The moon gets up to some mischief this month, but aside from that, there’s plenty to enjoy in November’s darkening sky.
Night falls behind a still-brilliant Venus blazing away low in the southwest. On Nov. 1, the planet reaches its greatest elongation from the sun. This doesn’t necessarily mean Venus is highest, just that it has put the maximum amount of sky between it and the sun for this apparition. A young crescent moon glides past – though not closely – on the 6th. By month’s end our sister planet will still be up for almost three hours after sunset.
On the other side of the sky, Jupiter is now rising before midnight and ends the month coming up in early evening, close to the Gemini twins Pollux and Castor. Jupiter is brightening as Earth gains on it in the orbital race, while Venus will soon be as bright as it ever gets, even as it prepares to lap Earth in that same race.
Looking north, the Little Dipper hangs down from Polaris, the North Star, and spills its water onto the tail of Draco, the dragon. Draco is a fun constellation to trace. Its tail starts above the bowl of the Big Dipper and winds around the bowl of the Little Dipper. Then its form takes a sharp turn in the other direction – that is, down and to the left – and it ends at the dragon’s head, a grouping of four stars to the lower right of a very bright star, namely, Vega, which is part of the Summer Triangle. A star chart will help.
Mars is high in the southeast at dawn. If you have trouble finding it, look about an hour before sunrise on the 28th, when a crescent moon will be close to midway between Mars above and the bright star Spica, in Virgo, below.
Mercury makes a brief and not very spectacular morning appearance, rising in the southeast below and to the left of Spica. Best time to see it is about half an hour before sunrise on the 16th or 17th. After that, Mercury drops passing Saturn as the ringed planet begins a climb into the morning sky.
The much-anticipated Comet ISON swoops by this morning lineup, appearing between, and to the right of, Spica and Mercury on the 20th and near the Mercury-Saturn pair on the 23rd and 24th. On the 28th, ISON hurtles through perihelion, its closest approach to the sun. Let’s hope this comet brightens and becomes visible to the naked eye, because so far it’s been a bit of a disappointment.
As for that pesky moon, it becomes full a couple of hours after setting on the morning of the 17th. Unfortunately, that morning is the predicted peak of the Leonid meteor
shower, which will be mostly washed out by moonlight. But enjoy the full moon anyway. Algonquin Indians called this one the full beaver moon, as this was the time to lay in a supply of pelts for the winter.
Standard time resumes at 2 a.m. on Nov. 3. Clocks should be set back one hour.
The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. For more information and viewing schedules, see:
Duluth, Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium: www.d.umn.edu/planet .
Twin Cities, Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics (during fall and spring semesters): www.astro.umn.edu/outreach/pubnight.
Check out the astronomy programs at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum ExploraDome: www.bellmuseum.umn.edu/For
Find U of M astronomers and links to the world of astronomy at www.astro.umn.edu.