There’s lots happening this month in the skies above!

Although we are past the best of the Milky Way viewing season – there is still plenty to see. Suppose you can get away from the lights and hills. In that case, you can still see the almost uninterrupted ring at our galaxy hugging the horizon as you turn around.  Even without the overhead Milky Way and the sprawling constellation of Scorpius, there is still so much to see.

The two Magellanic Clouds are now conspicuous, appearing to the naked eye as detached sections of the Milky Way in an otherwise barren part of the southern sky. Suppose you consider 200,000 light-years away close. These two nearby galaxies are companions to our own galaxy. Within about 3.5 billion years will have mostly been absorbed into the Milky Way. Already stars from both galaxies are being drawn towards our galaxy in what is known as the Magellanic stream.

The Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) in the constellation of Tucana culminates or is at its highest point in the sky around 9pm mid-month. Binoculars show this irregularly shaped 4° diameter blob to consist of numerous knots of nebulous-like objects. A medium-sized telescope reveals many of these objects are arrangements of small star clusters (mostly around 1 arcminute in diameter each).

Approximately 1° west of the SMC lies the spectacular globular cluster 47 Tucanae (NGC 104). At 4th magnitude, it is a naked-eye object, and even binoculars will show you a bright, condensed centre in the same field as the ‘cloud’. The view is brilliant in any size telescope, but you may need around a 150mm instrument to resolve some stars.

The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is iconic to the southern skies. Long considered to be a dwarf irregular type galaxy similar to the SMC, its most striking feature is a brilliant 4° long bar. This is a feature common to barred spiral galaxies, which is easily visible to the naked eye. The smallest binoculars show a large bright knot above the eastern end of the bar – the magnificent Tarantula Nebula.

There are dozens of clusters, nebulae, and background star fields that shape it into a roughly 6° diameter circle. Enjoy these splendours of the deep sky.

The clouds are part of the culture and lore of many groups of Indigenous peoples in South America, Australia, and southern Africa. Variously they were named to represent things like the feathers of rheas, a South American relative of the ostrich; the tracks of celestial animals (Setlhako); a pair of cranes (Prolggi); and an old couple sitting by a campfire (Jukara).

Polynesian and European sailors also used the Magellanic Clouds as celestial guides. Europeans later named them to recognize Ferdinand Magellan’s 16th-century circumnavigation of the globe.

One Kamillaroi story talks of Old Wiringin.  A Wiringin is a “Clever Man” or Aboriginal doctor. This Wiringin, which can be found in the Small Magellanic Clou,d is there because he controls who can go on to Bulima, the equivalent of the western heaven that lies behind Warrambul (the Milky Way). If the person who died is not initiated, they are not allowed in since they don’t know the rules. So they are sent to Wadhaagudjaaylwan in the Large Magellanic Cloud. This birth spirit will send the uninitiated back to Earth as a new spirit baby to be reborn and later initiated. This Wiringin is represented in every Aboriginal cemetery as the Wilga tree (Native Willow).

Wadhaagudjaaylwan is Byaame’s third wife, who is represented by Large Magellanic Cloud. She sings to women who are going to have babies. She “sings” the babies to the women on Earth, and she takes the persons that the Old Wiringin in the Small Magellanic Cloud sends to her and sends them back to Earth as spirit babies.

Figure 1: The Sky looking south around mid-November at 9pm

Since Daylight Saving is in place in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and Norfolk Island, all times this Month are in AEDT (Australian Eastern Daylight Time)

The Moon this Month

(All times are in Australian Eastern Daylight Time)

  • New Moon:                   07:00am November 5th
  • First Quarter:                 11:00pm November 11th
  • Full Moon:                     07:00pm November 19th
  • Last quarter:                  07:05pm November 27th

At 8am on November 6, the Moon will be at Perigee, the closest it gets to the Earth each month. This month will be a mere 358,844 km away. On the 21st at noon, the Moon will be at apogee, its furthest point from Earth this Month at 406,279 km.

Figure 2: May 2021 Lunar Eclipse

There will be a partial lunar eclipse this month visible on November 19, 2021. We will miss the beginning of it as the Moon will rise partially covered by the Earths shadow. The entire event will last about six hours, although we will miss the eclipse’s first stages, which start at 6:18pm when the Moon is below our horizon. The Moon will rise at 7:37pm, almost totally eclipsed with maximum eclipse after 8:02pm. 97% of its surface will be coloured with a reddish tinge. The partial eclipse will end at 9:47pm.

About every eight months, there will be a lunar eclipse. Less than half of these will be total eclipses. The actual number of lunar eclipses in a year can range from none to a maximum of three. A total eclipse of the Moon is visible from Australia on average every 2.8 years. The last one was on May 26 this year. The next one will be on November 8, 2022.

Eclipses of the Moon occur when the Moon moves into the shadow of the Earth. When the Moon is fully immersed in the dark part of the shadow, a total eclipse of the Moon occurs. At such times the eclipsed Moon usually takes on a dark reddish colour from the light bent or refracted onto the Moon by the Earth’s atmosphere. When the Moon is only partially immersed in the shadow’s dark part, this is known as a partial eclipse and what we will see this month.

An eclipse of the Moon can only happen at the Full Moon phase. 

