteors an hour visible to those near the zenith. The Moon sets at 21:30 on the 17th so will not be a problem when observing the first predicted peak at 21:00 UT on the 17th and the second at 04:00 on the 18th. As one might expect, the shower's radiant lies within the sickle of Leo and meteors could be spotted from the 15th to the 20th of the month. The Leonids enter the atmosphere at ~71 km/sec and this makes them somewhat challenging to photograph but it's worth trying as one might just capture a bright fireball. The Leonids are famous because every 33 years a meteor storm might be observed when the parent comet, 55P/Temple-Tuttle, passes close to the Sun. In 1999, 3,000 meteors were observed per hour but we are now halfway between these impressive events hence with a far lower expected rate.

November 3rd - before sunrise: Venus and Mars under a degree apart.

Before dawn on the 3rd, brilliant Venus shining at magnitude -4.5 will be very close to Mars at magnitude +1.7. Jupiter will lie ~7 degrees to their upper right.

November 7th - before sunrise: A thin crescent Moon joins the morning planets.

An excellent imaging opportunity arises before dawn on the 7th as a thin crescent Moon lies close to Venus and Mars with Jupiter some 9 degrees to their upper right.

Find The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) around the second week of November - and for an extra challenge, perhaps M33 in Triangulum

In the evening, the galaxy M31 in Andromeda is visible in the south. The chart on the Jodrell Bank night sky page shows two ways of finding it:

  1. Find the square of Pegasus Start at the top left star of the square - Alpha Andromedae - and move two stars to the left and up a bit. Then turn 90 degrees to the right, move up to one reasonably bright star and continue a similar distance in the same direction. You should easily spot M31 with binoculars and, if there is a dark sky, you can even see it with your unaided eye. The photons that are falling on your retina left Andromeda well over two million years ago!
  2. You can also find M31 by following the "arrow" made by the three rightmost bright stars of Cassiopeia down to the lower right as shown on the chart.
Around new Moon (11th November) - and away from towns and cities - you may also be able to spot M33, the third largest galaxy after M31 and our own galaxy in our Local Group of galaxies. It is a face on spiral and its surface brightness is pretty low so a dark, transparent sky will be needed to spot it using binoculars (8x40 or, preferably, 10x50). Follow the two stars back from M31 and continue in the same direction, sweeping slowly as you go. It looks like a piece of tissue paper stuck on the sky, just slightly brighter than the sky background. Happy hunting!

November 25th to 30th - 1 hour before sunrise: Jupiter rises higher in the sky.

In the last week of November, Jupiter, rising 40 minutes after midnight, will have reached an elevation of 20 degrees or more for 2 hours of astronomically dark sky. Then will be the time to start seriously observing and imaging it. This is a great opportunity to take a look at its Great Red Spot - is it still shrinking?

November 25th - evening: The full Moon close to the Hyades Cluster.

This evening, the full Moon will be seen just to the right of the Hyades Cluster in Taurus. Lying halfway towards the cluster is the red-giant star Aldebaran.

The planets

Southern Hemisphere

Haritina Mogosanu from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand tells us about the southern hemisphere night sky during November 2015. Click here for the full, fantastic transcript of her starrytelling. In this month's Night Sky South, the music you will hear was very kindly provided by brilliant New Zealand composer Rhian Sheehan, who among other projects has produced music for over a dozen UK and US produced Planetarium films. You may even have heard his handiwork during a Super Bowl commercial or two!

Welcome to November. My name is Haritina Mogosanu and today I am your starryteller from Space Place at Carter Observatory in Aotearoa New Zealand. November is my favourite month of the year. The name of November comes from Latin, it means the ninth. It was the ninth month after the beginning of the year, in March.November is the time when the starcluster that we know as the Pleiades is visible again, but on the evening sky. In the Northern part of the world November is a month of contrasts. Too dark, too sharp, frost, mud, chernozem, dead forest leaves and the river, is all that I remember was left of life in the Novembers of my childhood.

On the other side of the world, in Aotearoa, New Zealand, where the sea surrounds us from all directions, the sky is darker than dark and the stars are very bright as we prepare for summer. November here is called Orongo, which means the time after the great rain. Orongo is spectacular in Aotearoa. It harbours the most beautiful asterism I have ever seen, the grand canoe.

