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The Sky This Month - November 2006

Posted in
Written by Gary Boyle, Ottawa on
Post Date: 
Wed, 2006/11/01

The night sky is a vast and ancient collection of mythological stories and superstition. In fact, one of the most famous legends is known as the Royal Family of Constellations in which six patches of sky take part in this nightly play. To sum up the story, King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia sacrificed their daughter Andromeda to the sea monster Cetus to appease the Gods. Perseus – our northern hero was on his way back from slaying the Medusa with her severed head in a potato bag. Hearing Andromeda’s cry for help, Perseus arrived not a moment too soon. Quickly thinking, Perseus showed the head of snakes to Cetus and monster immediately turned to stone. Our hero and his damsel fly off on Pegasus– the winged horse.  As seen from 45 degrees north latitude, half of Perseus is a circumpolar, meaning that our hero will not dip below the northern horizon. The further north you travel, more constellation will not be lost. Buried within its borders are many fine celestial objects with the most famous being, the Double Cluster. These jewels are catalogued as NGC 884 and 869 which reside around7,000 light years (ly) from us. This duo is spectacular in binoculars and very low power binoculars.

I once viewed the Double Cluster many years ago at the annual Stellafane convention near Springfield, Vermont with a home made 17.5 inch f/3.8telescope on display. At this low F/ setting, coma would surely turn stars at the edge of the field of view into seagulls. Coma is a direct result of a very deep mirror with focal lengths shorter than f/5.4. The owner attached a Paracorr coma corrector and the image was flawless and very bright. It was like looking at dozens of miniature headlights. The Double Cluster seems to have a number of M-type red supergiant stars. Seen by Hipparchus and Ptolemy back in the year 150 BC, the Double Cluster is a treat even to the naked eye. 

Parked just over three degrees east from the famous duo is a widely scatter association of somewhat bright suns known as NGC 744. Since this area is close to the Milky Way, you might have a bit of a problem discerning the cluster’s members which shine at magnitude 7.9. This cluster lies some4,900 ly away and is estimated to be about 39 million old. 

Continuing in the same easterly direction, look for M76 most commonly referred as the Little Dumbbell Nebula aka the Butterfly, Corkor Barbell nebula. Just like its larger cousin (M27), this planetary is the result of a star’s death. The celestial corpse measures a faint magnitude 16.6and still radiates at some 60,000 degrees Kelvin. The Little Dumbbell is listed at about 3,400 ly away and glows at just over 10th magnitude. The shell of expanding gas is about one ly in length.

NGC 1275 is a very interesting object for sure. In fact it is not one but two objects in one. What I mean is there are two galaxies in collision. This face-on object glows at magnitude 11.5 and is an estimated 230 million ly from us. It will take about 100 million years for this slow motion collision to complete.

               

  

Our next stop will be the bright open cluster of M34. It is situated a little north of the imaginary line between Algol and Almach in Andromeda. M34 is located a mere 1,400 ly away and contains some 100 stars scattered across the width of the full moon. At magnitude 5.5, you should easily pick it up. Now more your scope south about two degrees till you uncover the elongated galaxy – NGC1003. The disk runs from east to west but you will probably need to use averted vision to pick up this magnitude 11.5 smudge.

One the easiest and most viewed variable star in the entire sky has to be Algol – the Demon Star. In fact the mythological story mentioned above, Algol plays the part of the Medusa (head of snake) and was the weapon that defeated the monster Cetus. This host star varies like clock work every2.87 days fluctuating from magnitude 2.3 to 3.4. With such a bright object and quick cycle, anyone can see two full cycles per week. 

Sliding further south try to locate a loose cluster called NGC 1342. At magnitude 6.7,this group takes up half the moon’s width. Another dense open cluster is NGC1528. At a brightness of magnitude 6.4, this gem takes up about three-quarters of the full moon. 

Comet Swan is putting on a great show. During the last week of October, the comet fractured, thus exposing new material. This allowed the comet to suddenly climb to naked eye status. I viewed our interstellar visitor on Oct 30th,easily picking it up in 7 X 35 binoculars even with a near gibbous Moon. Although I did not catch evidence of a tail, it was bright green. Don’t miss this amazing sight, who knows when the next bright one may knock on our celestial doors.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

 

Object

 

Type

 

Magnitude

 

RA

 

Dec

 

IC 1805

 

Open cluster

 

6.0

 

2h 33m

 

61d 28m

 

IC 1848

 

Open cluster

 

6.0

 

2h 52m

 

60d 27m

 

M 34

 

Open cluster

 

5.2

 

2h 42m

 

42d 48m

 

NGC 744

 

Open cluster

 

7.9

 

1h 59m

 

55d 31m

 

NGC 746

 

Elongated galaxy

 

13.0

 

1h 58m

 

44d 58m

 

NGC 846

 

Round galaxy

 

13.0

 

2h 13m

 

44d 36m

 

NGC 956

 

Open cluster

 

9.0

 

2h 33m

 

44d 41m

 

NGC 957

 

Open cluster

 

7.6

 

2h 34m

 

57d 34m

 

NGC 1003

 

Elongated galaxy

 

11.5

 

2h 40m

 

40d 54m

 

NGC 1130

 

Round galaxy

 

13.0

 

2h 55m

 

41d 38m

 

NGC 1160

 

Elongated galaxy

 

13.0

 

3h 02m

 

45d 00m

 

NGC 1169

 

Elongated galaxy

 

11.7

 

3h 04m

 

46d 25m

 

NGC 1245

 

Open cluster

 

8.4

 

3h 15m

 

47d 17m

 

NGC 1275

 

Elongated galaxy

 

11.6

 

3h 20m

 

41d 33m

 

NGC 1342

 

Open cluster

 

6.7

 

3h 32m

 

37d 21m

 

NGC 1348

 

Open cluster

 

6.5

 

3h 34m

 

51d 27m

 

NGC 1444

 

Open cluster

 

6.6

 

3h 50m

 

52d 41m

 

NGC 1496

 

Open cluster

 

10.0

 

4h 05m

 

52d 38m

 

NGC 1513

 

Open cluster

 

8.4

 

4h 11m

 

49d 32m

On November 8th, the closest planet to the Sun will perform a rare transit across the Sun’s face. The entire event will be witnessed from about 2 p.m. till sunset (Eastern Time). Remember NEVER try to glimpse the sun with the naked eye. There are a few true solar filters on the market. One of the new types is called Baader film.

A few years ago it was the called the great meteor storm but since then has fizzled. The Leonids (kids of Leo), maxis out on the night of Nov 18 at 11:45 p.m. (eastern). In fact the radiant only rises between 11:00 p.m. and midnight. European observers will have the best view of this year’s display. We on the east coast will only see about 25 meteors per hour. There might be a short outburst at the 11:45 p.m. peak of around 100 per hour. This is only a prediction.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle
garyboyle@sympatico.ca