November 2012 (with Gift Guide)

Before getting into November’s events, planets, and constellations (that's lower in this post), here’s a repeat of last November’s advice of telescope buying if you’re looking into getting your first one.

Special Question of the Month:

My kid (and/or I) want a telescope for Christmas. What telescope should I buy?

First of all, there are PLENTY of websites out there that are willing to give you a LOT of details about what to buy, especially if you are SERIOUSLY thinking about taking up astronomy. But I’m going to appeal to the masses that are going to want a telescope that is very simple to use, has minimal set up time, won’t break your bank, and is still of considerable quality to get you started thinking about what you will want in the telescope that you’ll buy next once you know you can devote significant time to the night sky (it’s tough for a lot of people to dedicate time to stargazing when we’re all stressed and busy and just want to sleep when it’s dark out.)

DO NOT BUY A TELESCOPE FROM WAL-MART OR A DEPARTMENT STORE!!! They are most likely junk telescopes with very poor optics, poor mounts (lightweight plastic tripods that shake even when you breathe on them), and they grossly overadvertise their abilities. There are a few decent ones on WalMart.com, but unless you’re experienced you won’t know which are good and which are bad. Sites like Orion Telescopes or Opt Corp offer only GOOD telescopes, and no junkers, since they cater to the amateur astronomer.

So what makes a good beginner scope? I’d say the easiest ones to use are the ones where you just point and look, don’t have to set up a tripod, and are small enough to carry around in one bag, but still have good optics. Here are some suggestions between $50 and $250.

FunScope - $60 – a good reflector from Orion with a simple mount, small, and is just point-and-look

Celestron FirstScope Telescope - $50 - a good reflector from Celestron with a simple mount, small, and is also just point-and-look. Both of these scopes are the cheapest, but still quality, telescopes that are a good investment for the novice who knows next to nothing about astronomy.

Orion SkyScanner 100mm TableTop Reflector - $100 - A step up from the FunScope and FirstScope, given it’s bigger aperture and better overall construction. Same principle of point-and-look.

Orion GoScope 80mm TableTop Refractor Telescope - $100 – Same principles as the previous telescopes (simple point-and-look, tabletop), but this is a refractor instead of a reflector.

Orion StarMax 90mm TableTop Mak-Cass Telescope - $200 – This is the next step up because a) it’s a slightly better construction of mount, and most importantly b) it’s a Maksutov-Cassegrain optical tube, which means it’s a much better scope. If you’re fairly confident you’ll be spending more time in astronomy later, this might be a good bet, since when you upgrade later, you’ll only have to buy a better (tracking, equatorial, etc.) mount, instead of the mount AND scope.

Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope - $200 – another step up since it’s a much bigger scope on a much bigger mount. This one definitely requires more work to get started on, since it requires you to understand polar alignment, right ascension, and declination, among other things. However, if you have the time to devote, this might be a good starter scope.

Astroscan Plus from Edmund Scientific - $249 – This is the most expensive one here, but it is also one of my favorites at star parties for the public. That’s because of its shape – there’s no complicated mount at all and if it gets bumped, it’s incredibly easy to realign. The red dot finder is a key component on this one, but the deluxe package includes a tripod, which is also a great accessory. This one is much harder to break or damage by normal use, although I can’t speak for carelessness and dropping it.

All the Orion scopes come with Starry Night Software, which is a great bonus – it shows what the sky looks like any day of the year any time of night from any location on Earth. You can also get a “cheap as free” version of that at http://www.stellarium.org. I’d shy away from refractors until you know what you are doing and are willing to invest a decent amount of money into one. I find these to be time intensive and frustrating to set up, leaving you with a greater hurdle to jump over when trying to get out and look at the stars. The mounts tend to be confusing to the novice. None are kid-proof, but that leaves you with a teachable moment about responsibility and all that parenting type stuff. The Astroscan is a great beginning telescope because there is no complicated mount. I could keep going on and on, but I’ll stop there for now. If you have any more questions about this or anything else with Christmas shopping for nerds, please leave a note on http://mrwebb.podbean.com and I’ll be sure to respond.

Now on to the sky for the month of November. We’ve got the Leonid meteor shower (weak, but probably worth a look), some good lunar encounters, a planetary close encounter, and some eclipses that I want to warn you to not worry about.

EVENTS...

1st Close Encounter – Jupiter & Moon – Starting around 8:30pm, look for the gibbous Moon in the East. Just about 1˚ above it will be bright Jupiter. These two will rise throughout the night, and still be visible in the West around sunrise.

4th – Daylight Savings Time Ends – 2am for most of North America

Last Quarter Moon – 7th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

11thClose Encounter – Venus & Moon – Get up before sunrise, look SE, and you’ll see bright Venus about 5˚ to the left of the thin crescent Moon.

