Brilliant Venus (magnitude -4.0) and fainter Saturn ( +0.5) are 4.5 degrees apart in the southwest at dusk on Nov. 1, but Venus speeds away while Saturn sinks into the solar glare, widening the gap between them to nearly 15 degrees by Nov. 11, and to 22 degrees by Nov. 18. Use binoculars to watch Venus pass background stars in Ophiuchus and Sagittarius on Nov. 4, 16, 17, and 22. Venus sets farthest south Nov. 14. By month’s end, Venus brightens to magnitude -4.2 and is noticeably higher than it was at the start of November. A telescope shows Venus in gibbous phase, 70 percent full at month’s end. Wonderful changes will happen in coming months, before Venus departs from the evening sky in late March.
Mercury (magnitude -0.5) passes 3.5 degrees south (to the lower left) of Saturn on Nov. 23, but they’ll both be very low in the twilight glow, with Mercury brighter. Using binoculars, look 27 degrees to the lower right of Venus. Replacing Saturn, Mercury is 25 degrees to the lower right of Venus on Nov. 30, and will hold 24 degrees to the lower right of Venus Dec. 2-12.
Look for dim Mars (magnitude +0. 4 to +0.6) in the south to south-southwest, to the upper left of Venus, by 37 degrees on Nov. 1; 30 degrees on Nov. 16; and 24 degrees on Nov. 30. Watch Mars pass third- and fourth-magnitude stars in Capricornus, the sea-goat, on Nov. 14 and 27, and on Dec. 10.
In the morning sky in the east-southeast to southeast, find bright Jupiter, magnitude -1.7 to -1.8. As the sun withdraws east of Jupiter this month because of Earth’s faster revolution around the sun, the giant planet ascends higher in predawn. Note the first-magnitude star Spica in Virgo, 13 degrees to 8 degrees below bright Jupiter.
The moon, as a waxing crescent in evening sky, can be seen in a pretty gathering with Venus and Saturn on Nov. 2; near Mars on Nov. 5 and 6; near Mercury on Nov. 30; near Venus on Dec. 2 and 3; and near Mars on Dec. 4 and 5. In the mornings, follow the waning moon, near Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, on Nov. 15; near Pollux, brighter of the Gemini twins, on Nov. 18; near Regulus, heart of Leo, on Nov. 21; near Jupiter on Nov. 24; and near Spica and Jupiter on Nov. 25.
The full moon, on Monday, Nov. 14, at 5:52 a.m., follows the moon’s perigee (closest approach to Earth) by only 2.5 hours. The resulting “Supermoon” is the closest until Nov. 25, 2034. (Get ready for the inevitable hype in the news media!) The next “Supermoon” closer than that one will occur on Dec. 6, 2052—the best of the 21st century. The moon this month will be closest for observers in the Coachella Valley on the night of Sunday, Nov. 13, just a few minutes after the moon reaches its highest point in the south, at 11:20 p.m., and, contrary to appearances, not when the moon is rising on Sunday around 4:33 p.m. or setting Monday morning around 6:11 a.m. (The moon just seems larger at rising or setting than when it is high in the sky. It’s called the “moon illusion.”) Also, this is not the brightest full moon of this year. That’s because this month’s full moon passes widely south of Earth’s shadow, and does not reflect as much light toward us as it would if the moon narrowly missed the shadow. The sharp brightening of the moon or an asteroid when it appears almost exactly 180 degrees from the sun is sometimes called “the opposition effect,” or “opposition surge.”
Star parties provide wonderful opportunities to join with other folks who love to share their interest in observing the sky, and to get great views of astronomical objects through a variety of binoculars and telescopes. The first two events, happening this weekend, are annual gatherings not far from the Coachella Valley: The 2016 Nightfall Star Party takes in Borrego Springs Oct. 27-30, while the 2016 Joshua Tree National Park Night Sky Festival is Oct. 28-30.
Local star parties (in and near the Coachella Valley): The Astronomical Society of the Desert will host the next of our series of monthly star parties on Saturday, Nov. 5, from 6 to 9 p.m., and on Saturday, Dec. 17, from 5 to 8 p.m. They are held at the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, on Highway 74, within four miles south of Highway 111 in Palm Desert. Check the society’s website at www.astrorx.org for listings of our regular star parties at the Visitor Center, and our high altitude star parties at Sawmill Trailhead starting at dusk. The next high-altitude star parties (at 4,000 feet—wear warm clothes!) will be held on Saturday, Nov. 19, and on Saturday, Dec. 3. Follow links to maps and directions to both star party sites, and for dates and locations of lecture meetings. Also, check the link to our “Impromptu Star Parties,” which could be announced on short notice at any time.
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 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.