Our Night Sky for Nov. 20, 2019


Eridanus

I wondered if any of you were able to see Mercury transit the Sun on the 11th.  At 7:30 I was able to look out a window with my eye protector and binoculars, but couldn’t see Mercury.  Then at 8:30 I went outside to look, but still couldn’t find the black dot on the Sun.  It was fun to actually view the Sun, although I obviously should’ve used my telescope to find Mercury.
On the 28th Mercury reaches its greatest western elongation at 20 degrees from the Sun.  It rises 1 ½ hours before the Sun and will have brightened to -0.5 degrees, which is its brightest.  So look low in the East while the sky is still dark, or just a little bright.   I would say at 5:30, or maybe by 6 AM.
At 6 AM when I look out the window at the front of our house I see a very bright star close to half way up in the sky in the SSW.  It must be Sirius.  Higher up above it is another star that’s not as bright.  That’s either Betelgeuse in Orion or Procyon.  I’ll have to get up a little earlier when it’s dark enough to see the constellations.  Then I’ll know for sure which stars they are.
The last quarter moon is on the 19th and the new moon is on the 26th, so this is the perfect time for night sky viewing.  Jupiter and Venus are low in the SW 45 minutes after sunset.  We may not be able to see them with our mountains.  Currently Jupiter is above Venus, but soon Venus will be above Jupiter.  Saturn is higher and a little to the left, but soon it will also be dropping down in the sky.
Low in the SE is the constellation Eridanus the River.  It has 33 stars and the best viewing of it is from now through January.  It’s not highly bright, but should be easily viewed with our clear dark sky.  It’s quite large at 2 hands wide and 3 hands high, and looks like a big curvy snake.  When you see Orion the Hunter just look to its lower left to find Eridanus.  It’s the 6th largest constellation in our sky.
The constellation has been identified as the Euphrates on the Nile.  Ancient Greeks believed it was the river into which Phaethon, the son of god Helios, was cast for being foolhardy enough to believe that he could control the Sun god’s chariot across the sky.  When he tried that he lost control and plunged into the river.
Its Alpha star Achernar is the 9th brightest star in our sky.  It’s also called Eridani and is a blue white giant 140 Ly from us, and is at the very bottom of the constellation.  So when it rises higher in the sky, you should be able to find it.  Epsilon Eridani AKA Sudina Epsilon is at the top of the constellation and is only 10.5 LY away.  It’s one of the closest Sun like stars to Earth, and is just a little fainter and cooler than our Sun.
Omicron-2 Eridani is a triple star system 16 LY from us.  It hosts the most easily seen white dwarf star in our sky.  There’s also a red dwarf and another white dwarf.  There’s also a spiral galaxy NGC 1300 basically in the middle.  With a telescope you can probably find several galaxies and one planetary nebula NGC 1535.  You might find a few with binoculars.  I always enjoy exploring this part of the sky.

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