The Night Sky This Month – November 2019
The past couple of months has been admittedly uneventful for stargazers. But not this month. November holds a number of splendid sights and events including three meteor showers, all five bright planets, and a rare transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun, the last such event until 2032. Grab your star maps, binoculars, and telescopes, and get ready to see what’s in the night (and day) sky this month.
1 November 2019. Get oriented for the month’s activities by finding (from east to west) Saturn, the still-slender waxing crescent Moon, Jupiter, and Venus lined up in the southwestern sky after sunset. Venus is lowest so you’ll need a clear view down to the horizon.
4 Nov. First Quarter Moon, 10:23 UT
6-12 Nov. The Taurid meteor showers peak this week. There are two, the Northern and Southern Taurids, and they both peak in late October through mid-November. They’re sometimes called the Halloween Fireballs. You can see these bright, slow-moving fireballs in the northern and southern hemispheres at essentially any time of night. Expect a modest 5-10 meteors an hour.
9-10 Nov. In the morning sky, look for the ochre-colored Mars about two finger-widths from the white star Spica in the eastern sky before sunrise. Spica appears slightly brighter than Mars.
10 Nov. Venus appears about 4o north of the bright star Antares in the southwestern sky after sunset. The further south you are, the easier it is to see this pair.
11 Nov. The planet Mercury transits the face of the Sun, the last such event until November 2032. The transit begins at 12:35 UT and ends at 18:04 UT. (Convert UT to local time at this link). The midpoint of the transit occurs at 15:20 UT. The event is visible, weather permitting, in its entirety from eastern North America and South America. This is a daytime astronomical event. The transit is in progress as the Sun rises in western North America and (barely) in New Zealand, and as the Sun sets in Europe and Africa. The transit is not visible from Australia. During the transit, the tiny disk of Mercury passes from east to west across the Sun. A telescope equipped with a safe solar filter is required to see this event, although the small disk may be visible using just a solar filter or #14 welding glass without a telescope if you look carefully.
After today, Mercury will continue to rise in the eastern sky and become visible in the eastern sky before sunrise later this month.
12 Nov. Full Moon, 13:34 UT
16-17 Nov. The Leonid meteor shower peaks. This year the waning gibbous Moon gets in the way of the faintest meteors during the early-morning hours, which are usually the best time for viewing. The Leonids have been a dud of late. But it was not always so. In the past, this was an excellent meteor shower, and it once exploded into a meteor storm during which thousands of meteors each hour filled the night sky.
19 Nov. Last Quarter Moon, 21:11 UT
23-24 Nov. Look to the southwest after sunset to see the remarkable sight of the bright planet Jupiter and brighter planet Venus just one degree apart (about the width of your little finger held at arm’s length). Jupiter has dimmed to magnitude -1.9 as it moves further from Earth; Venus is brilliant and nearly fully-lit by the Sun at magnitude -3.9. Have a look at both planets in a telescope if you can. Jupiter, while fainter and much further away, appears about three times larger than Venus.
26 Nov. New Moon, 15:06 UT
28 Nov. Mercury reaches greatest western elongation 20o west of the Sun. At magnitude -0.5 today, the planet is lovely and bright in the eastern sky before sunrise. It’s joined by fainter Mars a little higher in the sky, and brilliant Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.
28-30 Nov. The month ends as it began: with Saturn, the crescent Moon, Venus, and Jupiter in the southwestern sky after sunset. Jupiter and Venus have switched positions since the beginning of November, and Saturn and Jupiter are working their way towards the horizon on the way to their conjunction with the Sun in the coming weeks.