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Evan Hazard, Northland Stargazing: Planets, fall stars, Capella and ‘the kids’

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Reminders: Earlier sunsets and CST (after Nov. 4) make evening stargazing easier, but the management is not responsible for cold weather and clouds. The Leonid meteor shower may be decent in the wee hours of Nov. 16-18, and this year Luna will not brighten the sky those nights. 

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Mars is still up in the southwest at dusk, but is far away in its orbit, and therefore dim and a small binoc object. The only naked eye evening planet is Jupiter, high in the east-northeast. Luna is just below it on Nov. 1.

For early birds, there is more action in the pre-dawn sky. Venus reached greatest brilliancy and greatest elongation last summer but it’s still the brightest thing out there besides Sol and Luna. Mercury has been undergoing a poor morning apparition. With binocs, you may find it low in the morning twilight. Saturn’s apparent motion results mostly from our more rapid pace around Sol. It is about halfway between Venus and the ESE horizon on Veteran’s Day but Venus is moving sunward and will pass Saturn on Nov. 26. Some of you know I don’t stargaze much, but I’ve seen Venus several recent mornings around sunup when I pick up the Pioneer.

Another reminder: At this time of year, it gets darker about three minutes earlier each night, which seems to slow down the stars’ annual movement. The Summer Triangle is still high in the west, the Great Square in Pegasus just south of the zenith, and M31, our sister galaxy in Andromeda east of the zenith.

The Hyades open cluster in Taurus, along with bright reddish Aldeberan (which is not part of the cluster) is up in the east, just south of Jupiter. The large, polygonal constellation low in the northeast is Auriga. Its brightest star is Capella (“nanny goat”); the three dim stars just south of Capella are “the kids”. Toward the southeast corner of Auriga’s polygon binocs will reveal two nice open clusters, M36 and M38. Another, M37 is just outside the lowest border of the polygon. The southeasternmost star of the polygon is El Nath, actually part of Taurus. What we see as the single star Capella is a system of two bright yellowish stars and two dimmer red dwarfs. The bright pair are each much larger than Sol and also much younger, but near the end of their lives because massive stars “burn” hydrogen faster. (Sol is about 4.8 billion years old.)

Minima of Algol, CDT, will be Nov. 1, 5:51 pm, and CST, Nov.15/16 — 12:56 a.m.; Nov. 18 — 9:45 p.m.; and Nov. 21 — 6:34 p.m. On Nov. 1, Algol will be in eclipse as it first becomes visible at dusk.

EVAN HAZARD also writes “Threescore and Ten” for The Pioneer’s “Prime Time.”

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