Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp., skysafariastronomy.com.
It's November and those of us in the temperate northern hemisphere will definitely be noticing the increasing hours of darkness. Now that Europe and North America have ceased Summer Time, astronomers in these parts of the world will enjoy earlier opportunities for observing. Naturally, the weather will inevitably have its part to play in this, with November being, on average cloudier and rainier than any other month than December and January in the northern hemisphere. However, the drop in temperature that normally comes at November's end can herald clearer conditions. We all hope for these - as ever, there's plenty to see in the skies above us...
The Solar System
Our natural satellite starts November in the constellation of Capricornus, at First Quarter phase. Sharing the constellation with nearby Saturn, which can be found just over 6 degrees to the north of the Moon on the evening of the 1st. This part of the year sees the Moon rising through the more southerly parts of the Ecliptic plane, during its waxing phase, so the height of the evening Moon, from mid-Northern latitudes during the early part of the month won’t be especially high.
The first week of November see the Moon pass through Capricornus, Aquarius and on into Pisces. The evening of the 4th sees the Moon sitting on the Pisces/Aquarius borders, forming a loose triangle with the brilliant Jupiter and the distinctly un-brilliant Neptune, which lies 5.5-6.5° to the west of its naked-eye neighbours. At this point of the month the Moon is at 85% illuminated Gibbous phase, so atmospheric conditions will have to be kind to prevent scatter drowning out the very faint Neptune.
The Moon, Jupiter and Neptune Aquarius /Pisces borders, 4th November. Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp., skysafariastronomy.com.
The Moon then continues on its track through Pisces, into the non-Zodiacal constellation of Cetus and then back into Pisces in the lead-up to Full Moon, which occurs on 8th November, with the Moon in Aries. Full Moon coincides this month with a Full Lunar Eclipse, the very beginning Pre-Umbral phase will be visible from parts of Western Europe, just before the Moon sets, just before 7am (GMT). Sadly, the full eclipse will be invisible from Europe, but those in Australasia and the Far East will have a good view of the entire event, as will some observers on the West Cost of the Americas. The rest of the Americas will see at least some of the Umbral part of the event, before the Moon sets. However, the real bonus - a serendipitous co-incidental Occultation of Uranus, during the eclipse - will be visible from Japan, China and through a fairly wide area of Northern Asia. Naturally, Uranus, being somewhat further away from Earth and its shadow than the Moon, will be unaffected by the Eclipse itself and will technically visible to the naked eye, being +5.6 mag, during this period. This should be a fascinating and very rare event to witness. Apart from the mid-Eclipse, we (as usual) at the point remind readers that this part of the month will not be the greatest from a deep sky observing or imaging point of view.
Uranus Occultation, mid-Lunar Eclipse as seen from Guangzhou, China, 8th November. Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp., skysafariastronomy.com.
Beyond the Eclipse, the Moon spends the early part of its Waning phases climbing through the easterly part of Aries into Taurus, where it comes into close proximity with the prominent Mars on the evenings of the 11th and 12th. The next few days finds the Moon drifting onwards through the most northerly part of the Ecliptic plane, cresting through Gemini and down into Cancer and on into Leo, where it will come to Last Quarter phase no the 16th. The following week finds the Moon at one of its “high autumnal morning crescent phases”, which rewards the early riser with some of the best opportunities to observer the Moon’s western limb, during the year. The steeply rising ecliptic plane (as seen from mid-to-higher northern latitudes) affords observers from these locations some of the greatest separations of the Moon from the horizon, during its latter crescent phase, leading to better seeing conditions and thus resolution through a telescope.
The next few days the Moon spends in the vast expanse of Virgo, shrinking in phase and brightness, until meeting the Sun, to become New in Scorpius on the 23rd.
After this point, the Moon becomes an evening object, albeit a very low one for those in higher northern latitudes, rising up through the extreme south of the Ecliptic in Sagittarius, on the 26th and 27th and on into Capricornus on the 28th and 29th, again, passing Saturn as it did at the month’s beginning. The Moon ends November in Aquarius on the 30th.
We begin the month at an awkward time for observing the Solar System’s innermost planet. While Mercury is at a brightness of -1.2, it is separated from he Sun by just over 4 3/4° and will be very difficult, if not impossible to find in the dawn sky. As the early part of November continues, Mercury sinks lower and lower towards the Sun, until it reaches Superior Conjunction (the opposite side of the Sun from our perspective on Earth) on the 8th.