12th - Close Encounter – Saturn & Moon – Get up before sunrise, look SE, and if you have a good view of the horizon (and maybe binoculars would help) Saturn will be about 5˚ to the left of the even thinner crescent Moon.

New Moon – 13th (darkest skies)

13th-14th – Total Solar Eclipse – but you’ll only see it if you’re in north Australia or the South Pacific

15th-16thClose Encounter – Moon & Mars – On the 15th, look SW after sunset (around 5pm) and find the very thin waxing crescent Moon low on the horizon. About 7˚ to the left will be Mars. The next night the Moon will be on the opposite side of Mars.

17thLeonid Meteor Shower - The peak will produce about 20 meteors per hour under dark skies starting the night of the 17th into the morning of the 18th. Luckily the Moon will not be out for this one, so you have a good shot of seeing at least a couple. If you’ve got patience, go out in the morning and look toward Leo, but keeping an open eye for the whole sky.

Some advice for watching:

Find a dark location, lie down in a reclining chair or swimming pool floaty

Look toward Leo (in the East/SE). That is where the radiant is - where the meteors will appear to be coming from. Keep a wide eye and try to take in the whole sky, instead of staring at one spot or through binoculars or a telescope. If you can’t find Leo, just look “up”.

Dress in multiple layers and bring hot chocolate

Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear (weather.com has a good map here)

Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something.

First Quarter Moon – 20th (Visible until midnight)

26th, 27thClose Encounter – Saturn & Venus – Look SE on the mornings of the 26th and 27th and you’ll see Venus and Saturn less than 1˚ apart. If you’re REALLY good, you’ll find Mercury down and to their left.

28th – Penumbral Lunar Eclipse – These eclipses are not exciting, since they barely dim the Moon. Not really worth the effort of going out to see it, although you will see some stars that night anyway.

28thClose Encounter – Moon & Jupiter 2 – Jupiter will be about 1˚ up and to the left of the Full Moon. Just find the Moon, and you’ll find Jupiter right there.

Full Moon – 28th (Visible all night – East around sunset, West around Sunrise)

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset – Mars (SW)

Planets you can see throughout the night – Jupiter (E to S to W)

Planets you can see in the Morning – Jupiter (W), Venus (E), Saturn (ESE)

Mercury – Might be visible at the end of the month, if you’re good.

VENUS A high morning “star” this month. The brightest object in the morning East, will be lowest at 4:30am, rising up to about 30˚ by daybreak. Closest to the Moon on the 11th.

Mars – In the SW after sunset, and sets around 6:40pm. Look for the reddish-hued object only no more than 10˚ above the horizon. Very close to the Moon on the 15th and 16th.

JUPITER – Rises in the East after 6:30pm and visible until sunrise, when it’s low in the W. Close to the Moon on the 1st and 28th. Use binoculars or a telescope to try to see the four Galilean Moons. If you’re looking at Orion and Taurus in the morning, Jupiter’s the very bright one above Taurus.

Saturn – Just barely visible between Venus and the ESE horizon in the mornings. Gets higher and closer to Venus every day and passes Venus on the 26th and 27th.

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb) Look straight up and you'll see...

After Sunset (sunset is around 5:00pm after Nov. 4th) – Lacerta, Pegasus (the Great Square)

Between Sunset and Midnight – Pegasus, Andromeda - Extra Challenge! Using your naked eye (dark-adapted and in a dark area) or binoculars under normal conditions and a star chart, try finding our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy. It’ll be a faint, but bigger, fuzzy in the constellation Andromeda.

Midnight – Perseus, Taurus

Early Morning – Lynx, Cancer, Gemini - Extra Challenge! Using binoculars, find the bright and open cluster M35. Find Gemini, look at the rightmost leg, go down to the foot, and move 2-3 degrees to the right (W).

GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS:

Summer Constellations: Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, Delphinus

Look to the West after sunset until about 9pm and you’ll still be able to see Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, (and Delphinus.)  These three constellations have the three brightest stars of the summer constellations (Vega, Deneb, Altair – respectively.)  Those bright stars create the summer triangle. Being summer constellations and it being fall right now, they are setting and are visible for a shorter period of time. If you’re under dark skies (away from city lights) you may just catch a glimpse of the Milky Way passing through Cygnus and Aquila.

Fall Constellations: Andromeda, Pegasus

If you can find the Summer Triangle and Delphinus, about 40˚ to the East (leftish) will be the Great Square of the fall constellation Pegasus. Perhaps you’ll even see the two curves of Andromeda off of one side, with the Andromeda Galaxy as a small, faint fuzzy nearby (you’ll need dark skies to see it). A sky map will help you tremendously in finding these. You’ll see these in the East after sunset, straight above you around midnight, and in the West in the morning.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.

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