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Watch out for a celestial firework display over Suffolk this November

01 November, 2020 - 19:00
Astronomer, Neil Norman  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Astronomer, Neil Norman Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

The days are really shortening quickly now as this unprecedented year draws to a close, writes astronomy expert Neil Norman.

We begin with a celestial fireworks display for mid-November- the Leonid meteor shower.

They are best observed after midnight on the morning of November 17 when you can expect to see between 10-20 meteors per hour up until the onset of dawn at 5.40am. Try to observe the following morning too, as rates of meteors will be very similar. A bonus this year is that the moon is out of the way so perfect skies will allow even the faintest meteors to be seen.

The meteors are fast moving and are the remnants of comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle and appear to come from the general direction of the sickle area of the constellation Leo.

Planet Hunting

This month gives us a chance to potentially view all the planets of the solar system in one observing session from dusk until dawn.

There are eight planets of the solar system and we are standing on one of those, so let’s concentrate on the remaining seven.

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Mercury is located very low in the east-southeast direction in the morning sky and rises some 70 minutes before the sun, so this will be a challenge to spot with the naked eye, but a pair of modest binoculars will show it well. The planet is located within the constellation of Virgo.

Venus is also within the constellation of Virgo and rises three and a half hours before the sun early in the month. It blazes pure white in the sky, you simply cannot miss it. Larger binoculars, say 20x80, will show Venus actually has a face like our moon appears to have.

Mars is located in the evening southern sky. Mars glows like a hot coal in the black velvet of space. Only the largest telescopes will now show surface details.

Jupiter and Saturn are both located in Sagittarius and are drawing very close together in the evening sky. They are heading towards a conjunction on December 21 when the two planets will appear visually (not physically) close together. This will be the closest conjunction since 1623 and it is a conjunction of this type that is believed to have been responsible for The Star Of Bethlehem.

Uranus is located in Aries. Uranus is high up in the southern sky and is technically visible as a greenish-disc to the naked eye, but in reality a pair of binoculars will be needed to confirm your observation. The planet was discovered in 1781 and is the fourth largest planet in the solar system and lies some 3 billion miles from the sun.

Neptune Finally we come to Neptune. Discovered in 1846, this planet lies 4 billion miles from the sun and is the third largest planet of our system.

A pair of binoculars will be needed to view this planet and it will reveal itself as a blue coloured disc.

It is located in the southern sky in the constellation of Aquarius and best viewed from 8.50pm onwards, the moon passes close by on November 22 and will aid as a sign post to the planet.


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