Stars Over Sisters 11/01/2022


Last updated 11/1/2022 at Noon


Spectacular face-on galaxy M74 is located 32 million light-years away in the constellation of Pisces.

As the fall season advances into the eleventh month of the year, the constellation of Pisces becomes well placed for patient observers of the night sky to find. By mid-month at about 9 p.m. local time, the two fishes will be bisected by the meridian. While Pisces is a big constellation (fourteenth largest by area), it is quite inconspicuous.

Choose a clear, moonless evening away from interfering bright lights and look to the south. The western fish is depicted by a circlet of stars located beneath the Great Square of Pegasus, while the northern fish lies just south of Mirach in Andromeda. It is said the two aquatic animals each has a ribbon tied to its tail (depicted by strings of dim stars), the ends of which are joined in a knot (denoted by the constellation’s brightest star, Alrescha).

Astronomers have discovered several planets revolving around 13 stars in Pisces. There is an impressive collection of deep-sky objects in this area of the sky, and all are galaxies. The most notable of these is M74, a face-on grand-design spiral galaxy. A grand-design galaxy is a type of spiral galaxy with prominent, well-defined symmetrical arms that can be observed to extend from its center to its outer edge. M74 contains an estimated 100 billion stars and is approximately 32 million light-years away. Three supernovae have been recorded in this galaxy, the latest occurring in 2013.

There is no shortage of sky lore associated with Pisces. One Greek legend involves Aphrodite and her son Eros who called on the water nymphs to help them escape an attack from the monster Typhon. Two fish were sent to rescue them and, after tying themselves together with a rope so they wouldn’t become separated, they were carried to safety. To reward the deed, the fish were placed among the stars.

A total eclipse of the Full Beaver Moon is on tap for the morning of Tuesday, November 8. We here in the Pacific time zone will be able to see the entire eclipse from start to finish. The earth’s umbral shadow contacts the moon at 1:09 a.m. to begin the partial phase. Totality begins at 2:17 and ends at 3:42. Mid-eclipse will occur at 2:59.

The Leonid meteor shower will peak in the early morning hours of November 17 and 18, when approximately 15 meteors per hour are expected. Light from a waning crescent moon only one day past last quarter will likely wash out the dimmer shooting stars.

This month all four of the solar system’s gas giants are strung out across the evening sky. From west to east, they are Saturn in Capricornus, Neptune in Aquarius, Jupiter in Pisces, and Uranus in Aries. However, only Jupiter and Saturn are naked-eye objects.

Mars isn’t officially an evening object just yet (that will happen early in December), but it can’t be missed rising in the northeast at about 8:30 p.m. The Red Planet is rapidly brightening and will reach a magnitude of -1.8 when the earth makes its closest approach on November 30. At that time, the two planets will come within 50.6 million miles of each other. Since Mars is currently in Taurus, take time to compare its reddish hue with that of the nearby star Aldebaran.

The two inferior planets Mercury and Venus are too close to the sun to be seen this month.

This month’s dark-sky tip is to use warmer colored lights at night. Light color is measured in Kelvin, 10,000K being as blue as the sky while 1,000K produces a stark red light. Normal daylight is around 3,000K, and a campfire flame comes in at about 2,700K. Warm light is safer because it causes far less glare than does white or blue light.

Having cool-colored lights on your house or other buildings greatly impacts our circadian rhythm and makes sleep difficult. It also affects our natural night vision, hence why back lights on cars are red. Warm light also improves our mood, making us more relaxed and less anxious. It’s important for human health, as well as improving safety by reducing glare, to keep outdoor lights at or below 2,700K.


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