November brings us three spectacular evening planets. Brilliant Venus is low in the southwest at dusk, while Jupiter and Saturn are well up in the southern sky, to the upper left of Venus. The three planets span an arc of 56 degrees on Nov. 1, shrinking to 35 degrees at month’s end.
From Nov. 1 through Thanksgiving, if viewed each evening at the same stage of twilight, Venus gains 2 to 3 degrees in elevation, while its setting time improves from 2.5 to 2.9 hours after sunset. Venus attains its highest position and longest visibility after sunset for this evening apparition, and gleams near peak brilliance from Thanksgiving through the first half of December.
Binoculars provide pleasing views for those who follow the motions of the planets against background stars. Enjoy Venus’ eastward motion through Sagittarius, slowing from 1 degree to 0.6 degrees per day this month. Venus treks unusually far south this month—farther south than the sun ever does. It cuts through the Teapot in the first three weeks, passing close to some of its stars on Nov. 6 (tip of the spout), 12 (top of the lid) and 19 (brightest star in the handle). Venus on Nov. 1 is nearly 41 degrees to the lower right of Saturn, and closes to within 19 degrees at month’s end.
Saturn creeps toward 4.1-magnitude Theta in Capricornus. It’s within 6 degrees to the lower right on Nov. 18, and 5 degrees on Dec. 2, closing until they set only a quarter-degree apart in twilight on Jan. 20, 2022. Jupiter is just more than 15 degrees to the upper left of Saturn on Nov. 1, and one degree farther from it on the 30th. On Nov. 6, Jupiter is equidistant from 2.8-magnitude Delta in Capricornus, or Deneb Algedi, tail of Sea-goat; and 3.7-magnitude Gamma, 1.7 degrees from each. These stars are about 1.7 degrees apart, so the arrangement of the planet and two stars is nearly an equilateral triangle on Nov. 6. Jupiter passes 1.5 degrees north of Delta on Nov. 16.
Telescopic views: As Venus closes in on our home planet, its disk grows from 26” (arcseconds) to 39” across this month, a 50 percent increase in apparent size, while its illuminated portion decreases from 48 to 39 percent. The best is yet to come! The crescent Venus becomes even larger and slimmer, through 25 percent in early December while at peak brilliance of magnitude -4.9.
Jupiter (of magnitude -2.4) features dark cloud belts parallel to its equator and four Galilean satellites orbiting in the planet’s equatorial plane. Since we view the Jovian system nearly edge-on, the satellites appear in a nearly straight line. Saturn (magnitude +0.7) now displays its rings tipped a generous 19 degrees from edge-on. In 2025, Saturn’s rings will go edgewise and disappear, so enjoy the fine view!
In November at dusk, in the first week, you can still catch Arcturus very low in the west-northwest. More challenging is Antares, 16-20 degrees to the lower right of Venus Nov. 1-4. Binoculars will help. The Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb is prominent and passing west of overhead. Look for Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, to the lower left of Jupiter. Watch for the Mother Goat star Capella rising in the far northeast. Before month’s end, Aldebaran, eye of Taurus and Follower of the Pleiades, rises in evening twilight in east-northeast.
When outdoors at dusk, visualize this: On Nov. 15, Spaceship Earth is moving directly away from Jupiter and the tail of Capricornus. We are leaving the slow-moving planets, Jupiter and Saturn, behind, while faster-moving Venus, on an inside track, is catching up to us. Venus will pass between Earth and the sun on Jan. 8, 2022. Some weeks later, Saturn, and then Jupiter, will sink into the western twilight glow before passing the far side of the sun on Feb. 4 and March 5, respectively.
Mornings: Mercury concludes a favorable morning apparition in November’s second week. Low in the east-southeast in morning twilight on Nov. 2, bright Mercury (magnitude -0.8) passes 4.1 degrees north of emerging Spica (magnitude +1.0). On Nov. 3, the moon is 2-3 degrees above Mercury and 5 degrees north of Spica. On Nov. 10, soon-to-depart Mercury (magnitude -0.9) passes within 1 degree north of faint emerging Mars (magnitude +1.6, one-tenth as bright). Binoculars may enable you to spot Mars.
