Today: The Leonid meteor shower peaks this morning. But there will be increased activity for the next few days.
These meteors appear to come from a point in the constellation Leo the lion. This point is about five and a half fists above the southeastern horizon at 5 a.m. The Moon is in the first quarter so its light will not interfere with viewing.
The Leonid meteors are particles from the tail of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, a comet discovered by Ernst Tempel and Horace Parnell Tuttle in 1866. These are exceptionally fast moving meteors — over 150,000 miles per hour! Go to earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-leonid-meteor-shower/ to read everything you need to know about the Leonid meteor shower. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment.
Sunday: “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood.” Constellations can be considered neighborhoods in the nighttime sky. But, the stars in those constellations are not necessarily neighbors in real life.
For example, the bright stars in the constellation Cassiopeia range from 19 light years to over 10,000 light years away from Earth. One constellation that consists of real neighbors is Ursa Major.
Or, more specifically, the Big Dipper. Five stars in the Big Dipper are all moving in the same direction in space, are about the same age, and are all about 80 light years from Earth. “Please won’t you be my neighbor?”
Skat, the third brightest star in the constellation Aquarius is a neighbor to these five Big Dipper stars, all of which are about 30 light years from each other. They are thought to have originated in the same nebula about 500 million years ago. Just like human children do, these child stars are slowly moving away from home. Skat is about three fists above due south at 7 p.m. The much brighter Fomalhaut is a fist and a half below Skat. And, it’s not fun being below Skat.
Monday: Have you ever sat around waiting for a long distance call from another state? Another country? How about another star system?
In 2019, astronomers thought they heard a radio signal from a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, our Sun’s nearest neighbor at about 4.2 light years away. This signal showed many signs of being extraterrestrial in origin, including coming from a specific location in the sky, having a pure tone, and changing in frequency similar to something moving exactly towards or exactly away from the Earth. However, a more recent analysis showed that the signal was more like a crank call. Read more about the discovery and undiscovery at skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-news/the-true-nature-of-the-candidate-et-signal-from-proxima-centauri/.
Proxima Centauri is part of the three star Alpha Centauri system, the third brightest star in the sky. You need to go down to the southern tip of Texas or Florida to see Alpha Centauri.
Tuesday: Are you thankful that you live in a solar system with multiple planets? You should be. A giant planet like Jupiter cleans up planetary debris that could have collided with Earth and hindered the formation of complex life.
Any inhabitants of the planets orbiting Upsilon Andromedae are thankful for this, as well.
Upsilon Andromedae, a star in the constellation Andromeda, was the first Sun-like star discovered to have multiple planets orbiting it. So far, all of its discovered planets are giant planets like Jupiter. But the system is likely to also contain smaller planets. The dim star, but certainly not its planets, is barely visible straight overhead at 9 p.m. Our Jupiter is five fists above the southwestern horizon at this time. Saturn is two fists above the southwest horizon.
Wednesday: Deneb Kaitos, Arabic for whale’s tail, is two and a half fists above due south at 8:30 p.m. This is the brightest star in the constellation Cetus the sea monster. Or, if you are less prone to hyperbole, Cetus the whale.
Thursday: Some of us have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. But, probably not as much as Andromeda had to be thankful for.
According to Greek mythology, the beautiful princess Andromeda was chained to a rock next to the ocean. Cetus the sea monster was about to devour her in order to punish her family. Her mother Queen Cassiopeia and her father King Cepheus didn’t know what to do. It seemed that all was lost. But, along came Andromeda’s boyfriend, the great warrior Perseus.
Even though Perseus’ standing as the son of King Zeus and the slayer of Medusa was probably enough to win Andromeda under normal circumstances, Andromeda’s impending death-by-sea-monster was not a normal circumstance. So, Perseus drove his sword into the sea monster’s neck and killed it. This was the first time in recorded history that a set of parents actually welcomed an uninvited Thanksgiving visit from the boyfriend. Perseus is about five fists above the east-northeastern horizon and Andromeda is about seven fists above the eastern horizon at 7 p.m.
Friday: Venus is three fists above the southeastern horizon at 6:30 a.m. The bright star Spica is to its lower right.
The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week. For up to date information about the night sky, go to nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.
Bruce Palmquist is a professor of physics, science and mathematics at Central Washington University.