Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Stargazing in November

By David Reneke

Your guide to the night skies

The night sky this week is fairly dark with a nice half moon in sight and that's good for watching meteors over the next week or so. This month’s are frequently bright, slow moving and noted for producing colourful ‘meteor showers.’ Fantastic sights if they happen so don't forget to keep your camera handy - just in case.

So, what exactly are meteor showers? As comets orbit the Sun, they shed an icy, dusty debris stream along the comet's orbit. If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower. By the way, when meteors hit the ground they’re called meteorites.

Meteorites look pretty when they fall but you know, there's money in space rocks! Near Earth meteors and asteroids offer both a threat and a promise. The threat is from an impact with regional or global disaster. The promise comes in the form of enough resources to support humanity's long term prosperity on Earth and our movement into space and the solar system.

About 10% of near earth asteroids are easier to get to than the Moon. Most people don't know it but a wide range of resources are present in asteroids and comets and, interestingly, frozen water. Many stony iron meteorites contain extremely valuable Platinum groups as well, 20 times higher grade than available here on Earth!

Water is an obvious and potentially lucrative product from asteroid mines. The resources of the solar system can permanently support hundreds of billions of people and they’re essentially infinite, just waiting for us to use.

But for now it's back down to earth and our night skies are starting to dazzle once again. Bright white Venus is readily visible above the western horizon for awhile after sunset. It’s called the ‘evening star’ by most. A lot of people don't know this but Venus has phases, just like the moon. Easily visible as a crescent in small telescopes or binoculars, it’s also the number one object reported for a UFO!

Mercury is visible below Venus at the beginning of the week and becomes more prominent and closer to Venus as the week wears on. Jupiter now dominates the evening sky and now is a good time to begin telescopic observation of this massive world, or follow its moons in binoculars. David has a free astronomy newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

David Reneke is one of Australia’s leading astronomers, lecturers and teachers. He’s a feature writer for Australasian Science magazine and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio.