Heads UP! for November 2010

Great Jupiter
Venus Rising
Comet Hartley2 – Ready for its Close Up?
Hey, Dude, Where’s My Ride (to space)?
Daylight Time Ends, Early Morning Darkness Pushed Back

Great Jupiter
Jupiter is that bright dot in the sky, the first ‘star’ you can see after sunset. Jupiter will be especially noticeable when the Moon comes into Jupiter’s neighborhood on the 15th and 16th. But even a nearly-full Moon can’t drown out the king of planets. Now that Jupiter is available in prime time, get your binoculars or telescope to see up to four tiny moons very close to the planet. Jupiter is banded – just one light brown band these days – but it can be seen even in small telescopes. Jupiter is so bright now that the band may be lost in the glare of the planet. Try reducing the brightness by holding one side of a pair of sunglasses between your eye and the eyepiece so see if you can improve the contrast and see the band.

Just one binocular-wide view to the left of Jupiter is a faint ‘star’ about a little fainter than one of Jupiter’s moons. That’s our solar systems’ seventh planet, the third largest – Uranus, five times further away than Jupiter. Does it look different from the stars in the same view? Since the stars are tiny points of light due to their great distance, planets often look more substantial and flicker less, even if they are as far away as Uranus.

Venus Rising
Some sharp-eyed observers with a clear southeastern horizon looking less than one-half-hour before sunrise will spot Venus rising just before the Sun during the first week of November. Venus will look like a tiny, very thin crescent moon in binoculars or a telescope. It will be very bright, but very deep into the dawn’s early light, it will be a challenge to find.

Early risers later in the month will see Venus blazing low in the predawn sky, with the star Spica and the planet Saturn above it. In a telescope, Saturn will be the ‘star’ with the very tiny ring around it. Saturn is all the way on the other side of the solar system now, so it’s really small, but Saturn’s rings are now tipping toward us and are easier to see than when the rings were edge-on earlier this year.

Mercury is hard to see low in the post-sunset sky and Mars is even harder to find.

Comet Hartley2 – Ready for its Close Up?
The spacecraft formerly known as ‘Deep Impact’, will be zipping by Comet Hartley2 as it zips by the earth. Since the impact part of Deep Impact, now called EPOXi, was left on Comet Tempel, the spacecraft will be just taking pictures. Radar from the giant radio bowl in Puerto Rico indicates that Hartley2 is somewhat dumbbell-shaped. See http://www.planetary.org/blog/article/00002742/ , and watch for photos at http://epoxi.umd.edu/ during and after the closest approach of the spacecraft to Hartley2 on November 4th.

Hey, Dude, Where’s My Ride (to space)?
The next-to-last launch of the USA’s Space Transportation System was scheduled for November 1st [next attempt Nov 30], on a mission to the International Space Station to install additional modules and to provide supplies and parts for. (Shuttle Discovery’s launch was postponed to Wednesday, November 3rd.) The end of an era in American access to space is approaching. When will the next era of American human space launches begin? In the meantime, the International Space Station’s mission continues, with astronauts being ferried by Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The ISS is a bright moving dot in the evening sky through November 17th and in the morning sky from the 24th through mid-December. Check web sites for times in your location.

Daylight Time Ends before sunrise on Sunday, November 7th. During the first week of November, here in the NYC area, the sun will appear to rise later (as late as 7:30am EDT) than it does during the shortest days of December (as late as 7:20am EST), allowing extra time in the morning for astronomy through the first week of November.

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