Crescent Moon above Mercury on November 3, 2021, pre-dawn. | SkyNews
Crescent Moon above Mercury on November 3, 2021, pre-dawn (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

This Week’s Sky: November 1 to 7, 2021

Here’s hoping for clear skies. This week is busy, with a meteor shower peak and the Moon occulting Mercury.

Monday, November 1 – Asteroid Pallas pauses (evening)

Asteroid Pallas pauses on November 1, 2021. | SkyNews
Asteroid Pallas pauses on November 1, 2021 (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

On Monday, November 1, the main belt asteroid designated (2) Pallas will complete a retrograde loop that began in July – causing it to temporarily stop moving through the background stars. On this night, the magnitude 9.5 asteroid will be located less than halfway up the southern evening sky in central Aquarius – a few finger widths to the lower right (or 3 degrees to the celestial southwest) of the medium-bright star Lambda Aquarii (aka λ Aqr and Hydor). After tonight, Pallas will resume its regular eastward motion (red path with dates:time).

Wednesday, November 3 – Crescent Moon above Mercury (pre-dawn)

Crescent Moon above Mercury on November 3, 2021, pre-dawn. | SkyNews
Crescent Moon above Mercury on November 3, 2021, pre-dawn (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

Low in the east-southeastern sky before sunrise on Wednesday, November 3, the old crescent Moon will shine prettily several finger widths above (or 4 degrees to the celestial northwest of) Mercury’s bright dot. Virgo’s brightest star Spica will be positioned a few finger widths to their right. The three objects will share the field of view in binoculars (green circle), but be sure to turn your optics away from the eastern horizon before the Sun appears.

Wednesday, November 3 – Old Moon occults Mercury (afternoon)

Old Moon occults Mercury in the afternoon on November 3, 2021. | SkyNews
Old Moon occults Mercury in the afternoon on November 3, 2021 (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

During the day on Wednesday, November 3, the Moon’s orbital motion will draw it closer to Mercury, culminating in a daytime lunar occultation of the planet observable in amateur telescopes (green circle) from the eastern United States and Canada and the Caribbean. For New York City, the lit limb of the Moon will cover Mercury at 3:47 p.m. EDT (or 07:47 GMT). The planet will pop into view from behind the dark limb at 4:40 p.m. EDT (or 08:40 GMT). Those times will vary by location, so begin to watch several minutes early, or use an astronomy app like Starry Night to determine the timing where you live. An experienced observer and/or a GoTo telescope will help you find the pale Moon in daytime.

Caution: Never point an unfiltered telescope anywhere near the Sun.

Thursday, November 4 – New Moon and large tides (at 21:14 GMT)

New Moon and large tides on November 4, 2021. | SkyNews
New Moon and large tides on November 4, 2021 (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

The Moon will reach its new phase on Thursday, November 4 at 5:14 p.m. EDT or 21:14 GMT. While new, the Moon is travelling between Earth and the Sun. Since sunlight can only reach the far side of the Moon, and the Moon is in the same region of the sky as the Sun, the Moon becomes unobservable from anywhere on Earth for about a day (except during a solar eclipse). On the evenings following the new Moon phase, Earth’s planetary partner will return to shine in the western sky after sunset. This new phase will occur one day before the Moon’s perigee, resulting in larger tides worldwide.

Friday, November 5 – Uranus at opposition (all night)

Uranus at opposition on November 5, 2021, all night | SkyNews
Uranus at opposition on November 5, 2021, all night (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

Uranus will reach opposition on Friday, November 5. On that night it will be closest to Earth for this year, a distance of 2.80 billion kilometres (156 light-minutes). Uranus’ minimal distance from Earth will cause it to shine at a peak brightness of magnitude 5.65 and to appear slightly larger in telescopes for a week or so centred on opposition night. At opposition, planets are above the horizon from sunset to sunrise. During autumn this year, look for the planet’s small, blue-green dot moving slowly retrograde westwards in southern Aries, a fist’s width below (or 11.5 degrees southeast of) that constellation’s brightest stars, Hamal and Sheratan. Or use binoculars (green circle) to locate Uranus using the nearby star Mu Ceti.

Friday, November 5 – Southern Taurid meteor shower peak (wee hours)

Southern Taurid meteor shower peak during early morning on November 5, 2021. | SkyNews
Southern Taurid meteor shower peak during early morning on November 5, 2021 (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

Meteors from the Southern Taurids shower, which appear worldwide from September 28 to December 2 annually, will reach a maximum rate of about 5 per hour on Thursday, November 5. The long-lasting, weak shower is the first of two consecutive showers derived from debris dropped by the passage of periodic Comet 2P/Encke. The larger-than-average grain sizes of the comet’s debris often produce colourful fireballs. Although Earth will be traversing the densest part of the comet’s debris train during Thursday in the Americas, the best viewing time will occur hours later, at around 2 a.m. local time on Friday, when the shower’s radiant, located near the Taurus-Aries boundary, will be high in the southern sky. This year’s peak will be moonless, favoring more meteors. Keep an eye out for meteors on Thursday evening, too.

Saturday, November 6 – Ceres crosses the Bull (all night)

Ceres crosses the Bull on November 6, 2021. | SkyNews
Ceres crosses the Bull on November 6, 2021 (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

From November 2 to 20, the orbital motion of the dwarf planet Ceres (red path with labelled dates:time) will carry it directly through the Hyades, the large open star cluster that forms the V-shaped face of Taurus, the bull. Magnitude 6.9 Ceres is bright enough to see in binoculars (green circle) and backyard telescopes. On November 2, Ceres, will be positioned only 7 arc-minutes (a quarter of the Moon’s diameter) to the lower right of the bright star Aldebaran. During the following weeks, Ceres will travel westward every night, completely crossing the Bull’s face diagonally.

Editor’s note: A prior version of this story said Ceres would be passing the star Antares, crossing the “Bull’s face obliquely.” The story has been corrected to stated Ceres would be passing Aldebaran, and during the following weeks, Ceres will completely cross the Bull’s face diagonally. SkyNews apologizes for the error.

Sunday, November 7 – Crescent Moon near Venus (after sunset)

Crescent Moon near Venus after sunset on November 7, 2021. | SkyNews
Crescent Moon near Venus after sunset on November 7, 2021 (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

In the southwestern sky after sunset on Sunday, November 7, the young crescent Moon will shine several finger widths to the lower right (or 5 degrees to the celestial west) of the very bright planet Venus, close enough for them to share the field of view in binoculars (green circle). The duo will set at about 7 p.m. local time. Hours later, in midday on November 8, observers in parts of northeastern Asia and the western Aleutian Islands can see the Moon occult Venus — while surrounding regions will see the Moon pass very close to the planet.

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.

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