The Night Sky This Month: November 2020

Sinus Iridium
Image credit: Sinus Iridium taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

November’s night sky brings a wealth of astronomical delights for stargazers to enjoy. The list of celestial events include the Taurids and Orionids meteor showers, planetary close approaches and a penumbral lunar eclipse. So without further ado, lets get straight to it, starting with Comet C/2020 M3 (ATLAS), which was only discovered by an ATLAS (Asteroid terrestrial Impact Last Alert System) survey on June 27th, 2020.

November 8th: C/2020 M3 (ATLAS) Reaches brightest point

A few months ago we had the NEOWISE comet, which was the first comet visible by naked eye for a few years. Now that it is long gone, we are getting a new chance with ATLAS. Unfortunately, it will not be visible without aid, but with a telescope or binoculars you should be able to see it!

On the 8th you’ll be able to find the comet near the belt of the Orion constellation, a bit above the Orion nebula. If you have bad weather on the 8th, you can always try to see it a few days before or after.

 November 10th: Mercury at furthest point from the Sun

Mercury is a hard to spot due to its closeness to the Sun, only sometimes visible close to the horizon just after sunset or just before sunrise. This month you get the opportunity to see it on the 10th, just before sunrise. It should be easy to spot with the naked eye as a bright star.

You will find it in the east.

November 12th: Taurid meteor shower

If you want to amaze your close ones with a meteor shower, the 12th is your best chance as this is the peak of the Taurid meteor shower. The shower is named after the constellation Taurus, because the meteors will seem to come from that location (which should be somewhere between the east and south, depending on your location and the time).  Don’t worry too much though, as the meteors are generally visible all over the sky.

Same as with the comet, this is just the peak of the shower, so you can try days around this date if the weather is not cooperative.

November 13th: Moon and Venus close together

If you spot the Moon on the morning of the 13th you will find a bright spot right next to it., this is the planet Venus.

 November 17th: Leonid meteor shower

If you missed the Taurids or could not get enough of them, here is another chance to spot more meteorites. The Leonids will originate from the constellation Leo (close to the big dipper / the plough).

November 19th: The Moon, Jupiter and Saturn come together

We’ve seen Mercury and Venus, now it’s time for some outer solar system planets! On the 19th you can spot both Jupiter and Saturn near the Moon. Unfortunately, the Sun will still be up when this happens, so you will have to do your best to see them or maybe use a pair of binoculars.  Look for the planets near the Moon in the afternoon and early evening.

November 25th: The Moon and Mars!

To complete our family of visible planets, you can spot Mars very close to the Moon on the 25th. It will be similar to Jupiter and Saturn, except that you won’t be able to see Mars during the day without a telescope. You can try to catch it just after sundown, by looking for a red dot near the Moon.

November 26th: The Moon’s golden handle

On this day the Moon lunar phase will be just beyond Sinus Iridum, a large crater on the East of the Moon. The slanted sunlight that hits the side of the crater gets reflected off of one of the edges, lighting it up brightly while the other side is in shadow. This creates a bright handle-like loop on the terminator. You can see it all night with binoculars or a telescope.

November 28th: More meteors! The Orionids

You get another chance to see some shooting stars on this day, this time from the constellation Orion. But be warned, the Orionids are less active then that last two showers, on average with only around 3 shooting stars per hour.

November 29th: Penumbral Lunar eclipse

The month ends with a special lunar eclipse for those in and around the US. Between 11:33pm and  3:54am Pacific time you will be able to see a light shadow cross the Moon. Unfortunately, this happens during day time for people in Europe!

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