Enjoying the Fall Skies!
What will you being doing this November? For me, November always provides a wonderful month to stargaze. The crisp fall evenings of western Wisconsin combined with low humidity provide a wonderful opportunity to appreciate the heavens. Below is a brief video from NASA that explains what we can expect for the month of November. Let's take a look!
Moon, Venus, Saturn, and Mars
One of my favorite naked eye observations is to look at the moon when it is in close visual proximity to a planet or planets. There is a simple joy of looking up at the night sky at the same time every evening to see how much the moon and planets move in relation to each other and the surrounding stars. This November provides a special treat as we can observe three planets "dance" with the moon. Though the primary dates have already passed for this observation, it is still fun to get out and observe these objects. For the beginner, this observation is a confidence builder, being able to easily and quickly identify the moon and these planets in the night sky. If attention is also payed to the different constellations these objects pass through, this type of stargazing can be a fun way to learn your way around the night sky.
Jupiter at Dawn
As a Diocesan Priest, late night observation is getting harder as my work responsibilities increase and my exhaustion calls me to bed earlier and earlier. I always appreciate the opportunity to observe some fun early morning objects to feed my love of astronomy. Similar to observing the nightly movements of the planets and moon, Jupiter gives us a chance to observe this gas giant in relation to the bright star Spica. These observations are not as dramatic as four objects moving independent of each other, but still provides a fun opportunity to understand how planets move in a manner different from the stars. In other words, a great way to learn astronomy is to do astronomy! A good pair of binoculars or a small telescope is all you need to enjoy observing the moons of Jupiter, which is another fun nightly observation.
I have lowered my expectations on meteor watching over the years. At first, I would experience great excitement when the Leonids or the Orionids would come around. However, every time I would settle down for a night of meteor watching, I typical left thinking, "That's about as many meteors I see on any given night." Nevertheless, meteors are fun to observe given their brief, surprising appearance and "burn out." Their colorful streaks across the night sky seem wildly erratic in relation to the apparent stability of the rest of the night sky. In short, I would still encourage anyone to go look for meteors, but just make sure you keep your expectations realistic.
Though many may see the observation of Ceres to be a bit more boring in relation to other tantalizing night sky objects like the moon and Jupiter, Ceres is on my list of "must sees" this year. As the video affirms, this observation should be done with a telescope. My hope is that, similar to the movements of the moon and planets relative to the stars, Ceres' proximity to the constellation Cetus will assist my amateur eyes to find this faint object.
On a personal level, my excitement about Ceres is more than just observing its movement from night to night. Ceres has been the subject of many reflections on our blog. Though ground based observations cannot see Ceres' "salty" spots against its coal-like appearance, this ancient relic of our solar system hopes to provide scientists with insight into how our galactic neighborhood came to be. Catching Ceres in my telescope will not just be the observation of a Dwarf Planet, but to observe something that hopes to provide some of the newest discoveries about our solar system!
I often try to make clear faith connections in my posts. This week, the only connection I wish to make is to encourage everyone to get out and enjoy God's creation. If you live in a region similar to where I do, November can be a wonderful month to enjoy some stargazing amid nature's last canvas of Fall colors. Have a great week and pray for clear skies!