In evening twilight during November, the holdover Summer Triangle, with its brightest member blue-white Vega at its northwest corner, drifts slowly westward from nearly overhead. Meanwhile, lonely Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, moves from southeast toward the south. Bright Arcturus departs in the west-northwest, making way for almost equally bright Capella, rising in the northeast. Very low in the southwest to west-southwest, if mountains don’t block your view, Saturn and Antares (8 degrees to the planet’s left) are accessible with binoculars early in the month, before their departure.
Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull, is at opposition as Earth passes between that star and the sun each year around Dec. 1; look for a reddish star rising in the east-northeast during twilight in late November. Arabic in origin, the name Aldebaran means the follower, alluding to the star’s pursuit of the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster across the sky.
In November’s morning twilight, Venus, in the east to southeast, easily ranks first in brilliance. Next is Jupiter, climbing 6 to 34 degrees to Venus’ upper right and almost reaching south. The next dozen slots are taken by stars, headed by Sirius in the southwest, Arcturus climbing in the east-northeast to east, and Capella well up in the northwest. Sirius and Capella mark the southern and northern vertices of the Winter Hexagon. In clockwise order beginning at Sirius, its other members are Procyon, Pollux (with Castor), Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel and back to Sirius, with Betelgeuse inside. Regulus, heart of Leo the Lion, reaches its high point in the south while chasing the Hexagon across the sky. Following Regulus is the line of planets—Jupiter, Mars and Venus—and finally Spica, spike of grain in Virgo, rising up from low in the east-southeast to well up in the southeast. In late November and early December, watch for the rising of Vega far to the northeast. From its appearance until Rigel sets in west-southwest, 11 stars of first magnitude or brighter are visible, along with the three planets.
The moon and planets form spectacular gatherings, especially early in the month. Watch for these events:
- Tuesday, Nov. 3, morning (about one hour before sunrise): Venus passes Mars. Look for the faint red planet just 0.7 degrees north (to the upper left) of brilliant Venus.
- Friday, Nov. 6, morning: Jupiter is about 2 degrees north (to the upper left) of the moon. Venus is 10 degrees to the moon’s lower left. Mars is 1.6 degrees to the upper right of Venus.
- Saturday, Nov. 7, morning: Venus is 1.7 degrees, with Mars 3.5 degrees, to the upper left of the moon. Venus and Mars are 2.1 degrees apart. Let the moon help you find Venus again after sunrise, and you’ll have a daytime sighting!
- Monday, Nov. 9: Spica is within 4 degrees to the south (lower right) of the moon. Mars-Jupiter have spread to 10 degrees apart since their close pairing on Oct. 17.
- Tuesday, Nov. 10, about 45 minutes before sunrise: The last, thin old crescent moon, 28 hours before new, rises in the east to east-southeast, 12 degrees to the lower left of Spica.
- Thursday, Nov. 12, about half an hour after sunset: Binoculars may show a young crescent moon very low in the west-southwest, with Saturn 2-3 degrees to its lower left.
- Friday, Nov. 13: This is the final morning Venus and Mars are within 5 degrees.
- Friday, Nov. 22: This is the final morning Venus and Mars are within 10 degrees—and the first morning Venus and Spica are within 10 degrees.
- Wednesday, Nov. 25 at dusk: Watch for Aldebaran rising 4 degrees to the lower left of the full moon in the east-northeast. Binoculars will help you see the star in moon’s glare throughout the night.
Watch the moon move! Early on Thanksgiving morning, the moon passes narrowly north of Aldebaran, without covering it. From our region, this happens around 2:48 a.m., when the star appears less than one-quarter of a moon’s width from the moon’s southern limb. Along a very narrow track from near the Oregon-California border across the U.S. to South Carolina, there will be a grazing occultation, as the star repeatedly disappears and reappears from behind mountains on the moon’s south limb.
- On Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, in morning twilight, the moon is low in the west-northwest, with Aldebaran just more than a degree to its lower right.
- On the mornings of Sunday, Nov. 29, and Monday, Nov. 30, Venus and Spica appear closest, 4.2 degrees apart.
- Friday, Dec. 4, morning: Jupiter is 5 degrees to the upper right of the moon.
- Saturday, Dec. 5, morning: Mars is 5-6 degrees to the lower left of the moon.
- Sunday, Dec. 6, morning: Spica is 5 degrees to the lower right of the moon.
- Monday, Dec. 7, morning: Spica is midway between Venus and Mars, 10 degrees from each. A spectacular close conjunction of the crescent moon and Venus takes place in morning twilight. Continue observing after sunrise and witness a daytime occultation of Venus by the moon. From Palm Springs, binoculars and telescopes show the leading sunlit edge of moon covering Venus at 8:09 a.m., and trailing dark edge of the moon (invisible in daylight), uncovering Venus at 9:59 a.m. Times vary with the observer’s location.
After Dec. 7, the waning moon can be followed for 2-3 additional mornings. Last chance: Thursday, Dec. 10, 40 minutes before sunup, a very thin old crescent, only 20-21 hours before new, is very low in the east-southeast. Binoculars will be helpful for spotting it. Try for emerging Saturn, rising within 3 degrees to the moon’s lower right.
Illustrations of events described in this article appear in the Sky Calendar. For a sample issue and to learn how to subscribe, visit www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.
The Astronomical Society of the Desert will host a star party on Saturday. Nov. 7, at dusk at Saw Mill Trailhead, elevation 4,000 feet in the Santa Rosa Mountains. The society also hosts monthly star parties at the more conveniently located Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. The next is on Saturday, Nov. 21, from 6 to 9 p.m. Dates of future star events, with directions and maps to the sites, are available at www.astrorx.org.
Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs. Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit charts, did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.