The Night Sky This Month

November 2014

Mercury

Mercury

The perpetual Newtonian dance of the solar system carries Saturn and Mars out of view this month as they set in the western sky not long after the Sun. They are replaced by Jupiter, which reaches high overhead in the early-morning sky, and by Mercury bright and low in the east before sunrise during the first week of the month. For observers lucky enough to enjoy very dark sky, the zodiacal light thrusts straight above the eastern horizon in the early morning (for northern observers) and early evening (for southern observers). And the famous Leonid meteor shower peaks in the early-morning hours of November 17. Here’s what to see in the night sky this month…

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1-7 November. Mercury reaches greatest elongation from the Sun on November 1 and remains well-positioned for viewing in the eastern sky before dawn until November 7. The planet reaches magnitude -0.6 and appears half-lit in a small telescope. The planet plays cat and mouse with the slightly fainter white star Spica in the constellation Virgo.

Mercury near Spica in the pre-dawn sky on November 4, 2014.

Mercury near Spica in the pre-dawn sky on November 4, 2014.

6 Nov. Full Moon, 22:23 UT. (“Beaver Moon” or “Frosty Moon”)

14 Nov. Last Quarter Moon, 15:16 UT.

14 Nov. Jupiter reaches greatest western quadrature, the point at which it lies 90º west of the Sun as seen from Earth. The planet rises near midnight by mid month and lies well overhead in the “Sickle of Leo” in the early morning hours. The planet reaches a brilliant magnitude -2.2 by month’s end.

Jupiter and the Moon near the "Sickle of Leo" on November 15, 2014.

Jupiter and the Moon near the “Sickle of Leo” on November 15, 2014.

17 Nov. Look for the Leonid meteor shower early this morning.  The Moon is not around to obscure faint meteors, so this is a good year to see the Leonids.  Look for 15-20 meteors per hour.  They can appear anywhere in the sky, but they trace their path back to a point in the constellation Leo.  The Leonids are usually modest in number.  But they have been known to surprise to the upside.

18 Nov. Saturn disappears from the evening sky as it reaches conjunction with the Sun. The planet moves slowly into the morning sky over the rest of November.

22 Nov. New Moon, 12:32 UT.

25 Nov. Look for Mars near the waxing crescent Moon after sunset in the southwest. The planet shines at 1st magnitude and spends most of the month in Sagittarius. It’s too far to give up much detail in a telescope.

29 Nov. First Quarter Moon, 10:06 UT.

30 Nov. Venus slowly makes an appearance in the western sky, setting not long after the Sun all month. Though it shines at magnitude -3.6, the planet is hard to see in the twilight sky without a pair of binoculars.