As the Northern Hemisphere prepares for winter, the nights are getting colder and longer, even as our terrestrial landscape is getting bleaker since most of our colorful leaves have fallen. There will be several interesting highlights this month, including Jupiter at its best for the year, Venus returning to our evening sky, a comet still getting brighter, and even a little asteroid that will buzz Earth at less than the distance to the moon.

Jupiter now rises just before sunset and it will reach its highest point in the southern sky by 9 p.m. by the end of this month. Watch the nearly full moon pass just to the left of the King of the Planets on Wednesday, Nov. 9, one hour after sunset in the eastern sky, and pass near the Pleiades the next two evenings.

Venus has returned to our evening sky, but it is still very low in the western sky and sets only one hour after sunset beginning this month. By the end of the month, our sister planet will have climbed to 14 degrees at sunset and not set until 1¾ hours after sunset. After that it will continue to climb throughout the winter and spring, becoming very bright and higher in our sky as it gets closer to Earth.

Mercury will show up 2 degrees below Venus low in the southwestern evening sky for the first half of this month.

Comet Garrad should continue to brighten throughout this month and into early next year. It will make a sharp bend in the lower left part of Hercules during the middle of this month. Its apparent motion through our sky will slow to just one degree per week during that time. By early next year its motion will be about 4 degrees per week straight north as it cruises past the keystone in Hercules.

As a bonus this month, a little Earth-crossing asteroid named 2005 YU55 will race across our sky during the night of Tuesday, Nov. 8, which also happens to be Election Day this year and Edmund Halley’s birthday. You will need a telescope to see it, because it will only reach 11.2 magnitude, or 100 times fainter than what you could see without any optical aid. Even though it will be a little closer to Earth than our own moon, it is only a quarter of a mile in diameter, so it will still be very faint. It will cross the entire Great Square in Pegasus in just four hours that night. If that little asteroid were to hit us, the blast it would create would be equal to several thousand megatons of TNT, compared to just 50 megatons for the largest hydrogen bomb ever tested. There is no chance of it hitting us within the next 100 years, but since it does cross our orbit in space, it may hit us at some time in the future.

Mars is slowly getting closer and brighter again and will rise before midnight by the end of the month. Look for Mars just 1.3 degrees above Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, one hour before sunrise on Nov. 10 halfway up in the southeastern sky. It will reach its next opposition on March 3 of next year. The red planet does this every 26 months as Earth catches up with it in our faster orbit around the sun, making Mars appear as if it were moving backward through our sky for several months.

Saturn rises just before sunrise now. By the end of the month, it will rise before 4 a.m. The tilt of its rings is increasing now, making it look that much more dramatic through a telescope. Look for the ringed planet near Spica and the waning crescent moon one hour before sunrise low in the southeastern sky at dawn on Nov. 22.

Our astronomy club, the Astronomical Society of Northern New England, had an excellent speaker for our meeting last month. Robert Naeye, the editor of Sky & Telescope magazine, presented a fascinating show on Big History. This subject is really catching on now and is starting to be taught in high schools and colleges across the world. It ties in the evolution of life on Earth directly back to the Big Bang itself, which is where everyone and everything really started. To make it possible for stars and galaxies to form as we know them today, the early universe had to go through a hyper-inflationary period just after it was first created. It doubled 85 times in just the first 10 to the minus 38 seconds, until it grew to roughly the size of a golf ball. It was expanding thousands of times faster than the speed of light for that short instant. Then it was merely hot plasma for 380,000 years, until atoms could finally form and the entire universe became transparent and visible.

That is how far back anyone can see into our universe. The ultimate “baby picture” of our universe was taken just eight years ago in great detail with the WMAP satellite. That amazing picture, correctly interpreted, finally settled many arguments about the true nature of our universe. It narrowed down our age and density and also proved that the cosmos is about one-third dark matter and two-thirds dark energy, with only 4 percent of the entire known universe consisting of luminous stars and galaxies. We and everything we can see and become aware of is really just on the surface, expanding at an ever-increasing speed. It also showed us that our cosmos is indeed much stranger than we could ever have imagined. On a poetic note, it allowed us to hear the celestial music and begin to see what kind of instrument our entire cosmos might be.

NOVEMBER HIGHLIGHTS

Nov. 2. First quarter moon is at 12:38 p.m. EDT.

Nov. 6. Daylight Saving Time ends at 2 a.m. The Taurid meteor shower peaks tonight. These are caused by Comet Encke and peak at only about 12 meteors per hour. On this day in 1572, Tycho Brahe recorded a supernova in Cassiopeia.

Nov. 8. Edmund Halley was born on this day in 1656. An asteroid will pass just 202,000 miles from Earth tonight.

Nov.9. Carl Sagan was born on this day in 1934.

Nov.10. Full moon is at 3:16 p.m. EST. This is also known as the Beaver or Frosty Moon. Venus, Mercury and Antares are in a nearly straight line half an hour after sunset low in the southwestern sky.

Nov. 18. The Leonid meteor shower peaks this morning. You can only expect about 20 meteors per hour at best, since the moon will still be quite bright when it rises around midnight. Last quarter moon is at 10:09 a.m.

Nov. 20. Edwin Hubble was born on this day in 1889. In 1929 he discovered that all the galaxy clusters were racing away from each other and that the whole universe is expanding rapidly and is not a static entity, as was believed for the entire 200,000-year history of modern humans up to that time. Hubble also proved that the Andromeda Galaxy is a separate “island universe” and not just a nebula within our own galaxy.

Nov.22. Saturn, Spica and the waning crescent moon form a nearly horizontal line low in the southeast one hour before sunrise.

Nov. 23. The first photo of a meteor shower was made on this day in 1885.

Nov. 25. New moon is at 1:10 a.m. A partial solar eclipse will be visible in New Zealand.

Nov. 26. Look for Venus, Mercury, and a thin moon in the southwest 30 minutes after sunset. 

Bernie Reim of Wells is co-director of the Astronomical Society of Northern New England.