The Night Sky This Month: November 2015

Leonids

For most of November only the planets Mars, Jupiter, and Venus will be visible for any length of time, although they will fortunately form a rare alignment, colloquially known as the “Dance of the Planets”. This should prove a great treat, after all, the spectacle of three planets forming a tight “planetary conjunction” should present some great imaging opportunities for sky watchers, so get up early, go outside, and see this beautiful celestial event for yourself!

The Moon

New Moon: November 11th
First Quarter: November 19th
Full Moon: November 25th
Last Quarter: November 3rd

The Planets

Mercury

Mercury will not be visible for most of the month, since it will be on the far side of the sun (at superior conjunction) on the 17th. It might however, just be visible in binoculars around twenty minutes before dawn during the first few days of the month.

Venus

 Mars, Jupiter, and VenusRising at about 03:30 at the beginning of the month, Venus will dominate the early morning sky, along with Jupiter and Mars when the three planets form a tight group. During the month, Venus’ magnitude will decrease from -4.4 to -4.2, and its angular diameter will shrink to 17.6 arc seconds from a maximum size of 2.7 arc seconds.

However, during the same time its illuminated area will increase from 54% to 63%, resulting in an almost constant visual magnitude during the month. Venus is now approaching the sun, and by month’s end, it will be a full 30 degrees closer to the horizon than at the start of the month. Look for Venus on the 13th and 21st as it passes only 0.4 degrees from Beta Virginis, and somewhat less than 0.2 degrees from Eta Virginis respectively as it moves from Leo into Virgo during the month.

Mars

At the beginning of November, Mars will shine at magnitude +1.7 when it rises from around 03:30- along with Venus. As the month wears on, it’s magnitude will increase to +1.5, and its angular diameter will grow from 4.2-, to 4.7 arc seconds, which is however still too small to make out any detail on its surface. To compensate though, Mars will form a close grouping with Venus and Jupiter at the beginning of the month, but the grouping will spread out towards the end of November, until Mars is 20 degrees to the lower left, and 14 degrees to the upper right of Jupiter and Venus respectively as the month closes. Mars is also moving from Leo into Virgo during the month- look for it as it passes close by Eta Virginis on the 21st.

Jupiter



Jupiter will be a brilliant morning object during November, and by the last week of the month, it will be visible from soon after midnight. At the start of the month, Jupiter will shine at magnitude -1.8, and have an angular diameter of 33 arc seconds. As the month wears on, its magnitude will increase to-2.0, and its angular diameter will grow from 33 arc seconds to 35.5 arc seconds. Look for Jupiter (it will be hard to miss) about 8 degrees to the right of Denebola in Leo, and follow it as it moves in to Virgo until January, when it’s retrograde motion starts. During early mornings in November though, it should be possible to view Jupiter’s equatorial bands and Galilean moons with even a modest telescope if seeing conditions are good.

Saturn

Saturn will disappear behind the sun soon after the start of the month, but during the first few days of November it might just be possible to find the ringed planet very low on the south-western horizon up to about 45 minutes after sunset. However, the better option would be to wait a few weeks for Saturn to reappear as a morning object when it emerges from the Sun’s glare. As a point of interest, at Saturn’s closest approach to the sun, they will be separated by only 1°38′, rendering it invisible. At the same time, Saturn will also be at its furthest remove from Earth at 10.99 AU, with Earth and Saturn on opposite sides of the sun.

Meteor showers during November

The month of November sees two meteor showers, the first being the Northern Taurids, which is associated with Comet 2P/Encke. Although this shower has a peak that stretches over about ten days, with the actual peak expected to be around the 10th, this shower produces relatively few bright meteors. However, since the dust trail is particularly rich in large particles, and given that there will be no moon on the 10th, it is entirely possible that this shower might produce a few fireballs.

The second shower is the Leonids, which is associated with the Comet 55P/Temple-Tuttle. This year, the Leonids is expected to peak on the 17th at about 21:00 Universal Time, with a second peak the following night from around 04:00. However, meteors from this shower might be seen anytime from about the 15th to the 20th, but their relatively high velocity of about 70 km/second makes them difficult to photograph.

Every 33 years the progenitor comet passes closer to the sun than in other years, and the Leonids of 1999 peaked at more than 3,000 meteors per hour. Sadly, we are now only halfway through the 33-year cycle, which means that only about 15 meteors could be expected during any of the peaks.

Other Highlights

-On the 3rd, Mars and Venus will be less than a single degree apart just before dawn. Venus will be as bright as a searchlight at magnitude -4.5, while Jupiter will be at magnitude +1.7, just 7 degrees to the upper right of both Mars and Venus.

-Just before dawn on the 7th, an excellent imaging opportunity will present itself as the close grouping of Mars, Venus, and Jupiter is joined by a thin crescent moon around 9 degrees to the upper right of the group.

-On the night of the 25th, look for the Hyades Cluster close to the full moon in Taurus, with the red giant Aldebaran roughly halfway between the moon and the Hyades Cluster.