Mars is low in the eastern sky about 1 hour before sunrise near the star Spica. The planet is dimmer and redder than blue Spica. During the next several mornings watch Mars move away from Spica. The chart above shows the planet and the star about one hour before sunrise. Both are low in the east-southeast.
Begin looking for the moon in the western sky during pre-sunrise hours on November 12. On the morning of Nov 14, notice that the bright moon is above Aldebaran and the “V” of Taurus.
During these morning hours, watch the moon appear farther east and higher in the sky each morning.
Mercury begins a morning appearance. On November 20, it is low in the east-southeast about one hour before sunrise. Find a clear horizon to see it.
Venus becomes easier to see if you look early enough. The chart above shows the early evening sky, about 30 minutes after sunset on November 11. Venus closes in on Jupiter for a November 24 conjunction. This evening Venus and Jupiter are 13° apart. Saturn is dimmer and farther to south. It will become visible as the sky darkens further.
The bright moon is in the eastern sky during evening hours November 11 – 16. Look for it in the east, beginning one hour after sunset on November 11. Each night look one hour later. It appears in the eastern sky each night, with a slightly different phase, and in front of other stars.
By November 20, brilliant Venus is 3.9° to the lower right of Jupiter. Look shortly after sunset. Find a clear horizon.
The notes were originally published in the Observer.
- November 11: One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 10° up in the east-southeast, is 2.9° to the left of Spica. Mercury transits (crosses) the sun’s disk today. This is a slow-moving event, about 5.5 hours long as the sun rises higher into the sky. Mercury is moving east to west when it is between Earth and sun. So the planet appears to move from the lower left to the upper right on the sun’s face. Mercury is 10” across, only slightly smaller in apparent size than Venus current angular diameter and three times larger than Mars. The transit begins a few minutes before sunrise (6:37 a.m. CST). By 9:20 a.m. the planet is in the center of the sun’s disk when the sun is about 20° in altitude in the southeast. (At 9:22 a.m. Mercury is officially at inferior conjunction, moving toward the morning sky.) When the sun is in the south at 11:40 a.m. CST, Mercury is nearing the upper right limb of the sun. Shortly after noon (12:02 p.m. CST), the full disk of Mercury last appears in front of the sun. The solar disk is over 30° up in the southern sky. The planet completely leaves the sun’s face two minutes later. The next two transits of Mercury (November 13, 2032, and November 7, 2039) are not visible from Central Illinois. Both start after midnight and end before sunrise. The next transit of Mercury that is visible from the area occurs on May 7, 2049, when the transit begins at 6:03 a.m. CDT (if daylight saving time exists then) and ends at 12:44 p.m. CDT. One hour after sunset, the moon (14.8d, 100%) is about 11° up in the east. The Pleiades have about the same altitude as the bright moon; they are about 20° to the left of the lunar orb.
- November 12: One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 10° in altitude in the east-southeast, is 3.1° to the left of Spica. At the same time, the moon (15.3d, 100%) is 8° up in the west. If you can see dimmer stars, the Pleiades are nearly 15° above the moon. The moon is at its Full phase at 7:34 a.m. CST. One hour after sunset, the moon (15.8d, 100%) is 5° up in the east-northeast.
- November 13: One hour before sunrise, Mars is over 11° up in the east-southeast, 3.4° to the lower left of Spica. The moon (16.3d, 99%) is farther west at this time, about 20° up in the west. It is about 10° to the lower right of Aldebaran (α Tau, m = 0.8). Thirty minutes after sunset, the Venus – Jupiter gap is over 10°. Venus is 6° up in the southwest. Two hours after sunset, the moon (16.9d, 98%) is nearly 9° up in the east-northeast. It is at the top of the “V” of Taurus, which is on its side when it rises. The bright moon is between Aldebaran and Epsilon Tauri (ε Tau, m = 3.5), and closer to the dimmer star, about 0.7° to its lower right. Use a binocular to see the dim star with the very bright moon. The moon is 2.3° to the upper right of Aldebaran. Look for the moon in the west in the morning and notice how far it moved in its orbital pathway compared to the starry background.
