This Week’s Sky at a Glance, November 4 – November 11

Around sunset now the Pleiades star cluster is rising. Also known as M45 or the Seven Sisters, and sometimes mistaken to be the Little Dipper, this compact eye-catcher represents the shoulder of Taurus the Bull. Over the next two hours the rest of the constellation clears the eastern horizon; in particular, the V-shaped Hyades star cluster anchored by orange Aldebaran, and the two stars marking the horn-tips.

In mythology, Zeus changed himself into a beautiful white bull to attract the attention of Europa, a princess of Sidon. She was taken by its gentleness and made the mistake of climbing on its back. Bully Zeus took off to the nearby seashore and swam all the way to Crete, where he changed back into his godly form and completed his conquest. The result was a baby boy who was named Minos, and he grew up to become the first King of Crete.

One of the horn stars of Taurus had been shared with the constellation Auriga. This star, Alnath, was officially assigned to Taurus when the constellation boundaries were set by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in the late 1920s. Taurus is one of the zodiac constellations; the ecliptic passes between the Pleiades and Hyades and also between the horn-tips. A few millennia ago this occurred during late April and May. With the precession of the equinox due to Earth’s 25,800 year wobble, and the IAU’s reshaping of constellation boundaries, the Sun now is “in” Taurus from May 14 to June 21. Since the Moon’s orbit is tilted to the ecliptic by about five degrees, at times it can be seen passing in front of the Pleiades and Aldebaran.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:04 am and sunset will occur at 6:00 pm, giving 9 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (8:07 am and 6:07 pm in Saint John). We return to Standard Time at 2:00 am this Sunday. Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:14 am and set at 4:51 pm, giving 9 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (7:17 am and 4:58 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Saturday, November 4, the Hunter’s Moon or the Mi’kmaq Rivers Freezing Moon, and it is at third quarter next Friday. On Sunday evening it occults the bright star Aldebaran for an hour, beginning at approximately 9:10. You will want to be watching sooner to see the Moon approach the star, and also soon after 10 pm so you don’t miss it pop out from behind the slightly darkened right side of the Moon. Mercury sets 40 minutes after the Sun midweek; followed by Saturn at 7:15 pm. Mars shows its reddish colour high in the morning sky, whereas over the week Venus and Jupiter approach each other low in the east. Watch for meteors emanating from Taurus this week, as the minor South Taurid and North Taurid meteor showers peak this weekend and next, respectively.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets at the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on November 4 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason at nasonc@nbnet.nb.ca.

[Featured image credit: NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory]