This month is an exciting one for skywatchers, with a total lunar eclipse, an enormous star, and a meteor shower three highlights to enjoy.
The total lunar eclipse — when Earth blocks all of the sun’s direct light from reaching the moon — takes place early on the morning of Tuesday, November 8, and will be visible to people in North America, the Pacific region, Australia, and East Asia.
Folks located in the Eastern time zone of the U.S. and Canada will have to crawl out of bed early to witness the celestial event, as it’ll begin just after 4 a.m ET.
The full eclipse will take place at about 5:15 a.m. ET, and after that, the moon will set with the eclipse continuing.
With the West Coast of North America three hours behind, the timings mean a late night on Monday as the eclipse will begin just after 1 a.m PT before reaching the full eclipse by around 2:15 a.m. PT.
Anyone with binoculars can enjoy a bonus event in the form of a view of the giant ice planet Uranus, which will be visible a mere finger’s width away from the eclipsed moon.
Spica is a giant star that has 10 times the mass of our sun while also being 12,000 times more luminous. “Fortunately for us, it’s located 260 light-years away,” NASA says.
Despite its vast distance from Earth, you can get a view of its light by gazing skyward in the hour before sunrise on Sunday, November 20. To spot it, look toward the southeast, locate what will be a slim crescent moon, and then look just below for the bright bluish star Spica.
The annual Leonid meteor shower comprises dusty bits of debris left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle as it orbits the sun.
It’s viewable throughout November, but the best time to take a look will be as it peaks after midnight on Friday, November 18.
NASA says you may be able to see as many as 20 meteors per hour streaking across the sky, but notes that the moon will be around 35% full that night so its light could interfere with your ability to see the fainter meteors.
However, it also says that Leonid meteors are often bright, with the streaks lasting several seconds, so there should still be plenty of viewable action.
To give yourself the best chance of spotting the Leonids, find a dark spot well away from any light pollution.
NASA advises: “While the moon will be rising in the east with Leo around midnight local time, it’s actually better to view the sky away from the meteors’ apparent point of origin, by lying back and looking straight upward, as any meteor trails you see will appear longer and more spectacular.”
If you want help identifying everything you see in the night sky, you can try one of these excellent astronomy apps for iPhone and Android.
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