PostHeaderIcon November-December Sky

A guide for what’s coming up this month. I tried to include a fact and a lesser-known story for each object. I didn’t completely succeed. This guide is written to give hints to people who already know approximately what they’re looking at. For a good beginner’s guide to the sky, try StarDate, Sky and Telescope’s Stargazing Basics, or Sky and Telescope’s links to lots of beginning topics. (Or, if you know a better beginning stargazing site, put a link to it in a comment below!

This Month’s Starmap

New Constellations

ORION – The Hunter

SCIENCE: Don’t miss M42 – The Orion Nebula. When looking at the constellation, it’s where Orion’s sword is hanging from his belt. It’s a star-forming nebula made of gas and dust.

Hubble - The Orion Nebula

Hubble - The Orion Nebula

MYTH:The Bororo Indians of Brazil see a fearsome caiman in the stars of Orion. The Black Caiman of the Amazon is one of the largest types of alligators, and one of the few that poses a danger to humans. Sadly for the Black Caiman, we pose more of a danger to it: it has become an endangered species due to human hunting of its skin.

Orion as the Caiman

Orion as the Caiman

TAURUS – The Bull

SCIENCE: We’ve got two open clusters in Taurus – The Pleiades (in his shoulder) and the Hyades (the “V” shaped head of the bull. Open clusters are a small collection of stars that are actually gravitationally bound to each other. They tend to be young, newly-formed stars that are slowly moving apart from each other.

I love to mention that the Pleiades are my favorite deep sky object in the night sky – because they look different every night. Depending on the weather and your eyes, you might see a smudge, 4 stars, 6 stars, or even 10. With binoculars you’ll see dozens of stars. With a telescope you’ll see hundreds. It’s a great gateway into astronomy.

MYTH: Taurus is Zeus – in the bull form he used to conquer Europa. A slightly more family-friendly version of the story has Orion fighting Taurus the bull – and the Pleiades are a wound where Orion has stabbed him.

GEMINI – The Twins

SCIENCE: Castor and Pollux are the “head” stars of the twins. Castor is a septuplet star – three pairs of stars orbiting a common center of gravity. Yii! Six!

MYTH: India also considers these stars twins, they are called Aswins, the twin horseman associated with the dawn.

PISCES – The Fish

SCIENCE: I find Pisces by starting with the circle at the top. It doubles as Pegasus’s wings, although it is officially part of Pisces.

MYTH: The only way I can make heads or tails of this constellation is to see it as two fish on an upside-down fishing line.

CETUS – The Sea Monster

SCIENCE: As it is far out of the plane of the Milky Way, it is easier to see other galaxies in this area of the sky with a good telescope, though none of them are naked-eye visible.

MYTH: Cetus is part of the giant Andromeda/Cassie/Perseus/Cepheus/Pegasus mythology.

AQUARIUS – The Water Bearer

SCIENCE: There are a few clusters and nebulae in Aquarius, but the one that I find most beautiful is the Helix nebula. It’s a planetary nebula – an exploded envelope of gas around a star that went supernova many, many years ago. Do not confuse it with the Ring Nebula – it looks similar, and is the same type of nebula.

Hubble - Helix Nebula

Hubble - Helix Nebula

MYTH: Aquarius is the Water-bearer. This is also the constellation referred to in the phrase “Age of Aquarius” – but that’s of astrological significance, which I can’t speak to.

“Tiny” Guys

Going for the Gold? Here’s this month’s itty-bittys.

SCUTUM – The Shield

CAMELOPARDALIS– The Giraffe

SCULPTOR – A Sculptor’s Studio

ERIDANUS – The River

RECENT SCIENCE: Epsilon Eridani (ε Eri, a star in Eridanus) is a Sun-like star, AND we’ve detected two debris belts (like our Asteroid Belt and Kuiper Belt) around it. Beyond that there are at least two planets there.

Artists Conception (Caltech) Epsilon Eridani System

Artist's Conception (Caltech) Epsilon Eridani System

TRIVIA: ε Eri is a very popular location in science fiction. In this case, I recommend the Wikipedia article. Notably – Babylon 5 is located at ε Eri. I thought I had been told that Vulcan orbited ε Eri, but I can’t find official confirmation of that. Vulcan is supposedly 16 lightyears away – ε Eri is 10 lightyears away.

ε Eridanus

ε Eridanus

TRIANGULUM – The Triangle

ARIES – The Ram

LYNX – The Lynx

LACERTA – The Lizard

EQUULEUS – The Little Horse

SAGITTA – The Arrow

VULPECULA – The Fox

Returning Constellations

ANDROMEDA – Princess Andromeda

PEGASUS – The Winged Horse

CEPHEUS – King Cepheus

PERSEUS – Perseus

DELPHINUS – The Dolphin

AQUILA – The Eagle

CYGNUS – The Swan or the Northern Cross

LYRA – The Harp

URSA MAJOR – The Great Bear

URSA MINOR – The Little Bear

CASSIOPEIA – The Queen

Happy Sky Viewing!

Where’d I get my Info?

My memory, and Zeta Strickland

2 Responses to “November-December Sky”

  • Hannah says:

    According to this article, Vulcan is 40 Eridani A. So, same constellation, but different star.

    Also, I totally misread “scutum” the first time. But since I expect this is meant to be a family-friendly blog, I won’t elaborate any further.

  • alicesastroinfo says:

    Thanks for the link Hannah that’s one more data point. Universe Today says Epsilon Eridani, AstroBio.net says 40 Eridani A … startrek.com says nothing, and neither does the fansite/wiki memory-alpha.org.

    Has anyone seen an episode where they mention what star Vulcan’s around?

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