Re-emerging as an evening object, Mercury is in a pretty disappointing positioning the Ecliptic for those observers in mid-to-higher northern latitudes. As we’ve covered with the Moon, the Ecliptic plane of our Solar System rises in a very shallow fashion from the northern hemisphere at this time of year (exactly the opposite is the case for the southern hemisphere), this keeps the interior planets and the Moon, when closer to the Sun, locked into a very low part of the sky in the evenings. The lower the target - the more difficult is is to observe and the worse the atmospheric distortion caused when observing through a telescope. Such is the case for Mercury during the rest of November. Although it increases its angular distance from the Sun, Mercury hugs the horizon at sunset, making it almost impossible to observe, unless you have a very clear horizon and extremely clement atmospheric conditions.
By the end of the month, Mercury will be sitting at a rather pitiful 2 3/4° elevation at Sunset (from 51° north) and while at a reasonable brightness of -0.6 mag, will be a difficult object to see in many locations. Those further south will fare better.
Mercury and Venus, sunset, 30th November. Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp., skysafariastronomy.com.
Venus is also emerging from late-October’s Superior Conjunction, so is to be found in the same are of the evening sky as Mercury throughout most of the month. While Mercury whizzes round the Sun once every 88 days, Venus’ year is 225 days long, so it moves at a considerably more sedate pace than its neighbour. At -3.9 magnitude throughout the entire month, Venus is normally always bright enough to see during practically all conditions (even observable in broad daylight at times). However, the planet’s elevation from mid-northern latitudes is not that much better than Mercury’s - making it tricky to find in built up areas. At the end of November, Venus can be found just under 10 degrees east of the Sun at sunset, at an elevation of around 3° above the horizon (from 51° north). It should be easy enough to find, but atmospheric conditions will make it a poor target for telescopic observation in the limited window before it sets. Those of us in higher northern latitudes will have to be content to wait until the late-winter and spring of 2023, when Venus will be in a much better position to observe.
Mars is rapidly accelerating towards Opposition in late 2022. Those readers who have been out recently in the late evenings will not have failed to note the presence of the rising Mars, firmly ensconced in Taurus. The 1st finds Mars at -1.2 magnitude and 15.1 arc seconds diameter. Observers have to wait until the small hours (just past 3am GMT) for Mars to transit in the early part of the month.
By mid-November, Mars will have increased brightness to -1.5 mag and will now be displaying a 16.5 arc second diameter. It remains fairly static in the sky in-between the “horns” of Taurus - Elnath, Beta Taurii, to the north and Zeta Taurii to the south. It will now transit at just past 2am (GMT).
By the end of the month, Mars has increased magnitude significantly to -1.8 and is now displaying a 17.2 arc second diameter angular size - larger than Saturn. It will transit at just before 1am (again GMT) and will be a significant 64° elevation (from 51° north), when it does so. At this sort of elevation, telescope owners can afford to ramp up magnification (sky conditions being clement). It should be quite a view, as Mars will be just over a week from Opposition on the evening of the 30th. While it brightens yet further and grows slightly larger in size during the first week of December, heading up to Opposition on the 8th, November - particularly the latter half - should afford us with plenty of opportunities for observing the Red Planet at close to its best this year. We would (as usual) recommend waiting for the planet to have risen a significant amount above the horizon before attempting higher power telescopic observations. Coloured filters - notably the Wratten numbers 23a Orange, 80a Blue and 56 Green will help isolate certain features of Mars’ surface and atmosphere.
Mars at transit point, November 30th. Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp., skysafariastronomy.com.
The King of the Planets continues to dominate the evening skies. It is unmissable in Pisces, shining at a brilliant -2.8 mag on the 1st. Transiting at just after 9.30pm (GMT), Jupiter displays a 47.5 arc second diameter disc in telescopes, making it ideally-placed for early-to-mid evening observing.
By mid-month Jupiter will have faded fractionally to -2.7 mag and now displays a 45.7 arc second diameter disc. It transits at just after 8.30pm on the 15th.
Jupiter begins its regular Prograde direction in the sky on the 24th/25th November, a sign that the Opposition cycle for this year is firmly a thing of the past. It will continue in a Prograde direction in the Ecliptic until early September 2023, in preparation for the next Jovian Opposition in early November 2023.
At the end of November, not much has really changed. Jupiter is not -2.6 mag and displays a 43.6 arc second diameter disc, transiting at just after 7.30pm (GMT).
As usual, with such an energetic world (Jupiter’s day lasting just over 10 hours), possessing such easily observable major Moons (Ganymede, Callisto, Europa and Io), there are plenty of mutual transit events to observe from various parts of the world. Some of those visible from Europe include the following:
Mutual Great Red Spot (GRS) and Io Transit, starting around 11pm (GMT), 1st November.
GRS, Europa and Ganymede Transit, starts just before 8pm (GMT) 2nd November.
Europa and Ganymede Transit, starts just after 11pm (GMT) 9th November.
Mutual GRS and Callisto Transit, observable from Sunset, 10th November.
