November 2019

Listen to our November 2019 podcast on Galactic Conversations

See here a general overview of the sky in November.

The following post is about the sky in November 2019.

The Pleiades are back on the evening sky

November is the time when the star cluster known as the Pleiades is visible again in the evening sky. The star cluster is linked to Halloween in the Northern Hemisphere but here, on the other side of the world, we prepare for summer. Here in New Zealand, flowers and stars unite at the horizon. Entire hills change colour due to so many wonderful flowers this time of the year and the bulk of stars in the Milky Way surround the horizon like a river. Just after sunset the centre of the galaxy is on the west side of the sky and you can just see the tip of Scorpius and Sagittarius, whereas on the eastern horizon half of Orion, or as people call it here in New Zealand, the pot, emerges from behind it. 

We actually just came back from Rotorua where we enjoyed a bit of stargazing under the beautiful dark sky from there, soaking in the hot pools at the Polynesian Spa was the best stargazing ever. Unfortunately, the etiquette said we could not talk loud so a presentation was out of question and we could not use our phones to talk to either but here is what we spotted:

We spotted the planet Jupiter, still bright, moving now towards Saturn, then of course Saturn and invisible next to it – we did not spot but we knew it was there – Pluto. November is still good to catch up with these two amazing planets if you have not had the chance to look at them yet. At the beginning of the month, Venus and Mercury are very close and joined by Antares and Jupiter make a spectacle in the evening sky. You’ll need a good opening on the horizon to spot them. Keep an eye on Venus all throughout the month. Around ninth of November it will pass close to Antares at about 4 degrees then it will move in closer to Jupiter and Saturn so that on the 24 of November is within one and a quarter degrees to Jupiter. That close enough to fit 2 and a bit full Moons between them, and watch this space around ten of December Venus when will be within 2 degrees of Saturn. Neptune and Uranus are out there too, Neptune is in Aquarius and Uranus in Aries. 

November here is called Orongo, which means the time after the great rain. And does it rain in October! November harbours one the most beautiful asterisms I have ever seen, the grand canoe of Tama Rereti, te waka o Tama Rereti. And when I say harbours, it almost really does, the asterism stretches around the horizon as the Milky Way surrounds the horizon.

I talked at length about this asterism, of course is one of  my favourites, you can find the full story on Milky-Way.Kiwi. Te Waka O Tama Rereti is the story of how the stars ended up in the sky, and is a legend from around Lake Taupo. I first heard about it from Frank Andrews who heard it from someone who was from Lake Taupo. Later on, Tony Fisher rewrote this in 2008.

Te Waka O Tamarereti annotated. Photo: J Drummond, 2007

The Milky Way is the canoe, Scorpius is the prow, Southern Cross is the anchor and Orion the stern. The Hyades and Pleiades are the feathers and the wake left behind by the canoe. From the bow, the anchor rope is marked by Alpha Centauri, the third brightest star in the sky, and also Beta Centauri; together these are also known as the Pointers of the Southern Cross. The Southern Cross represents the great stone anchor or Te Punga that keeps the canoe of Tamarereti in its place. 

This time of the year, the Southern Cross is in its lowest position on the horizon and points down indicating south. If you look up from the Southern Cross, you will come across Achernar, the end of the river Eridanus. On each side of this line are the Large Magellanic Cloud, on the left, and to the right of it, the Small Magellanic Cloud, our beautiful galaxies we admire here in the Southern Hemisphere. 

The Magellanic Clouds – these are a great attraction in November when there is nothing really else in the sky to observe.  

Good times for observing would be at the end of the month, we have new moon on the 27 of November and don’t go observing stars on the 13th of November as the Moon is full (you can observe the Moon but that’s not too good either as it’s too bright.

Up in the sky, almost at Zenith, is Grus and close to it is Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinus. As you look up, Fomalhaut, Achernar and another star, Deneb Kaitos of Grus make a triangle. – How to find Sculptor galaxy

This is the month when the canoes start to navigate again, and in fact right now a few canoes and a replica of the Endeavour and Spirit of New Zealand are circumnavigating New Zealand as part of the Tuia 250 celebrations that commemorate the arrival of Captain Cook. 

Speaking of which, a spectacular event is going to happen on the morning of the 12th of November (NZ time), that is the transit of Mercury. The transit will end as the Sun rises here in Wellington so not the best place to view it but hopefully with a clear eastern horizon we should be able to catch a glimpse.

Just below the ecliptic, the great square of Pegasus is riding the Northern horizon. So in November we should be able to see again the brightest stars in the sky in order: Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri and also the most prominent four galaxies The Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds and very low in the north, the Andromeda Galaxy, easily seen in binoculars in a dark sky and faintly visible to the eye. It appears as a spindle of light. 

The Sun rises around 6 AM on the beginning of the month and sets around 8 pm and at the end of the month earlier with about 20 minutes at around 5:40 and 40 minutes respectively later at night setting at about 8:40.