Starwatch: the November night sky

What to look out for in the coming month, including Jupiter and Venus at their brilliant best in the pre-dawn twilight and the annual Leonids meteor shower

November 2017 star chart

In a month that has the Milky Way stretching almost overhead during most of Britain’s hours of darkness, the highlights are a conjunction in our pre-dawn twilight between the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, and a return of the Leonids meteor shower under moonless skies.

The chart plots Pegasus and Andromeda high in the S as the Plough swings counterclockwise below Polaris in the N. Deneb in Cygnus is near the zenith at nightfall, but lies almost due W at our map times as Orion climbs into view at our E horizon.

Above Orion is Taurus whose main star, Aldebaran, lies against the V-shaped Hyades star cluster. The night of the 5th-6th sees the bright Moon hide several stars as it crawls along the lower arm of the V towards Aldebaran. The latter slips behind the Moon’s lower-left limb between 02.39 and 03:24 as seen from London and 02:27 to 03:26 for watchers in Edinburgh.

With Saturn bright (mag 0.6) but very low in the SW sky at nightfall, our main planetary interest is just before dawn. Venus continues as a brilliant morning star of mag –3.9 but its altitude at sunrise falls from 13° to only 6° this month as it moves towards the Sun’s far side.

Jupiter, about to emerge in our dawn twilight at mag –1.7, may be glimpsed below and to the left of Venus from the 8th or so and passes a mere 16 arcminutes below-right of Venus on the 13th as they hover very low in the ESE in the brightening twilight. Mars, much fainter at mag 1.8, rises in the E by 04:00 and tracks ESE through Virgo to pass 3° N of Spica on the 28th. Check our Diary for conjunctions between these planets and the waning earthlit Moon.

Very swift Leonids meteors, many leaving bright trains in their wake, arrive between the 15th and 20th and are most numerous near the shower’s peak, predicted for the 17th. They diverge from a radiant point in the Sickle, above Leo’s main star Regulus, and are seen after this rises in the NE at 22:00. Numbers should only improve as this climbs through the E later in the night but are expected to be well down on the storm-force levels seen in 1966 and 1999 – perhaps no more than a dozen per hour.

November diary

1st 15h Venus 4° N of Spica

4th 05h Full moon

6th 03h Moon occults Aldebaran for UK

10th 02h Moon 2.4° S of Praesepe; 21h Last quarter

13th 06h Venus 0.3° N of Jupiter

15th 01h Moon 3° N of Mars

16th 21h Moon 4° N of Jupiter

17th 06h Moon 4° N of Venus; 19h Peak of Leonids meteor shower

18th 12h New moon

21st 00h Moon 3° N of Saturn

24th 00h Mercury furthest E of Sun (22°)

26th 17h First quarter

28th 00h Mars 3° N of Spica

Contributor

Alan Pickup

The GuardianTramp

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