Instructions to read before looking up – November night sky
- Learn what is November and what we do with it,
- Find out what’s the Sun up to,
- Find out what’s in the Milky Way, and what Orion, Scorpius and the Southern Cross, which are also in the Milky Way, are up to
- Find out what are the brightest stars visible at night after sunset and finally find out about our favourite binocular and telescope objects.
Three Royal Stars are in the sky of November, and here in Wellington New Zealand we are looking at a Māori asterism called Te Waka O Tama Rereti (or Tamarereti), which is the great canoe that placed the stars in the sky. We are also talking about the circumpolar stars, the Magellanic Clouds and latest research results revealing they collided in the not so distance past, which resulted in a MiniMe Magellanic Cloud hurrying behind one of them. Fomalhaut is our favourite star this month, the loneliest star in the sky as it’s called and the Pleiades are back in the east just in time for Halloween.
The name November comes from Latin, meaning the ninth. November was the ninth month counting from March, which for the Romans was the first month of the calendar.
What’s the Sun up to?
Sunrise: 6:08 AM on the first day of November and earlier and earlier every day so that on the 30th of November it will rise at 5:43 AM.
Sunset: 8:01 PM on the 1st of November and later and later 8:35 PM on the 30th of November.
This makes the night 6.5 hours long at the beginning of the month and and 5 hours long at the end of November. As you can see, this month, we don’t have too many hours to explore the skies. Of course we start seeing stars as soon as the civil twilight occurs and then it gets darker and darker with the nautical twilight and the astronomical twilight, these are amounting for about four hours in total (after sunset and before sunrise), but the best time for deep sky observations is when the sky is dark.
We use TimeandDate.com for Wellington New Zealand.
Phases of the Moon this month
Check the Moon phases on TimeandDate.com site. It’s a great idea to do so if you plan any trips for stargazing, so you don’t get surprises when moonlight will wash all the deep sky objects you wanted to see.
The Zodiacal Band
In November, the Sun transits first the zodiacal constellations of Libra, and then moves into Scorpius on the 23rd of November where it stays until November the 30th. The zodiacal constellations are those stars visible behind the plane of our solar system, about 8 degrees each side of the ecliptic. This is why we say they form a band in the sky, called the Zodiacal Band.
For the reasons of looking straight into the Sun we predict that the above-mentioned constellations will not be visible after sunset during November even if you try really hard.
If you look on the opposite side to the setting Sun, Aries and then Taurus should be rising and since they are exactly in the opposite direction to the Sun, they should be visible all night long.
It’s dangerous to look into the Sun!! Of course, if you have solar telescope, that is well maintained and is designed for looking at the Sun, then you can look at the Sun.
The zodiacal light
If you are stargazing from somewhere with very dark skies, you can spot what is called the “Zodiacal Light”. This is a cone-shaped light that stretches from low on horizon along the ecliptic. The ecliptic marks the plane of our solar system bearing the zodiacal constellations.
The ecliptic is “a great circle on the celestial sphere representing the Sun’s apparent path during the year, so called because lunar and solar eclipses can only occur when the Moon crosses it. The zodiacal light is the light we see reflected from dust and ice particles in the plane of our own solar system!
The Milky Way
Orion is visually located at the edge of the Galaxy whereas Scorpius lays near the galactic centre.The Southern Cross is half way between the two, also in the Milky Way.
Orion was a hunter that had a misunderstanding with some Greek Gods who allegedly — in some of the legends, sent the Scorpion to kill him. But then the Gods changed their minds and decided to let Orion live. By this time the Scorpion was already cursed (programmed) to chase Orion — but you could never seem to change the course of a curse on Mount Olympus (a programming glitch). So that the Scorpion can never catch Orion, the gods separated the two by placing them in opposite sides of the sky.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the Northern Cross (Cygnus) is half way through between Orion and Scorpius on the Galactic plane.
“And that’s why you can never see Orion and Scorpius in the sky at the same time.” Which is similar to what the Romans said about the black swans — that they don’t exist. But all you need to do is travel to New Zealand (or anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere) and see both Orion and Scorpius in the sky at the same time and, of course, black swans.
