The best part of the foliage has faded out by now, but the sky above us always has interesting events regardless of the terrestrial seasons. The nights will be getting longer and colder this month, but there will be many great events to see.

Four of the five brightest planets are still performing their ongoing celestial dance in our morning sky, although Mercury will soon drop out. Then we have two more meteor showers – the Taurids and Leonids. Our brightest asteroid, Vesta, will be visible in Cetus the Whale, and even a comet named Catalina should become visible without binoculars by the end of the month.

Several close conjunctions of our brightest planets in the morning sky happened last month, and that will continue this month. Venus was on top last month, and this month the king of the planets, Jupiter, will take its place as it climbs higher while Venus sinks lower.

Last month, Mars got within less than half a degree of Jupiter, which is less than the width of the full moon. This month, Mars will get very close to Venus, but not quite as close as it got to Jupiter. On the third of the month, Mars will be within 0.7 degrees of Venus. These gaps will constantly be changing throughout the month.

Mercury will sink out of our view and forsake the trio after the first night of this month. Our first planet will then reach superior conjunction, which means that it is fully illuminated by the sun but also farthest away from the earth, on the 17th. After that, it will switch back to the evening sky and become visible again in December.

So that leaves three of our brightest planets dueling it out in the morning sky, seeming to jockey for position so that we can get a better view of them from earth and become more aware of their presence. They will all start in the constellation of Leo, and then Mars will sink into Virgo on the second day of the month, followed by Venus on the third day. Jupiter moves much slower and will remain in Leo all month. It actually spends one full year in each of the 12 zodiac constellations because it takes 12 years to orbit the sun one time.

Mars is at its smallest and faintest now since it will be at aphelion, or farthest from the sun, on the 20th at 155 million miles away. The red planet will reach its next opposition May 22 of next year, when it will be much larger and closer. Its next opposition after that, on July 27, 2018, will be the best one for many years. Mars will be only about 40 million miles away and will reach minus-2.8 magnitude.

Venus is 275 times brighter than Mars now. Venus is just over half illuminated by the sun and is getting more illuminated even as it is getting farther away from Earth while losing some its brilliance. Keep watching as a waning crescent moon drifts by this trio on the mornings of the 6th and 7th. This will make for great opportunities to photograph these close conjunctions and enjoy the morning sky before sunrise. The planets will all be up by 3 a.m., but they will be at their best around 5 a.m. as dawn approaches and adds rich twilight colors to your pictures. The Taurid meteor shower, caused by Comet Encke, peaks in the morning on the 4th. The moon will be last quarter, so it will not rise until around midnight. You can only expect about 10 meteors per hour at most. This little shower is also known as the Halloween fireballs, since it will be visible over several nights.

The better meteor shower this month will be the Leonids, caused by Comet Temple-Tuttle and peaking on the morning of the 18th. The waxing crescent moon will set early that night and not interfere with the rest of the shower. You can expect up to 20 meteors per hour under perfect conditions far away from any city lights. This will not compare with the great adventure I had watching the Leonids back on November 18, 2001, along with about 30 people at our newly built Starfield Observatory in Kennebunk. I saw nearly 1,000 meteors per hour for about three hours on that amazing night. There was not even a single lull of more than 10 seconds for all that time. We also saw about 15 brilliant bolides that lit up the whole sky and left long, twisting trails of sparkling dust for several minutes. At one point, I saw seven meteors in a single second coming out of Leo. That is the first and only time that I had a real sense of the Earth’s constant motion through space around the sun, which it is always doing at 67,000 mph or 18.6 miles per second.

Our brightest asteroid, Vesta, will be visible in Cetus the whole all month if you have a pair of binoculars, since it will only reach seventh magnitude. Vesta is 325 miles in diameter, or about the size of Arizona. Our largest asteroid, named Ceres, is 600 miles in diameter, or about the size of Texas.

A comet named Catalina will appear in Virgo, near where all the planets are hanging out in the morning sky, by the 22nd of this month. It could reach fourth magnitude, but in any case it will be visible with binoculars.

NOVEMBER HIGHLIGHTS

Nov. 2: This day in 1917 marked first light for the 100-inch telescope on Mt. Wilson.

Nov. 3: Last quarter moon is at 7:24 a.m. Venus passes just 0.7 degrees south of Mars this morning.

Nov. 6: In 1572, Tycho Brahe records a supernova in Cassiopeia. The moon passes 2 degrees south of Jupiter this morning.

Nov. 7: The moon passes 1.8 degrees south of Mars and 1.2 degrees south of Venus this morning.

Nov. 8: Edmund Halley was born in 1656.

Nov. 9: Carl Sagan was born in 1934.

Nov. 11: New moon is at 12:47 p.m.

Nov. 12: The moon passes 3 degrees north of Saturn this evening in Scorpius.

Nov. 15: In 1988, the 300-foot radio telescope at Green Bank collapsed.

Nov. 16: In 1974, we broadcast an interstellar message toward the globular star cluster in Hercules with the Arecibo radio telescope, the largest one in the world.

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

Nov. 19: First quarter moon is at 1:27 a.m.

Nov. 20: Edwin Hubble was born in 1889.

Nov. 25: Full moon is at 5:44 p.m. This is also known as the Frosty or Beaver Moon.

Nov. 27: The first photo of a meteor shower was made in 1885.

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


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.