Minnesota StarWatch: Winter constellations come out in November

Published 4:08 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2023

In November the bright winter constellations begin their grand entry into the evening sky. Leading the parade is Jupiter, the brilliant orb low in the east at nightfall.

Of the brightest stars in the array, the first to appear is Capella, in Auriga, the charioteer, which will be low in the northeast. Look above and slightly to the right of Capella for Perseus, a scraggly constellation most easily seen in the cold months. Its brightest star is Mirfak (or Algenib), but it is Algol, the second brightest, that holds a special place in the history of astronomy.

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Ancient Arab astronomers watched in fascination as Algol went through a cycle of brightening and dimming every 2.87 days. This eerie behavior happens because Algol, a multiple-star system, contains two closely bound stars orbiting each other. As seen from Earth, the dimmer star regularly passes in front of its brighter companion, causing a dip in its brightness. Some ancients identified Algol with a winking eye of Medusa, the Gorgon monster slain by the Greek hero Perseus, who holds her severed head.

Also in the evening sky, Saturn appears low in the south at nightfall. Below Saturn is Fomalhaut, dubbed “the loneliest star” because it’s the only bright one in its patch of sky. Fomalhaut’s constellation—Piscis Austrinus, the southern fish—is one of the dimmest of all.

In the morning sky, we’re treated to a breathtaking spread about an hour and a half before sunrise on the 9th. From east to west, you’ll see Venus and a crescent moon in a tight pair; the panoply of winter constellations; and Jupiter getting ready to set. Also, November’s full moon arrives at 3:16 a.m. on the 27th.

The Leonid meteor shower peaks in the predawn sky on the night of the 17th to 18th. Leonids can be quite bright and often leave persistent trails. This year, no moon will interfere.

The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. For more information, see:

• Duluth, Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium: www.d.umn.edu/planet

• Twin Cities, Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics: www.astro.umn.edu/outreach/pubnight

• Check out astronomy programs, free telescope events, and planetarium shows at the

• University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum: www.bellmuseum.umn.edu/astronomy

• Find U of M astronomers and links to the world of astronomy at: http://www.astro.umn.edu