The Evening Sky in November 2017

Download a PDF containing this chart, additional charts for specific areas of the sky and descriptions of interesting objects visible at this time of year.

The Evening Sky in November 2017

Bright stars rise in the east while bright planets set in the west. Canopus, the second brightest star is well up the southeast sky at dusk. Sirius, the brightest star, rises a little south of east. Less bright stars appear left of Sirius. On the opposite side of the sky Mercury and Saturn are the brightest 'stars' in the west.

At the beginning of the month Saturn is due west at dusk, setting in the southwest around 11:40. Below and left of Saturn is the orange star Antares marking Scorpio's body. The Scorpion's tail and sting make a back-to-front question mark above Antares. Lower and left again is Mercury, setting 70 minutes after the Sun. The stars and Saturn sink lower night-to-night but Mercury moves higher. On the 14th Mercury will be level with Antares with Saturn well above and to the right. On the 24th Mercury and Saturn will be level toward the southeast. Mercury, on the left, is the brighter of the two. They set two hours after the Sun. The Moon will be near Saturn on the 21st.

Sirius, the brightest star, rises in the later evening at the beginning of the month. By month's end it is in the sky at dusk, twinkling like a diamond as the air disperses its light. Left of Sirius is the constellation of Orion, with 'The Pot' at its centre. Rigel, a bluish supergiant star, is directly above the line of three stars; Betelgeuse, a red-giant star, is straight below. Left again is orange Aldebaran. It is at one tip of a triangular group called the Hyades cluster. The Hyades and Aldebaran make the upside down face of Taurus the bull. Still further left is the Pleiades or Matariki star cluster, also called The Seven Sisters, Subaru and many other names. Six stars are visible to the eye; dozens are seen in binoculars. The cluster is 440 light years* away and around 70 million years old.

Sirius is the brightest star both because it is relatively close, nine light years away. Seen up close it would be 23 times brighter than the sun. By contrast, Canopus is 300 light years away and 13 000 times brighter than the sun.

The Milky Way is low in the sky, visible around the horizon from the northwest, through west and south and around into the eastern sky. It is our edgewise view of the galaxy, the pancake of billions of stars of which the Sun is just one. The broadest, brightest part is in Sagittarius in the west to the right of the Scorpion's sting. That's where the thick hub of the galaxy lies, 30 000 light years away, mostly hidden by clouds of smoke-like dust. The thin nearby edge of the Milky Way is below Orion on the opposite side of the sky.

Low in the south are the Pointers, Beta and Alpha Centauri, and Crux the Southern Cross upside down. In some Maori star lore the bright southern Milky Way makes the canoe of Maui with Crux being the canoe's anchor hanging off the side. In this picture the Scorpion's tail can be the canoe's prow and the Clouds of Magellan are the sails. Alpha Centauri is the closest naked-eye star; 4.3 light years away.

The Clouds of Magellan, (LMC and SMC), high in the southern sky, are two small galaxies about 160 000 and 200 000 light years away, respectively. They are easily seen by eye on a dark moonless night. The larger Cloud is about 1/20th the mass of the Milky Way galaxy, the smaller Cloud 1/30th. That's still billions of stars in each. The globular star cluster 47 Tucanae looks like a slightly fuzzy star near the top-right edge of the SMC. It is 'only' 16 000 light years away and merely on the line of sight to the SMC. Globular clusters are spherical clouds of stars many billions of years old.

Very low in the north is the Andromeda Galaxy, easily seen in binoculars in a dark sky and faintly visible to the eye. It appears as a spindle of light. It is similar in shape to our galaxy but is a little bigger and nearly three million light years away.

Mars, Venus and Jupiter are all in the dawn sky so not on the chart. At the beginning of the month all three planets are hidden in the twilight. Venus and Jupiter make a close pair around the 12th but very low in the east, rising only 30 minutes before the Sun. By the end of November Mars rises two hours before the Sun. It is a medium-bright reddish 'star' just below the blue-white star Spica. Jupiter is then rising 80 minutes before the Sun and is the brightest 'star' in the dawn sky.

*A light year (l.y.)is the distance that light travels in one year: nearly 10 million million km. Sunlight takes eight minutes to get here; moonlight about one second. Sunlight reaches Neptune, the outermost major planet, in four hours. It takes sunlight four years to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri.

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817
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New Zealand