The month of November marks the last full month of fall as our brilliant foliage slowly fades out and our hemisphere prepares for winter.

The days will soon seem very short as daylight saving time ends and night will seem to have sprung upon us quickly, plunging us into much earlier sunsets. This is a great time to get out under the colder, drier and longer nights to enjoy a few of their myriad mysteries.

The highlights this month include the dramatic return of Venus into our morning sky, the loss of another planet from the great evening planetary lineup of this past summer, several nice lunar conjunctions, a bright asteroid at its best, another good comet that may even get bright enough to see without optical aid, and a meteor shower called the Leonids.

As we all keep orbiting the sun, our evening sky is continuing to lose planets. Just as we lost Venus early last month, we will lose the next one in the sequence, Jupiter, early this month. The king of the planets will be in conjunction with the sun toward the end of this month, but it will get too low to observe in Libra by the first week of November. As you catch the last glimpses of this great planet before it re-emerges into our morning sky again next month, remember that our intrepid little spacecraft named Juno is still orbiting this gas giant planet every 53 days and making new discoveries and sending home incredible images of both of its poles as it dives down to just 2,000 miles above its ever shifting surface.

Mercury will make a short appearance low in our evening sky near Jupiter early this month. When you look at our smallest planet, only 3,000 miles in diameter, which is smaller than Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, and Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, remember that we just launched a spacecraft named BepiColombo, in honor of the Italian scientist with that name, very recently. It will not arrive there until December 2025, more than seven years from now.

The very successful New Horizons mission only took a little longer to get all the way to Pluto, nearly 100 times farther than Mercury at 48 million miles away. The reason for this is the proximity of this rapidly orbiting planet to the powerful gravity of the sun, making it very difficult to get into a stable orbit around this swift and tiny planet. This is a similar problem to what the Parker Solar Probe is facing. Just launched in August, this probe will also take seven years to get to the sun, which is 93 million miles away. They will both make several orbits around Venus and the Earth on their way to their destinations. That really gives you a better sense of the physics behind these orbits and how powerful the gravity of the sun really is, making it very difficult to slow down enough to place our spacecraft exactly where we want them to be.

Venus will make a very dramatic entrance into our morning sky early this month. Starting at just 6 degrees above the horizon and rising only 35 minutes before sunrise on the first of the month, Venus will be fully 34 degrees above the horizon and remain up until three hours after sunset by the end of November. It will nearly double in brightness in the process as it continues its rapid ascension this month, along with transforming itself from being a huge sliver just one percent lit by the sun to being much smaller and fully one quarter lit. Venus just passed us in its faster orbit last month even as Mars is falling farther behind Earth in its slower orbit.

Saturn is still visible in the evening sky in Sagittarius, setting about two hours after sunset by the end of the month.

Mars continues to get smaller and fainter as we are pulling farther ahead of it in our orbit around the sun. Over the course of this month, Mars will lose about half of its brightness again, fading to about zero magnitude, or about five times fainter than Jupiter. To show how quickly Mars is fading now, it was actually brighter than Jupiter from July through early September of this year.

An asteroid named 3 Juno will be at opposition on the 17th of this month, the same day that the Leonid Meteor shower will peak. Juno is only the 11th largest asteroid at 144 miles in diameter, but it is one of the brightest. It could reach a magnitude of 7.5 that day, only about five times fainter than what you could see without any optical aid. It can be seen in Eridanus the River, just below Taurus this month, which also happens to be very close to where this month’s comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be located. Juno orbits the sun every 4.4 years and will not be this close again until 2031.

This month’s featured comet,46P/Wirtanen, could reach naked-eye visibility this month, but most likely it will only get as bright as Juno or even less bright. Discovered in 1948 by the American astronomer Carl Wirtanen, this comet orbits the sun every 5.4 years and has a nucleus less than one mile across.

The annual Leonid Meteor shower will peak on the night of the 17th into the 18th. Since the moon will be waxing gibbous that night and not setting until after midnight, many of the meteors will be washed out. Caused by Comet Temple-Tuttle, this shower usually only produces about 20 meteors per hour. However, this comet returns every 33 years, which can create far better numbers. The last time that happened was in 2001, when I actually saw nearly 1,000 Leonids per hour for three hours that memorable morning. That averaged one meteor every four seconds. There was not a single lull over 10 seconds that entire night, and I saw up to seven meteors emanating from Leo in just one second. For the first time ever, I could get a sense of the earth’s motion as we are always orbiting the sun at 67,000 mph. We also saw about 15 brilliant bolides that night that lit up the whole sky as they exploded and left long, dusty trails through which many other meteors passed as they slowly dissipated.


Nov. 3: On this day in 1957 Russia launched Sputnik 2, the first satellite to carry a creature into space. It was a dog named Laika.

Nov. 4: Mars will be less than one degree away from a star in Capricorn one hour after sunset tonight. Daylight saving time ends at 2 a.m.

Nov. 6: On this day in 1572 Tycho Brahe discovered a supernova in Cassiopeia without a telescope.

Nov. 7: New moon is at 11:03 a.m. EST.

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. 10-11: The waxing crescent moon will pass near Saturn on these two evenings low in the southwestern sky one hour after sunset.

Nov. 15: The moon will pass near Mars in Capricorn this evening one hour after sunset. First quarter moon is at 12:40 a.m.

Nov. 17: Venus will be just over one degree below and to the left of Spica in Virgo this morning one hour before sunrise. The Leonid Meteor shower peaks tonight into the next morning. Asteroid 3 Juno is at opposition today in Eridanus the River just below Taurus in the Winter Hexagon.

Nov. 23: Full moon is at 12:40 a.m. This is also called the Frosty or Beaver Moon. The moon will be near Aldebaran in Taurus tonight.

Nov. 29: The moon will be very close to Regulus in Leo this morning one hour before sunrise. Last quarter moon is at 7:20 p.m.

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

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