FOLLOWING THE MOON

The Moon was full on Nov. 1 and will reach the third quarter point Nov. 7. This week, watch as the Moon passes 1.7 degrees north of Jupiter on Nov. 6.

The full moon rises around sunset and remains in the sky until sunrise.

As the Moon passes through the waning gibbous phase, it will rise about 40 minutes later each successive night.

WHERE THE PLANETS ARE

MERCURY: This elusive planet is always hard to observe. However, this week, Mercury will be relatively close to the brilliant pre-dawn planet Venus.

VENUS: The bright beacon of the eastern pre-dawn sky, Venus outshines all the planets and night-sky stars. Venus will rise by 4:30 a.m.

MARS: This red planet is low in the southwestern evening sky. The only planet visible after sunset, Mars will set soon after the Sun sets.

JUPITER: The giant planet outshines all the night sky objects except for the Moon and Venus. Observe Jupiter as a bright light within the constellation Gemini. Jupiter will rise in the late evening.

SATURN: The ringed planet occupies the Taurus region of the sky. This slow-moving world can be found around the Southern Horn region. The v-shaped Hyades star cluster marks Taurus the Bull. Saturn rises in the mid-evening.

SPOTTING THE DIPPERS

The Big Dipper is one of the night sky’s most easily recognizable patterns. Four stars in the shape of a square mark the Big Dipper’s bowl; three stars represent the handle.

The Big Dipper is a circumpolar constellation, meaning that it will never set at our latitude (at least it won’t in our lifetimes).

This time of year, the Big Dipper starts in the evening low on the northern horizon. You can imagine it as a pot resting on the horizon.

If you watch the Big Dipper through the night, you’ll observe it slowly ascend into the northeastern sky. The Big Dipper’s handle will be pointed toward the northeastern horizon in the pre-dawn sky.

No matter how it is aligned, the Big Dipper always serves as a direction marker toward the North Star (Polaris).

Find the outer two stars in the Big Dipper’s bowl (Dubhe and Merak). Draw a line from the bottom of the bowl through these two stars and continue this line until you encounter the closest conspicuous star, Polaris.

Although it is a few hundred light-years away, Polaris is aligned almost directly above the North Pole. For this reason, it hardly appears to move at all during the night. This apparent immobility explains why it was so useful to navigators of old and to you tonight: Polaris always marks the northern sky.

Polaris is the end handle star in the Little Dipper. The Little Dipper is not only smaller than the Big Dipper; its stars are also fainter.

Like the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper is a circumpolar pattern. Thus, the dippers are the great constants of the night sky – even as we watch the patterns of autumn being gradually replaced in our night sky by the winter stars.

DID YOU KNOW?

You can use Polaris to determine your latitude, provided, of course, that you’re in the Northern Hemisphere. Simply, your latitude will be equal to the elevation angle of Polaris above the northern horizon.

For instance, at the North Pole, Polaris will be at the zenith (directly overhead) 90 degrees above the northern horizon.

Polaris is 43.5 degrees above the northern horizon in Portland, Maine (latitude: 43.5 degrees).

At the equator, Polaris will be just on the horizon. (Atmospheric refraction will project the image of Polaris slightly above the horizon).

Call 780-4249 for planetarium show times, or refer to our Web site at www.usm.maine.edu/planet

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