Planets in November

This months fun fact about the planets:

Uranus appears to be a featureless blue ball at first glance, but this gas gets pretty weird upon closer inspection. First, the planet rotates on its side for reasons scientists haven’t quite figured out. The most likely explanation is that it underwent some sort of one or more titanic collisions in the ancient past. This tilt makes Uranus unique among the solar system planets.

It also has tenuous rings, confirmed when the planet passed in front of a star (from Earth’s perspective) in 1977. More recently, astronomers spotted storms in Uranus’ atmosphere.

Mercury is not easy to see this month. It will be only a few degrees above the eastern dawn horizon in early November and heading back towards the Sun and superior conjunction. The Earth and Mercury are on opposite sides of the Sun on the 29th.

Venus is still shining brilliantly in the western evening sky, and you certainly can’t miss it.  Venus will be in the constellation Sagitarrius for November. On the 8th, the planet will be 2° from the 4-day old waxing crescent Moon, an impressive sight in the early western evening sky.

Figure 3: Venues and crescent moon on 8 November 8:30pm looking west

Mars has been lost in the Sun’s glare since conjunction in early October and now finally reappears a few degrees above the horizon at the end of the month, still well in the dawn glare.

Jupiter spends the Month in Capricorn. It is high in the north-western evening sky at the end of twilight. On the 11th, the First Quarter Moon appears near Jupiter, not the closest of conjunctions. Still, it’s always an excellent photo opportunity when you have a bright planet near the Moon. Toward the month’s end, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus appear in a straight line and dominate the early western sky.

Figure 4: Planets in a line 30 November 9pm AEDT

Saturn is visible in the early western evening sky in Capricornus. This month the planet is at the point in its orbit known as the eastern quadrature. This occurs when the Sun-Earth-Saturn angle is 90 degrees. The maximum extent of the shadow of the planet’s globe is cast onto its magnificent rings. When viewing this world, it’s interesting to reflect on Galileo’s first observations of Saturn when he noted it looked like a planet with ears. Telescopes have certainly come a long way since then! On the 10th, the 6-day old waxing crescent Moon appears near the ringed world.

Uranus rises in the eastern sky soon after sunset. Since it is at opposition on November 4/5th, it is the best time to see the elusive planet. Because Uranus is opposite the Sun, it climbs highest up for the night at midnight. So Uranus stays out all night long. Also, around the time of opposition, Earth’s motion brings Uranus closest to Earth for 2021. Even at its brightest, Uranus is still quite faint. It’s barely perceptible as a dim speck of light to the unaided eye, under dark skies. To help find it – it is situated in a barren part of Aries the Ram.

Now past opposition, Neptune transits the meridian (is due north) around 10 pm mid-month Aquarius.

Figure 5: Morning sky 25 November 2:25am

Meteor Showers

A casual observer may watch the sky at night and see 3 to 5 sporadic meteors per hour. However, on some nights, this number may increase markedly, and on projecting the paths of the meteors back, we find that many appear to radiate from a tiny area in the sky. This point or place is termed the radiant of the meteor shower.

The Northern Taurids are active from 20 October to 10 December, with their peak around 12 November. Taurids are frequently bright, slow-moving, and noted for producing colourful fireballs (although not every year). They are associated with Comet 2P/Encke and can be seen from late evening to early morning. The waxing crescent Moon will impair viewing during peak until it sets a little after midnight.

Figure 6: Finder chart for radiant of the Northern Taurid Meteor Shower

The Leonids is one of the better-known showers. The Leonids are best known for producing meteor storms in 1833, 1866, 1966, 1999, and 2001. These outbursts of meteor activity are best seen when the parent object, comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, is near perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun.

Yet, it is not the fresh material we see from the comet but instead consists of debris from earlier returns that also happen to be most dense at the same time. Unfortunately, it appears that the Earth will not encounter any more dense clouds of debris until 2099. Therefore, when the comet returns in 2031 and 2064, there will be no meteor storms, but

perhaps several good displays of Leonid activity when rates are more than 100 per hour.

The best we can hope for now until the year 2030 is peaks of around 15 shower members per hour and perhaps an occasional weak outburst when the Earth passes near a debris trail.

The Leonids are often bright meteors with a high percentage of persistent trains. The shower is active from the 6th to the 30th. A maximum peak of around 15 meteors per hour is predicted for the morning of the 18th. Since Leo rises after midnight, there will only be a few hours available before the onset of dawn for observation. The near Full Moon will make it difficult for all but the brightest Leonids to be visible during the peak.

Figure 7: Finding Leo….4am 19 November 2021

The alpha-Monocerotids are a minor shower, with unusual short-lived outbursts. Active from 15th to 25th, they are expected to peak around the 21st and are best seen after midnight. While the zenith hourly rate is variable, very high rates have been recorded occasionally over the years. Like the Leonids, the Moon will be an issue during the peak this year.

Looking for Christmas Gift Ideas?

Why not grab the 2022 Astronomy calendar, which also includes the amazing photos and information on the planets, moon phases and sky maps for each month –$19.95

Want to get the best information for what is in the sky each month? Grab your copy of Astronomy 2022 Australia available from our website. Only $29.90 for a year full of fantastic information on what you can see in the sky – even without a telescope.

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Clear skies until next month!
Donna aka the Astronomer