What planetary events are coming up in the night sky? Read about Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and what’s going on in our Solar System in Planets at a Glance.
Mercury, just completing an excellent October morning apparition, will be observable with difficulty during the first several mornings of November. Look for the speedy magnitude -1.25 planet sitting just above the eastern horizon before sunrise, especially if you are observing from a tropical latitude. Magnified views of the planet will reveal a fully illuminated disk spanning 4.75 arc-seconds in diameter.
Mercury will pass the Sun at superior conjunction on November 8, and then it will enter the western post-sunset sky. Unfortunately the planet’s position, well below (or south of) a severely canted ecliptic, will prevent the planet from becoming visible until late November.
On the evenings surrounding November 21, Mercury will pass just 1.25 degrees south of the much brighter Venus, but only tropical observers will easily see their telescope-close conjunction. The young crescent Moon will appear several degrees to its left on November 24.
Despite shining at a brilliant magnitude -3.9, Venus will not be observable until after the middle of November. Even then, the planet will only be positioned a few degrees above the west-southwestern horizon after sunset at mid-northern latitudes. Observers located closer to the tropics should be able to see the planet before then.
Venus will travel eastward along the ecliptic, passing from Scorpius into Ophiuchus on November 22, one day after speedy Mercury races by much a brighter Venus, passing just 1.25 degrees south of our sister planet. Only tropical observers will easily see their telescope-close conjunction, which will include the young crescent Moon positioned several degrees to their left on November 24.
Viewed in a telescope during late November, Venus will display a nearly fully illuminated, 9.8 arc-seconds-wide disk.
Mars will be well-positioned for viewing during the evening in November, rising shortly after 8 p.m. local time on the 1st and just before 5 p.m. at month’s end — thanks in part to the end of Daylight Saving Time.
Mars will spend the night being carried across the sky, while tucked between the horns of Taurus (the Bull). At the beginning of November, red Mars will shine at magnitude -1.26 near the southerly horn star Zeta Tauri, and two degrees from the Crab Nebula Messier 1. At mid-month Mars’ westerly retrograde motion will place it midway between Zeta and Elnath, the northerly horn star. From there it will slide west towards the big open star cluster NGC 1746.
During the month, Earth’s motion towards it will cause Mars to brighten to magnitude -1.82. In a telescope, it will grow in apparent diameter from 15.2 to 17.2 arc-seconds, allowing telescope-owners to see its polar caps and surface markings with increased clarity. The bright, waning gibbous Moon will move past Mars to the north on November 10-11.
Like Mars, Jupiter will be well-placed for observing during the evening in November. The magnitude -2.8 planet will gleam in the lower part of the southeastern sky after dusk, climb highest and look sharpest in telescopes during mid-evening, and then set in the west during the wee hours.
The planet’s westward slide through the faint stars of western Pisces will slow to a stop on November 24, and then it will resume its easterly prograde motion among the fishes’ stars. That date will also see Jupiter approach to six degrees east of Neptune.
In a backyard telescope in November, Jupiter will exhibit equatorial bands girdling a disk that diminishes in size from 47.5 to 43.5 arc-seconds. The Great Red Spot will appear every second or third night, and Jupiter’s four large Galilean satellites will eclipse and occult one another, and cast their round, black shadows on the planet — singly and in pairs.
The waxing gibbous Moon will shine several finger widths to the lower left (or three degrees to the celestial southeast) of Jupiter on November 4.
During evenings in November, the yellow dot of Saturn will be observable in the lower part of the southwestern sky. On November 1, the magnitude 0.66 planet will be highest, and look sharpest in telescopes, around 7:30 p.m. local time. Then it will set in the southwest shortly after midnight. By the end of the month, Saturn, a fainter magnitude 0.77, will set before 10 p.m. local time.
Saturn ended its westerly prograde loop in the last week of October. During November, it will accelerate eastward above the tail stars of Capricornus (the Sea-Goat) each night, moving noticeably farther from the star Iota Cap. Viewed in a telescope during November, Saturn will show an apparent disk diameter that diminishes from 17.2 to 16.4 arc-seconds, and its rings will subtend 2.33 times that span.
Saturn’s rings will be tilting more edge-on to us every year until the spring of 2025. This year, they are already close enough for Saturn’s southern polar region to extend well beyond them.
The waxing gibbous Moon will shine four degrees to the south of Saturn on November 1. Then the waxing crescent Moon will cross below Saturn again on November 28-29.
Uranus will reach opposition on November 9, making it an all-night target during November, especially in the late evening when it will be highest, and appear most clearly, in a backyard telescope or binoculars.
On opposition night, Uranus will be closest to Earth for this year — a distance of 1.74 billion miles, 2.80 billion km, or 155 light-minutes. Uranus’ minimum distance from Earth will cause it to shine at a peak brightness of magnitude 5.64. It will also appear slightly larger, showing a 3.8 arc-seconds-wide disk in telescopes for a week or so, centered on that date.
All month long, Uranus’ small, blue-green dot will be moving slowly retrograde westwards through southern Aries, a generous fist’s width to the lower left (or 13 degrees southeast of) that constellation’s brightest stars, Hamal and Sheratan. And it will be only a palm’s width from the star Mu Ceti to its south.
During the evening of November 7 in the Americas, the very bright, nearly-full Moon will shine five degrees to the right (or celestial south-southwest) of Uranus. Hours later, observers with telescopes in Asia can see the partially eclipsed full Moon occult Uranus around 12:00 GMT — the eleventh in a series of consecutive lunar occultations of that planet.
During the month of November, the distant, blue planet Neptune will be observable for most of the night — as a magnitude 7.8 speck moving slowly westward in a retrograde loop across the stars of northeastern Aquarius, near its border with Pisces. The planet will be easiest to see when it is highest in the sky in the early evening. To aid your search, far brighter Jupiter will shine 6.5 degrees to Neptune’s northeast, and the medium-bright star Phi Aquarii will shine almost as far to its southwest. In a telescope, Neptune’s tiny apparent disk size will span 2.3 arc-seconds. Larger telescopes can show Neptune’s large moon Triton.
Chris Vaughan is a science writer, geophysicist, astronomer, planetary scientist and an “outreach RASCal.” He writes Astronomy Skylights, and you can follow him on Twitter at @astrogeoguy. He can also bring his Digital Starlab portable inflatable planetarium to your school or other daytime or evening event. Contact him through AstroGeo.ca to tour the Universe together.