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Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp.,

November 2018 Sky Guide


The Solar System

The Moon


The Moon starts November on the Cancer/Leo borders, at a day past Last Quarter phase - rising a little before midnight GMT in the evening on the 1st.


The Moon reaches New as it joins the Sun in Libra on the 7th, after which it becomes an evening target. On the evening of the 9th, there may be the opportunity to observe the slim Crescent Moon, sitting around 5 3/4 degrees to the north of Mercury, also in Ophiuchus, just after sundown - though the window for observation will be very short for those in northern temperate climes.  


The Moon reaches First Quarter on the 15th, in Capricornus - sitting to the west of Mars by just under 5 1/2 degrees. 


The Moon becomes Full on the 23rd, in the constellation of Taurus. During this particular evening, the Moon makes one of its regular passes through the Hyades star cluster, occulting many of its members as it goes. Naturally, this is not the ideal time of the month for deep sky observations and imaging. 


The Moon Occults the Hyades, early evening November 23rd. Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp.,

The Moon ends the month on the 30th Last Quarter, while in Leo. 





By beginning of the month, Mercury sits 22 3/4 degrees from the Sun, shining at a steady, if unspectacular, -0.2 mag, in the constellation of Scorpius - presenting a 6.1 arc second diameter, 72.6% illuminated disk. Separated from the horizon by about 3 1/2 degrees at sunset (from latitude 51 degrees N), seeing Mercury will be a tough prospect from northern temperate latitudes, though observers in the equatorial and southern parts of the world will fare much better.  As previously reported, the very New Two-day-old Crescent Moon will provide a signpost to find the position of Mercury, on the evening of the 9th November, but conditions will inevitably preclude those in higher latitudes taking advantage of this possibility.  Though again, those further south will have a better separation of both bodies from the horizon after sunset, which may prove useful, if sky conditions are clement.  The Moon alone at this point in the month is a tough ask in the best of circumstances, so don’t feel dispirited if you can’t see either.


Mercury, the Moon and Jupiter, sunset November 9th (from 51 degrees N).  Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp.,

Mercury reaches maximum eastern elongation from the Sun on the 6th, when the two are separated by just over 23 degrees. After this point, it begins its regular trek back sunward. 


By mid-month, Mercury is found in Ophiuchus, at +0.3 mag. It stands at 4 degrees high at sunset (from latitude 51 degrees N), so observing Mercury will still remain a tough prospect from northern temperate latitudes, though again, observers in the equatorial and southern parts of the world will have a much better experience in this regard. 


Mercury reaches superior conjunction on November 27th and will be unobservable until later in December. 





Venus begins November having recently reemerged from late October's inferior conjunction. At this time it is a 1.5% illuminated crescent, a large (comparatively speaking) 1 arc minute across and displaying brightness of -4.1 mag. It will stand 3 2/3 degrees elevation in the east as the Sun rises (from latitude 51 degrees N). At this point, the planet will lie just over 41 million km from Earth - this distance will increase, but the planet’s brightness will also increase as the month progresses, as its illumination and phase begins to grow.


By the middle of the month, Venus has significantly increased its separation from the Sun to 27 2/3 degrees. Situated in Virgo (just a degree and a half east from Spica, Alpha Virginis), in a steeply rising part of the ecliptic from a northern hemispherical perspective it now stands 18 3/4 degrees high in the east at sunrise (from latitude 51 degrees N). The planet has also increased its brightness to an impressive -4.5 mag and its phase has grown to 11.4% illumination. As Venus is now moving away from Earth, the planet's angular size as shrunk somewhat to 52 arc seconds - though it remains much larger in this respect than its nearest rival, Jupiter. 


By the end of November, Venus can still be found in Virgo and has reached a maximum brightness of a dazzling -4.7 mag and is displaying a 41 arc second, 25% illuminated disk. It stands 25 1/2 degrees high in the east at sunrise (from latitude 51 degrees N), separated from the Sun by 39 1/4 degrees. 


