~ St. Maarten’s Backyard Astronomy for November 16 & 17 ~

Sun rises at 6:18am

Sun sets at 5:35pm

Lunar phase: 3rd quarter moon, waning gibbous

Moon sets: 10:49am, Saturday

Moon rises 10:16pm, Saturday

The peak of the wonderful Leonid meteor shower is this Sunday night-Monday morning. This shower is active every year from about November 6 to 30, whenever the earth passes through the orbital path of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Like many comets, Tempel-Tuttle litters its orbit with bits of debris. It’s when this cometary debris enters Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes that we see a meteor shower.

This year, a waning gibbous moon will light up the sky during the shower’s peak. In a dark sky, absent of moonlight, you can see as many as 15 meteors per hour at the peak. How many will you see this weekend? That is not certain, but some of the “falling stars” should be visible, even with the bright moonlight.

While you are meteor gazing, take a pause to check out Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades. They are closely situated together, rather high in our sky at this time of year. Currently, Orion reaches its highest point an hour or two after midnight. Look for the three brilliant stars in a row, indicating Orion’s belt. Use that three-star line to star hop to Orion’s neighbours. Follow the line of the belt to the side and look for a V shape. This is the head of Taurus the Bull.

Taurus is a large constellation, but most backyard astronomers focus on the five stars which form the shape of the letter V. If you hold up your hand at arm’s length and do a peace sign, that is about the size of the formation you are looking for. This shape represents the head of Taurus the Bull, with his pointy horns. Aldebaran is the brightest star in Taurus, situated at the tip of one of the bull’s horns.

Next, look in the same direction, continuing along that same line, and about the same distance that spanned from Orion to Taurus. You are looking for a tiny, misty collection of stars known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. The Pleiades’ shape is similar to the Big or Little Dippers, but very much smaller in size. This is a great place to study with a good pair of binoculars. The Pleiades is a stellar nursery, the stars in its cluster are relatively young when compared to the other stars and planets in our sky.

Thank you for keeping up with the Night Sky articles. If you are out later on in the week, each star rises about four minutes earlier each day than written here, and the moon rises 50 minutes later. Night Sky is researched and compiled by Lisa Davis-Burnett. Earthsky.org is a key resource for information and images. Questions or comments? Email davisburnettlisa@gmail.com.