November/December 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 2

Celestial Highlights, November 2017

Posted: Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times for School Year 2017-18 by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

November 2017 features twilight planetary treats, both morning and evening. To get the best views, binoculars are recommendedVenus and Jupiter will appear close together low in the ESE morning twilight glow for a few mornings around Nov. 13, about 40-45 minutes before sunrise. In the latter half of month, Saturn and Mercury will appear close together low in the SW evening twilight glow 40-45 minutes after sunset.

Of the morning planets, dim, distant Mars rises in a dark sky all month, improving from 2.6 hours before sunup on Nov. 1, to 3.5 hours at month’s end, for observers in southern California. Mars glows at mag. +1.8 to +1.7, about as faint as it ever gets. (At opposition and closest approach to Earth in July 2018, Mars will gleam at mag. –2.8, it’s brightest since 2003.) Brilliant Venus of mag. –3.9 rises in the ever brighter twilight, 1.3 hours before sunup on the 1st, and just 0.8 hours before sunup on the 30th. Watch for Venus’ rising 16°-34° lower left of Mars as November runs its course. On Nov. 2, binoculars readily show the star Spica rising in the twilight glow 3.5° lower right of Venus. The other morning planet, Jupiter at mag. –1.7, is still lost in Sun’s glare in first few days, but during Nov. 8-18 may be found in the same binocular field as Venus. Jupiter and Venus appear closest, just one-third of a degree apart, on Nov. 13. (Their next two pairings will occur in 2019, on Jan. 22 in the morning sky, and on Nov. 24 in evening.) By Nov. 29, 2017, Jupiter will rise in a dark sky just over two hours before sunrise. As Venus rises in the twilight that morning, Jupiter will appear 17° upper right of Venus and 17° lower left of Mars, midway between them.

Bright stars in morning twilight feature the huge Winter Hexagon of bright stars moving into the west. Sirius, the Dog Star, is its brightest and southernmost member. Orion’s red Betelgeuse lies within the Hex, and Leo’s Regulus, high in SSE to S, trails behind it. Bright Arcturus in ENE to E and Spica in ESE to SE round out the list of ten stars of first magnitude or brighter visible in all of November’s dawns. Vega rises in NE late in the month, far lower left of Arcturus.

Around Nov. 21 our Spaceship Earth is heading directly toward the star Regulus. Go outdoors in the morning and visualize our planet’s motion around the Sun and the motions of faster moving Venus and slower moving Mars and Jupiter. All three-morning planets are ahead of us. Venus is moving even farther ahead and will pass on the far side of the Sun in January 2018. We’re gaining on Jupiter and Mars, and will overtake them next year, in early May and late July, respectively, when they will appear at opposition, nearly 180° from Sun, in the western sky before sunrise and in the eastern sky after sunset, and visible nearly all night. The visualization should help skywatchers understand the shifting positions of planets and stars as shown on our morning twilight sky chart.

Bright stars in evening twilight in all of November include the Summer Triangle comprised of Vega, Altair, and Deneb passing west of overhead, and Fomalhaut, the mouth of the Southern Fish, low in SE to SSE. Quickly slipping out of view early in the month are Antares in SW to lower right of Saturn, and Arcturus in WNW. Rising into view are Capella in NE and Aldebaran in ENE.

Evening planets: Saturn (mag. +0.5) on Nov. 1 sets in a dark sky 2.7 hours after sunset, and telescopes reveal its rings tipped as much as possible, 27° from edgewise. But Saturn sets ever earlier, sinking close to brighter Mercury (mag. –0.4 to –0.1) in the latter half of month. Mercury appears to lower right of Saturn, by 10° on Nov 17, and 7° on Nov. 20. On Nov. 23, Mercury reaches greatest elongation 22° from Sun and 4.7° below Saturn. Thereafter, Mercury appears to lower left of Saturn, by 4° on Nov. 24, and 3° on Nov. 28. This is quite an unfavorable appearance for our solar system’s innermost planet, as it remains mired very low in the twilight.

