The best news for stargazers in November is that nights are much longer you can start your stargazing much earlier with the end of daylight-saving time. Sure it’s cooler but don’t let that stop you. It’s too good of a show to miss!
Jupiter and Saturn are the biggest attractions in the evening sky this month. Jupiter really steals the show. It’s tremendously bright as it pops out in the low eastern sky during evening twilight. It’s overwhelmingly the brightest starlight object in the evening sky. The Jovian giant makes its closest approach to Earth in 2023 this Friday when it’ll be just over 370 million miles away. Jupiter is also in what astronomers call opposition because Jupiter and the sun are on opposite sides of the sky. That means Jupiter rises at sunset and sets at sunrise, gracing our heavens all night long.
With a small telescope, you should see up to four of Jupiter’s moons dancing around the 88,000-mile-wide planet in orbital periods of two to 17 days. On any given night, Jupiter’s brightest moons will appear as tiny stars on both sides of the great planet. Some nights, you may not see all four because one or more are behind Jupiter or camouflaged in front of it. You might also see some of Jupiter’s cloud bands stretching across the planet. It’s best to wait a few hours after sunset to view Jupiter. Let it get higher in the sky, away from the blurring effects of Earth’s thick layer of atmosphere near the horizon.
Saturn isn’t nearly as bright as Jupiter, but easy to find in the south-southeastern sky in the early evening. It’s the bright star-like object in that part of the sky. At the start of November, Saturn is more than 870 million miles away, but certainly not too far away to be dazzling when you see it through even small telescopes. Along with Saturn’s rings, you can also see some of Saturn’s moons around the planet with your scope, especially Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.
A few summer constellations are still available in the western sky in the early evening. Cygnus the Swan, Lyra the Harp, Aquila the Eagle, cute little Delphinus the Dolphin, and others continue their gradual seasonal westward migration, making their slow exit from the evening stargazing stage.
One of the prime autumn constellations, Pegasus the Winged Horse, is flying high in the southern sky, with Andromeda the Princess tagging along. Within the constellation Andromeda is the Andromeda Galaxy, barely visible to the naked eye in the dark countryside. I’ll have much more about the constellations Pegasus and Andromeda next week in Skywatch.
Turn around and face north in the early evening, and you’ll see an old friend, the Big Dipper, very low in the sky and partially below the horizon in some locations. The Big Dipper makes up the rear end and tail of the great constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear. The Little Dipper, otherwise known as Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, is hanging by its handle higher in the northern sky. Cassiopeia the Queen, the constellation resembling a giant sideways W, proudly shows off her stuff in the high northeast. The W outlines the throne of the Queen, where Cassiopeia is tied up because she ticked off Hera, the queen of the Greek gods.
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. That gang also includes the Pleiades, the best star cluster in the sky, resembling a miniature Big Dipper.
If you’re an early riser, Venus will be waiting for you, blazing away in the low southeast sky. It’s so bright that you’ll be able to see it well into morning twilight. Despite its brilliance, Venus isn’t much of a telescope target because it’s entirely cloud-covered. One cool thing, however, is that it goes through phases just like our moon. That’s because its orbit around the sun lies within the Earth’s orbit. Right now, Venus resembles an oval gibbous moon. That shroud of clouds is very reflective, which is why Venus is so bright, sending all that second-hand sunshine our way. On Nov. 9, the waning crescent moon will be “parked” just to the lower left of Venus. Don’t miss that! It’ll be a great way to start the day!
Put on that warm jacket and enjoy the fabulous November night skies!
Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and retired broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is the author of “Stars: a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations,” published by Adventure Publications and available at bookstores and adventurepublications.net. Mike is available for private star parties. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, Oct. 30, 7-9 p.m., Eagle Creek Elementary in Shakopee, Shakopee Community Education. For more information and reservations, call 952-496-5029 or visit www.shakopee.k12.mn.us/domain/67.
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