Science

The Sky Above You – November 2022

By Duncan Lunan

The Moon will be Full on November 8th, New on November 23rd.  There is a total eclipse of the Moon on November 8th, visible from North America, China, Japan and Australasia, but not in the UK.  The US CAPSTONE spacecraft has had ‘an anomaly’ on its way to lunar orbit: controllers have regained solar power, communications and attitude control, and have traced the problem to a stuck valve in the propulsion system.  They’re now working on a ‘fix’ which will be needed in November, when the probe is due to enter ‘rectilinear halo orbit’, as a pathfinder for the proposed Lunar Gateway space station.

The planet Mercury is not visible in November, at superior conjunction beyond the Sun on November 8th, but will reappear in the evening sky in December. 

Venus remains out of sight through November, and is back in the evening sky in December. 

Mars is in Taurus, now very bright between the horns of the Bull, and rises at 8 p.m. in November, after reversing direction in the sky on October 31st, as it approaches opposition, when it will be at its nearest to us on December 8th.  Mars appears near the Moon on November 11th.

The impact of the DART mission with Diomorphos, the small moon of the asteroid Didymos, has been judged to be a complete success – not just accurate guidance to a direct hit, without human input at a range of a million miles, but changing the little moon’s orbit by 32 minutes, the maximum that could be expected, even though large volumes of dust were emitted and are continuing to do so, with a formation of second dust tail in the last few days.  Almost all of the spacecraft’s momentum has been imparted to the target, so some of it must have been rocket thrust generated by the departing dust.  The fears raised by previous European Space Agency studies, that such an impact might simply ‘shoogle’ the structure of the asteroid, heating it up, have proven to be unfounded.  What isn’t known yet is whether the moon consisted of loose rock right through, or has a denser core.  The LuciaCube microprobe which followed DART has hitherto been unable to see through the dense cloud of dust which has been generated.  If it is unable to do so at all, an ESA follow-up probe called Hera should settle the question in 2026.

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft made an Earth flyby on October 16th, gaining energy in the process.  A repeat in two years’ time will set it on course for the Trojan asteroids in the orbit of Jupiter.  Further efforts will be made to complete the latching of one of its solar panels, still 99% open, but it’s hoped it will be able to complete the mission even if they’re unsuccessful.

Jupiter is high and bright in the night sky in Pisces in November, until setting at 2 a.m. later in the month.  The Moon is near Jupiter on November 4th.

Saturn in Capricornus sets at 10.30 p.m. in November.  The Moon appears nearby on November 1st and 29th.

Uranus in Aries is at opposition, visible all night, on November 9th, at its closest to Earth and due south at midnight.  Uranus is near the Moon on November 8th, so close that it will be occulted, seen from Canada, Asia and Russia.  But for its nearness to the Moon the planet might just have been visible to the naked eye;  it might be glimpsed when the Moon is New on the 23rd.

Neptune, between Aquarius and Pisces, sets at 1.30 a.m. in November.  Neptune appears near the Moon on November 4th, and by the end of the month it sets soon after midnight.

The Taurid meteor showers from Encke’s Comet go on for the whole of November, peaking on November  5th and 11th-12th, and may produce more fireballs than usual because this year the Earth may encounter a denser stream of dust than usual.  The Leonid shower on November 17th-18th, from Comet Tempel-Tuttle, will be best before the Moon rises at midnight, and again there may be more meteors than usual at this point in its 33-year cycle, because we may encounter a dust stream released from the comet in 1733. 

Duncan Lunan’s most recent books, From the Moon to the Stars and The Other Side of the Interface, published by Other Side Books in 2019 and 2021, are available through Amazon or through bookshops, or from the publishers.  For details and for his other books see Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.

You can download a copy of November’s star map here:

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