In New Zealand, we can see black swans all the time and both Scorpius and Orion in the sky during these months:
WHEN (Orion and Scorpius are in the sky at the same time):
- October 15 just before midnight NZDT,
- November 1st at 10:30 PM NZDT
- November 15 at 9:30 PM NZDT
- December 1st at 8:30 PM NZDT
- and in June, just after the winter solstice, in the morning sky.
In Aotearoa, in November, just after sunset, the Milky Way lays on the horizon, just like the ocean that surrounds us here from all directions. It is a very beautiful metaphor but this means the Milky Way is also harder to see. We are looking at it through a layer of atmosphere and quite often through light pollution. After Winter and Spring have spoiled us with all the amazing objects in Scorpius and Sagittarius, is hard to match that richness of deep sky objects that lay at the centre of our galaxy. This is simply because when we look towards the galactic centre, we see more stars, clusters and nebulae then anywhere else in the sky. In fact, if there are no planets in the night sky and you don’t have a good telescope handy — and we are not even going to mention “the joy” of having the Moon spilling light pollution over your deep sky objects at night, then November can get pretty boring after sunset. However, there are still the Magellanic Clouds, which now are in a good position to observe, the Sculptor Galaxy — almost at zenith and the Great Square of Pegasus, which are fun things to look at.
What is cool about November though, is that the Pleiades are back in the evening sky – which is why Halloween is celebrated around this time and here in Aotearoa we have one of the most beautiful asterisms in the night sky that stretches about 270 degrees around the horizon: the canoe of Tama Rereti. The constellation of Scorpius is the bow of the asterism of Te Waka O Tama Rereti. It lays on the western horizon. The galactic centre is now only half-visible and after the sunset is sinking beyond the horizon. The Southern Cross (also in the Milky Way) is the anchor of the canoe and is positioned due south and Orion (at the edge of the Galaxy) is the sternpost of the canoe, laying on the eastern horizon. The Hyades and the Pleiades are the feathers and the ripples in the water. Read here about this very beautiful legend, which originates around Lake Taupo.
Circumpolar objects to New Zealand
What does circumpolar mean? Circumpolar are objects that rotate around the celestial pole. These objects are above the horizon at all times in a given latitude. For instance Cassiopeia is circumpolar from Europe but here in Wellington we cannot even see it, it’s hidden by the Earth. We could if Earth would have been transparent. Here on the other hand we have the Southern Cross with the pointers that are circumpolar.
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 Diamond Cross and the False Cross are circumpolar too. Canopus and Achernar are also circumpolar. The same for the Magellanic Clouds, Omega Centauri, 47 Tucanae, the Jewel Box, the Southern Pleiades, the Gem Cluster and Omicron Velorum. Being circumpolar it means they turn around once every 23 hours and 56 minutes. That’s why they are always somewhere else in the sky.
The Magellanic Clouds – these are a great attraction in November for the simple reason that they are high in the sky after sunset. They have some spectacular objects inside them such as 47 Tucanae globular cluster or the Tarantula Nebula. The Magellanic Clouds are held in high regards by professional astronomers as they are close to our galaxy, big and one of the best places to study stellar evolution. And for the amateur astronomer they are always a good idea for a target to fall onto.
Three Royal Stars hang across the evening sky of November: Aldebaran in Taurus, Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinus and Antares in Scorpius. According to French astronomer Camille Flammarion, the royal stars were the ancient guardians of the sky in ancient Persia. It is believed that the sky was divided into four districts each guarded by one of the four Royal Stars.
On the Ecliptic
As seen from Wellington the ecliptic runs through the northern part of the sky. That’s why everyone here looks for houses that face north. Antares is very close to the western horizon. Aldebaran is very close to the eastern horizon. No other significantly bright stars are on the ecliptic in November.
In the Milky Way
From east to west, after sunset are: Aldebaran in Taurus, the stars of Orion (Rigel and Orion’s belt), Sirius and Adhara in Canis Major, Suhail al Muhlif in Vela, Avior and Miaplacidus in Carina, Crux and The Pointers, Alpha and Beta Centauri, and Shaula in Scorpius on the western horizon.
Other bright stars
Canopus, the brightest star in the southern hemispheres and the second brightest star in the sky is high this time of the year on the southern circumpolar path. 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.
Click here for the November 2019 night sky