SKY GUIDE: This map represents the night sky as it appears over Maine during November, after Daylight Savings Time ends on November 5. The stars are shown as they appear at 10:30 p.m. early in the month, at 9:30 p.m. at midmonth, and at 8:30 p.m. at month’s end. Jupiter and Saturn are shown at their midmonth positions. To use the map, hold it vertically and turn it so that the direction you are facing is at the bottom. Sky Chart prepared by Seth Lockman

The nights may be getting colder and longer, but there are several very interesting celestial highlights in November.

Jupiter reaches opposition on Nov. 3 when it shines at its best and brightest for the year. Mercury puts in an evening appearance and Venus is still a brilliant morning “star.” The annual Leonid meteor shower peaks on Nov. 17 and Nov. 18, and there is a new comet that you can see in Cancer the Crab near the Beehive star cluster with a telescope. The comet might become almost as bright as the brightest stars by next October if it survives its passage around the sun this Christmas.

I just returned from Texas to see the entire Ring of Fire annular eclipse on Oct. 14. It was worth the trip, but only because I was able to see and experience many other things including Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande river and the tall canyons it is still carving in the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest desert in all of North America.

I also visited the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, nearly 7,000 feet high in the Davis Mountains. It is home to the third-largest telescope in the world, the 11-meter Hobby-Eberly. The telescope is mostly being used for spectral analysis to decode the light from stars and galaxies to study their properties. The observatory is starting a new project to search for dark energy in the early universe called Illuminating the Darkness, which will produce the largest map of the cosmos ever created and hopefully uncover the true nature of this dark energy which comprises about two-thirds of the entire universe.

Jupiter is at opposition now, which means it will rise right at sunset and remain in our sky all night long. You can see it high in the sky by 10 p.m. in Aries the Ram near the Pleiades open star cluster, shining at a brilliant magnitude of minus 2.9. That is about 30 times brighter than Saturn, which is already starting to fade in Aquarius, two constellations to the west of Jupiter. Saturn had its own opposition back on Aug. 27 and it will end its retrograde loop in the sky and return to its normal eastward motion on Nov. 4, one day after Jupiter’s opposition.

Mercury will be visible low in the southwestern evening sky in Scorpius toward the end of the month, right after sunset. Venus is still the brilliant morning star in Virgo. It will pass near Spica, Virgo’s brightest star, on Nov. 27. It is getting more illuminated by the sun even as its disk is getting smaller and farther away from us as it is traveling faster than we are around the sun. Notice that Venus is about three times brighter than Jupiter and exactly 100 times, or 5 magnitudes, brighter than Saturn.


The conditions will be good for the Leonid meteor shower this year because the waxing crescent moon will set before 10 p.m. on Nov. 17 and Nov. 18. You can only expect about 15 meteors per hour from a dark sky site, which is less than they used to produce. Created by debris from Comet 55P/Temple-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 33 years, these meteors tend to be very swift, many of which will leave glowing and persistent trails behind them. This comet last returned in 1999, which created some spectacular Leonid meteor showers for several years because of all of the extra debris we were passing through at that time.

The last major highlight this month will be Comet Tsuchinshan 1 passing right through the Beehive open star cluster in Cancer on its way east from Gemini into Leo. You will need at least a 4-inch telescope to see it. The moon should not be in the sky to wash it out, which will be around the middle of the month. Try to get some photographs of it in this scenic part of the sky if you can. The best part of this comet is that it may become as bright as zero magnitude by next October if it survives its hazardous journey around the sun, which will occur on Christmas Day. Many comets don’t survive this journey and either plunge right into the sun or lose much of their mass because of the powerful solar winds so close to the sun, almost like Icarus flying too close to the sun. There is even a bonus comet visible this month also with a telescope, 103P/Hartley rising in Hydra at 2 a.m.


Nov. 2: Harlow Shapley, an American astronomer was born in 1885. He discovered the sun’s place in the Milky Way, along with where the center of our galaxy is by using Cepheid variable stars as cosmic yardsticks.

Nov. 3: In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik 2. This was the first rocket to carry a live creature into space, a dog named Laika. Jupiter is at opposition.

Nov. 4: Saturn is stationary in Aquarius, ending its retrograde motion for the year.


Nov. 5: Last quarter moon is at 3:37 a.m.

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

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

Nov. 9: Carl Sagan was born in 1934. The moon passes just one degree north of Venus this morning at 4 a.m. … Albert Einstein won his only Nobel Prize in 1921, for discovering the photoelectric effect. He never won one for general relativity, which was a far greater discovery.

Nov. 13: New moon is at 4:27 a.m. Uranus is at opposition in Taurus near Jupiter.

Nov. 14: The moon passes near Antares in Scorpius.


Nov. 16: Mercury passes near Antares, an orange giant star that is 700 times bigger than our sun and about 500 light years away, similar to Betelgeuse in Orion.

Nov. 25: The moon passes 3 degrees north of Jupiter this morning.

Nov. 26: The moon passes 3 degrees north of Uranus this morning.

Nov. 27: Full moon is at 4:16 a.m. This is the Frosty or Beaver Moon.

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

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