 Venus at Sunrise, November 30th.  Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp.,




At the beginning of November, Mars can be found in Capricornus at -0.6 magnitude brightness. The planet now displays an 11.8 arc second angular diameter and will stand just over 22 degrees high at transit (from 51 degrees N), which it will reach a little before 7pm (GMT). Mars, now a while after opposition, is steadily fading in brightness as a consequence of the planet appearing to shrink, as we move away from it on our faster interior orbit. Not only distance, but decrease in phase is contributing to the fading process - Mars as now at 86% phase, rather than the 100% illumination we experienced at opposition. Still, despite being past peak illumination and under half the diameter it was at opposition, there's still good reason to take a look at Mars at this point in time, as major features should still be visible, even in relatively small instruments. Transiting in the early evening means observing can be achieved at a reasonable hour of the night too. 


Mid-November finds Mars a little fainter at -0.3 mag and 10.5 arc seconds across. It will transit in the south at just after 6.30pm (GMT) and will stand 25 1/2 degrees high in altitude when doing so (from 51 degrees N). 


Mars transiting alongside the Moon, 6.30pm, November 15th (from 51 degrees N).  Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp.,

Late November finds Mars transiting at a little after 6pm (GMT).  Having climbed a little further north in the ecliptic, the Red Planet now stands 29 1/2 degrees high as it transits (from 51 degrees N). By this point however, Mars will now be +0.0 mag and displays a 9.3 arc second diameter disk, at 86% phase. 





Jupiter reaches superior conjunction on November 26th, so is not at all well-placed for observation this month. The planet starts November 20 degrees from the Sun, but this rapidly declines as the month continues. Jupiter passes a little to the north of the Sun on the 25th/26th, while in Scorpius and will then begin to reemerge as a morning object. 


 Jupiter aty Superior Conjunction, November 26th.  Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp.,



At the beginning of the month, Saturn is found in Sagittarius at +0.6 magnitude and is now 15.7 arc seconds diameter. It reaches transit point at 3.38pm (GMT), when it will stand just under 16 degrees high in the south. It will set at just past 7.35pm (again, GMT, from 51 degrees N). Although this is good three hours after the Sun, the window for evening observation of Saturn is definitely coming to a close, as the planet heads towards superior conjunction on January 2nd 2019 - so make the most of it while you can.  The planet will continue to be visible throughout the month, but it will be very low in the south for northern hemisphere observation, though those in the equatorial and southern reaches of the Earth will fare better. 


Saturn and Inner Moons, November 1st.  Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp.,


Uranus and Neptune


Both the outer planets are well-placed for observation in the evening sky during November. 


Relative positions of Uranus and Neptune, November 15th (from 51 degrees N).  Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp.,

Neptune, the fainter of the pair, at mag +7.9 and presenting a 2.3 arc second diameter is a resident of Aquarius and can be found around 2 degrees east of Hydor, or Lambda Aquarii, a +3.75 magnitude star - which is one of the rather faint constellation's brighter offerings. You can also follow a line south (by about 22 1/2 degrees) from the two westerly stars in the Square of Pegasus - Markab and Scheat - until you get to the area of sky Neptune currently occupies. You’ll need reasonably powerful binoculars, or better still a telescope, to observe the outermost true planet in the solar system, which looks pretty similar to a compact planetary nebula, once found.  


Neptune transits in the south at around 7.20pm (GMT) during mid-November, setting a little over five and half hours later.


Uranus, further east in Aries, is easier to pick out, being on the cusp of naked eye visibility from a dark observation site (if your eyesight is good).  At +5.7 magnitude and 3.7 arc seconds diameter, it is still not a really easy target to locate, but once found, Uranus’ green-grey disk is unmistakably not stellar.  With larger instruments you may be able to pick out the two brighter Uranian satellites, Titania and Oberon - but you’ll need high magnification and a telescope of at least 8-10” of aperture to do so.  


Uranus transits in the south at around 10pm (GMT) during mid-November, setting around seven hours later (from 51 degrees N).





Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner is technically visible in Canis Major, in the early part of November, but is now past its closest point to Earth and headed out of view for those of us in the temperate northern hemisphere, as it plunges southward towards the horizon.  The comet has given a good account of itself this apparition, but it is now fading rapidly as it heads out of our part of the solar system.  It will return to our part of the solar system in 6.5 years, after heading out beyond Jupiter’s orbit. 


