Night sky by a forest

Eyes on the skies — November

Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the Skies” series. This will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.

November usually brings our first snows and the opportunity for some great outdoor adventures.

The early sunset and later sunrise provides us with almost 15 hours of darkness in which to observe nighttime splendors.

Here are our astronomical highlights for November 2020:

The sun

The sun continue to appear lower and lower in the sky as it drives to its lowest point at the time of the December Winter Solstice.

We now experience longer nights than days. While decreasing the amount of time for daylight activities, we can look forward to more time to appreciate the night sky’s splendours.

French River sunset

Here are the sunrise and sunset times for November:

November 1 November 15 November 30
Sunrise 7:07 am 7:27 am 7:46 am
Midday 12:09 pm 12:10 pm 12:14 pm
Sunset 5:11 pm 4:53 pm 4:42 pm

The moon

The moon has long captivated observers of all ages. Even a pair of small binoculars will reveal the craters of the moon.

November’s lunar phases of the moon occur as follows:

lunar phases

Did you know many First Nations teachings, including those of the Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee people, use the back of a turtle’s shell as a lunar calendar?

Learn more here.

The planets

After an incredible opposition, Mars is still one of the brightest objects in the night sky. Actually, because it rises earlier now than in October, Mars is more easily seen in November than in October for those who tend to go to sleep early.

For an outstanding and informative presentation, please check out this program  conducted by York University in which they mixed live views of the planet with lots of great scientific information.

Our summer planetary companions, Jupiter and Saturn, are still quite visible in the southwest at sunset.

If you’ve been paying attention to them over the past few months, you’ll note that the distance between them is getting smaller and smaller. This decrease is a result of the Earth overtaking both Saturn and Jupiter in its orbit around the sun and of Jupiter overtaking Saturn.

The distance will gradually decrease until, in late December, the planets will appear to almost be one object!

More on that in next month’s post.

Indigenous astronomy learning

Over the past several years, this blog has hosted a number of articles on Indigenous astronomy.

Unlike the institutionalized constellations that have become the norm of learning around the world, the Indigenous constellations reflect the many unique voices and traditions of the peoples that they represent.

people looking up at stars

An American-based organization, Native Skywatchers, has taken a world leading perspective on bringing a revitalization to Indigenous astronomy. With the support of organizations such as NASA and major science and nature museums like Ottawa’s Ingenium, they have researched and brought back stories and traditions from around the world.

As such, they have served as the source material for much of what has been posted in this blog and continue to be a guiding reference to those who wish to learn.

Last month, they hosted a NASA-sponsored live stream on Anishinaabek astronomy. They plan to host more of these presentations to get the word and knowledge out to as many people as possible.

This month’s live steam will feature D(L)akota astronomy. These programs bring science and storytelling together for an incredible learning experience.

November meteor showers

November has two interesting meteor showers.

The Annual Leonid shower peaks on the morning of November 17 with up to 25 meteors seen per hour.

Meteor shower from space.
Leonids as viewed from Space. Photo: NASA

The other meteor shower is the Taurid meteor shower. This shower peaks on the morning of November 12 with only about 5 to 10 meteors per hour.

However, many of these meteors are very bright — brighter than the brightest stars and planets!

For a detailed explanation of meteor showers, check out this link.

Featured constellations: the epic of Andromeda and Perseus

In this month’s edition, we trace an ancient Greek myth across six constellations.

Find this story of heroes, princesses and sea monsters here.

Diagram of constellations

This completes our review of the November skies…

Check back next month to learn more about the winter solstice, the Geminid meteor shower, and Monoceros the Unicorn.