Status Report

The Sky This Week 2003 October 31 – November 7

By SpaceRef Editor
November 3, 2003
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The Moon waxes in the evening skies this week, greeting trick-or-treaters on Halloween as the week opens and ending with a disappearing act next weekend. Full Moon occurs on the 8th at 8:13 pm Eastern Standard Time. November’s Full Moon is popularly known as the Frosty Moon or the Beaver Moon. Yes, frost has formed on the pumpkin already, and beavers are making haste to prepare their dens for the rigors of winter. Look for the Moon close to ruddy mars on the evenings of the 2nd and 3rd.

The Full Moon traverses the southern half of the shadow of the Earth on the evening of the 8th. Washingtonians have a ringside seat for this event, which begins in the early evening hours. You’ll probably notice a subtle darkening of Luna’s northeastern limb by around 6:15 pm, and at 6:32 the first dark ìbiteî of the earth’s shadow should start to slide across Luna’s face. The total phase begins at 8:06 pm and lasts 25 minutes. Most of the Moon’s disc will be immersed in the deepest part of the Earth’s shadow, but the southern limb of the Moon may be quite bright, since it will be just inside the shadow’s limit. The color will be a deep coppery red near the center, brightening toward the shadow edge. The receding partial phase lasts until 10:05 pm, and the last of the penumbral shading will be gone 10 to 15 minutes later. Our next chance to see a total lunar eclipse comes exactly 12 lunations after this one, in October 2004. After that we’ll have to wait until 2007 for our next glimpse of one.

The recent strong solar activity has caused quite a buzz in the news media, and local skywatchers have had the chance to catch a few displays of the Northern Lights. The sunspots that are responsible for the activity are some of the largest seen in recent memory, but they are rotating toward Old Sol’s limb. By early next week their influence will be minimal, but until then it might be prudent to cast an occasional glimpse skyward to see the elusive lights. Generally in these climes they are seen as amorphous glowing red clouds that brighten and fade in intensity, occasionally laced with more delicate greenish bars and curtains. Predicting their occurrence is still something of a ìblack artî, so your best bet is to keep track of current solar activity on the internet. Seeing the lights is more a matter of luck than skill, but they are nevertheless a fascinating sight.

Mars still leads the way in the evening planetary parade, crossing the meridian at around 8:00 pm. He’s still the brightest object in the southern sky, and while he has faded considerably from his dazzle of last August, his ruddy tint is even more apparent now. He’s still worth a peek through the telescope.

Ringed Saturn is now well up in the east at local midnight. The best time to look at his beautiful rings is still in the wee hours, but his location in the center of the bright stars of the Winter Circle makes him a visual treat as soon as he’s up each evening.

SpaceRef staff editor.