21/P Giacobini-Zinner path (comet position correct for 1st November).  Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp.,


Periodic comet 46/P Wirtanen will start the month in a disappointingly low area of the southern skies.  However, much better is expected of this comet as it will begin to climb northwards into a much better observing position for us in the northern hemisphere towards the end of the month.  Wirtanen will cross the border from Fornax into Cetus around the 27th, after which it will brighten rapidly towards closest approach to Earth in late December 2018.  As announced in previous sky guides, the comet is the subject of a Pro-Am observing study, with amateur astronomers encouraged to send in their observations and photography of 46/P.   December may see the comet skirting the boundaries of naked eye visibility from a dark site, so there’s more to come from this intriguing body yet.


45/P Wirtenan path (comet position correct for 1st November).  Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp.,


Another periodic comet, 38P/Stephan-Oterma, is currently visiting the inner solar system, as it does once every 38 years.  While it is neither a particularly massive object and thus not intrinsically very bright, it will be worthwhile attempting to find as it passes through Gemini during November - especially after the comet's perihelion on the 10th (post perihelion comets tend to be more active that pre-perihelion bodies).  Sadly the comet won’t be appearing anything like as prominent as it is depicted in the map below, but should be skirting the 9-9.5 mag range during the month, putting it in the range of large binoculars or relatively small telescopes, from a dark enough location.  Quite how active this comet is during the latter half ofthe month, we'll have to wait and see.

 38P/Stephan-Oterma path (comet position correct for 1st November).  Image created with SkySafari 5 for Mac OS X, ©2010-2016 Simulation Curriculum Corp.,



There are two notable meteor showers in November: the Southern Taurids and the better-known Leonids. While both showers will peak with zeniths hourly rates of 10-20 meteors, the Southern Taurids will be heavily affected by Moonlight, peaking as they do around November 5th, with the Waning Gibbous Moon just past Full in neighbouring Gemini. 

 November brings us the annual Leonid meteor shower, famous for its peaks every 33 years.  This year will be more modest than the peak outbursts this shower is capable of, with peaks of 10-15 meteors an hour under absolutely ideal conditions.  To be fair, this year will be a mixed bag. The Moon - the perennial menace of meteors -  is at 71% Waxing Gibbous phase and will be visible for all of the evening of the 17th.  However, a little after 1am on the 18th, the Moon will be set from most of Europe and the radiant of the shower will be higher in the sky, maximising the chance to see and photograph meteors.  So, the Leonids will definitely reward those amongst us who brave the small hours this year.  The Leonid meteors are fed by parent comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, which will return to the inner solar system in the early 2030s, replenishing the Leonids and giving us the potential for major meteor storms again.


Leonid Radiant - November 17-18th 2016.  Image created with SkySafari for Mac OS X, ©2010-2012 by Southern Stars,



Deep Sky Delights in Perseus & Triangulum 


Perseus and Triangulum.  Image created with SkySafari for Mac OS X, ©2010-2012 by Southern Stars,

We start this month in the southerly part of Perseus, where the open cluster M34 is located. M34 is an original part of Messier’s List and was first identifed by Giovanni Battisa Hodierna in the mid-1600s. Hordierna was born in what is now Dubrovnik in Croatia, though did most of his observing from the court of the Duke of Montechiaro in Sicily. Hodierna was a leading telescopic observer of his day and complied a pre-Messier catalogue of Deep Sky objects. M34 was part of this original list, though Messier discovered it independently in 1764. The cluster is easily spotted in smaller binoculars and occupies an area of sky roughly equivalent to the diameter of the Full Moon. At +5.19, M34 is reasonably bright and contains around 80-100 observable stars in medium-sized telescopes (the actual number stands at around 400, but many these are beyond the range of amateur instruments). Precise professional observations of M34’s movement have concluded that there is a distinct possibility that M34, the neighbouring Pleiades and a number of other nearby clusters are exhibiting a common angular motion, suggesting a common origin. M34 lies 1400-1500 light years away. 

M34. Image Credit: Ole Nielsen - Creative Commons.

East of M34 is a more challenging object, the Perseus A Galaxy, or NGC1275. At +11.89 mag, this is not an intrinsically bright galaxy, though it is quite a compact target and can be seen in medium to larger telescopes. This object is actually a pair of galaxies that have undergone a collision and have formed a larger galaxy strewn with laments of stars and dark material, most likely blasted outwards by the supermassive Black Hole at the heart of the system. Perseus A is a Seyfert Galaxy - strongly emitting on Radio frequencies, suggesting a large amount of star formation. NGC1275, at 235 million light years distance, is one of the most prominent members of the Perseus cluster of galaxies, which occupies this region and is amongst the largest structures in the known Universe. 

