The night sky in November

Cosmic storytellers - comets and meteor showers

Comets are storytellers. Long ago, humans thought that comets could predict the future. Comets were even considered by the Chinese as harbingers of disease and death.  Now, we know that comets hold the fingerprints of the past:  the history of the early solar system. They may also provide clues into the origin of life on Earth and perhaps on other worlds. The theory of panspermia hypothesizes that comets are the mechanism by which life is seeded across the universe and galaxy.

The International Rosetta mission is investigating a comet’s physical characteristics, composition and behaviour as it journeys toward the sun.

Rosetta studied Comet T7/Linear in 2004; Comet Tempel-1 in 2005; and took measurements of asteroids, Steins and Lutetia on its 10-year journey to Comet 67P/C-G (Churyumov-Gerasimenko).

Unlike Comet Siding Spring from last month, which was a long-period comet with an orbit greater than 100,000 years, this comet that Philae lands on Nov. 12 has a very short period of just seven years, meaning it comes back every seven years. To give you a sense of its size, it is as big as Mount Baker.

Rosetta’s lander, Philae, is scheduled to land on the comet today at 7:35 a.m. (Cattle Point time). This event will be covered live on Internet TV all night long. We expect CNN will cover the actual landing at 7:30 a.m. It promises to be almost as interesting as the moon landing in 1969. Philae is named after Philae Island in the Nile where an obelisk was found and used, along with the Rosetta Stone, to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics.

November’s twin meteor showers feature the slow Taurids and the swift Leonids. The Taurids are the debris of Comet 2/P Encke, visible from mid-October into December. Look in the direction of Cetus and Taurus in the eastern sky towards Mount Baker.

You can learn more Rosetta and Comet 67P/C-G at http://sci.esa.int/rosetta/ and http://rosetta.jpl.nasa.gov/. And you can calculate the Leonid and Taurid rates at your location using this neat tool at http://leonid.arc.nasa.gov/estimator.html. You can learn much more about  our night sky and see our new “real time” Cattle Point Night Sky map at: http://www.cattlepointstarpark.org.

Dark Skies to all friends of Cattle Point Star Park.

This summary is from the transcript of What’s Up In November 2014 by NASA announcer and astronomer Jane Houston Jones with specific permission for localization to Cattle Point Urban Star Park and the Oak Bay News.

Bill Smith is a volunteer at Cattle Point Dark Sky Urban Star Park.