Early morning observing can be some of the best. Not that I should know, being a night owl, but the times I have ventured forth (half-asleep) before the break of dawn I have been richly rewarded.
Stars or no stars, there’s still something to be said about getting up before the chickens and almost everyone else. Some of us have to, for our jobs, whether it is a long commute or literally to milk cows. There is a stillness and a freshness to the daybreak you just can’t get once the hum of everyday awakened life takes over.
By "stars or no stars" I of course refer to "clear skies or cloudy" for if skies are clear, what a shame to not look up. Yet, the stars go on shining night after night whether anyone is up basking in the starlight or not. In fact, stars shine by day as well, but you don’t notice them except for one star that steals the show, the Sun.
Early morning in the fall brings you a taste of spring skies that will grace our evenings in a few months. Around 5 a.m. in mid-November, bright orange Arcturus shines well up in the east, a highlight of springtide evenings. The Big Dipper is making it’s "spring leap" high in the north. Westward, the wonderful constellation Orion, famous for winter nights, is setting; brilliant blue-white Sirius glows low in the south-southwest. Due south at 5 a.m. look for the stars of Leo the Lion and to the right, the bright pair of stars Castor and Pollux, the "heads" of the constellation Gemini the Twins.
An extra treat this November (2018) is the gloriously bright planet Venus, heralded now as the "Morning Star" and dominating the low southeastern sky.
On November 17, Venus will be only one and a half degrees, to the lower left of the bright star Spica (not as bright as Venus), as seen about an hour before sunrise. The width of your little finger at arm’s length spans one degree. The Full Moon is approximately one half degree wide.
Small (or larger) telescope users will also be cheered by a newly discovered comet, visible in the constellation Virgo before morning twilight brightens the sky. Comet Macholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto has the amateur astronomy community especially proud because it was discovered (Nov. 7) by three amateur astronomers searching the sky with their telescopes. This used to be the norm, but in this day and age most new comets are discovered by automated, robotic cameras.
The comet has been seen in binoculars. Sky and Telescope magazine has all the details, including star charts, on their website.
Sunrise on November 17 occurs at 6:41 a.m. Astronomical twilight begins at 5:21 a.m. Early birds will have no trouble being up to enjoy the morning stars; it may be a little sacrifice for night owls but well worth it! You can even say good morning to the milk man on his rounds! Bonus: If it’s your day off maybe you can catch a nap!
Full Moon arrives November 23. Look for the Moon low in the west before dawn!
To all readers of this column, have a Happy Thanksgiving, and Keep looking up!
— Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.