The Moon is Full on Friday, November 3 and rises north of east a few minutes after sunset. Two nights later, on Sunday, Nov. 5, the waning gibbous Moon rises in ENE within two hours after sunset. Using binoculars, look for the reddish-orange star Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull, close to Moon’s upper right. That night, the Moon will gradually creep eastward against the background stars, away from Aldebaran. By an hour before sunrise on Monday, Nov. 6, Moon and star will be in the western sky, with Moon 6° above the star. Follow the Moon daily, and watch it leap over the line connecting the Twins (Pollux-Castor) to Procyon between Nov. 8 and 9, and stop just short of Regulus, the heart of Leo, on Sat. Nov. 11. On that morning, binoculars will show Regulus just east of the fat crescent Moon. As seen from Palm Springs through a telescope that day, the leading bright edge of the Moon covers the star at 8:55 a.m., and the Moon’s trailing dark edge, invisible in daylight, uncovers the star at 10:01 a.m.

By Nov. 11, you’ll want to look low in ESE 40 to 60 minutes before sunrise each morning for a week, to follow the progress of the Venus-Jupiter pair. That morning, Jupiter appears 1.9° lower left of Venus. On Sunday, Nov. 12, Jupiter appears just 0.9° directly below Venus. Their closest pairing occurs on Monday, Nov. 13, with Jupiter now only one-third of a degree to the right of Venus, and slightly higher. Jupiter is getting higher each day, Venus lower. On Tues. Nov. 14, Jupiter appears 1.3° to Venus’ upper right. By that morning, you can find faint Mars 6°-7° below the Moon. On Nov. 15, find the crescent Moon within 7° lower left of reddish Mars and within 7° upper left of blue-white Spica, forming a beautiful triangle with them. Some 17°-19° to Moon’s lower left, find the Venus-Jupiter pair still within 2.3° apart. On Thurs. Nov. 16, possibly the prettiest scene, Jupiter and Venus 3.3° apart, within 6° to lower right and 9° below the Moon. On Friday, Nov. 17, the Moon’s final morning, look about 40 minutes before sunrise to spot the very thin old crescent within 5° lower left of Venus. Jupiter will be 4.4° to Venus’ upper right. Since New Moon occurs the next day, Nov. 18, at 3:42 a.m. PST, a sighting of the Moon on the morning of Fri. Nov. 17 would be about 22 hours before New.

Start looking for the young Moon in the early evening on Sunday, Nov. 19. About 40 minutes after sunset, find the thin crescent very low in WSW, with Mercury about 8° to its left and a little lower. Saturn will be 12° to Moon’s upper left and 8° upper left of Mercury. The Moon’s age will be nearly 38 hours after New. On the following evening, Mon. Nov. 20, the Moon should be very easy, as it sets in a dark sky nearly two hours after sunset. You still need to look early in twilight to catch Mercury, 8° below the Moon. Saturn will be 2° to Moon’s lower left.

On the night of Nov. 21, Earth passes between the Sun and the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) star cluster. Within an hour after sunset, that evening, face ENE — opposite to the Sun’s direction below the WSW horizon – and watch the Pleiades emerge and ascend in the deepening twilight. The scene is well described in lines by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

http://thespacewriter.com/wp/2003/10/05/many-a-night-i-saw-the-pleiades/

By Saturday evening, December 2, the Moon, nearly Full, moves over to this section of the sky. An hour after sunset, find the Pleiades 10° to Moon’s upper left, and Aldebaran, whose name means “the Follower” (of the Pleiades), within 14° below the Pleiades and 7° to Moon’s lower left. The Moon creeps closer to Aldebaran throughout that night. During morning twilight on Sunday, Dec. 3, use binoculars to spot Aldebaran very close to Moon’s upper left. As seen from north of California, for example, Seattle WA, a telescope will show the Full Moon covering and uncovering Aldebaran during morning twilight.

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in East Lansing, MI and in and around Palm Springs.

Robert D. Miller did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt, a retired planetarium director now living in the Chicago area, has taught astronomy and sky watching to all ages.  He studied astronomy education at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. Jeff writes an astronomy blog at jeffreylhunt.wordpress.com and can be followed on Twitter at @jeff_hunt.

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

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