The Lizard And The King

Breaking news: Not one but two supernovas have been discovered on consecutive days. First we have a magnitude 13.9 explosion occurring in the spiral galaxy NGC 4080 that was discovered on Oct 28. Located 49 million light years in the constellation Coma Berenices, this magnitude 13.7 galaxy is located at R.A. 12h 40m 52s, Dec. +26d 59m 47s. The second discovery came a day later on Oct 29 with a magnitude 13.2 supernova in galaxy M61 located in the Virgo cluster. At 60 million light years distance, this magnitude 9.2 face-on galaxy has produce six previous supernovas since 1926.

Now on to our two featured constellations. Located between the familiar starry patterns of Andromeda the Chained Woman and Cygnus the Swan is a small dim group of stars named Lacerta the Lizard. Its asterism consists of only six suns of which the brightest (Alpha Lacertae) is magnitude 3.9. Sometimes referred to as the “Little Cassiopeia”, Lacerta is void of any Messier objects but does sport a few objects such as the 13th magnitude planetary nebula IC 5217, consisting of a tiny disk that appear grayish in small scopes and could pose a bit of a challenge. However it is nicely situated along the starry field of our Milky Way Galaxy.

There are a few open clusters you can check out such as NGC 7243 located some 2,800 light years from us. At magnitude 6.4, it is measures 30 arc minutes or the same size of the full moon. Then we have NGC 7209 which is half the size of the previous object and a bit fainter at magnitude 7.7. And lastly we have NGC 7296 which contains only 15 stars but worth the visit.

Moving up farther north to King Cepheus, we are greeted by an asterism of 5 stars shaped like a church with a tall steeple. Its brightest star is named Alderamin and shines at magnitude 2.6. Alderamin spins once every 12 hours as opposed to our sun that takes some 25 days to do the same. Alderamin is a spectra class ‘A’ star that is moving off the main sequence as its internal fuel supply is running out.

We begin our tour in the far north and only 17 degrees from the North Star – Polaris. NGC 40 is a planetary nebula with a central star. This is another example of what the demise of our Sun in about 5 billion years from now. This magnitude 10.7 corpse exhibits a magnitude 11.6 central star. Aka the Bow-Tie Nebula or Caldwell 2 is some 3,700 light years away from us.

Another planetary nebula is NGC 7354. This object estimated to be about 4,000 light years from us, exhibits a classic double shell of material blown off by the dying star. Photography is required to pick up the fainter outer shell. The central star is a difficult magnitude 16.2 so large telescopes are a must. The previous two objects are located outside the five star asterism. However inside the imaginary house is a reflection nebula catalogued as NGC 7129 and at a distance of 3,300 light years, NGC 7129 glows at magnitude 11.5. The light reflecting off the nebula comes from NGC 7142 which is a collection of 130 suns that are less than a million years old. Young exited stars within the nebula have blown away some dust thus taking on a rosebud shape. The two are separated by a full moon width.

But the piece de resistance has to go to IC1396. This is an emission nebula producing stars within its huge cloud of interstellar gas and dust. The bright blue star at the central helps energize the entire region. Lovely dark clouds of dust adds to the beauty of the stellar nursery which measures over three degrees of sky and hundreds of light years wide. Not far from the central star is the famed Elephant’s Trunk nebula. IC1396 is thought to be about 3,000 from us.

This month the South and North Taurids produce only 7 meteors per hour and moonlight will interfere during the peak of the Southern Taurids. This shower lasts from September 25 to November 25. The North Taurids last from October 12 to December 2 and produce no more than 7 meteors per hour. Even the annual Leonids that attained storm status back in 1999, is expected to peak on the night of Nov 17/18. a dismal 10 to 15 meteors per hour will entertain us but the good new is a waning crescent moon will not interfere.

The planet Mercury is at greatest elongation in the morning skies in Virgo on November 5 after which it races to hide behind the Sun on December 8th. Jupiter at the beginning of the month rises at 11:50 p.m. local time in Leo about and is out all night long. Follow eclipses, shadows and transits of the four main moons of Jupiter names Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto on pages 235 and 236 of the 2014 RASC Observer’s Handbook. Saturn is sinking into the Sun’s glare in the western sky and is in conjunction with the Sun on the 18th.

Most time zones will see us moving our clocks back one hour on Sunday morning November 2 to Standard Time. If you do change the clocks, remember to adjust your time with regards to Universal Time (UT). Example for the eastern Canada that saw us subtract 4 hours from UT, we now subtract 5 hours after the time change.

The full Beaver Moon occurs on November 6 at 22:23 UT and the New Moon (lunation 1137 occurs on November 22 at 12:32 UT.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

eNews date: 
Saturday, November 1, 2014