On the 11th of this month, there will a rare occurrence as Mercury crosses the face of the Sun. The transit will mainly take place during daylight hours beginning at 12.35pm. It will behalf way across at 3.20pm so it will still be in transit as the sunsets around 4.30pm. Mercury will look like a small sharp blob, unlike the fuzzy blur of a sunspot. When I say small I mean small. If you have seen a transit of Venus you will notice the difference. When at mid-transit Mercury will be bang in the centre of the Sun’s disc. So you won’t miss it.
Remember do not look at the sun directly. Either with your naked eye or through your telescope or binoculars. In the past, transits of the innermost planets were a way of gauging the size of our solar system. By observing how quickly these worlds crossed the disc of the sun, astronomers could work out how far the earth lies from the Sun. Pierre Gassendi first observed a transit of Mercury on 7th November 1631, and Yorkshireman Captain James Cooke observed a transit of Mercury on 9th November 1769, whilst on his pioneering visit to New Zealand.
Take advantage of the moonless nights early this month to observe the most distant objects visible with the unaided eye. Anywhere away from the glare of streetlights, you will see the misty blur of the great Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest large galaxy to us at 2.5 million light years away. Another challenge is to try and find the fainter Triangulum Galaxy. The light we see from this galaxy left it almost three million years ago
November is the first month of long nights and we are starting to see the familiar winter constellations. Orion the Hunter appears in the sky just before midnight. Just to the right of Orion is Taurus the Bull with the bright red star Aldebaran and the star cluster the Pleiades or ‘Seven Sisters. They too are now becoming more conspicuous. This is the best time to look for the autumn constellations during the evening; the Plough is low in the north and the ‘W’ of Cassiopeia overhead. The summer triangle stars Altair, Deneb and Vega are now becoming low in the west.
If you look to the south the Square of Pegasus is very prominent; a line drawn from the top left hand star of the square shows a line of stars that form the constellation of Andromeda. Below Andromeda is one of the few constellations that look like the figure they are supposed to describe; Triangulum the Triangle. Using the two right hand stars of the Square of Pegasus draw a line down for some distance to find Fomalhaut, the brightest star in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish).
It’s an exciting month for planet observers, as the two brightest worlds come together in the evening sky. Brilliant Venus is steaming upwards from the south western horizon after sunset, setting around 5pm. At magnitude –3.9, Venus is the brightest object in the night sky after the Moon, and it becomes more prominent as the evenings darken.
At the start of the month, the second brightest planet, Jupiter will be to the upper left of Venus. At magnitude –2.9 in the constellation of Ophiuchus; setting about 6.30pm.
Venus, which is six times brighter than Jupiter, passes just a degree and a half below the gas giant on 24th November.
Saturn lies to the upper left of these canoodling panets, shining at magnitude +0.6, in the constellation of Sagittarius. Setting around 7pm.
The outermost planet Neptune at magnitude +7.9 is in the constellation of Aquarius. Setting about 1am.
Following along is Uranus, lying in Aries. It shines at Magnitude +5.7 and sets around 5.30am.
In the morning sky, Mars is rising about 5am. At magnitude +1.7, the red planet lies in the constellation of Virgo. On 10th of this month Mars passes close to the constellations brightest star, Spica.
After its transit, Mercury joins Mars before dawn. The innermost planet appears above the south eastern horizon around 18th November. Brightening from magnitude +1.2 to –0.5 as it moves towards Mars and its greatest western elongation. On 28th of the month. At the end of the month Mercury is rising as early as 5.45 am.
There are two meteor showers this month. The Taurid meteor shower consists of slow moving meteors that often produce spectacular fireballs and is visible from November 5th-12th. On November 16 to the 17th the Leonid meteors will be on display. Every 33 years the Leonids produce spectacular displays, It promises to be a good year, as moonlight won’t interfere.
46P/Wirtanen is a small short-period comet with a current orbital period of 5.4 years. It will appear in the evening sky this month on its way to a great show in December. It stars the month as a binocular object with a magnitude of +7.3, low on the southern horizon. It brightens as it ascends through the constellation of Cetus to become visible to the naked eye, at magnitude +4.8 by the end of November.
Phases of the Moon for November, will be:-
First Quarter 4th
Full Moon 12th
Last Quarter 19th
New moon 26th