The Sky This Month – November 2011

Lots of planets to see in the sky this month. Jupiter just reached opposition, rising at sunset and reaching its maximum height above the horizon near midnight. Each night the big planet rises earlier, ideally located for after-dinner viewing.

Also this month (and hopefully this week), I release the next volume of “What To See in a Small Telescope”, a guide to take you on a tour of nearly 100 celestial sights this season in the northern and southern hemispheres. Stay tuned.

Here’s what else to look for in the night sky this month…

Nov. 1-8. The zodiacal light, or “false dawn”, persists early this month just before sunrise. This tall, eerie wedge-shaped glow is reflected sunlight off fine dust particles in the plane of the solar system. You need very dark sky to see it.

Nov. 1-15. Mercury is just 2 degrees below Venus low in the southwest sky after sunset. Venus is brighter.

2 Wed. First Quarter Moon (16:38 UT)

6 Sun. Daylight savings time ends for most of North America at 2 a.m. Set your clocks back an hour… and catch up on your sleep.

8 Tues. Asteroid 2005 YU-55 passes within 325,000 km of Earth this evening. That’s close, closer than the Moon. The 11th-magnitude object passes rapidly through Pegasus at about 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. This will be a challenge to see. The only good map I can find to show the exact path of the asteroid is in the November issue of Sky and Telescope, p. 53. But this animation gives you an idea how close this asteroid comes to us…

NOTE: Here is an updated link from Sky and Telescope to help you find Asteroid 2005 YU55

9 Wed. Venus, Mercury, and Antares form a short and nearly straight line in the southwest about 30 minutes after sunset. Venus is the brightest, Antares the faintest. The view is better south of 45 N latitude.  See map below…

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Venus, Mercury, and the star Antares in the southwestern sky after sunset on November 9, 2011. Click to enlarge.

10 Thurs. Mars passes within 1.5 degrees of the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo. Look for the spectacle high in the eastern sky 1-2 hours before sunrise. Mars rises near midnight at mid-month and passes through the Sickle of Leo. The planet brightens from +1 magnitude to +0.7 magnitude by month’s end. It’s still very small in a telescope, reaching a size of just 6″-7″.

10 Thurs. Full Moon (20:16 UT)

14 Mon. Mercury reaches its greatest eastern elongation about 22.7 degrees from the Sun. As noted above, it stays close to Venus in the southwest sky after sunset.

18 Fri. The Leonid meteor shower peaks before dawn. While it’s a good shower some years, the Moon washes out fainter meteors this year. Look for the meteors anywhere in the sky. If it’s a Leonid, you can trace its path back to a point in the constellation Leo.

18 Fri. Last Quarter Moon (15:09 UT)

22 Tues. The planet Saturn, bright white star Spica, and a waning crescent Moon line up in the southeastern sky just before sunrise. Saturn rises about 3:30 a.m. by month’s end, reaching 25 degrees above the horizon by sunrise. The tilt of the rings is close to 12 degrees, which presents a much more dramatic view in a telescope than in recent years.  See map below…

Saturn, Spica, and a waning crescent Moon line up in the southeastern sky just before sunrise on November 22, 2011. Click to enlarge.

25 Fri. New Moon (06:10 UT)