5 Sky Events This Week: Morning Comets and Solar Eclipse

 On February 21, 2012, the Moon moved in between NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite and the Sun (seen here in extreme ultraviolet light) and produced a partial solar eclipse from space. Earthlings will get their chance to see a solar eclipse this week. Credit: NASA/SDO
On February 21, 2012, the Moon moved in between NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite and the Sun (seen here in extreme ultraviolet light) and produced a partial solar eclipse from space. Earthlings will get their chance to see a solar eclipse this week. Credit: NASA/SDO

The Earth’s moon plays hide and seek with distant stars and our sun this week, and the nighttime sights include a double comet show in the pre-dawn skies.

Lunar Trio. In the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 29 the moon will form a stunning triangular pattern with ruddy Mars and blue-white star Regulus in the constellation Leo, the Lion.

Pre-dawn Comets.  On Friday, November 1, and for the rest of the month, the much-talked-about comet ISON will be visible in the predawn sky. At the beginning of the month ISON shines at about 9th magnitude making it visible as a faint fuzzy speck in binoculars. Expectations are that it will continue to brighten, possibly reaching naked-eye visibility by the end of the month when it reaches its closest approach with the sun on November 28.

Joining ISON just a few binocular fields to its far lower left is another icy interloper, the comet 2P/Encke, which will also be visible a couple hours before local sunrise. Flying through the constellation Leo, the Lion, Encke shines at about 7th magnitude, making it the brightest comet in our skies for now. For sky-watchers this means that Encke is an easy target to see with binoculars and small telescopes. The two comets appear about 20 degrees apartequal to the width of two side-by-side fists at arm’s length.

Double comet show in the pre-dawn skies. Looking easter about 2 hours before sunrise Mars and Arcturus help guide observers to comets ISON and Encke. Credit: Starry Night Software/ A. Fazekas
Double comet show in the pre-dawn skies. Looking easter about 2 hours before sunrise Mars and Arcturus help guide observers to comets ISON and Encke. Credit: Starry Night Software/ A. Fazekas

Zodiacal Lights.   From Saturday, November 2, and the following two weeks, keen-eyed skywatchers in the mid-northern latitudes will witness the ghostly glow of the zodiacal lights about one to two hours before local dawn in the eastern sky.

The glow results from sunlight reflecting off the countless dust particles floating in space, leftovers from the formation of the planets formed about 4.5 billion years ago.

The best chances to catch this pyramid-shaped beam of light will come in the dark countryside.  Helping to track it down, Mars will be shining just above its apex.

Moon and Spica: Saturday morning also offers an extreme observing challenge with the razor-thin waning crescent moon pairing up with the Virgo constellation’s brightest star Spica. Spica will be very low in the eastern horizon before local dawn.  The moon will only be about 20 hours from its new moon phase.

For observers in central and northern Europe and Asia, the moon will actually appear to eclipse or occult Spica. Here are the times and chart of this lunar occultation.

Solar Eclipse.  At sunrise on Sunday, November 3, a partial solar eclipse will greet skywatchers along North America’s East Coast.  How big of a bite out of the sun’s lower left limb you get to see depends on your location.  From Montreal, about 32 percent of the sun will appear covered, while coverage in Boston will be 63 percent and Miami will be 43 percent. However, you will need to be observing from a site with a totally clear view of the eastern horizon. Remember NEVER look directly at the sun without special solar filter protection.

Those lucky enough to be in Africa along the narrow path of totalitywhere the entire disk of the sun is covered by the moon’s silhouette – will witness a total solar eclipse on Sunday afternoon. Total eclipse will be visible from parts of Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

 

Tell us—what amazing sky phenomena have you seen lately?

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

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