The nights are slowly getting longer and colder, and the glow of our brilliant foliage is fading out. But there will be several interesting events to capture your attention this month, including the return of our brightest planet, Venus, into the morning sky, Jupiter continuing to rule the night sky, Saturn climbing higher into the morning sky, and even two meteor showers.

Having passed through inferior conjunction between us and the sun late last month, Venus will be making a dramatic entrance onto our celestial stage this month. Try to see how early you can catch this brilliant neighbor, also known as our sister planet, as it vaults higher into our morning sky with each passing day. It should be visible as early as Tuesday, half an hour before sunrise, very low in the east-southeastern sky.

You may need binoculars to spot it for the first couple of mornings. If you have extremely good eyesight, you will be able to see its exquisite crescent shape even without binoculars. Its thin crescent appears very large in our sky because it is so close now. As the month progresses, Venus will be getting smaller, but more illuminated by the sun. It will also be getting brighter, similar to a waxing crescent moon.

The waning crescent moon will be about 20 degrees above Venus the next morning, Wednesday, and 10 degrees above Venus and directly above Spica the next morning. the middle of the month, Venus will be much higher in our morning sky, located directly below Spica, along with Saturn a little farther above the pair in the constellation of Virgo.

Mars and Mercury can be seen very low in the southwestern sky just after sunset, but you will need binoculars. The slender waxing crescent moon will slide just below them on the evenings of Nov. 7 and 8. It will pass directly above Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius. At 700 times the diameter of our little sun, this orange supergiant star is also one of the largest stars in our whole galaxy of over 200 billion stars.

If you could place Antares where our sun is in the sky, the entire orbit of Earth, Mars, and even half way out to Jupiter would be inside the surface of Antares.

The two meteor showers this month are the Taurids, which peak on Nov. 12, but will last throughout the first half of this month, and the Leonids, which peak during the morning of Nov. 18.

The Taurids are caused by Comet Encke, which orbits the sun every three years. Even though he was not the first person to see this comet, Johann Encke in 1819 was the first person to figure out that this was the same comet returning. Halley’s Comet was also named after the person who calculated its orbit, Edmund Halley, and not the person who first saw it. One theory says that the huge explosion over Tunguska, Siberia on June 30, 1908 was a piece of Encke’s comet entering our atmosphere.

The Taurids tend to be very bright, but there will only be around six per hour. There will be two distinct radiants, the Southern Taurids in late October and early November, and then the Northern Taurids in mid-November.

The Leonids are caused by Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which returns every 33 years. You can expect about 30 per hour during the last couple of hours before dawn, after the waxing gibbous moon sets on the morning of Nov. 18. They will all emanate from a point in Leo the Lion, called the radiant, but you will be able to see them anywhere in the sky racing away from that point. They will streak through our upper atmosphere at 44 miles per second. Most of them will burn up around 70 miles high after less than one second.

The Leonid meteor shower was just phenomenal for a couple of years during and after the comet’s last return in 1999. I will never forget the incredible display of nature’s subtle beauty during the early morning hours of Nov. 18, 2001. I was at the Starfield Observatory in Kennebunk with about 30 other people. Our club, the Astronomical Society of Northern New England, had just finished building this observatory about a year before.

Before I had even walked to the observatory from our parking area less than one minute away, I had already seen 10 meteors. That was at 3 a.m., and the rates only got better from there. I knew this would be a fantastic night of celestial travel while still being anchored on the earth. We stopped counting after a few hundred and just settled down for a wild ride through space.

All 7 billion of us share our spaceship Earth, which is continually orbiting the sun at 18.6 miles per second, but most of us are simply not aware of that. That was the first and only time I really had the sense of our motion through space as these myriad meteors were raining all around us. I saw as many as eight in one second and we averaged one every four seconds with not a single lull more than 10 seconds long until sunrise. For a while, we were at 1,000 meteors per hour, which qualifies as a meteor storm.

As if that weren’t exciting enough, every once in a while we encountered a brilliant fireball ripping through our atmosphere, which lit up the whole sky for several seconds. Their dusty trails hung high above us for several minutes while new meteors cut right through it. We saw about 15 of these bolides along with about 3,000 meteors, many lifetimes worth of meteors during that one memorable morning.

NOVEMBER HIGHLIGHTS

Nov. 5: Look for an extremely thin waning crescent moon just a few degrees below and slightly to the left of Venus, very low in the east-southeastern sky this morning.

Nov. 6: New moon is at 12:52 a.m. EDT.

Nov. 7: Daylight-saving time ends at 2 a.m.

Nov. 8: Edmund Halley was born on this day in 1656. I first saw his comet on his birthday in the year 1985 through a good telescope at Saint Joseph’s College in Windham.

Nov. 13: First quarter moon is at 11:39 a.m. EST.

Nov. 15: The waxing gibbous moon will be just to the upper right of Jupiter this evening.

Nov. 16: The moon is to the upper left of Jupiter this evening.

Nov. 18: The Leonid meteor shower peaks this morning.

Nov. 20: Edwin Hubble was born on this day in 1889. The Hubble Space Telescope is named after him and is still taking incredible pictures and teaching us amazing things about our universe after 20 years of great service. Edwin Hubble was the first person to prove that the Andromeda Nebula was not just a nebula within our own galaxy, but actually an entire galaxy millions of light years away. He also first proved that the entire universe is expanding based on measuring the red shifts of many galaxy clusters as they continually race away from us.

Nov. 21: Full moon is at 12:27 p.m. EST. This is also called the Beaver of Frosty Moon. It will be located just below the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus.

Nov. 28: Last quarter moon is at 3:36 EST.

 

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