November 2018 Sky-Watch

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As we come off Daylight Savings Time on November 4th, sky-watchers can get an “earlier” start in seeing the night sky’s wonders, because sunsets then will be before, or just after, 5:00 pm. Two planets must be seen as dusk begins and fades, so sky-watchers need to be ready and also have a clear view to the southwest horizon. Jupiter at magnitude –1.7 is just 5 degrees above the horizon 30 minutes after sunset, and Mercury at magnitude –0.2 is 5 degrees to its left. Binoculars will help to see this planetary pair.

Jupiter will be in conjunction with the Sun (behind it from our vantage point) by November 26th, but it will be lost in evening twilight by the 10th. Mercury will pass between us and the Sun by November 20th and also be invisible to us for awhile. Both planets, when next seen, will be in our morning skies.

Wait a bit for the sky to darken more fully but still look southwest to find Saturn some 20 degrees above the horizon one hour after sunset. Thirty minutes later, when darkness deepens even more, the stars of Sagittarius will be in view; Saturn nestled among them. Be sure to scan the area with binoculars, not only for the ringed planet, but also for views of several bright star clusters and gorgeous gaseous nebulae (gas clouds)there. A telescope view of Saturn will reveal its wonderful rings and also pull in 4 or 5 of its brighter and biggest moons.

One zodiac constellation east (left) of Sagittarius, we find Capricornus, the odd Sea-Goat. We also find Mars here, the brightest object in the southern sky at magnitude –0.6. Mars will not set until around 1 am. Mars will be some 35 degrees above the southern horizon and will be visible as soon as twilight fades away. On the evening of November 15th, the First Quarter Moon will appear to pass just one degree below Mars. Mars is making rapid progress east through the zodiac so that by the end of the month is will have passed into Aquarius. This means it is going away from us and therefore telescope views, although still decent, are not as good as they were in late July. Indeed, its visible disk in a telescope is only a third as large as it was then. Mars’s magnitude will also drop
to –0.1 by months end.

Venus will re-appear to us in the eastern sky before sun-up. It rises a half hour before the Sun on November 1st, and three hours before our star by Thanksgiving. It also surges in brightness going from –4.2 in early November to –4.9 by the end of the month (this is nearly twice as bright)! Get up early on November 6th. Venus will be seen just 10 degrees to the right of a very slender crescent Moon.

The nice Leonid Meteor Shower will peak on November 17/18; meteors appearing to come from the zodiac constellation Leo the Lion. Leo will be well up (60 degrees) in the east, and best viewing time will be from 2:00 am to 5:00 am. The Leonid meteors are debris left behind by Comet 55P/Temple-Tuttle, which last passed through the inner solar system in 1998. We can expect to see some 20 meteors per hour this year.

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