Mutual GRS and Io Transit, observable from Sunset, 12th November.
Mutual GRS and Io Transit, observable from Sunset, 19th November.
Mutual GRS and Io Transit, starts just before 5.30pm, 26th November.
Mutual GRS and Europa Transit, observable from Sunset, 27th November.
Jupiter, Europa, Ganymede and GRS mutual transit, 8pm, November 2nd. Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp., skysafariastronomy.com.
Saturn is well-placed for observation in the early evenings, transiting at just before 7pm on the 1st. At +0.7 mag and 17.2 arc seconds diameter at the beginning of November, it is a rewarding target for telescopic observation and shouldn’t be hard to find, as it’s the brightest “star” in the south at sunset. While not as brilliant as Jupiter, it should be easy enough to locate. Saturn is much further south in the Ecliptic than Jupiter and moves at a much more sedate pace around the sky. It will reach an altitude of just under 23 degree high at transit point (from 51° north) - not above the “magic” 30° elevation, where seeing conditions improve significantly, but high enough to press magnification somewhat, if sky conditions allow. Naturally, the higher north you find yourself, the lower Saturn’s maximum elevation will be.
Saturn and Inner Moons, early evening, 1st November. Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp., skysafariastronomy.com.
By mid-month, Saturn will still be the same brightness, but will have shrunk fractionally to 16.8 arc seconds.
By the end of November, the Ringed Planet will be +0.8 mag and 16.4 arc seconds across. It will transit at a little past 5pm (GMT).
Uranus and Neptune
The Outer Planets are well-positioned for observation during November. We’ve already discussed the highlight of Uranus’ Occultation by the eclipsed Moon on the 8th, but the next day, the planet comes to Opposition. At +5.7 mag and displaying a 3.7 arc second disc, Uranus is never prominent, like the classical “major” planets, but it can be glimpsed with the naked eye and now is the best opportunity to attempt this. You will need good eyesight (or decent spectacles), a dark observation sight, well away from artificial lighting and decent atmospheric conditions to do so. The Moon being out of the way will also help significantly, as the scatter of light caused by the Moon when close to Full, will significantly downgrade the ability to make out fainter stars. It is possible to observe Uranus through powerful binoculars and telescopes when the Moon is around though and it’s this path that many observers in light polluted environments will have to take anyway. Even in urban areas, Uranus is visible with optical assistance - just as long as you know where it is. Currently a resident of Aries, it has no really bright stars nearby to act as waypoints. Uranus at transit point can be found 22 degrees to the west of Aldebaran, Alpha Taurii, at around the same angular height, throughout the month.
Uranus and Neptune relative positions, November 2022. Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp., skysafariastronomy.com.
As previously-mentioned, Jupiter’s presence in the same area of sky as Neptune acts as a handy pointer to its location. At +7.8 mag and just 2.3 arc seconds across, you will definitely need larger binoculars, or a telescope to pick it out. But tracking just over 6 1/2° to the west of Jupiter on the evening of the 1st, will put Neptune in your field of view. Neptune’s prominent blue colour is often remarked upon, so despite its relative dimness, its colour can often be used to make a positive ID.
Comet C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) has reached peak brightness, but below the horizon for observers in the temperate northern hemisphere. Those situated further south will enjoy a good view of the comet at its brightest, though it will remain invisible those of us further north.
There is potential excitement in the guise of C/2022 E3 (ZTF) to look forward to, though this will not reach its peak until late January/early February next year. At present it is lurking in the northern part of Serpens, just underneath the border with Corona Borealis. It’ll remain fairly static in this part of the sky for the whole of November, tracking very slowly south for the first half of the month, before looping back northwards for the second half.
C/2022 E3 (ZTF) location, 1st November 2022. Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp., skysafariastronomy.com.
All other observable comets remain above the 10th or 11th magnitude at present and as such, present a much more difficult observing challenge.
One of the most famous meteor showers, the Leonids, peak on the 17th/18th of November. This shower is fed by the periodic comet 55P Temple-Tuttle, which returns to the inner solar system once every 33 years, potentially triggering a large outburst in the shower after reseeding its orbit with debris. The next return will not be until 2033, which means the shower at present is fairly inactive in comparison to its lofty, but very brief, peaks.
The ultimate disrupter of meteor showers, our own Moon, will be around to spoil the Leonids shower this particular year. While only at Half phase, the Moon is up for most of the night, during the peak of the shower - right in the middle of Leo itself. This truncates the opportunities for observing the Leonids this year somewhat - although it is noted that meteors can appear at any point in the sky, not just around their radiant point in the sky. We would never discourage anyone from attempting to observe any meteor showers, there are better opportunities in the future, than the Leonids present this year.