We are halfway into fall at the beginning of November. Our beautiful fall foliage is starting to fade as we transition toward winter.

The sky above is also transitioning, as the Winter Hexagon is appearing four minutes earlier each evening in the east and the Summer Triangle is sinking lower into the west. The earlier that Orion rises out of the ocean in the evening, the closer we are getting to winter. Orion will only be halfway up by 10 p.m. to start the month, but it will be completely above the horizon along with the brightest star in our sky, Sirius in Canis Major, at the same time by the end of November.

This month will see two close planetary conjunctions, an extremely spectacular one and a less spectacular one; another comet in Orion; an asteroid in Aries the Ram; another occultation of Aldebaran by the moon; and a good meteor shower, the Leonids, on the 17th.

Venus has been our morning planet for most of this year and it is sinking lower into the morning sky as it gets closer to superior conjunction with the sun, when it will be fully illuminated but at its smallest and faintest. After that, it will appear in our evening sky once again. Last month, Venus had a dance with Mars as they switched positions. Now, Mars continues to climb higher as Venus sinks lower.

This month, Jupiter will join Venus in a stunning conjunction in the morning sky just half an hour before sunrise. As you recall, Jupiter was an evening planet for most of this year. Now it is reappearing in our morning sky in a most spectacular fashion. This will be the best planetary conjunction of the entire year.

They will be closest together on the morning of Monday the 13th. They will both rise about one hour before the sun and climb to 5 degrees high half an hour later. Venus will be just to the left of Jupiter and about 8 times brighter. Even though Venus is much closer, it is three times smaller than Jupiter in our sky. They will be so close together that you can see both of our two brightest planets in the same field of view in a telescope for several mornings this month.

Then, keep watching as a slender waning crescent moon joins the pair on the morning of Thursday the 16th. The moon will pass within 6 degrees of Jupiter, which will be 3 degrees above Venus by this morning. Try to get some pictures of this great conjunction, the best of the whole year. This marks a spectacular way for Venus to exit our morning sky. It will be consumed by the sun’s glare by the end of the month.

The other conjunction is not nearly as dramatic, but still well worth looking for and trying to photograph. Saturn has been the lone evening planet for more than a month now after we lost Jupiter in the evening sky a while ago, but now it will get some company in the form of Mercury. Of course, keep in mind that all of these planets and the moon are always there orbiting the sun exactly the way that mathematics and gravitational laws predict, but because of our continually changing perspectives on a rotating and revolving sphere zipping through space around the sun at 18.6 miles per second – exactly 10,000 times slower than the speed of light – they appear to get closer at different times and even cover each other up at other times.

Our first planet will re-emerge in our evening sky by the middle of the month. If you look low in the southwestern sky about half an hour after sunset on the 23rd, you will see Mercury just 5 degrees below Saturn. Mercury will be about twice as bright as Saturn, even though it is about 25 times smaller. Both of these planets will then sink lower in our western sky. Saturn will be out of sight by early December, and Mercury just keeps switching from an evening planet to a morning planet every few weeks because it is so close to the sun, never getting more than 27 degrees away from it. Then keep watching the pair as a very thin waxing crescent moon joins them on the 19th and 20th.

Comet PANSTARRS will pass through Orion between its belt and its shield all this month. You will need at least a small telescope to see this comet, since it will only glow at 10th or 11th magnitude, or 100 times fainter than what you could see without any optical aid. This comet was found a couple years ago with the panoramic survey and rapid response system telescope located on the summit of Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii. This comet began its journey to our neighborhood more than 30,000 years ago from the Oort cloud, a full light year away and 1,000 times farther away than Pluto. It is only one of many comets discovered by this telescope.

An asteroid named 7 Iris will reach its opposition at about seventh magnitude in Aries the Ram this month. You will be able to see it in a pair of binoculars. It is about 100 miles in diameter, but it is the fifth brightest of all the asteroids in the belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The Leonid meteor shower will peak on Friday morning the 17th at around 3 a.m. Caused by Comet Tempel-Tuttle, you can only expect about 10 to 15 meteors per hour this year, even though there is no moon to interfere. They will smash into our upper atmosphere at 44 miles per second, the fastest of all of our showers, which will produce more fireballs than any of the other showers.

The last really tremendous outburst from this shower occurred Nov. 18, 2001. I saw nearly 1,000 meteors per hour for several hours on that unforgettable morning. I also saw the zodiacal light before twilight that morning. That is a faint cone or pyramid of light extending above the southern horizon, caused by all the tiny dust particles trapped in a torus along the ecliptic plane of the solar system. Look for that this month before sunrise.


Nov. 3: Sputnik 2 was launched on this day in 1957. It carried the first creature into space, a dog named Laika.

Nov. 4: Full moon is at 1:23 a.m. This is also called the Frosty or Beaver Moon.

Nov. 5: The moon will occult Aldebaran again tonight. Standard time starts this morning.

Nov. 6: On this day in 1572, Tycho Brahe discovered a supernova in Cassiopeia, before there were any telescopes.

Nov. 8: Edmund Halley was born on this day in 1656. I first saw his comet on this day in 1985.

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

Nov. 10: Last quarter moon is at 3:36 p.m.

Nov. 11: The moon will pass just north of Regulus in Leo tonight. That is where the sun was in August when it was being eclipsed by the moon.

Nov. 13: Venus passes very close to Jupiter this morning.

Nov. 16: A waning crescent moon passes near Jupiter and Venus this morning.

Nov. 17: The Leonid meteor shower peaks this morning in Leo the Lion.

Nov. 18: New moon is at 6:42 a.m.

Nov. 20: The moon passes near Saturn this evening. Edwin Hubble, for whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named, was born on this day in 1889.

Nov. 26: First quarter moon is at 12:03 p.m.

Nov. 27: Mars passes just north of Spica in Virgo this morning.

Nov. 28: Mercury passes just south of Saturn tonight.

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

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