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Skywatch November


The planets continue to delight early risers during November.  Venus remains dominant in the morning sky, rising over four hours before dawn until the end of the month.

On 3rd November, Venus passes a little over ½ a degree south of Mars, which is a useful guide to locating the much fainter red planet.  On the morning of the 7th, the waning crescent Moon will be close to both planets.

Jupiter continues to shine brilliantly in the morning sky with its visibility increasing, as it is rising after midnight.   Aim a small pair of binoculars towards Jupiter and look for three or four points of light near to the planet – these are the four largest moons of Jupiter; Io, Europa, Ganymede and Calisto.

On the morning of the 6th, the waning Moon pairs beautifully with Jupiter, together with Mars and Venus also rising. Jupiter remains in the constellation of Leo throughout November so why not look for the King of Planets within the King of Beasts this month?

Mars remains in the morning sky, brightening slightly during the month.  Rising some 5½ hours before the Sun, Mars moves from Leo into Virgo early in the month.  On the 20th of the month, Mars is at its greatest distance from the Sun, being some 1½ times the distance from the Earth to the Sun.


As autumn moves towards winter, Auriga the Charioteer returns to our skies.  A distinctive constellation resembling a distorted 50p piece, Auriga contains many celestial showpieces, some naked eye, others easily spotted in binoculars. The constellation has many likely historical origins, but the most popular one is that of a Greek king who raced chariots in a celebratory festival he founded.

Auriga is easily identified by Capella, the sixth brightest star in the sky.  Although it looks like one star, Capella is actually a pair of yellow giant stars, lying 42 light years away.  Auriga contains three fine open clusters, easy targets for those with a modest pair of binoculars.

An open cluster is a group of young stars lying within our Galaxy, typically aged in millions, rather than billions, of years.  To help with the first of our targets, we need to locate a line of stars leading into Auriga, nicknamed the “Flying Minnow”; this is an asterism (a chance pattern of stars) which we follow to our next target Messier (M) 38, the first of our clusters.

Your unaided eye can just about pick out the Flying Minnow from a dark site, so simply aim your binoculars to find the Minnow and sweep slowly along this lovely line of stars eastwards and you’ll encounter M38, an open cluster comprising around 100 stars, which lies some 3,500 light years away.

Once you have M38, our next clusters are close by.  From M38, move your binoculars slowly downwards to M36.  This is a smaller cluster of some 60 stars, but still easily visible in binoculars.  M36 sits at a distance of 4,300 light years and is thought to be 20 or 40 million years old.

Finally we drop down from M36 to M37 the third cluster in the series. M37 is one of the richest clusters, comprising some 2,000 stars.


The November meeting of MAD Viewers is on Wednesday 4th November.  We meet inside The Red Lion at Kilmington from 8.00 to 8.30pm.  Old hands and beginners equally welcome, just turn up on the night, with or without a telescope.  We observe from White Sheet Hill afterwards if clear. The December meeting will be on Wednesday 2nd.   Further details are on our website at www.mad

Article supplied by Mendip & Dorset Viewers