A busy month for sky-watchers this November is highlighted by a lunar eclipse, a good meteor shower, and a bonanza of bright planets in the evening sky.
The full moon is totally eclipsed in the early morning hours of November 8th. Though favored viewing locations lie in the western United States, we in the East will see the eclipsed Moon setting in the west as morning twilight will prevent us from seeing the later stages of totality. (The Midwest and western half of the USA will enjoy most of totality in full darkness). The Moon will enter the dark inner shadow of Earth (the umbra) at 4:10 am EST, with totality beginning at 5:16 am. However with sunrise at 6:41 am, after the first hour we will only have a god 30 to 46 minutes of fairly dark sky (looking westward) to observe the eclipse.
Lunar eclipses are easy to watch because not optical aid is necessary, and no eye protection is required. You can stare at it all you want. So get up a little early on November 8th to enjoy it before work or school; and before the Moon sets.
The Leonid meteor shower peaks between 3 and 5 am on November 17 and 18. The Leonids are well-known for producing very bright meteors, or fireballs, and for meteors which produce long visible streams as they burn up in our atmosphere. So it is always worthwhile looking; even this year, when a waning crescent Moon’s light will make it a little harder to spot them.
Saturn is very prominent in the south sky and is best seen as soon as it is fully dark. It sets around midnight. On November 1st Saturn may be seen just above the 1st quarter Moon. Jupiter is also up all evening, much brighter and to the left (east) of Saturn. On November 4th the waxing gibbous Moon will be just to Jupiter’s lower left. Both of these gas giant planets are still at their best for seeing loads of surface features to see through any backyard telescope. Sky-watchers with scopes should spend time with both this month.
Mars is approaching its December opposition when it will be at its closest to Earth since 2020 (50 million miles on December 1st). It will be due south and highest in the sky around midnight. The gibbous Moon will be close to Mars on November 11th. Through telescopes and when close, Mars reveals icy polar caps, a deep grand canyon, huge volcanic mountains, and long waving ridges through the desert regions of the planet.
Mercy and Venus are both too close to the Sun to be seen this month. But on the morning of the Moon eclipse, if we look at it with binoculars, we might be able to spot the planet Uranus, sitting just above the Moon at the 11 o’clock spot as if the Moon were a clock’s face. Try it!