Star Trak: November 2013

Oct. 30, 2013


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As the evening sky darkens during November, Venus will be near its peak of brightness low in the southwest. Because the ecliptic makes a shallow angle with the western horizon at this time of year for observers at mid-northern latitudes, Venus will be only 11 degrees high an hour after sunset at the beginning of the month. It will also be at its greatest elongation from the sun, but its distance from the sun will be along the horizon rather than above the horizon.

Dazzling white Jupiter will rise about 10 p.m. local daylight time Nov. 1, and it will be high in the southeastern sky by mid to late evening all month. This will be an opportunity to get good telescopic views of Jupiter as it travels across the sky from southeast to southwest. The best views will be when Jupiter is nearly overhead in the early-morning hours. Jupiter's four brightest moons will be visible with binoculars.

Mars will rise around 2:30 a.m. local daylight time Nov. 1 and about 1 a.m. standard time Nov. 30. The red-orange planet will finally start brightening this month, though it will still be on the far side of the solar system from Earth.

Mercury will pass between Earth and the sun Nov. 1 and then quickly climb into view in the eastern sky before dawn. It will have its finest morning appearance of the year Nov. 17, when it will be 10 degrees high in the east-southeast 45 minutes before sunrise, bright enough to stand out against the twilight sky.

Saturn will be in conjunction with the sun Nov. 6 and won’t become easily visible to the unaided eye until the last week of the month. Rising Saturn will pass sinking Mercury on Nov. 25-26, when the two planets will be less than 1 degree apart above the east-southeastern horizon a half hour before sunrise. Saturn will be only about one-third as bright as Mercury. Saturn will become observable through a telescope after it climbs higher in the sky in December.


Comet ISON will be well up in the east-southeast as dawn begins in early November, but it will be noticeably lower each morning as it approaches its encounter with the sun. On Nov. 28, it will zip around the sun less than one solar diameter from the sun’s surface. NASA's website has a recent photo of the comet as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as an animation of the comet’s projected path.

Meteor shower

The annual Leonid meteor shower will peak before dawn Nov. 17. The full moon will dominate the sky that night, and up to 15 meteors per hour may be visible. To see the most meteors, get away from city lights and position yourself so a tree or building will block the moon.

The shower's radiant, the point from which the meteors appear to come, will be in the constellation Leo the Lion. The bright star Regulus is part of Leo and can serve as a marker for the radiant. The farther sickle-shaped Leo climbs above the eastern horizon, the more meteors there will be all over the sky. The Leonid meteors are caused by streams of dust particles from Comet Tempel-Tuttle. 

Solar eclipse

A total eclipse of the sun will happen Nov. 3 when the moon's shadow will cross the Atlantic Ocean and equatorial Africa. NASA's Eclipse Web Site has a map of the path of the eclipse.

Moon phases

The moon will be new on Nov. 3, at first quarter on Nov. 10, full on Nov. 17 and at third quarter on Nov 25.