Of stars visible in November’s dawns, Sirius, the “Dog Star,” descending in the southwest, is the brightest. Ranking second in order of brightness is Arcturus, ascending in the east-northeast to east. Ranking third is Capella, descending in the northwest. Sirius and Capella mark the southern and northern vertices of the huge winter hexagon. In clockwise order from Sirius, its stars are Procyon; Pollux and Castor, 4.5 degrees apart; Capella; Aldebaran; Rigel; and back to Sirius. Betelgeuse is inside the hexagon. Midway between Betelgeuse and Rigel, but not bright enough to be plotted on our twilight map, are three stars in a row, marking the belt of Orion, the Hunter. Follow the belt in one direction to Sirius, and in the other direction past Aldebaran to the Pleiades cluster.
Pursuing the winter hex across the sky is Leo, the Lion, with its brightest star, Regulus, very high in the southeast to south. On Nov. 21-22, as Earth passes between the sun and the Pleiades, that star cluster is at opposition and above the horizon all night. Spaceship Earth is then heading directly toward Regulus. Speedy Mercury will be in superior conjunction, on the far side of sun, on Nov. 23. We’re catching up to Mars, but it’s the next planet outside Earth’s orbit, so it’s moving along at a pretty respectable pace; we’ll have to wait more than a year—until December 7, 2022—before we overtake it. Watch Mars gradually move to the western morning sky until then, flaring up in brilliance to outshine Sirius when the red planet is closest to Earth, at opposition, and visible all night, in December 2022.
The moon appears near a bright planet at dawn on Nov. 3 (Mercury, with Spica nearby), and at dusk on Nov. 7 (Venus), 10 (Saturn) and 11 (Jupiter). These and many other events are illustrated on the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar. View a sample issue or subscribe for $12 per year at www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.
The deep, nearly total eclipse of the moon on the night of Nov. 18-19 is likely to be very colorful! At deepest eclipse, at 1:03 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 19, only a narrow sliver along the moon’s southern edge, 2.4 percent of the moon’s width, will receive direct sunlight.
(An illustration of the moon among the stars at deepest eclipse appears on the November 2021 Sky Calendar. Rotate the diagram to match orientation of moon and stars in your local sky.)
The rest of the lunar disk, in shadow, may range from light blue or yellow, to a deep rust color on the moon’s northern edge, closest to the center of Earth’s shadow. The colors are from sunlight which has passed through Earth’s atmosphere and been reddened, and refracted and bent, into the Earth’s shadow to reach the moon. The beautiful Pleiades star cluster will lie within 6 degrees, with ruddy Aldebaran 14 degrees from the moon, with background stars of the Hyades cluster nearby—all wonderful sights for unaided eye and binoculars!
The lunar eclipse gets underway at 11:18 p.m. on Thursday evening, Nov. 18, as the moon begins to enter the umbra, or dark central core of the Earth’s shadow. Since it’s near the middle of the night, the moon will be high in the sky throughout the eclipse. By 11:57 p.m., the shadow will reach halfway across the moon. From dark sites, the number of stars visible at 1:03 a.m. will be impressive for a full moon night—far greater than the number seen two hours earlier, before the eclipse started. The winter hexagon will be high in the sky, enclosing overhead for California eclipse-watchers. Thereafter, the moon gradually emerges, halfway out of the umbra by 2:09 a.m., and completely out by 2:48 a.m.
During the two weeks following the eclipse, the waning moon will pass Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, on Nov. 20; the “Twin” stars Pollux and Castor on Nov. 23 and 24; Regulus on Nov. 26 and 27; and Spica on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
Two total lunar eclipses are on tap for 2022: From California, the first will be seen in the early evening on May 15, and the second in predawn hours on Nov. 8.
Uranus, discovered in 1781, and Ceres, the first asteroid discovered (in 1801), are visible through binoculars. Neptune, discovered in 1846, is fainter and more of a challenge. For more information with links to finder charts, visit the Sky Calendar Extra Content Page, at www.abramsplanetarium.org/msta.
Robert C. Victor originated the Abrams Planetarium’s monthly Sky Calendar in October 1968, and still produces issues occasionally. Whether in the California desert, at the Grand Canyon of Arizona, or in Michigan, he enjoys being outdoors, sharing the wonders of the night sky. He’s hoping for the pandemic to end! Evening and morning twilight sky maps are by Robert D. Miller, who did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University. He remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.