November 2016 Skies
Supermoons, Leonids and the Great Hunter – November nights in Coal Creek Canyon
It’s time to get out the meteor shower caps again as the skies over Coal Creek Canyon light up with brighter Leonid meteors on November 17th and 18th. The Leonids usually produce about 20 meteors per hour. But this year a waning gibbous moon is going to make seeing all but the brightest meteors more difficult. They occur as the Earth passes through the dust and gravel debris left from comet Tempel-Tuttle. The comet takes about 33 years to orbit the Sun. The famed meteor shower has produced some of the greatest meteor storms in history including one in 1966 that produced thousands of meteors per minute creating what sounds like a mind-boggling hyperspace effect.
The best time to look for Leonid shooting stars is anytime during the night of the 17th. The best way to view the meteor shower is to go out near midnight, bundle up against the November chill, find a spot away from artificial lights, get comfortable while sitting back gazing at the sky. Relax. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, more and more of the sky’s wonders appear. The Leonids seem to originate from the constellation Leo, the lion, but can appear anywhere in the sky. It’s a waiting game. During past showers, I have just about given up seeing shooting stars when several beauties sail through the sky. It’s worth the wait. Feel free to head inside at any time. The show goes on all night.
This month’s full moon is called the Full Beaver Moon. It’s also known as the Full Frosty Moon and the Full Hunter’s Moon. It is the second of three supermoons that finish up the year. Jupiter reappears in the morning sky in early November. Look for Saturn, Venus and Mars (and Pluto) low in the western sky early in November. Uranus and Neptune are well placed for viewing high in the sky if you have a larger telescope. All the planets except for Pluto will show a disk in a telescope. Tiny Pluto looks just like a star. The dwarf planet’s movement against the starry backdrop night after night is the only clue to its true nature.
November heralds the prime-time return of the easily recognizable sky objects Taurus, the Pleiades and Orion, the Hunter. Look for Orion’s bright shoulder stars and three belt stars rising from the glow of Denver mid-evening during the month. Not only does Orion contain the Great Nebula and stellar nursery called Messier 42, but also the constellation contains some of the largest and most luminous stars in the galaxy. Not coincidentally, because of their size and brightness all seven of Orion’s main stars are among the farthest stars visible to our naked eye.