November is a transition month both on the earth and in our skies. Most of our foliage has fallen; we are halfway through autumn and getting set for winter. Looking into the eastern sky, you will notice that more and more of the winter hexagon is revealing itself even as the summer triangle sinks into the western horizon. The entire winter hexagon will be above our horizon by the end of this month by 9 p.m.

This November has some highlights, including four bright planets in the evening sky and Jupiter in the morning sky. There will be nice conjunctions of the crescent moon with a few planets as well as the star Regulus in Leo the Lion. We will have the closest Super moon in more than 30 years this month and the Leonid meteor shower on the 17th into the 18th.

Venus is getting higher and brighter each evening as it catches up with us in its orbit around the sun. Our sister planet will set two hours after the sun at the beginning of the month, but it set fully three hours after the sun by the end of the month. It will also gain 6 degrees of altitude above our horizon, become three arc seconds larger, and become eight percent less illuminated by the sun even as it becomes a fifth of a magnitude brighter this month.

Remember that Venus reappeared in our evening skies back in early June after a several-month-long disappearance after it was the brightest member of a very rare five-planet lineup in our morning sky early this year. But it stayed very low in our western sky for nearly five months because Venus was still far from earth and only slowly catching up. If you could see the entire arc that Venus traces in the sky for the year, you would see that it is now beginning its upswing that will culminate early next year at the greatest eastern elongation from the sun. Then it will begin its downward arc and disappear once more when spring starts as it reaches superior conjunction behind the sun again. This great arc of Venus intersected with Jupiter’s downward arc this summer on Aug. 27, when they were less than one degree apart. I saw and photographed that great conjunction a couple months ago, and it was a real lesson in celestial mechanics. Look for a slender waxing crescent moon to pass near Saturn and Venus in the first three nights this month.

Jupiter is now the only morning planet. It will get slightly higher and larger this month as it gets closer to Earth. Its last opposition was in March, and it’s now about as small and dim and far away as it can get, so it can only get closer and brighter now until its next opposition in April. Watch as a slender waning crescent moon passes close to Jupiter in Virgo one hour before sunrise on the 24th and 25th.

Mars continues to dim and get less orange; we are pulling farther ahead of it in our orbits around the sun. Its last opposition was on May 22 and it will not be that close to Earth again until July 27, 2018. It will set at virtually the same time each night for the rest of the year. That’s because it’s traveling eastward through our sky at very nearly the same rate we are moving around the sun, one constellation per month. Unfortunately the European Space Agency’s Mars probe just crash-landed on this planet, even though it did collect some valuable data first. That proves once more how difficult it really is and how much skill is needed to successfully land on this or any planet. Nearly half of the 35 or so missions humans sent to Mars haven’t survived.

Saturn starts the month just to the right of Venus in Scorpius. We will lose it toward the end of the month, about the time it forms a close conjunction with Mercury low in the southwestern evening sky right after sunset.

I watched the full October Hunter’s moon rise out of the ocean recently. The subtle pink hue of the belt of Venus was clearly painted onto the eastern horizon, and for about 10 fleeting minutes I could distinguish the purplish gray shadow cone of the earth reflecting back to us by bouncing off our atmosphere.

The pale orange-pink color seemed to dominate the horizon as its surreal shape was slightly distorted by our dense atmosphere right on the horizon. As it rapidly ascended, because of the earth’s rotation, it also began losing its exquisite colors. That was also a super moon, defined as occurring within one day of its perigee.

The November full moon will be even larger and more dramatic than the October moon. This month’s super moon will be the closest one in more than 30 years. The moon always looks larger on the horizon, but a super moon near perigee is 30 percent brighter and 14 percent bigger than a micro moon at apogee. The full moon this month will happen just 2.4 hours after its perigee.

The Leonid meteor shower will peak during the evening of the 17th into Friday morning the 18th. This is only four days after full moon, so the moon will rise around 9 p.m. to spoil most of these meteors, caused by Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Try to catch a few earth-grazing meteors before that time. I saw nearly 1,000 meteors per hour in 2001 during this shower in the early morning hours of Nov. 18. Its parent comet had just returned on its 33-year orbit around the sun, creating more debris in its trail plus the earth was passing through an especially dense part of this comet’s debris trail. That memorable morning was the only time I could sense our constant 18.6 miles per second revolution around the sun as these meteors kept raining down on us in prodigious numbers. We also saw about 12 brilliant bolides that exploded high in our atmosphere, lighting up our entire part of the Earth for a second and leaving long, twisting smoke trails in the sky through which other meteors passed. This same comet caused the most prolific shower ever recorded on Nov. 17, 1966. There were 144,000 Leonids per hour recorded over Arizona that morning, reaching 40 per second. I saw one about every four seconds and as many as seven in one second, all emanating from its radiant in Leo.


Nov. 2: The waxing crescent moon is near Saturn and Venus this evening.

Nov. 3: Sputnik 2 was launched on this day in 1957, carrying the first living creature to orbit the earth, a dog named Laika.

Nov. 4: The Northern Taurid meteor shower peaks this morning. Caused by Comet Encke, these are also called the Halloween fireballs.

Nov. 5: The waxing crescent moon is near Mars this evening.

Nov. 6: Change clocks back one hour. Tycho Brahe recorded a supernova in Cassiopeia on this day in 1572.

Nov. 7: First-quarter moon is at 2:51 p.m.

Nov. 8: Edmund Halley was born on this day in 1656.

Nov. 9: Carl Sagan was born on this day in 1934.

Nov. 14: Full moon is at 8:52 a.m. This is also called the Beaver or Frosty moon, and will be the closest super moon in more than 30 years.

Nov. 15: The moon will pass right through the Hyades star cluster in Taurus this morning.

Nov. 17: The Leonid meteor shower peaks tonight into the morning of the 18th.

Nov. 20: Edwin Hubble was born on this day in 1889.

Nov. 21: Last-quarter moon is at 3:33 a.m. It will pass just below Regulus in Leo this morning.

Nov. 23: Mercury and Saturn form a close conjunction very low in the western evening sky.

Nov. 25: The moon, Spica and Jupiter form a nice triangle this morning in the southeast.

Nov. 29: New moon is at 7:18 a.m.

Bernie Reim of Wells is co-director of the Astronomical Society of Northern New England.

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