November’s the month that brings Comet ISON, the much-hyped “Comet of the Century.” When using a computer program to determine for this column what occurs over the month, it showed a tremendous cometary tail sweeping through the sky at month’s end.
I believe some programmer earlier this year got a little too enthusiastic. Nobody knows how C/2012 S1 ISON will behave as it nears the sun. It is not brightening as was expected, nor is it breaking apart. We are just going to have to wait and see. It may yet be worth watching.
As for the expected doomsday rhetoric on the Internet concerning this event, it’s about as useful as all that silliness about the Mayan calendar and 2012.
Jupiter is November’s “morning star,” and does not set until midafternoon on Friday, followed by Mars 90 minutes later. In the early morning hours, Mars can be seen moving through Leo on the eastern horizon. Jupiter and the waning gibbous moon are within the field of a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars on Nov. 22.
Venus remains the “evening star,” still brightening toward its maximum magnitude of -4.9 in early December. Look for Mercury near the east-southeast dawn horizon during the last two weeks of the month. On the morning of Nov. 26, Saturn lies within ⅓ of a degree of Mercury.
Look for Uranus at magnitude 5.5 near the waxing gibbous moon on Nov. 13 about 9 p.m. The spheres are separated by less than 3 degrees. On Nov. 10, Neptune, too, is within the binocular field of the waxing gibbous moon.
A curious daytime occultation of Spica by the moon occurs on Nov. 29. Spica (in Virgo) is one of only four stars that lie within the moon’s path that can be seen through binoculars during the daylight hours. About 12:37 p.m., Spica will disappear behind the bright limb of the waning crescent, emerging from the darkened side a little less than an hour later.
The Northern Taurid meteor shower peaks on Nov. 12; the best hours will be before moonrise at 3 a.m. The Leonids this year peak on Nov. 17, but a full moon will blot out all but the brightest all night long.
Remember to set your clocks back an hour Nov. 3, as daylight saving time ends.
This month I have a question, and I posed it to our excellent planetarians. At 2 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, I saw a rainbow — but it was in the west, and the sun was directly south. It looked like a colorful smile in the afternoon cloudy sky, with no precipitation that I could see.
And I thought, “Whaaat?” as a rainbow is almost always seen directly opposite the sun. So I took a photo of it.
Turns out, thanks to John Waechter, also past president of the Wilderness Center Astronomy Club, it is a circumzenithal arc. It’s considered a meteorological phenomenon. Also known as Bravais’ arc, the circumzenithal arc is caused by the refraction of sunlight through horizontally oriented ice crystals in clouds, not from raindrops. It forms about one-quarter of a circle with the zenith (the very top point of the dome of the sky) as the center.
It appears as an upside-down rainbow. As a matter of fact, if you Google “smile in the sky,” guess what comes up?
Beginning Nov. 9 and running through December, the Hoover-Price Planetarium will present Celestial Light. The West’s traditional view of the heavens has been greatly influenced by Greek mythology and tradition. We will be looking at how other cultures across the planet see the night sky.
The program will be shown at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. The Hoover-Price Planetarium is located inside the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum.
David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, OH 44708, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.