The Milky Way rises overhead on these dark November nights, providing a stunning inside perspective on the huge Galaxy that is our home in the cosmos. After your eyes have adjusted to the dark you should be able to see that it’s spangled with fuzzy glowing diadems. Better still, sweep the band of the Milky Way with binoculars or a small telescope, and these blurry jewels appear in their true light as distant clusters of stars.
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.
Take advantage of the moonless nights 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, located below Andromeda. This is one of the few constellations that look like the figure they are supposed to describe Triangulum the Triangle. The light we see from this galaxy left it almost three million years ago.
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).
Venus lies low in the south west, in Sagittarius. At a brilliant magnitude of –4.5, the Evening star is setting at 6.30pm.
Far to the left of Venus in the south you will find the second brightest planet, Jupiter, at magnitude –2.4, and between them the fainter Saturn, magnitude +0.7. Both of these gas giants lie in Capricornus. Saturn falls below the horizon around 9.30pm and Jupiter about 11pm.
Neptune, in Aquarius, as a dim magnitude of +7.8 and sinks below the horizon around 1.30am.
On 5th November Uranus is at its closest to the Earth this year, 2803 million kilometers away. Visible all night long. Even so the planet is only just visible to the naked eye, at magnitude +5.6. At first sight, you’d be hard pushed to distinguish the planet from a number of stars of similar brightness scattered around it in Pisces. Check carefully with binoculars night after night, to spot Uranus gradually moving against the background stars.
In the morning sky, Mercury is on display at the beginning of the month. Rising in the east at 5.15am and shining at magnitude –0.8. Initially it’s near Spica, but the innermost planet gradually moves down as the month progresses, disappearing into the twilight glow by mid month.
On the morning of the 10th November Mercury moves to the left of Mars, with the Red planet at magnitude +1.6 appearing ten times fainter than Mercury. During November, Mars is gradually ascending in the dawn sky. It is rising above the horizon at 6am.
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 to 12th. On November 17th to the 18th the Leonid meteors will be on display. The display will be washed out by the brilliance of the nearly full moon.
Other special events this month include, on the 7th November the crescent Moon lies to the right of brilliant Venus, low in the south western evening twilight.
The following night 8th November the crescent Moon will be just to the left of Venus.
On the 10th of the month at 6.30am Mercury passes fainter Mars in the dawn twilight.
Phases of the Moon:-
New moon 4th
First Quarter 11th
Full Moon 19th
Last Quarter 27th