Looking for the Lonely Star
Fomalhaut glows in the south
Shortly after the sun sets, test your eyes searching for Mars low in the southwest. To the right shines similarly colored Antares, the heart of Scorpius, the gap between the two widening noticeably over the coming week, but they both set before 7pm.
Around the same time, Jupiter rises in the east-northeast, with the red eye of Taurus the bull shining to its right. Thursday and Friday the moon visits old Jove, with the stars of the Pleiades cluster between the two Friday. With the moon’s glare, the Pleiades will appear as little more than another starry light, but with even binoculars many of the cluster’s stars will come into focus.
Looking toward Taurus, keep your eyes peeled for meteors, as the first couple weeks in November bring a pair of meteor showers that appear to emanate from that constellation. The South Taurids peak this weekend, while the North Taurids peak next week. Both tend to generate a modest six to a dozen meteors an hour between midnight and dawn. But these are slow-moving by meteor standards, and they tend to leave long trails in their wake as well as an occasional fireball.
Can you find the lonely star Fomalhaut? This first-magnitude star marks the constellation Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish. Surrounded by the otherwise dim stars of autumn, it shines like a beacon in the dark. Only 25 light years distant, Fomalhaut is surrounded by a disk of debris, which astronomers have found to contain planets albeit giants several times larger than Jupiter. Fomalhaut climbs to its highest point above the southern horizon Saturday.
Venus rises more than an hour before dawn and is unmistakably bright in the east as the sky begins to lighten.
After this week, you’ll have to wake up an hour earlier to greet this morning star, as Sunday before dawn marks our return to Standard Time, when we set our clocks back an hour.