More plan­ets and big­ger moon shine this month

Kent County News - - OPINION - Den­nis Her­rmann

Dark­ness comes ear­lier in Novem­ber as the Earth’s tilt causes the sun to ap­pear closer to the hori­zon and be­cause we have turned back to stan­dard time.

On the very first night of Novem­ber a very slen­der cres­cent moon may be seen above the south­west hori­zon, just to the right of Venus 45 min­utes after sun­set. Venus shines at mag­ni­tude -4.0 and 10 de­grees above the hori­zon that night. This bright­ness will make Venus easy to spot de­spite its rather low al­ti­tude, and thus, being in the glow of twi­light.

On the very next night, Nov. 2, the some­what fuller cres­cent moon will have moved closer to Venus, and be seen 4 de­grees above Saturn (mag­ni­tude +0.5), which will be 5 de­grees to the right of Venus.

Saturn and the cres­cent moon may be hard to see with­out op­ti­cal aid like binoc­u­lars th­ese nights, since they lie in twi­light. You will need to have a good clear view down to the hori­zon, too. Saturn’s or­bit will con­tinue to bring it closer to the sun, and by the end of Novem­ber it will be in con­junc­tion with the sun and thus in­vis­i­ble to us for a while.

Mean­while, the moon will con­tinue in its or­bit to progress higher into the sky and far­ther from the sun, gain­ing more “full­ness” with each pass­ing day. What is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing is that we are see­ing more and more of its sun­lit sur­face as it or­bits us.

Venus also will progress in its or­bit higher and far­ther from the sun, but at a much slower pace than the moon. By mid-Novem­ber, it will be among the many back­ground stars of Sagit­tar­ius, an area alive with star clus­ters and neb­u­lae as we look to­ward the cen­ter of our galaxy there. But the over­all low al­ti­tude will still be a prob­lem see­ing them. The best time to see th­ese Milky Way ob­jects is from Nov. 11 to 17, binoc­u­lars re­quired.

Mars also is in Sagit­tar­ius this month, but moves rapidly into Capri­cor­nus, pro­gress­ing about a half a de­gree per day against the back­ground stars. On Nov. 5 and 6, the wax­ing cres­cent moon will be near Mars. Mars, at mag­ni­tude +0.5, is brighter by far than any star in Capri­cor­nus or Sagit­tar­ius, but it will take a tele­scope of 8-inch mir­ror or larger to see even sub­tle dark mark­ings on the planet. It is just too far away from us now.

Mer­cury passed the sun’s far side in late Oc­to­ber and pops into the south­west night sky; 4 de­grees up, 30 min­utes after sun­set on Nov. 20 at mag­ni­tude -0.5. Jupiter rises above the eastern hori­zon be­fore sunup at mag­ni­tude -1.7; bright enough to dom­i­nate the sky. Dur­ing the month, it comes closer to Spica, bright­est star in Virgo. On Nov. 30, Spica ap­pears di­rectly be­low Jupiter as they rise be­fore dawn.

The full moon of Nov. 14 is at 221,524 miles from Earth; its clos­est ap­proach to us since 1948. This makes the moon about 7 per­cent larger than usual. To the un­aided eye, the dif­fer­ence is hardly no­tice­able. The full moon al­ways looks big­ger when we see it near the hori­zon and our minds com­pare it with fa­mil­iar nearby ob­jects on Earth. So the best time to no­tice this month’s “su­per moon” — when it will look its largest — is as it sets in the west on the morn­ing of Nov. 14.

This year’s Lyrid me­teor shower will be ham­pered by the wan­ing gib­bous moon. The peak day is Nov. 17, but look­ing from Nov. 9 to 13 or from Nov. 27 to 30, we may spot some strag­glers. Look to the east after 2 a.m.

Moon phases for the month: first quar­ter, Nov. 7; full moon, Nov. 14; last quar­ter Nov. 21; and new moon, Nov. 29.

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