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Davis, California

Sunday, April 14, 2024

November constellations and Comet ISON

The coming of winter means less sunlight but more starlight. The beginning of November hailed a rare solar eclipse, but the eclipse was only visible to viewers from the US East Coast to the middle east. However, Davis astronomy aficionados can still catch the highly anticipated Comet ISON.

Born from the primeval matter of the earliest days of the solar system, the ball of ice and rock is embarking on its first trip through the inner solar system. When it nears the sun, its pristine surface will ignite and form a tail of gas and dust. Experts worry that ISON has a high chance of disintegrating due to the gravitational forces, solar radiation and extremely high temperatures from the sun. If it survives skimming just 730,000 miles above the surface of the sun at its perihelion — the point of an orbit closest to the sun — it will return and blaze in northern skies as the most dazzling comet of this century.

ISON is currently only visible by binoculars or telescope in Virgo. Check your calendars and hope for ISON’s slated magnificent arrival after Thanksgiving.

The east hails the constellations of the new season while last season’s constellations begin their yearly descent in the west. Venus still beams mightily over the southwestern horizon at dusk. Nine p.m. unveils the glow of Jupiter and figure of Orion as they emerge together from the eastern horizon. The Orion Nebula, one of the few deep sky objects visible to the naked eye, hangs luminously from Orion’s belt. Using binoculars or a telescope reveals the Nebula’s blue-green tint and the very young open star cluster nestled within it (of the four most prominent stars, two are double star systems). Other important emerging constellations include Auriga and Gemini. Night owls can stay up to witness Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky, which begins its ascent around midnight. Earth’s orbit around the sun has made the Summer Triangle descend lower and lower in the sky during the night; it will disappear altogether by the end of December.

 

SCREENSHOT: Eastern horizon

SCREENSHOT: The Summer Triangle (will set around 11 p.m.)

SCREENSHOT: (taken by the Hubble Space Telescope) The Orion Nebula in all its glory. Sorry, it won’t look as good as this through your toys

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