The Bright Stars of Winter Are on the Rise
Most people love daylight savings time, but deep down most amateur astronomers and stargazers can live without it. Daylight savings time is tough on stargazers, especially folks who have to wake up at 3:30am for their job, like I do to be part of the Morning News with Dave Lee on WCCO Radio. As of today we're back on standard time. I hope you all enjoyed that extra hour of sleep! It gets dark right after supper now, so you can be out enjoying the stars by 6:30 to 7:00pm. On top of that we're entering the best stargazing season of the year. Bundle up and take in the best show in the universe, your universe! The only problem we have now in this first week of November is that we have to put up with a full moon that will wash out all but the brighter stars.
By around 8 or 9pm, you will notice that there are a lot of bright stars on the rise in the eastern sky, and the later you stay up, the more of these wonderful winter constellations you'll see. I call this part of the sky "Orion and his Gang" because the majestic constellation Orion the Hunter is the centerpiece. Orion is up by 10pm, but before then you'll see the Pleiades, the best star cluster in the sky, which looks like a miniature Big Dipper.
Over in the western sky there are still a few summer constellations hanging in there. Cygnus the Swan, Lyra the Harp, Aquila the Eagle, Delphinus the Dolphin and a few others are slowly migrating to the west a little more each night, making their slow exit from our celestial stage. Also in the southwestern sky, for a short time after sunset, you can see the very bright planet Venus, which will slip below the horizon around 7:30pm.
In the high southern sky is the one of the prime autumn constellations, Pegasus the Winged Horse, with Andromeda the Princess tagging along. Turn around and face north and you'll see old friends like the Big Dipper, barely above the horizon, with the Little Dipper hanging by its handle higher in the northern sky. Cassiopeia the Queen, the constellation that looks like a giant sideways W, is proudly showing off her stuff in the high northeast sky. The W outlines the throne of the Queen, and Cassiopeia is tied up in that throne. She really ticked off Hera, the queen of the gods, by proclaiming that she was even more beautiful than Hera's godly self. So Hera tossed Cassiopeia up into the sky, eternally bound to her throne for all to see.
Unfortunately we don't have any planets that you can get a really good look at in the evening, but after midnight Jupiter rises higher and higher in the eastern sky. This month we also have the Leonid meteor shower. It's a minor meteor shower that will peak in the early morning hours of November 17th. From about 1am to the start of morning twilight you might see about 15 to 20 meteors an hour if you're viewing in the darker skies of the outer suburbs or the countryside.
Stargazing is getting good!