As November arrives, northern stargazers enjoy earlier sunsets and longer (if cooler) stargazing sessions, while southern-hemisphere stargazers now enjoy the warmer nights of spring. For deep-sky observers, there are plenty of open star clusters in Cassiopeia and Perseus, and lots of galaxies in Pegasus, Sculptor, and elsewhere. Orion rises well into the evening and dominates the southern sky after midnight, while the stars of northern spring rise before dawn. The bright planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are past their prime for the year, but Venus rises earlier each day in the eastern sky before dawn and puts on a dazzling show. Add in a couple of meteor showers and a favorable chance to see an ancient crater over the lunar limb, and it makes for a good month of stargazing. Here’s what to see in the night sky this month.
4 November 2018. The planet Mars passes within ½-degree of the 3rd-magnitude star Delta Capricorni (Deneb Algedi) in the constellation Capricorn. Look for the pair over the southern horizon in the mid-evening hours (and well overhead for southern-hemisphere observers). Mars is still the brightest object over the southern horizon as November begins, but the planet fades by a half magnitude during the month and shrinks in apparent size from 12” to 9”. At opposition last summer, the planet was 24” across. In perfect conditions with a good telescope, you might see some surface markings. But you can more easily see the slightly gibbous shape of the disk of Mars that results from the planet’s position relative to the Sun.
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.
7 Nov. New Moon, 16:02 UT
11 Nov. The waxing crescent Moon joins Saturn in the southwestern sky after sunset. The pair are about three finger-widths apart. While the planet is months past opposition, you can still see its striking rings in a small telescope. By month’s end, Saturn sets a couple of hours after the Sun and will soon be gone for the year.
14 Nov. Wake early and look low in the east before sunrise to see brilliant Venus just 1º from the bright white star Spica in the constellation Virgo. Venus rounded the Sun last month and will now dominate the eastern sky as the ‘Morning Star’. It rises about 35 minutes before the Sun on November 1, which makes it hard to see without binoculars. By month’s end, however, the planet rises three full hours before the Sun and will be a dazzling sight. By the end of November, Venus shines at a shockingly bright magnitude -4.9, as bright as it ever gets. See if you can follow it from dawn into the daytime sky. If you know where to look it will be visible in binoculars, and possibly without optical aid at all!
15 Nov. First Quarter Moon, 14:54 UT
17 Nov. The Leonid meteor shower peaks today. The waxing gibbous Moon brightens the sky in the evening, but gets out of the way after midnight when the most meteors should be visible. 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.
23 Nov. Full Moon, 05:39 UT
23 Nov. The Full Moon rises in the east with the bright star Aldebaran just two finger widths away.
24 Nov. Grab a telescope and a high-power eyepiece and look to the northwestern limb of the Moon to see the crater Xenophanes. This is a good day to see the crater as the Moon is slightly and favorably tilted towards our point of view as a result of lunar libration. Xenophanes is a highly eroded and ancient crater formed by a meteor impact more than 3.5 billion years ago. From our point of view, it will appear elliptical and foreshortened, though it is more or less circular when seen from above.
24 Nov. The planet Jupiter reaches conjunction with the Sun and disappears from the evening sky. It will soon reappear in the eastern sky after sunrise for the next many months as it moves towards its next opposition in spring of 2019.
29 Nov. Look to the east once again before sunrise to see the Moon near the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo. Venus and Spica follow soon after.
30 Nov. Last Quarter Moon, 00:19 UT