Mars brightens in November to become the No. 1 morning “star.” In the evenings, Mars rises earlier, joining the two other bright outer planets, and ranks No. 2, after only Jupiter.
Oh, and don’t miss the total lunar eclipse in the predawn hours of Election Day!
Evenings: Brilliant Jupiter, magnitude -2.8 to -2.6, and Saturn, magnitude +0.6 to +0.8, adorn the east-southeast to southern sky at dusk. Saturn is 41° to 39° west of Jupiter this month. The waxing moon appears near Saturn on Nov. 1 and 28, and near Jupiter three nights later, on Nov. 4 and Dec. 1. Use binoculars just before sunset on Nov. 4 and Dec. 1 to try to score a daytime sighting of Jupiter near the moon.
Ranking in brightness next after Jupiter in November’s early-evening sky are golden Arcturus, sinking in the west to west-northwest; and blue-white Vega, overhead to very high in the west-northwest. Mars far outshines these stars, but at the start of November, it rises, far north of east, not until about 2 1/2 hours after sunset.
A waning gibbous moon closes in on Mars from the evening of Nov. 10 until dawn on Nov. 11. Mars rises a few minutes earlier each evening, and by the last days of November, Mars rises before mid-twilight and appears on our evening twilight map.
On Nov. 1, Saturn is within 0.7° to the east-northeast of the 4.3-magnitude star Iota in Capricornus. Saturn ended retrograde on Oct. 22, and has begun a slow return toward Delta Cap, or Deneb Algedi, the 2.9-magnitude star marking the end of the tail of the Sea-goat, 5.3° to Saturn’s east on Nov. 1. Fainter 3.7-magnitude Gamma Cap is 1 3/4° west of Delta. With careful attention over several days near the year’s end, you can detect the slow motion of Saturn against these stars.
A star-hop to Uranus: This Uranus finder chart should be very user-friendly for observers with binoculars. You can refer to the constellation chart on the reverse side of the October or December 2022 Sky Calendar to locate the bright stars of Aries and the head of Cetus.
Begin at the “V”-shaped head of Taurus, comprised of Aldebaran and the Hyades cluster. Gamma Tauri is at the point of the “V.” Imagine the “V” as an arrowhead, and follow it 22° southwest of Gamma to 2.5-magnitude Alpha Ceti (Menkar), in the head of the Sea Monster. Next, find 4.3-magnitude Mu Ceti, the northernmost star in the pentagon-shaped head of Cetus. Mu is 7.4° from Alpha. From Mu Ceti, go 2.3° due north to 5.2-magnitude 38 in Aries, and next another 2.9° north to 5.8-magnitude Omicron. From Omicron, go 1.7° nearly due east to 5.5-magnitude Sigma. North of Omicron and Sigma, 2.4° from each, and forming an isosceles triangle with them, is 5.3-magnitude Pi.
The chart plots the position of Uranus only during the five-month interval of its retrograde motion, from Aug. 24, 2022, through January 22, 2023. Tick marks indicate positions for the first day of each month through January 2023.
In the autumn of 2022, we find Uranus east of the isosceles triangle Omicron-Sigma-Pi in Aries, and slowly retrograding toward it. Look for a pair of stars, Rho2 and Rho3, of magnitudes 5.8 and 5.6, respectively, 21’ (arcminutes) apart, 1.8° east-northeast of Pi, forming another isosceles triangle with Pi as the vertex.
On the night of Nov. 8-9, Uranus is at opposition and visible all night.
On Dec. 22, Uranus passes between Sigma and Pi Ari, about 0.9 from Sigma and 1.5° from Pi, entering the isosceles triangle Omicron-Sigma-Pi. Uranus will remain inside the triangle for two months until it exits between the same two stars on February 21, 2023. Between those dates, Uranus ends retrograde on Jan. 22, 2023, when it will be just 0.5° northeast of the 6.7-magnitude star HIP13069 plotted in the lower portion of the triangle.
We hope that folks using binoculars and Bob Miller’s finder chart, in combination with the October or December evening constellation map on the reverse side of those months’ Sky Calendars, will be able to easily locate Uranus.
Neptune: Using binoculars at nightfall, aim at Jupiter and look mostly below it in the same field of view for a compact group of six stars we call Neptune’s Dipper, comprised of stars of magnitudes 4.4 to 5.9, less than 5.3° in extent. Its stars are designated by the Flamsteed numbers 20, 24, 27, 29, 33 and 30 in Pisces, about midway between Iota Ceti and the Circlet of Pisces. Useful for locating Neptune in 2022-2025, this asterism in November is near Jupiter, within 1.4° to 4.3° on Nov. 1, changing to 1.7° to 4.4° from Jupiter by Nov. 30. The 5.5-magnitude star 20 Piscium is the northernmost member of the asterism, and marks the end of the handle of the “Dipper.” That star is west-southwest (to the right) of Jupiter, by 3.2° on Nov. 1, to 2.3° when Jupiter ends retrograde on Nov. 23, increasing slightly to 2.4° on Nov. 30.
