Crescent Moon between Mercury and Venus (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

This Week’s Sky: November 9 to 15, 2020

A meteor shower, planets pairing with the crescent Moon, a dark new-Moon sky for stargazing — this week, what more could you want?

Tuesday, November 10 – Mercury at greatest western elongation (pre-dawn)

Mercury at greatest western elongation (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

On Tuesday, November 10, the planet Mercury will reach a maximum angle of 19 degrees from the Sun, and peak visibility for this morning apparition. Look for the swiftly-moving planet shining brightly very low in the east-southeastern sky between about 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. in your local time zone. In a telescope (inset) Mercury will exhibit a 58-per-cent-illuminated, waxing gibbous phase. Mercury’s position above the morning ecliptic (green line) will make this an excellent apparition for Northern Hemisphere observers, but a poor showing for those located near the Equator and farther south.

Thursday, November 12 – Northern Taurids Meteor Shower peak (after midnight)

Northern Taurids Meteor Shower peaks (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

Meteors from the Northern Taurids shower, which appear worldwide from October 19 to December 10 annually, will reach a peak of about 15 per hour on Thursday, November 12. The long-lasting, weak shower is derived from debris dropped by the passage of periodic Comet 2P/Encke. The debris’ larger-than-average grain sizes often produce colourful fireballs. Although Earth will be traversing the densest part of the comet’s debris train during mid-day in the Americas, the best viewing time will occur hours earlier, at around 1 a.m. local time, when the shower’s radiant, located in central Taurus, will be high in the southern sky. On the peak night, a waning crescent Moon will rise around 4 a.m. local time, leaving the post-midnight sky dark for meteor watching.

Thursday, November 12 – Crescent Moon meets Venus (pre-dawn)

Crescent Moon meets Venus (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

In the eastern sky for about two hours preceding dawn on Thursday, November 12, the old crescent Moon will be positioned a palm’s width above (or 6 degrees to the celestial west of) the bright planet Venus, making a lovely photo opportunity when composed with some interesting scenery. The following morning, the Moon’s orbital motion (green line) will carry it to Venus’ lower left.

Friday, November 13 – Crescent Moon between Mercury and Venus (pre-dawn)

Crescent Moon between Mercury and Venus (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

In the eastern pre-dawn sky on Friday, November 13, the pretty, crescent Moon will sit above Mercury and below much brighter Venus. Look for Virgo’s brightest star Spica, sitting off to the Moon’s right, and the very bright star Arcturus way off to the upper left. The group will make a lovely photo opportunity when composed with some interesting scenery.

Sunday, November 15 – New Moon and large tides (at 5:07 GMT)

New Moon and large tides (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

At its new phase, 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 will becomes completely hidden from view. This new Moon, occurring only 17 hours after perigee (the Moon’s closest approach to Earth), will trigger large tides around the world.

Sunday, November 15 – Mars reverses direction (all night)

Mars reverses direction (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

On Sunday, November 15, Mars will cease its westward motion through the stars of Pisces, ending a retrograde loop (red path with labeled dates) that began in early September. From this point on, Mars will resume regular easterly prograde motion and pass out of Pisces in early January.

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 to tour the universe together.

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