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Use constellation Cassiopeia to find Andromeda galaxy

Andromeda Galaxy from Chris Levitan Photography.

What is the easiest way to find the Andromeda galaxy at this time of year? On a dark night, this galaxy looks like a faint smudge of light. Once you’ve found it, try again with binoculars or your telescope. The Andromeda galaxy is the nearest large spiral galaxy to our Milky Way. It’s about 2.5 million light-years away, teeming with hundreds of billions of stars. Here’s more, plus a sky chart …

Looking out our Milky Way galaxy’s south window


Tonight, try using the Great Square of Pegasus to star-hop to our galaxy’s south window. In other words, you’ll be looking away from the flat plane of the Milky Way – where most of our galaxy’s stars reside – and southward toward intergalactic space.

Watch for last quarter moon and Jupiter before dawn

From day to day, the moon moves eastward in front of the backdrop stars. The green line depicts the ecliptic - Earth's orbital plane projected onto the dome of sky. The moon and planets are always found on or near the ecliptic

From day to day, the moon moves eastward in front of the backdrop stars. It’s moving past Jupiter on these mornings around mid-November, 2014.

Tonight – November 13, 2014 – the moon is approaching its last quarter phase, when it appears half-illuminated in our sky. A last quarter moon rises around midnight, which means you should look for this moon between midnight and dawn on November 14. Notice a bright object near the moon? It’s hard to overlook because it’s the brightest starlike object in the sky now. But it’s not a star. It’s the planet Jupiter.

Pleiades star cluster: Famous Seven Sisters

The Pleiades star cluster – also known as the Seven Sisters or M45 – is visible from virtually every place that humanity inhabits Earth’s globe. It can be seen from as far north as the north pole, and farther south than the southernmost tip of South America. It looks like a tiny misty dipper of stars. Follow the links inside to learn more about the Pleiades.

Start watching for Jupiter near moon, late night to dawn


Tonight – the night of November 12, 2014 – the waning gibbous moon rises in the east at late evening. Then the dazzling planet Jupiter – brightest planet up there now that Venus is located in the sun’s direction – follows the moon into your sky an hour or more later. If you’re a night owl, are are up at late evening or around midnight, you might see the brilliant twosome before going to bed tonight. If you’re an early bird, look for the moon and Jupiter to be quite high in the sky during the predawn/dawn hours.

Achernar is the End of the River

Achernar is flattened because it rotates rapidly

Achernar is flattened because it rotates rapidly

The 9th brightest star in all the heavens, Achernar is a well-known sight to observers in the Southern Hemisphere, but known only by name to the great majority of observers in the Northern Hemisphere. It is so far south on the dome of stars surrounding Earth that, for all practical purposes, you must be around 25 degrees N. latitude to see it well. That is a line drawn around the entire globe passing through, say, Miami in the U.S. state of Florida and Taipei in China. Achernar is also the flattest star known. Its fast rotation produces its odd, flattened shape, first discovered by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in 2003.

N. Taurid meteors peak in moonlight on November 11-12

The radiant point of November's North Taurid meteor shower.

The radiant point of November’s North Taurid meteor shower.

Meteor forecasters are calling for November 11-12 to be the peak night of the North Taurid meteor. On a moonless night, this shower is usually best viewed for several hours, centered around midnight. However, in 2014, it may be more advantageous to watch this evening, or before the bright waning gibbous moon rises into your sky. This is a somewhat rambling – and sparse – shower, offering perhaps five meteors per hour. These slow-moving meteors are known for producing fireballs – exceptionally bright meteors – that may well overcome tonight’s moonlight glare.

Moon in Gemini, near Castor and Pollux, on November 10


Before going to bed tonight, look in the east to northeast sky for the moon and the two brightest stars in the constellation Gemini: Castor and Pollux. From mid-northern latitudes, the threesome appears over the horizon by around 9 to 10 p.m. In the Southern Hemisphere, the stars Castor and Pollux won’t climb over the horizon until very late tonight.

Moon farthest north, near Elnath, on night of November 9-10


Tonight, on the night of November 9-10, the moon swings to the northernmost point in its monthly orbit around Earth. The moon is farthest north for the month on November 9, at 23:12 Universal Time. Tonight’s moon shines in the vicinity of Elnath, the constellation Taurus’ second brightest star, after Aldebaran. As seen from mid-northern latitudes, the waning gibbous moon and Elnath rise into the east-northwest sky around 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. local time. At latitudes south of the equator, the moon and Elnath rise at late evening.

The ocean in the autumn sky


Tonight … come to know the ocean in the autumn sky. This chart makes the southern sky in autumn look crowded. But, if you look, you’ll find only one bright star shining here. It’s the star Fomalhaut, which from the Northern Hemisphere appears to shine in solitary splendor every northern autumn. This part of the sky – and these faint stars in Fomalhaut’s vicinity – are what the ancient stargazers regarded as a celestial ocean. Many of the constellations in this part of the sky are connected with water – perhaps because the sun was moving in front of these stars on the great pathway of the ecliptic during a rainy season long ago.