In November, a line from Jupiter through 20 Psc, extended, locates Neptune. Neptune is west-southwest of 20 Psc, by 3.5° on Nov. 1, to 3.8° when the faint planet ends retrograde on Dec. 3. Don’t be fooled by the 7.2-magnitude star HIP116402, 3.3° west-southwest of 20 Psc and brighter than the 7.8-magnitude planet! Binoculars of at least 50-mm aperture and a clear dark sky are recommended to detect this eighth and outermost known planet of our solar system. Select nights when the moon isn’t too bright or too close to Neptune’s field.
Mornings: Mars brightens from magnitude -1.2 to -1.8 in November, in the west to west-northwest, dropping lower as the month progresses. Mars appears at opposition on the night of Dec. 7, when it’s up all night—low in the east-northeast at dusk, high in the south in the middle of the night, and low in west-northwest at dawn. Thereafter, it can be followed in the early evening sky. Mars retrogrades (moves west) 5.5° in November, passing directly between stars of Taurus—second-magnitude Beta and third-magnitude Zeta—on the morning of Nov. 13. On Nov. 19-23, Mars passes within 4° south of Beta, tip of the northern horn.
The twinkling blue-white Dog Star, Sirius, in the southwest at magnitude -1.4, is the brightest point of light in November’s morning sky until steady, reddish Mars outshines it starting in the second week. Mars’ brightening is caused partly by its decreasing distance, from 57.4 million miles on the morning of Nov. 1, to closest approach at 50.6 million miles on the evening of the 30th. The other factor increasing the planet’s brightness is the phase effect, or opposition surge, with Mars’ phase changing from 94 percent on Nov. 1 to 100 percent full on Dec. 7, when the red planet will be at opposition, as Earth passes between Mars and the sun.
After the total lunar eclipse in the predawn hours of Tuesday, Nov. 8 (more about the eclipse below), the waning moon passes through Taurus, Nov. 9-11. Look about an hour before sunrise, before twilight brightens much, to catch the moon 3 to 4° south of the Pleiades cluster on Nov. 9; 7 to 8° north of Aldebaran, eye of the Bull, on Nov. 10; and 2 to 3° north of Mars on Nov. 11. Follow the moon and Mars until sunrise on the latter morning, and you’ll have a good chance to attain a daytime sighting of Mars, with binoculars if not the unaided eye.
Continuing eastward through the zodiac, the moon forms an isosceles triangle with the “twin” stars, Pollux and Castor in Gemini, 6-7° from each, on Nov. 13. The twin stars are 4.5° apart. On Nov. 16 (last quarter moon, half full) and 17 (a fat crescent), the moon appears 7 to 8° from Regulus, heart of Leo the Lion. Spaceship Earth is heading directly toward Regulus on Nov. 22. A thin crescent moon, 8 percent full with earthshine illuminating its dark side, appears 5° to the lower left of Spica on Nov. 21. The last old crescent moon, 3 percent full, can be spotted very low in the east-southeast in morning mid-twilight on Nov. 22.
On Oct. 30, Mars commences 74 days of retrograde (westward) motion, ending Jan. 12, 2023. Mars begins retrograde 2.7° north-northeast of Zeta. Mars will peak at magnitude -1.9 between its closest approach to Earth on Nov. 30 and its opposition and all-night visibility on Dec. 7.
Through the telescope: In the evenings, Jupiter’s cloud belts and changing positions of the four bright satellites are fascinating to watch. Saturn’s rings are gradually closing; they’re tipped 15° from edgewise on Nov. 19, to 14° on Dec. 22, and 13° on Jan. 14—so look soon for your best view of the rings until Spring 2028.
In November and December 2022, the bright northern limb of Mars is primarily the NPH, or North Polar Hood (cloud cover overlying the north polar region), and not the North Polar Cap (NPC), consisting of ices of water and carbon dioxide on the Martian surface. Mars’ northern spring equinox will occur on Dec. 26, and in the following weeks, the NPH will dissipate and reveal the NPC. Get those scopes out, and start looking for Mars’ surface features, although Martian dust storms might diminish our view. For illustrations with a description of the expected seasonal changes on Mars in the current apparition, visit alpo-astronomy.org/jbeish/2022_MARS.htm.
There will be a total lunar eclipse in the predawn hours of Tuesday, Election Day, Nov. 8. (Don’t forget to vote!) From the Western U.S., the partial phase gets under way at 1:09 a.m., and the 86-minute total eclipse begins at 2:16 a.m. The deepest and likely the darkest stage of the eclipse, when the moon is closest to the center of Earth’s shadow, occurs at 2:59 a.m. At that time, in clockwise order, starting with the star Pi in Aries, the eclipsed moon will be closely surrounded by three stars and Uranus: Pi to upper right of the moon, then Omicron, and Sigma in Aries, and Uranus, to the moon’s upper left. The moon starts to emerge from totality at 3:42 a.m., and is completely out of the umbra at 4:49 a.m., when only some slight penumbral shading will be noticed.
The entire encounter of the moon with the umbra, or dark core of Earth’s shadow, lasts 3 hours and 40 minutes, so if you want to view the most beautiful and colorful stage of the eclipse, try 2-2:30 a.m., or 3:30-4 a.m.
Sky Calendar includes illustrations of many of the events described in this article. To subscribe or to view a sample issue, visit www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.
Robert Victor originated the Abrams Planetarium monthly Sky Calendar in October 1968, and still produces issues occasionally, including December 2022. He enjoys being outdoors sharing the wonders of the night sky. Robert Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the Uranus finder chart accompanying this column, did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.