- November 14: One hour before sunrise, Mars, 11° up in the east-southeast, is 3.9° to the lower left of Spica. Through a binocular notice that Mars, 76 Virginis (76 Vir, m = 5.2), and Spica are nearly in a line. The dimmer star is nearly midway between Mars and Spica. The moon (17.3d, 96%) is in the west again this morning, about 30° up. It is 4.6° to the upper right of Aldebaran. In the evening, about 30 minutes after sunset, Venus is less than 10° to the lower right of Jupiter. At this hour Venus is nearly 7° up in the southwest. Three hours after sunset (about 7:30 p.m. CST), the moon (17.9d, 93%), about 12° up in the east-northeast, is 2.4° to the upper right of Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau, m = 3.0), the Southern Horn of Taurus. Observe the star with a binocular. Compare the moon’s position in the morning. If you’re up late, the moon passes about 0.5° above the star at 12:30 a.m. CST tomorrow morning.
- November 15: One hour before sunrise, the moon (18.3d, 91%), about 40° in altitude in the west, is 1.9° above Zeta Tauri. Mars, nearly 12° up in the east-southeast, is 4.3° to the lower left of Spica. Mercury (m = 2.6) is rapidly moving into the morning sky. For the next week it rises, on average, about 7 minutes earlier each morning. This morning it is 10° west of the sun. Rising about 45 minutes before sunrise, Mercury is at the horizon about 30 minutes before sunrise. During the daytime, the sun is in the sky a few minutes longer than 10 hours. Darkness, the time between the end of evening twilight and the beginning of morning twilight, is 10.75 hours long. Thirty minutes after sunset, Venus (m = −3.9) is 7° up in the southwest, about 9° to the lower right of Jupiter. As the sky darkens further, Jupiter, nearly 9° up in the southwest, is about 20° to the lower right of Saturn. The Ringed Wonder is 20° up in the south-southwest. Four hours after sunset (about 8:30 p.m. CST), the moon (19.0d, 87%) is 0.7° to the lower left of Mu Geminorum (μ Gem, m = 2.8). As the moon leaves the early evening sky, this month’s deep sky focus is the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293). With the gems of the autumn sky – in the names of M31, M15, h Persei, and χ Persei – nearing the meridian, it’s easy to overlook the Helix Nebula – a planetary nebula. It is the remnants of an exploded star that pushed off its outer layers when the stellar core generated too much heat. It is in the dimmer starfield of Aquarius, nearly in the middle of a triangle shaped by Fomalhaut, Delta Capricorni, and Delta Aquarii. The target is 1.1° to the right of Upsilon Aquarii (υ Aqr, m = 5.2). The nebula is large, about half the size of the moon. At this hour it is nearly 30° up in the south, but 10° east of the meridian. If all the light from the nebula were collected into a single stellar point, it would shine at 6th In his Celestial Handbook, Robert Burnham describes the nebula’s appearance. “The ‘Helix Nebula’ is usually regarded as the largest and nearest of the planetary nebulae. Despite its large size the nebula is faint and has a low surface brightness. Binoculars will show the object as a large circular hazy spot, and it is not a difficult object for a small telescope if a low power ocular is used. A rich-field instrument with a wide-angle eyepiece is the ideal telescope for objects of this type” (pp. 192-194). The helix shape appears in short exposure photographs. A dim, 13th magnitude star is at the center of the nebula. From my limiting magnitude estimates, you’ll need at least a 5-inch telescope to see it and some averted vision. Of course, the larger the light collector, the easier it is to locate the central star. In Deep Sky Wonders, Walter Scott Houston reports on observing conditions and instruments that various sky watchers used to view the Helix. He summarizes that small apertures and low powers are best to see the nebula. When larger ‘scopes were used, observers needed filters to reduce the sky glow. Additionally, many observers reported only seeing a uniformly round shape, not the helix shape with the dark center seen in photographs. Can you see the dark center of the nebula? What were the observing conditions and the telescope/eyepiece used?
