- Alice's Astro Info - http://alicesastroinfo.com -

November-December Sky

A guide for what’s coming up this month. I tried to include a fact and a lesser-known story for each object. I didn’t completely succeed. This guide is written to give hints to people who already know approximately what they’re looking at. For a good beginner’s guide to the sky, try StarDate [1], Sky and Telescope’s Stargazing Basics [2], or Sky and Telescope’s links to lots of beginning topics [3]. (Or, if you know a better beginning stargazing site, put a link to it in a comment below!

This Month’s Starmap [4]

New Constellations

ORION – The Hunter

SCIENCE: Don’t miss M42 – The Orion Nebula. When looking at the constellation, it’s where Orion’s sword is hanging from his belt. It’s a star-forming nebula [5] made of gas and dust.

Hubble - The Orion Nebula [6]

Hubble - The Orion Nebula

MYTH:The Bororo Indians of Brazil see a fearsome caiman in the stars of Orion. The Black Caiman of the Amazon is one of the largest types of alligators, and one of the few that poses a danger to humans. Sadly for the Black Caiman, we pose more of a danger to it: it has become an endangered species due to human hunting of its skin.

Orion as the Caiman [7]

Orion as the Caiman

TAURUS – The Bull

SCIENCE: We’ve got two open clusters in Taurus – The Pleiades (in his shoulder) and the Hyades (the “V” shaped head of the bull. Open clusters are a small collection of stars that are actually gravitationally bound to each other. They tend to be young, newly-formed stars that are slowly moving apart from each other.

I love to mention that the Pleiades are my favorite deep sky object in the night sky – because they look different every night. Depending on the weather and your eyes, you might see a smudge, 4 stars, 6 stars, or even 10. With binoculars you’ll see dozens of stars. With a telescope you’ll see hundreds. It’s a great gateway into astronomy.

MYTH: Taurus is Zeus – in the bull form he used to conquer Europa. A slightly more family-friendly version of the story has Orion fighting Taurus the bull – and the Pleiades are a wound where Orion has stabbed him.

GEMINI – The Twins

SCIENCE: Castor and Pollux are the “head” stars of the twins. Castor is a septuplet star – three pairs of stars orbiting a common center of gravity. Yii! Six!

MYTH: India also considers these stars twins, they are called Aswins, the twin horseman associated with the dawn.

PISCES – The Fish

SCIENCE: I find Pisces by starting with the circle at the top. It doubles as Pegasus’s wings, although it is officially part of Pisces.

MYTH: The only way I can make heads or tails of this constellation is to see it as two fish on an upside-down fishing line.

CETUS – The Sea Monster

SCIENCE: As it is far out of the plane of the Milky Way, it is easier to see other galaxies in this area of the sky with a good telescope, though none of them are naked-eye visible.

MYTH: Cetus is part of the giant Andromeda/Cassie/Perseus/Cepheus/Pegasus mythology.

AQUARIUS – The Water Bearer

SCIENCE: There are a few clusters and nebulae in Aquarius, but the one that I find most beautiful is the Helix nebula. It’s a planetary nebula – an exploded envelope of gas around a star that went supernova [8] many, many years ago. Do not confuse it with the Ring Nebula – it looks similar, and is the same type of nebula.

Hubble - Helix Nebula [9]

Hubble - Helix Nebula

MYTH: Aquarius is the Water-bearer. This is also the constellation referred to in the phrase “Age of Aquarius” – but that’s of astrological significance, which I can’t speak to.

“Tiny” Guys

Going for the Gold? Here’s this month’s itty-bittys.

SCUTUM – The Shield


SCULPTOR – A Sculptor’s Studio

ERIDANUS – The River

RECENT SCIENCE: Epsilon Eridani (ε Eri, a star in Eridanus) is a Sun-like star, AND we’ve detected two debris belts [10] (like our Asteroid Belt and Kuiper Belt) around it. Beyond that there are at least two planets there.

Artists Conception (Caltech) Epsilon Eridani System [11]

Artist's Conception (Caltech) Epsilon Eridani System

TRIVIA: ε Eri is a very popular location in science fiction. In this case, I recommend the Wikipedia article [12]. Notably – Babylon 5 is located at ε Eri. I thought I had been told that Vulcan orbited [13] ε Eri [13], but I can’t find official [14] confirmation of that [15]. Vulcan is supposedly 16 lightyears away – ε Eri is 10 lightyears away.

ε Eridanus [16]

ε Eridanus

TRIANGULUM – The Triangle

ARIES – The Ram

LYNX – The Lynx

LACERTA – The Lizard

EQUULEUS – The Little Horse

SAGITTA – The Arrow


Returning Constellations

ANDROMEDA – Princess Andromeda

PEGASUS – The Winged Horse

CEPHEUS – King Cepheus

PERSEUS – Perseus

DELPHINUS – The Dolphin

AQUILA – The Eagle

CYGNUS – The Swan or the Northern Cross

LYRA – The Harp

URSA MAJOR – The Great Bear

URSA MINOR – The Little Bear


Happy Sky Viewing!

Where’d I get my Info?

My memory, and Zeta Strickland