Living on the east coast buffeted by hurricanes over the years I've noticed their passing "scours" the atmosphere clean leaving in its wake a crystal clear sky free of dust. In that respect Hurricane Sandy didn't disappoint, clearing the way for observing a few upcoming events.
Unfortunately, the most spectacular event, a total solar eclipse in Australia, won't be visible from here. However, from meteors to planets , there are enough sights in the night sky to keep the occasional outdoor observer busy during November.
The Northern Taurids is an obscure meteor shower associated with comet Enke and normally produces at most a paltry half dozen or so meteors per hour. However, things might change for this year if the anticipated 61-year "swarm" last seen in 1951 returns. The theory behind the swarm is a cloud of larger than average dust particles may come our way producing colorful meteors and a number of fireballs.
The expected swarm would arrive in the two weeks between the end of October and about November 11. The full moon interfered with the start of the period, but has been fading since. The best time to look for any "Halloween Fireballs," as those from this shower are often called, is in the evening before moonrise.
Keep in mind predictions for meteors, and those for the comets that produce them, are often wrong. Frequently they may fail to live up to expectations although at times can far exceed them.
November's most famous shower is the Leonids. Advantages for this year include a weekend free from interference caused by a bright moon. Expected to be best for us after midnight on Friday the 16th (Saturday morning the 17th) when perhaps a dozen per hour could be visible.
Best equipment for meteor observing is a lawn chair with a blanket or sleeping bag and the unaided eye. November also offers several planets that don't require a telescope to see.
Jupiter is rising earlier each evening. Just look for the brightest star-like object low in the eastern sky a couple of hours after sunset. By early December Jupiter reaches "opposition" when it will be up all night.
A telescope of most any size will show each of the four Galilean satellites, or moons discovered by Galileo. They are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Telescopes at higher magnifications will also reveal the brownish-red bands and whitish-yellow zones on Jupiter. These features exist in the Jovian atmosphere where sheer winds are blowing hard.
The bright star to the right of Jupiter is Taurus' Aldebaran which is situated among a V-shaped cluster of stars known as the Hyades. Use your binoculars to enjoy a closer look at the star cluster.
For early risers, look for the conjunction between Venus and Saturn in late November. During the last week of the month the planets will be no more than four degrees apart. However, on the mornings of Thanksgiving and "black Friday" the planets are only one degree or less apart.
A telescope at low power should show both planets in the same field. The disc of Venus appears slightly smaller than Saturn's. Can you see Venus' gibbous phase and Saturn's rings in your telescope?
Another distant planet is also well placed for November viewing. Uranus is at its highest during evening prime time. Although technically a naked eye object, it appears star-like and unremarkable. But a telescope will show the tiny blue-green disc of the gas giant planet. A good up-to-date finder chart is a necessity when trying to locate it.
Perhaps the best way to see Uranus in a telescope is to attend one of the public planetarium programs followed by a star party at Bear Branch Nature Center. The next is scheduled for Saturday. Call 410-386-2103 during business hours to reserve a seat at the 7:30 p.m. planetarium show. The star party is free of charge and begins at 8:30 p.m.