The Almanac

Almanac --

The November Almanac


This month NASA launches its Mars Global Surveyor, the first spacecraft to visit Mars in 20 years, which will commence what is to be a decade-long series of small, relatively inexpensive missions intended to boost our understanding of Mars. The MGS will arrive in Mars's orbit next September; over two years it will survey the planet's topography, magnetism, mineral composition, and atmosphere. In the process the MGS will relay to Earth more information than has been gathered by all previous missions to Mars combined, even though its cost -- roughly $220 million -- is a small fraction of the cost of those missions. For those interested in Martian meteorology, a daily Martian weather report, sent back from the MGS, will be available on the Internet.

Arts & Letters

November is American Indian Heritage Month. Among the events coinciding with this year's observance is the November 5 opening of an exhibit of Native American ledger drawings -- pieces composed primarily in the bound volumes used for inventory by traders and military officers -- at The Drawing Center, in New York City. "Plains Indian Drawings, 1865-1935" will display more than 150 works. Although ledger drawings have long been studied by historians and ethnographers, rarely before have they been exhibited mainly for their artistic merit (most art historians began regarding them with interest only within the past 30 years). The pieces in the exhibit stem from Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Lakota artists. Many depict those tribes' adjustment to reservation life (and, in some cases, to jail); others portray their earlier, migratory culture. The exhibit will travel to Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania next year.

The Skies

November 5 and 6, the waning Moon passes south of Mars at dawn. 8, by now a slender crescent, the Moon lies near Venus in the early-morning hours. 16 - 17, the Leonid meteor shower reaches its annual height in the hours after midnight. Notoriously unpredictable from year to year, the Leonids are working toward a probable peak display in 1998 or 1999, soon after their parent comet, Tempel-Tuttle, passes through perihelion; consequently, tonight's shower could be worth staying up for. 24, Full Moon, also known this month as the Frosty, Beaver, or Snow Moon.


November 1, as of today New Yorkers over the age of 18 may, like adult residents of every other state, legally use Mace and other chemical sprays for self-defense; the use or possession of self-defense sprays has been a misdemeanor in New York since 1969. 5, Election Day. This is the first presidential election since the National Voter Registration Act took effect, in January of last year. The act requires certain government offices, including driver's-license bureaus and welfare offices, to offer voter registration to those who come in for their services; it also mandates that states offer registration by mail. Human SERVE, a national voter-registration organization, estimates that as many as 10 million voters have been added to the rolls as a result of the law. The new registrants are thought to be younger than the average voter (some are new drivers), and many are registering as independents. Whether voter turnout, which typically hovers around 50 percent in presidential races, will be bolstered remains, of course, to be seen.


November 4, starting today poultry products made from tissue that has been mechanically removed from scraps and already stripped carcasses -- the materials are fed through a sieve, to separate and discard most of the bone -- must be labeled as containing "mechanically separated chicken" or "mechanically separated turkey." The purpose of this requirement, mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, is to inform consumers that products processed in this way, including poultry nuggets, patties, frankfurters, and luncheon meats, do not consist simply of ground meat; they may also contain skin, bone, bone marrow, and the kidneys and sex glands of immature birds. The FSIS regulation was prompted in large part by a lawsuit brought against the USDA by manufacturers of red-meat sausages, who, along with other meat producers, have since 1978 been obliged to label mechanically separated beef, lamb, and pork as such.

Expiring Patent

No. 3,993,323. Drag Chute for Bicycle. "A bicycle attachment comprising a parachute, in combination with container means for holding said chute in a collapsed position . . . to . . . a part of the bicycle such as a rear fender, . . . tether means for attaching said chute to said container, positive ejection means for ejecting the chute from the container, . . . [and] control means, whereby the parachute is released."

25 Years Ago

L. E. Sissman, writing in the November, 1971, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "I hereby confess to a sneaking liking for the eleventh month, as Walt Whitman would call it, though its name means 'ninth.' November is, in the best sense, a natural month. For nature, it is a time of necessary death and burial. For men, it is a time for return to roots, if rooms are roots, from the temporary playground of summer's outdoors. It is a month without the pressures of anticipation of, say, March, when spring becomes unbearably promising because withheld. It is a month without the recirculated tedium of holidays -- except Thanksgiving, a sad and modest feast -- to be got through. Best of all, it is a month worse than its precursors, better than its successors, a month that breeds resignation, evaluation, and acceptance."

Illustrations by Susan LeVan

The Atlantic Monthly; November 1996; The November Almanac; Volume 278, No. 5; page 20.