The people of New Zealand have an ancient tale which tells of how the stars were shining pebbles laid in a lightless sky by a warrior called Tamatereti, who travelled there in this canoe. Read the tale here and continue reading below to find out why the canoe of Tama Rereti, te waka o Tama Rereti, is an important part of the Aotearoa night sky in November.

If you want to see the canoe from this tale, start from where the Sun has set. There is the Scorpion which represents the prow of the canoe and the sting of it is the beautifully carved wood above the bow of the canoe. A short distance below this is the star at the end of the Scorpion's curving tail that marks the place where the bow meets the water. The curve of the Scorpion's tail and body sinks into the waters of the Milky Way, which at this time of the year surrounds Aotearoa like a beautiful glistening river. As water waves move along the side of the canoe, the bright, orange star, Antares, marks the crest of a wave as the great waka rides at anchor.

From the bow, the anchor rope is marked by Alpha Centauri, the third brightest star in the sky, and Beta Centauri, which are also known as the Pointers of the southern cross. The Southern Cross represents the great stone anchor that that keeps the canoe from the tale in its place, to remind the people of New Zealand how the stars and Milky Way were placed in the night sky so long ago. A tall mast rises from the canoe all the way to the star Achernar, which marks in the Northern World the end of the river Eridanus. The two beautiful galaxies that we know as the Magellanic Clouds are the sails of the waka.
Atutahi, also known as Canopus, is the second brightest star in the sky and is the chief of all stars as well as the navigator of the canoe. Orion makes the stern post, it is elaborately carved and it goes all the way from Betelgeuse, a red-giant star, to high above the water - marked by Rigel, a bluish supergiant star, directly above the line of three stars. From the top of the stern post there is a ribbon of flax blowing out in the wind. At the tip of it, is orange Aldebaran. The flax is the Hyades cluster. Still further left is the Pleiades, which at this time of the year are only making the feathers that adorn the canoe floating on the ripples left behind by the waka o tamarereti. Matariki, the name that the Maori sometimes give to this cluster, is only a memory of winter, as the cluster is only called so in the morning of July when it is wintertime here and it marks the Maori new year. Still six stars are visible to the eye; dozens are seen in binoculars. The cluster is 440 light years away and around 70 million years old.

On the opposite side of the sky to Alpha Centauri and Canopus-Atutahi, the great square of Pegasus is riding the Northern horizon. Not only can see the three brightest stars in the sky at the same time in Aotearoa, New Zealand , we can also see the most prominent four galaxies of our world with the naked eye: The Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds and very low in the north is the Andromeda Galaxy, easily seen with binoculars in a dark sky and faintly visible to the eye. It appears as a spindle of light.


Saturn is the only naked-eye planet in the evening sky. It sets in the southwest two hours after the sun at the beginning of the month. It looks like a medium-bright creamy-white star directly below orange Antares, the brightest star in the Scorpion. Because it is low in the sky it will look rather fuzzy in a telescope. By mid-month it is disappearing in the dusk.

Venus, Mars and Jupiter are in the eastern dawn sky. The three planets are close together at the beginning of the month, rising after 4 a.m. Venus is brightest, with Jupiter a close second. Mars is a fainter red 'star', just below Venus. The goddess of beauty Venus and the god of war Mars have a brief encounter on the beginning of November, what we earthlings call a conjunction.

This concludes our Jodcast for November 2015 at space place at carter observatory. As the Maori say: E whiti ana nga whetu o te Rangi (the stars are shining in the sky) ko takoto ake nei ko Papatuanuku (whilst Mother Earth lays beneath).

Kia Kaha and clear skies from the Space Place at Carter Observatory in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Odds and Ends

Show Credits

News:Ian Harrison
Interview:Dr. Caroline D'Angelo, Alex Clarke and Charlie Walker
Night sky:Ian Morison and Haritina Mogosanu
Night Sky South Music:Rhian Sheehan
Presenters:Charlie Walker, Benjamin Shaw and George Bendo
Editors:Benjamin Shaw, James Bamber, Alex Clarke, Haritina Mogosanu and Charlie Walker
Segment Voice:Kerry Hebden
Website:Saarah Nakhuda, Charlie Walker and Stuart Lowe
Producer:Charlie Walker
Cover art:The dead comet TB145, which flew past Earth on Halloween 2015 and bears an uncanny resemblence to a skull CREDIT: NASA/NAIC-Arecibo/NSF

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