More planets and bigger moon shine this month
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.