At mid-month, when morning twilight begins (about 5 a.m. CST), Sirius, Orion’s Belt, Aldebaran, and the Pleiades are lined up in the western sky at nearly the same altitude. The bright gibbous moon is above them in Gemini. Procyon and Capella stand at nearly the same altitude as the moon on November 16th. Leo is farther east. Its great Sickle has not yet reached the meridian. The head of Hydra, the Snake, is at the meridian. Six 3rd and 4th magnitude stars outline the snake’s head. They are nearly 60° up about halfway between Procyon and Regulus. The snake wiggles eastward below Crater and Corvus. The tail goes below the horizon ending near Libra. Alphard, the “Solitary One,” is Hydra’s brightest star, over 20° to the lower right of Regulus and nearly 40° up in the south. It is a second magnitude star, the brightest in this part of the sky. Farther eastward along the ecliptic from Leo, Spica is low in the southeast, with Mars nearby. With Spica in the southeast, Arcturus is nearly 20° up in the east. The Big Dipper is high in the northeast with its curved handle guiding us to Arcturus. Cassiopeia is low in the north-northwest. Mars continues as a not-so-bright star, moving slowly in Virgo. Mercury pops into the morning sky as the second half of the month progresses, brightening as the apparition proceeds. Watch it move toward Mars, but there is no conjunction. Mercury has a nice appearance with Zubenelgenubi, but the star is low in the sky. Find a clear horizon and use a binocular to find the star. At the end of evening twilight (about 6 p.m. CST), the Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair, and Deneb – stands high in the southwest. Jupiter is low in the southwest with Saturn, in eastern Sagittarius, to Jupiter’s upper left. The Great Square of Pegasus approaches the meridian, high in the south. The square’s pair of western stars point downward to Fomalhaut that is less than one-fourth of the way up in the southern sky. The great Winter Congregation is now making its way into the evening sky, with the Pleiades leading the way from low in the east-northeast. Aldebaran is lower near the horizon. Capella is in the northeast, at about the same altitude as the Pleiades. The “fishhook” of Perseus hangs above Capella with Cassiopeia higher and above Pegasus toward the meridian. The Big Dipper may be hiding behind a neighbor’s house or other nearby building as it is low in the north-northwest. Venus continues to move toward Jupiter with a conjunction occurring in over a week.
- November 16: One hour before sunrise, Mars, 12° up in the east-southeast, is 4.9° to the lower left of Spica. The moon (19.3d, 85%) is in western Gemini, over 50° up in the west. It is nearly at the intersection of a large “+” symbol. The vertical leg is from Betelgeuse (α Ori, m = 0.4) to Castor (α Gem, m = 1.6); the horizontal leg is from Procyon (α CMi, m = 0.4) to Capella (α Aur, m = 0.1). Venus is 25° east of the sun. Thirty minutes after sunset, it is 7° in altitude in the southwest, nearly 8° to the lower right of Jupiter. Five hours after sunset (about 9:30 p.m. CST), the moon (20.0d, 78%) is nearly 7° to the lower right of Pollux.
- November 17: One hour before sunrise, the bright moon (20.3d, 76%), 60° up in the southwest, is nearly 6° to the lower left of Pollux. Mars, over 12° up in the east-southeast, is over 5° to the lower left of Spica. About 30 minutes after sunset, Venus is over 7° to the lower right of Jupiter. Venus is about 7° up in the southwest. At about 10:30 p.m. CST, (6 hours after sunset), the moon (21.0d, 68%), about 13° up in the east-northeast, is 12° below Pollux and 3.4° to the upper right of the Beehive Cluster (M44, NGC 2632). If you’ve not seen the cluster, use the bright moon as a guide to locate it. Return with low powers when the moon is out of this part of the sky. Look at the moon and the cluster in the morning when the moon is closer.
- November 18: One hour before sunrise, the moon (21.3d, 66%) is 1° above the Beehive Cluster. Farther east, Mars marches eastward in Virgo to the lower left of Spica and the planet is nearly 13° up in the east-southeast. Thirty minutes after sunset, the Venus – Jupiter gap is nearly 6° with Venus to Jupiter’s lower right. Venus is about 8° up in the southwest.
- November 19: An hour before sunrise (about 5:45 a.m. CST), the moon (22.3d, 55%), 65° up in the south, is about 9° to the upper right of Regulus (α Leo, m = 1.3). At the same time, Mars is nearly 13° up in the east-southeast. Mercury is entering the morning sky. It is higher and brighter each morning. During the next few mornings, use a binocular until you can see this speedy planet without optical assistance. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Mercury (m = 0.7) is nearly 6° up in the east-southeast, about 12° to the lower left of Mars. The moon reaches its Last Quarter phase at 3:11 p.m. CST. Thirty minutes after sunset, the Venus – Jupiter gap is about 5°. Venus is about 8° up in the southwest.
- November 20: An hour before sunrise, the moon (23.3d, 43%), 60° up in the south-southeast, is nearly 7° to the lower left of Regulus. Mars is farther east at this hour, about 13° up in the east-southeast. Fifteen minutes later, Mercury (m = 0.4) is nearly 11° to the lower left of Mars. Mercury is about 7° up in the east-southeast. Thirty minutes after sunset, the Venus – Jupiter gap is 3.9°. Venus is over 8° up in the southwest. Through a telescope, Venus is 11.2” across and 91% illuminated.