Moon Phases November 2023
Last quarter 5th,
New moon 13th,
First quarter 20th,
Full Moon 27th November 2023.
Mercury – In the evening twilight, but may become visible at the end of the month on the border of Ophiuchus and Sagittarius (Mag. -0.4 to -0.5).
Venus – Begins in Leo and moves across Virgo (Mag -4.4 to -4.2). Mars – Is lost in twilight near the Sun.
Jupiter – Comes to opposition in Aries on 3rd November (Mag. -2.9).
Saturn – Initially retrograding, resumes direct motion on 5th November (Mag. 0.7 to 0.8).
Uranus – Is at opposition in Aries on 13th November (Mag 5.6). Neptune – Slowly retrograding in Pisces (Mag 7.9).
The Northern Taurids which began mid-October, reaches maximum on 12th November, though with a low rate of about 5 meteors per hour. New moon is on the 13 November, so conditions are very favourable. The shower gradually tails off, ending around 10 December. There is an apparent 7-year cycle of fireball activity, but 2023 is unlikely to be a peak year.
Far more striking are the Leonids which have a relatively short period of activity (06 – 30 November), with maximum on 17-18 November. This shower is associated with Comet 55P/Temple-Tuttle and on various occasions it has shown extraordinary activity with many thousands of meteors per hour. However, these high numbers have dropped dramatically over recent years and we can expect around 10 per hour in 2023. These meteors are the fastest shower meteors recorded (about 70 km per second) and often leave persistent trains. The shower is very rich in faint meteors. At this year’s maximum the Moon sets early in the evening, so any meteors should be readily visible.
As the nights lengthen into winter, the centre of our Milky Way galaxy dips into the south-west, and we can begin to peer out through the clearer path perpendicular to the galactic plane into the autumnal realm of galaxies. We welcome the return of the most popular planets to the evening sky, Saturn in Aquarius and then Jupiter in Aries, which occupy the south mid-evening. While the ringed planet remains rather low, Jupiter is now splendidly placed.
The dominant signpost of this season is the Great Square of Pegasus: the large asterism that lies on the meridian at mid-evening in early November. The western stars of the Square, Scheat (beta) and Markab (alpha), point south to Aquarius and on to the most southerly first-magnitude star visible from the UK, Fomalhaut (alpha Piscis Austrini). The eastern aspect has Alpheratz (delta Pegasi, or more commonly alpha Andromedae) and Algenib (gamma Pegasi) guiding us through Pisces the fishes, to the tail of Cetus the whale, marked by Diphda (beta Ceti). But this year the scene is dominated by brilliant Jupiter, dazzling at magnitude –2.8.
Pegasus is the seventh largest constellation. The number of stars that the observer can see within the large Square is often regarded as a guide of sky transparency and light pollution. How many can you see?
Pegasus has Messier 15 (M15), Pegasus Cluster, a superb globular cluster to its extreme west, near the bright star Enif (epsilon Pegasi), but it is the splendid array of galaxies that attracts the deep-sky observer. The Deer Lick Group, NGC 7331 and its family group is one of the best. It is a bright spiral seen at an angle of 22 degrees, with four smaller galaxies in the field. At the currently measured distance of 45 million light-years, NGC 7331 is one of the largest spirals in our supercluster, rivalling the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). The small galaxies that seem to be associated with it are in fact much more distant background objects, being between 290 and 365 million light-years from us. To find NGC 7331, begin with Scheat, the north-western star of the Square. To its west is Matar, eta Pegasi. A short hop to the north-west of Matar will locate this fine galaxy. In passing, the unusual ‘Deer Lick’ nickname refers to the site in North Carolina where experienced American amateur Tom Lorenzin had a particularly fine view.
Just south of NGC 7331 is an added bonus, recently made famous by the first release of images from the James Webb Space Telescope. The small group of galaxies known as Stephan’s Quintet lie a short distance south of the NGC 7331 group. NGCs 7319, 7318a, 7318b, 7317 with 7320 make up the quintet and form Hickson Compact Group 92. While four of the galaxies are at a distance of around 300 million light-years, NGC 7320 is much closer at around 40 million light-years and is possibly linked to NGC 7331.
This time of year is perfect for observing our own little family of galaxies: the so-called ‘Local Group’ that occupies a ten million light-year diameter within the supercluster. Our Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) dominate the group, being large spirals. The more lightweight spiral M33 (the Triangulum Galaxy) completes the spirals, the remaining 50 or so group members being dwarf elliptical or irregular galaxies, many of which are satellites of the great spirals. Several are on show through the autumn and can be fun to locate. M32 and M110 are easy targets as companions of the Andromeda spiral and are bright ellipticals; NGC 147 and 185 are also companions of M31 but lie in Cassiopeia.
They are more elusive but can be captured in the same low-power field. Sweep north-west from the Andromeda Galaxy towards Shedir (alpha Cassiopeiae) and the 10th-magnitude pair of ellipticals should be glimpsed on the most transparent nights.
To the east and becoming prominent as autumn deepens are the zodiacal constellations of Aries the ram and Taurus the bull. Aries has little to offer but Taurus is splendid, with its famous clusters the Hyades and Pleiades, the Crab Nebula (Messier 1), and the Taurus Dark Cloud – the nearest molecular cloud to us – with its young stars forming, notably T Tauri and Hind’s Variable nebula (NGC 1555).
By the end of November, Orion and his retinue of brilliant winter stars are well up in the east, with Perseus at the zenith and Auriga climbing.
November’s Object Challenge
A tougher target and this month’s object challenge, is IC 1613 in Cetus: a dwarf irregular that remains in pristine condition, being untouched by the bigger bullies in the group as it lies on the periphery. Although magnitude 9.9, it is 16×14 arcminutes so is of low surface brightness.
Last month I mentioned Comet C/2023 H2 Lemmon which was discovered in April ‘23 in images taken with the 1.5-m reflector of the Mt Lemmon Survey. The comet is at perihelion (closest point to the Sun) at 0.9 au on 29 October ’23. After perihelion it will be in the evening sky and moving rapidly south, passing 0.2 au from the Earth around the 10th November, when it is predicted to be around Mag 6.7 and it may even become a naked eye object. The last chance to view it from our latitude will be around the 20th November as it will then be disappearing below the horizon.
Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is a Halley-type comet with a period of 71 years which returns to perihelion (closest point to the Sun) at 0.78 au next April. On its last return in 1954 a number of outbursts were observed pre-perihelion. On this return the comet was recovered using the 4.3-m telescope at Lowell on 2020 June 10, almost four years before perihelion, when it was almost 12 au out from the Sun. It has been followed by amateurs since June ‘22 when it was around 21st magnitude. There have been several recent outbursts so it is well worth looking out for and keeping an eye on. During November ’23 it is passing from Hercules into Lyra and its most recent magnitude was 10.9 on 22 October, but is expected to get slowly brighter.
The ISS is a morning object from 21st October until 4th November ‘23, after which it won’t be visible for us here.
Then from the 19th November until 6th December it becomes visible in the evening sky.
For more information on exact timings of ISS visibility (and all things celestial), go to https://www.heavens-above.com/PassSummary.aspx?satid=25544 If you create a free account and enter your location it gives you a precise timings and starmaps.
Another website for astronomy information at: www.in-the-sky.org