Small Is Beautiful: See A Micro Moon And The ‘Mini-Orionids’

Watch for the micromoon, two days before new, to make a striking appearance low in the southeastern sky tomorrow morning (Nov. 27) below Virgo's brightest star Spica and the planet Jupiter. Stellarium
Watch for the micromoon to make a striking appearance low in the southeastern sky tomorrow morning (Nov. 27) below Virgo’s brightest star Spica and the planet Jupiter. The crescent, two days before new, will be the second most distant moon of 2016. Will it look smaller to your eye than normal? Stellarium

We won’t soon forget the supermoon of Nov. 13-14, the closest full moon till Nov. 25, 2034. Two weeks before that on Halloween, the moon was a thin crescent at dusk and at the opposite end of its orbit, farthest from Earth. Distant moons are known as micromoons, and October’s was the most distant of the year.

Let’s compare. On Oct. 31, the moon looked back from a distance of 252,686 miles (406,659 km) vs. 221,524 (356,508 km) for the supermoon two weeks later, a difference of more than 31,000 miles or nearly four times the diameter of the Earth. Few fussed about the micromoon because being farthest, smallest and faintest doesn’t grab headlines like closest, biggest and brightest.

But now that the supermoon is behind us, we have time to appreciate the smaller things in life. Tomorrow morning’s crescent moon is one of them. At 252,622 miles (406,555 km) away, it’s nearly as far as last month’s most distant moon and earns the coveted micromoon moniker. Watch for the wee moon to rise in the southeast around 5:30 a.m. local time with the best view closer to 6 or 6:30 a.m. when it clears local obstructions. The simulated view above shows the crescent about 10° or one fist high an hour before sunrise.

Although a minor shower, the November Orionids will add some spark to the chilly evenings ahead. The shower is active through the first week of December and won't be compromised by the moon. Orion is already up on the east by 9 p.m. and reaches its highest point in the sky around 1 a.m. local time. Map: Bob King, Source: Stellarium
Although a minor shower, the November Orionids will add some spark to the chilly evenings ahead. The shower is active through the first week of December and won’t be compromised by the moon. Orion is already up on the east by 9 p.m. and reaches its highest point in the sky around 1 a.m. local time. Map: Bob King, Source: Stellarium

If you’re not an early bird, there’s a minor but interesting meteor shower on tap tonight through about Dec. 5. — the November Orionids. I highlighted November because the October Orionids are the richer and much better known shower. Both versions stem from dust particles shed from Halley’s Comet and radiate from Orion the Hunter’s, now well up in the southeastern sky before 11 p.m. local time.

Nov. Orionids tear into the atmosphere at speeds around 90,000 miles an hour (145,000 km/hr), much faster than another minor shower active this month, the Taurids. That’s how you’ll tell them apart. Plus the Taurids radiate from a point in Taurus west of Orion. Although the shower offers only a few meteors per hour, it’s fun to know we’re seeing dribs and drabs of a great comet flaming to life in momentary glory.

For a fun challenge and to improve your chances of seeing an Orionid, see if you can expand your view of Orion beyond the three belt stars and the rectangular figure that encloses them to include the hunter’s upraised arm (he’s holding a club) and shield, a trickle of fainter stars above and to the right of the belt.

Happy hunting!