First quarter Moon on November 11, 2021 at 12:46 GMT | SkyNews
First quarter Moon on November 11, 2021 at 12:46 GMT (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

This Week’s Sky: November 8 to November 14, 2021

The first quarter Moon sets the stage this month, joining Jupiter and Saturn in their monthly meetup. Also, look for the Lunar X, and a meteor shower peak.

Wednesday, November 10 – Mercury Mars conjunction (before sunrise)

Mercury Mars conjunction on Wednesday, November 10, 2021 (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

Look just above the east-southeastern horizon before sunrise on Wednesday morning, November 10 to see Mercury situated less than a finger’s width to the upper left (or 57 arc-minutes to the celestial north) of Mars. For this conjunction Mars will appear one-tenth as bright as Mercury. In mid-northern latitudes, the best viewing time will be after about 6 a.m. local time. Tropical latitude observers will see the two planets higher and in a darker sky. The duo will be close enough to appear together in the field of view of a low-magnification backyard telescope from Tuesday to Thursday, and will be binoculars-close (green circle) from November 5 to 15 – but be sure to turn your optical aids away from the eastern horizon well before the sun rises.

Wednesday, November 10 – Half-moon below Saturn (early evening)

Half-moon below Saturn on November 10, 2021 (early evening). | SkyNews
Half-moon below Saturn on November 10, 2021 (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

The moon’s monthly visit with the bright gas giant planets Saturn and Jupiter will kick off after dusk in the southern sky on Wednesday, November 10. Before the sky has fully darkened, try using binoculars (green circle) to find the yellowish dot of Saturn positioned a palm’s width to the upper left (or 6 degrees to the celestial northwest) of the nearly-half-illuminated moon. Or wait until Saturn is visible with your unaided eyes, after about 5:30 p.m. local time. Much brighter and whiter Jupiter will be shining off to their upper left all evening.

Thursday, November 11 – First quarter Moon (at 12:46 GMT)

First quarter Moon on November 11, 2021 at 12:46 GMT | SkyNews
First quarter Moon on November 11, 2021 at 12:46 GMT (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

When the moon completes the first quarter of its journey around Earth on Thursday, November 11 at 7:46 a.m. EST or 12:46 GMT, its 90 degree angle from the sun will cause us to see the moon exactly half-illuminated – on its eastern side. At first quarter, the moon always rises around mid-day and sets around midnight, so it is also visible in the afternoon daytime sky. The evenings around first quarter are the best ones for viewing the lunar terrain while it is dramatically lit by low-angled sunlight, especially along the terminator, the pole-to-pole boundary separating its lit and dark hemispheres.

Thursday, November 11 – Moon joins Jupiter (evening)     

Moon joins Jupiter on November 11, 2021 (evening) | SkyNews
Moon joins Jupiter on November 11, 2021 (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

After sunset on Thursday, November 11, look in the lower third of the southern sky for the bright, white dot of Jupiter poised a slim palm’s width above (or 5 degrees to the celestial northwest) of the bright, first quarter moon. Somewhat fainter and creamy-colored Saturn will become visible off to their right once the sky darkens more. The moon will bid adieu to the bright planets after tonight, until it visits them again on December 7-9. 

Thursday, November 11 – Lunar X in early evening (peaks at 7 p.m. EST)

Lunar X on November 11, 2021, in early evening. | SkyNews
Lunar X on November 11, 2021, in early evening (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

Several times a year, for a few hours near its first quarter phase, features on the moon called the Lunar X and Lunar V become visible in strong binoculars and backyard telescopes. The Lunar X is located on the terminator south of the crater La Caille, about one third of the way up from the southern pole of the Moon (at 2° East, 24° South). The “V” is located near the crater Ukert (at 1° East, 14° North). On Thursday, November 11 the lunar letters are predicted to start developing at around 5 p.m. EST (or 22:00 GMT), peak in intensity around 7 p.m. EST (or 00:00 GMT on Friday), and then disappear within two hours. The Lunar X and V will be observable anywhere on Earth where the moon is visible, especially in a dark sky, between about 22:00 GMT on November 11 and 02:00 GMT on November 12.

Friday, November 12 – Northern Taurids meteor shower peak (wee hours)

Northern Taurids meteor shower peak on November 12, 2021. | SkyNews
Northern Taurids meteor shower peak on November 12, 2021 (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

Meteors from the Northern Taurids shower, which appear worldwide from October 13 to December 2 annually, will reach a maximum rate of about 5 per hour on Friday, November 12. The long-lasting, weak shower is the second 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 colorful fireballs. The best viewing time will occur at around 1 a.m. local time on Friday, when the shower’s radiant, located in northwestern Taurus, will be highest in the southern sky. At this year’s peak, a first quarter moon will set by midnight, favouring more meteors. Keep an eye out for Northern Taurids on Thursday evening, too.

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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