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Our Friendly Skies

November 02, 2007

By ROD MARTIN, Planetarium Resource Teacher and ANDY SMETZER, Tristate Astronomers

Visible Evening Planets

JUPITER is in very low in the southwest at sunset.

MARS rises during the late evening.

Visible Morning Planets

VENUS is the bright "morning star" in the eastern morning sky.

SATURN is is high in the south as sunrise.

MERCURY is low in the east fefore sunrise most of the month.

As Jupiter performs its evening disappearing act, there are no bright planets until Mars rises.

Mars is approaching opposition in late December. It appears to be brightening and growing larger. The increased size is visible through a telescope, not to the unaided eye. It will NOT be as big as the full moon or closer than it will be for centuries. That is a myth circulating around the Internet.

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This month, Mars will brighten from -0.6 to -1.3 magnitudes. That makes it brighter than most of the bright stars in the sky. The Red Planet spends the month in the constellation Gemini, among the bright winter stars.

The next planet in our sky is Saturn. Its rings are less open than they had been, so Saturn may appear fainter than usual. At +0.8 magnitude in Leo, Saturn is a beautiful sight in telescopes.

The morning's highlight is the bright Venus. Venus is the "morning star," shining at -4.2 magnitude. It is bright enough to see during the daylight if care is taken to avoid looking at the sun. A good opportunity arises on Nov. 5. That day, use the thin crescent moon to find Venus. Venus will be left of the moon in the morning daylight.

Mercury makes its morning debut this month. Early in November, it will rise about an hour and a half before the Sun. One half hour before sunrise,

Mercury will be about ten degrees high. That's about the width of your fist at arm's length. Mercury reaches greatest elongation from the sun on Nov. 8. That is the best time to see the planet.

If you have a telescope or good pair of binoculars, this month offers the chance to see one of the newly designated "dwarf planets." Ceres was the first asteroid discovered and is the largest one. This month, Ceres reaches opposition on the 9th. It will be in the upper left corner of the constellation Cetus, near the border of Taurus and Aries. At +7.2 magnitude, Ceres is too faint to see without optical help. It is by far the brightest and easiest to see dwarf planet. The others are Pluto and Eris.

One of the most famous and reliable meteor showers is the Leonid shower, peaking on the night of Nov. 17-18. Several years ago, hundreds of meteors were visible each hour. This year, a more typical 15 or more per hour should be expected. It's possible that there may be a short burst of activity around midnight on the peak. Meteors from this shower may be visible from Nov. 14 to 21.

Sun and moon

On Nov. 4, the sun rises at 6:42 a.m. EST and sets at 5:06 p.m., for daylight of 10 hours and 24 minutes. By Nov. 30, the sun rises at 7:11, sets at 4:48, and has daylight of 9 hours and 37 minutes. Previously, daylight-saving time ended in October, but this year that date has been moved to Nov. 4.

The sun moves through a couple of constellations this month. Astronomy uses the exact position of the sun and constellation boundaries. The sun began November in the constellation Libra the Scales, then enters Scorpius the Scorpion on Nov. 23, then the non-zodiacal constellation Ophiuchus on Nov. 30. Astrology, which uses another method of locating the sun, has it entering Sagittarius on Nov. 22. Astrology doesn't allow for natural celestial motions, namely precession.

This month, the moon was at last quarter is on Nov. 1 andd reaches new is on Nov. 9, first quarter on Nov. 17, and full moon on Nov. 24.

Brish Planetarium/Tristate Astronomers

The Brish Planetarium's current public program is "Images of the Infinite: The Hubble Space Telescope." This was one of the most popular ones presented by the planetarium.

The Hubble Space Telescope has been in operation since its launch in 1990, dellivering unrivaled photographs and data of the wonders of the deep sky. Learn about many Hubble Space Telescope discoveries in this program.

"A Christmas Story" begins Nov. 27 and runs through December.

Examine many of our seasonal customs in this annual winter program. Winter customs, Yule, greenery, Santa, and even pawn shops are discussed. Highlights include possible astronomical explanations of the Christmas Star.

Programs are held each Tuesday, promptly at 7 p.m. Admission fees are $3 for adults, $2 for children and students, and free to senior citizens with the Washington County Public Schools Gold Card. The planetarium is at the central offices of the Washington County Public Schools on Commonwealth Avenue off Frederick Street in Hagerstown.

Go to antpod.com to download or listen to "Skylights," the planetarium podcast. Provided by Antietam Cable and The Herald-Mail, monthly sky tours hosted by Rod Martin of the Brish Planetarium can be downloaded to help you find your way across the night sky.

For more information about the planetarium and the Tristate Astronomers, visit their Web sites through www.tristateastronomers.org and navigate to the planetarium's page. To contact the planetarium, send e-mails to martirod@wcboe.k12.md.us.

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