5 degrees to the west of M34 lies the most famous eclipsing binary star in the sky, Algol, or Beta Persei.  Algol represents the eye of the head of the Gorgon Medusa, whose gaze would turn to stone all those unfortunate enough to look at it. According tho the legend, Perseus held Medusa’s severed head up to the sea monster Cetus in the successful rescue of Andromeda. Cetus was turned to stone and Perseus unchained Andromeda from the rock to which she was attached. Algol’s name derives from the Arabic “ra’s al-ghul”, translated as “head of the ghoul” - though it has been know by several equally unfortunate titles.  In Hebrew, Algol was known as “Rosh ha Satan” or “Satan’s Head”. A 16th century text labels Algol as “Caput Larvae” or “Spectre’s Head”. But the prize used to go to the now sadly disproved ancient Chinese description, “Tseih She” or “Jishi”, meaning “Piled Up Corpses” - though this is now thought to refer to Pi Persei instead. Regardless, Algol was part of the Anciet Chinese constellation of the Tomb or Mausoleum. No matterwhich culture attempts to define Algol, it always seems to have a sinister undercurrent - quite unfair really, as it is a fascinating object. 

Algol’s eclipsing binaries occupy a startlingly small amount of space - just 0.062 Astronomical units, or around 5.76 million miles, separates the two stars. These two stars are Beta Persei A and Beta Persei B (there is a third member of this system, Beta Persei C which plays no part in the eclipse). Beta Persei A is the brightest of these stars and is eclipsed by the dimmer Beta Persei B every 2 days, 20 hours and 49 minutes, for around 10 hours at a time. This eclipse has the effect of dimming the +2.1 mag star to +3.4 mag for the period of the eclipse. There is also a much shallower dimming when A eclipses B, though this is very difficult to detect visually. The main eclipse can easily be detected with the naked eye and is possibly the reason that this star was held in such suspicion by ancient astronomers. Regardless, it is a very clear example of stellar orbital dynamics and Algol, suspicious or not, continues to be of interest as a result. It’s always worth comparing the brightness of Algol with Almach - as they’re normally roughly similar brightness. If this isn’t the case, you can be sure the Algol’s in eclipse. 

Nine and a half degrees east of Algol sits the 2.91 mag star Adid Australis, Epsilon Persei, which is a useful is a pointer to those attempting to locate NGC1499 - the California Nebula - which lies along the line between this star and the neighbouring +4.40 mag star Xi Persei, or Menkib. a prime candidate for Supernova (though lying at a distinctly safe distance of 1200 light years). The California Nebula can be found just under a degree to the North of Menkib. 

The California Nebula by Mark Blundell

Discovered in 1884 by Barnard (he of Barnard Star’s fame), the California is a confusing object Technically it is a bright +5 mag object of very large proportions - 145 x 40 arc minutes (just slightly smaller than M31, the Andromeda Galaxy), but due to its size, it has low surface brightness. The California is very easily picked up by cameras with relatively modest exposures, but to see it visually requires two things: a decent sky and a Hydrogen Beta Filter. Many observers consider aperture to be of importance when picking out low surface brightness objects from the background sky, and while this is normally very sound advice, with large objects such as the California, this must be tempered by the amount of sky a telescope can adequately display at low power. It has been suggested than NGC1499 can be seen in some cases better with smaller telescopes, of shorter focal lengths at low power with a Hydrogen Beta Filter. Larger instruments will show the curtain of light of the edge of the nebula well under filtration and can pick out more lament detail within its inner structure, but a smaller wide eld telescope can potentially t the entire nebula into a single eld of view - a potentially superior view from an aesthetic standpoint. Others have observed the nebula with the naked eye from a dark site, simply by holding an H Beta Filter up to its area of sky. The H-Beta filter, unlike the more popular UHC and OIII options is only of great use for this nebula, and the adjacent nebulas the Horsehead in Orion and the North American in Cygnus and a few lesser objects. For those attempting to see these famous objects, it really is a must. 

