The Sky in November 2020
Chills but Thrills!
The best news for stargazers in November is that nights are much longer and in many places you can start your stargazing well before 7:00 pm. It is cooler though, but you can certainly dress for that.
For all practical purposes, we have a full moon to kick off the month. The official full moon was on October 31st, but through November 4th the moon will there's still going to be a lot of moonlight in the early evening sky. That makes it tough to see fainter stars and constellations. The second and third weeks of November will be best for evening stargazing with moonlight increasing the last week of the month. There will be a full moon on November 30th, and in most locations there will be a partial lunar eclipse. It'll hardly be noticeable though because it's a penumbral eclipse, when the moon crosses the outer light shadow created by the Earth. If you have a keen eye you may see a slight darkening of the moon in the predawn hours of November 30th.
In mid-November, the lack of moonlight is good news for the Leonid meteor shower. Even better, during the Leonids' peak in the early morning hours of November 17th, there will be no moonlight at all in the sky from midnight to the start of morning twilight. In the dark skies away from heavy light pollution you may see as many as 15 to 20 meteors an hour, or possibly more.
No matter how much or how little moonlight is in your sky, you'll have no trouble seeing Mars. Since their close encounter last month, Earth and Mars continue to pull away from each other in their respective orbits around the sun. Mars is still plenty bright though. As evening twilight is ends it's beaming brightly in the southeastern sky and remains available most of the night. On November 25th the waxing gibbous moon will hanging just below Mars for quite a sight!
Early November is the best time to check out Mars with a telescope because later in the month it will be fainter and smaller. Mars is fun to look at with a scope because it's the only other planet where you have a chance of seeing surface features like its northern polar cap and some of its vast basins and valleys. Make sure you take long continuous looks through your scope so your eyes can adjust to the light level in the eyepiece. Long looks are also good because atmospheric clarity can vary even on a minute by minute basis.
Since mid-summer Jupiter and Saturn have been a staple of evening stargazing, and that continues in November. They are in a super tight celestial hug, with Jupiter the brighter of the two, perched just below and to the right of Saturn. These two planets are heading for an historic conjunction next month as they draw closer and closer to each other in the sky. In early November they are only four degrees apart, and by November 23rd they'll be only three degrees apart. By late December Jupiter and Saturn will be almost "touching," separated by only a tenth of a degree. It will be the closest Jupiter-Saturn conjunction since 1623AD! Of course, the two planets are nowhere near each other physically, but they are most certainly in the same line of sight.
Jupiter and Saturn are so close together already in November that you can fit both giant planets in the same field of view with many binoculars and even with wide-field telescopes. You can see Jupiter's cloud bands and tiny star-like moons, as well as Saturn's beautiful ring system. Honestly though, both planets are going to appear a bit fuzzy. That's because they're so low in the sky, near the horizon where the layer of Earth's blurring atmosphere is thicker. On the nights of November 18th and 19th, the new crescent moon will be passing just below the giants of our solar system.
For early morning stargazers, the super-bright planet Venus is beaming away in the low east-southeast sky, and for much of this November it will enjoy the company of Mercury, the planet smallest and closest to the sun. As November begins look for Mercury to gradually crawl above the horizon about an hour before sunrise in the direction of Venus. It certainly won't be as bright as Venus, but you should easily see Mercury easily with the naked eye. Venus and Mercury will be closest together right around November 14th, when Mercury will be just below and to the left of the planet named after the Roman goddess of love. On the mornings of November 12th-14th, the waning crescent moon will join Venus and Mercury. That's worth getting up early to see!
Believe it or not, a few summer constellations are still available in the western sky in the early evening. Cygnus the Swan, Lyra the Harp, Aquila the Eagle, Delphinus the Dolphin, and a few others continue their gradual westward migration, making their slow exit from the evening stargazing stage.
In the high southern sky is one of the prime autumn constellations, Pegasus the Winged Horse, with Andromeda the Princess tagging along. Use your Sky Guide App to locate the Andromeda Galaxy in the constellation Andromeda. If it's dark enough where you're viewing from it's possible to see with the naked eye, well over two million light-years away!
Turn around and face north and you'll see an old friend, the Big Dipper, very low in the sky, and partially below the horizon in some locations. The Little Dipper, otherwise known as Ursa Minor, is hanging by its handle higher in the northern sky. Cassiopeia the Queen, the constellation that looks like a giant sideways W, is proudly showing off her stuff in the high northeast. The W outlines the throne of the Queen with Cassiopeia tied up in it.
As November progresses you can't help but notice a barrage of bright stars rising in the eastern heavens. These are many of the magnificent constellations of winter! My nickname for this part of the heavens is "Orion and his Gang." The majestic constellation Orion the Hunter is the centerpiece. Part of that gang includes the Pleiades, the best star cluster in the sky, resembling a miniature Big Dipper.
Put on that warm jacket and enjoy the fabulous November night skies!
Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and is author of the book, “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations” published by Adventure Publications. Available at bookstores and online at www.adventurepublications.net.
If you have any astronomical questions or want me to write about something you’re seeing in the night sky drop me a line at email@example.com