Constellations, clouds and comet debris dominate the November sky

NGC 1977 is commonly called the Running Man Nebula due to the somewhat identifiable outline of a man striding through the sky. The Running Man lies south of the famous and substantial stellar nursery called the Orion Nebula, being some 1500 light-years away in the constellation of Orion. Photo by MPAS member Steven Mohr

This month, the constellations Eridanus and Cetus sit right above you. Eridanus, the River, is naturally long and winding and its end is marked by the bright star Achernar, which can be seen high in the sky almost due south. Canis Major can be located in the east with the blazing star Sirius making it easy to find. Orion and Taurus are also coming into view in the east. It is easy to identify Orion through its brightest stars: blue-white Rigel (Beta Orionis) and red Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis).

As Cetus is high in the sky, a large telescope will show you the interesting spiral galaxy M77, sitting very close to the star Delta Ceti. The beautiful Magellanic Clouds should be your next target. The Large Magellanic Cloud sits across the border between the constellations Dorado, the Goldfish (or Swordfish), and Mensa, the Table Mountain. A small telescope is all you need to explore the sparkling star clusters as well as the Tarantula Nebula (NGC 2070), nestled within the LMC. Meanwhile, a short distance away in the constellation Tucana, you can see the Small Magellanic Cloud and the globular cluster 47 Tucanae (NGC 104). These are wonderful binocular or small telescope targets. Looking towards the northeast, the Hyades and Pleiades open star clusters make excellent binocular targets.

The Leonid meteor shower is annually active in November, and this year the Leonids will peak late on the night of November 16 until dawn the next day. The bright waxing gibbous moon will be out nearly all night long and will set in the hours before sunrise. The shower is called Leonids because its radiant – or the point in the sky from which the meteors seem to emerge – lies in the constellation Leo. The Leonids occur when the Earth passes through the debris left by Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The comet takes about 33 years to make one orbit of the Sun.

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the November 2021 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.