It is thought that the radiation from nearby Xi Persei is responsible for exciting the gas of the California and causing it to glow. The rich gas and material deposits in this area of the Milky Way have given birth to many massive stars, of which the previously mentioned Menkib and Adid Australis are probably prime examples. The California Nebula is thought to lie some 1000 light years from our position in the galaxy and is about 100 light years across at its widest point. 

Moving to the opposite end of Perseus from the California Nebula, we come to the spectacular Double Cluster, or Sword Handle - NGCs 869 and 884. It is perhaps testament to the easy nature of their observation that they were never given Messier number classification. These twin clusters - and there can be little doubt about their mutual origin - are of +5.9 visual magnitude and are excellently seen through binoculars of all sizes, but really come alive in wide field telescopes. Of the two, NGC 869 is the slightly more populous being of 3700 solar masses to NGC 884’s 2800 and are thought to between 3.2 and 12.8 million years old (sources, again differ on this figure) - considerably younger even than the Pleiades’ 75 million years. Both clusters have in excess of 150 hot blue stars visible to amateur telescopes and are also a fabulous target for astrophotography. Both elements of the Double Cluster lie between 7500-9600 light years distance from us and are approaching us at around 39 km per second. 

The Double Cluster by Mark Blundell.  Image used with kind permission.

The last target we shall examine in Perseus is M76, otherwise known as the “Little Dumbell”, due to its physical similarity to M27 the Dumbell Nebula in Vulpecula. Found 3 degrees North of 51 Andromedae, the other of Andromeda’s feet (alongside Almach), M76 is a very compact object and one of the dimmest of the Messier list at +10.10 mag. Still, as with many planetary nebulae, it is an attractive object. Unlike the Ring Nebula, M57, M76 is presented side on, so we can clearly see the two lobes of bass that were ejected from the central star. Were this object presented to us end on, much like the Ring Nebula, we would see the distinctive disk or ring-like pattern, rather than a sort of hourglass shape that M76 resembles. As with most planetaries, M76 responds well to OIII filters. 

M76 by Mark Blundell. Image used with kind permission.

M76’s distance is widely disputed, some sources give it as 1500 light years distances, others in excess of 15,000 light years away. Spectroscopy has shown it is certainly approaching the Solar System, at a rate of 19 km per second. 

Hopping just over the border in neighbouring Triangulum, we come to the third largest member of our local group: M33, otherwise known as the Pinwheel (a description it unhelpfully shares with M101 in Ursa Major) or simply, the Triangulum Galaxy. Whereas M31 is inclined to our perspective, M33 is presented to us in a much more “face on” aspect. It is a smaller, less massive object than its neighbour, and occupies less area in the sky - M33’s major dimension is about as wide as M31’s narrowest. However, at it is still a major object, though its lower surface brightness make it more difficult to spot. 

M33 by Mark Blundell. Image used with kind permission.

At +5.69 mag M33 is technically visible to the naked eye, but one would have to be in a particularly dark location and very well dark-adapted in order to see it unaided Discovered in 1654 by Giovanni Batista Hodeierna and then independently re-discovered and catalogued by Charles Messier in 1764, large binoculars will show M33 very well from a good locale and larger aperture observations can reveal some of the brighter nebulous regions. The largest and most prominent of these was first recorded by William Herschel in 1784 and now known as NGC604. As previously mentioned with M31, these two galaxies (setting aside the satellite Magellanic Clouds of our own Milky Way) are the only two external systems in which it is possible to view nebulous regions visually through a reasonably-sized telescope. H-Alpha and H-Beta Filters will help considerably with this endeavour - though inevitably, aperture and a good sky is key. Those with access to instruments in the 16-inch or above class would be able to spot some of M33’s globular clusters, arranged in a halo around the galaxy, much as they are in our own Milky Way. 

Current measurements put M33 at a distance of around 3 million light years away from us - 500,000 light years further from us than M31. M33 contains around 30-40 billion stars, less than our galaxy’s 200-400 billion and much less than M31’s trillion stars. M33 has supposedly interacted with M31 in the distant past, and as it is moving towards us and M31, will probably do so again. Whether this results in a collision such as that predicted for the Milky Way and M31 is, as yet, unknown. 

Triangulum contains no further objects of interest to deep sky observers - its principle stars, Alpha, Beta and Gamma Tranguli are all doubles, but none are brighter than 3rd magnitude, meaning the constellation is a tricky spot from light polluted environments.