November 2011

Tony Martinez

Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina. These sights will be broken down into three sections; what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, and with a small telescope. The best time to view the night sky is at and around the times when the Moon is not visible, what is known as a New Moon; which will occur this month on November 25th. For November, your best viewing nights will be from November 1st and 2nd and November 17th to the 30th. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on November 15th at 9 pm.

Star Party:

Note on your calendar that there will be a free ScienceSouth Public Star Party on November 19th at Lynches River Park from 7-10 pm on the baseball field. Bring binoculars if you have them. So, what exactly is a star party?

September, October and November are often thought to be the best three months for amateur astronomy. Due to favorable viewing conditions, many star parties are run in various places around the country. The traditional star party is a gathering of amateur astronomers at a site removed from light pollution. They are usually run in parks or campgrounds and sometimes at private sites owned by colleges or astronomy clubs; plus a moderate fee is charged for use of the facility. The amateurs usually spend most of the time with their own equipment. In addition, they may also wander about to see various objects through other peoples’ scopes. Note: Star parties are a great way to check out new equipment before making a purchase. At star parties, many people are trying to seek out very dim objects, and some people are deeply involved in astrophotography. Because of this, it is very important that you do not use any white lights at all. If you need a light, only red lights are allowed and kept at a minimum. This is because red light is least likely to disturb your night vision. Also, at normal star parties, the use of green lasers is prohibited. One green laser can ruin hours of long exposure astrophotography.

In addition to the traditional star parties, there are also events called public star parties; this is the type star party we will have on the 19th at Lynches River. If you are new to astronomy, these are always great events to attend. At a public star party, many if not most people come without a telescope, and these gatherings are usually free of charge. The amateurs will have their telescopes set up to allow people to view various objects, answer questions, and in general help people learn more about astronomy. Green lasers are usually allowed, and are used by the astronomers to help people find various celestial objects. As mentioned above, if you do attend a public star party, be sure to bring a pair of binoculars if possible. A knowledgeable amateur can point to an object with a green laser, and you can just follow the beam with your binoculars to the target; a great way to find your way around the night sky. The image below was taken at our first Lynches River Star Party in November 2007.

Please check the ScienceSouth Website for any changes or weather cancellation of the November Star Party.

Dance of the Planets – Perspective:

As you are well aware, the bright planet Jupiter featured in last month’s column is still visible, and continues to be a great telescope target throughout most of the winter. In addition, the best planetary target, Saturn, is now returning as a morning target towards the end of the month, rising about an hour before sunrise. Thousands of years ago, the ancient astronomers watched as the planets rose in the evening or in the morning, and realized that there was a consistent pattern in their movements. Most ancients were probably not aware about what these moving objects really were, but it appears that at least for the ancient Mayans, they were aware that these objects, like us, were moving in orbits around the Sun.

I feel sure that most of my readers are aware that the appearances of the various planets at different places and different times throughout the years are due to the movement of our Earth around the Sun, coupled with the movements of the various planets in their orbits around the Sun. To add to your knowledge, I want to give a visual perspective of why we see the planets at different times each year.

The images below are views of the Earth and the planets Jupiter and Saturn. The view is looking down at our North Pole and is set for the night of November 15th and the morning of the 16th. The white arrow will always point to the south. The yellow line represents your horizon, and when you look up into the sky, you can only see objects that are on the same side of the yellow line as the white arrow.

The first view is sunset on the 15th. Note that Jupiter is visible low in the east, and Saturn is not visible because it is on the other side of the Earth.

The second is your view from the Earth at midnight. Now Jupiter has moved towards the southwest, and Saturn is still not visible.

The last view is near sunrise. Jupiter is behind the Earth, and is no longer visible. Saturn now comes into view, and is seen low in the eastern sky.

I hope these images gave you a better perspective of the “Dance of the Planets.”

Naked Eye Sights: Jupiter will still be the brightest “star like object” this month.

Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power): Jupiter and its moons. There are many Messier Objects visible this month, and they are great targets due to the clear skies of autumn.

Telescope Sights (60-100mm: Jupiter and its moons, and various Messier Objects.

See you next month!

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