Star Gazing in November

For the star map click here
For the diary Astronomical Phenomena for November 2012 click here
Indian names are given in italics and also in Devnagri

We start our observations from the western direction. Face west and hold the map so that ‘West’ marked on it is in the direction of your feet and ‘East’ is up (it will be read upside down) and now turn a bit to your right. You should be able to see three bright stars making a big triangle. The base of this triangle is almost parallel to the horizon. The star at the apex of the triangle is Deneb in Cygnus, [Hans हंस]. The one to the left is Altair [Shravan श्रवण] in Aquila [Garuda गरूड ]  and the one to the left is Vega [Abhijit अभिजीत], in Lyra [Swaramandal स्वरमंडल].

Right overhead is the Great Square of Pegasus,  [Maha-ashwa महाअश्व]. Its two leading stars (to the west) make the 25th Nakshartra; Purva Bhadrapada पूर्वा भाद्रपदा and the other two make the 26th Nakshatra Uttara Bhadrapada उत्तरा भाद्रपदा.  Purva and Uttara are in the sense of earlier and later.

Facing north look slightly to the east. There is a celestial ‘M’ whose left leg is pulled a little too much to the east. This constellation is Cassiopeia [Sharmishatha शर्मिष्ठा].  From west to east you can count five bright stars. Take 1st and 3rd star and join the two by an imaginary line. If you take perpendicular bisector of this line and extend it to the northern direction then the line goes through the pole stars, the Polaris. The other constellation that helps us to find the pole star, as you might know is Ursa Major [Sapta rishi सप्तर्षि]  .

If you now turn to east you will be treated with three bright constellations. Auriga [Sarathi सारथी] is well above the north western horizon. Orion [Mruga मृग] is just rising and between the two, but well have the horizon we have Taurus [Vrishabha वृषभ]. Orion is to be pronounced as oh-RYE-un, or lie O Ryan ( ओरायन ) and not as OH-ree-on.

Capella [Brahamha Rhudaya ब्रह्मह्रदय] is the brightest star in Auriga. Under a clear dark night you will be able to make out its yellowish colour. It is about 45 light years from us. To the right and a bit above you should be able to see the head of the Taurus. The brightest star is his constellation is Aldebaran [Rohini रोहिणी]. Aldebaran  is about 65 light years from us. In the same direction is a scattered group of stars, a cluster named Hyades. This group of stars is twice as far as Aldebaran. Of course, before we know the distances Aldebaran was (and for the viewing pleasure still is) the member of Hyades cluster. Rohini is 4th Nakshatra.
Further up above you can see another cluster of stars, Pleiades (Kruttika, कृत्तिका 3rd Nakshatra). Use a pair of binoculars to look at this magnificent cluster. This is, however, not a great sight at higher magnification. This group is surrounded by thin dust, which shows up in long exposure photographs.

One of the brightest stars in the southern direction is Acherner [agra-nad अग्रनद] in Eridanus, [Yamuna यमुना]. The name Acherner comes from ‘Al Ahir al Nahr’ or ‘Akhir an-Nahr’ means the End of the River. We call it Agra-nad or debaucher of river, Yamuna. Eridanus is now completely above the horizon. It stars (or ends) near Orion, which now is well above the horizon.

It is said that to know Orion is to know astronomy. This constellation has almost every type of heavenly objects. It has stars of all the classification, it has dark and bright clouds of gas and dust. All the planets pass through northern end of this constellation. The constellation is available all through the night when the skies are clear for the longest time that is during the winters. Next month Orion will be well above the horizon and we will discuss this constellation in detail. But for this month make your self-familiar with is constellation.

The basic figure of Orion comes from the three bright lines on one line that is boxed inside four stars. It is a bit difficult to imagine Orion as giant human figure from latitudes below 30 degrees. In order to imagine this figure you will have to tilt your head to left. The three stars on a line make the belt of the Hunter. The star at the left bottom corner of the box is called Betelgeuse [Kakshi काक्षी] is the right knee of the giant. This star is what astronomers call red super giant. The star is so big that if it were placed where the Sun is then it would engulf all the solar system up the orbit of Mars. This star is rather a cooler one. Temperature at its surface is about 3500 degrees. The surface temperature of the sun is about 6500. If that is not enough then look at the star at the other end of the box. The bright sparkling star is Rigel [Rajanya राजन्य], which has surface temperature twice that of the sun and that is 11000 degrees. It is the 7th brightest stars in the night sky.

To the right of Betelgeuse and a bit above you should be able to see a group of three stars. It is head of Orion or Mruga Shirsha मृग शीर्ष the 5th Nakshatra. If you look at the right side of the three-stars-on-a-line you will notice a big chain of stars. Here lies the famous Great Orion Nebula. Scan this area of the sky with a pair of binoculars.

Almost overhead is Cetus [Timingal तीमिंगल]. If you look at the map carefully you will find that a star is joining two polygons. This star is Mira, the Wonderful. It is to be pronounced as ‘Myra’ मायरा and not as ‘Meera’ as in Meerabai. This stars is normally too faint to be seen even in a small telescope. But every after 330 days or so this star brightens up to be visible to the naked eyes.

About skytonight

I am the present Director of Nehru Planetarium of Nehru Centre Mumbai, India I like to talk about astronomy and sky observations to general public.
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