The four giant planets are visible after nightfall—two bright, and two requiring optical aid. Jupiter, Uranus and the Pleiades pull all-nighters on Nov. 2, 13 and 22, while November also sees Jupiter-Saturn’s 20-year cycle of divorce and reconciliation; the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, in the sky together this month (and early December) for the last time until a year from now; and a head-on collision with Earth and some cometary particles.
At dusk, Jupiter, of magnitude -2.9 to -2.8, gleams low, north of east at the start of month, and climbing higher through the east as the month progresses. At opposition to the sun on night of Nov. 2-3, Jupiter is up all night: low, north of east at dusk; high in the south in middle of night; and low, north of west at dawn. Saturn, of magnitude +0.7 to +0.8, glows well up in the southeast to south at dusk. Its rings at the start of November are tipped 10.5° from edgewise, giving us a better view than we’ll have again until the spring of 2027.
Ranking next in brightness after Jupiter at dusk, there’s a virtual tie between three zero-magnitude stars: Arcturus, sinking in the west to west-northwest and disappearing early in the month; Vega, very high in the west-northwest; and Capella, rising in the far northeast.
Late in the month, Mercury, near magnitude -0.5, emerges in the southwest to outrank these stars, but it hugs the horizon in evening twilight, so use binoculars. Mars is not visible at all, passing behind the sun’s disk Nov. 17-18.
Other bright stars visible at dusk include Altair and Deneb, completing the Summer Triangle with Vega; Fomalhaut, Mouth of the Southern Fish, below or to the lower left of Saturn; and Aldebaran, eye of Taurus and follower of the Pleiades, rising in the east-northeast late in month.
Jupiter and Saturn are 70° apart in the evening sky on Nov. 1, moving to 66° apart on Nov. 30. The gap between the two giant planets is temporarily closing until a minimum separation of 61° on Feb. 5, 2024, before increasing again. The rarest of bright-planet pairings, Jupiter overtakes Saturn every 20 years.
Try finding the two faint outer planets: Uranus, at opposition on Nov. 13, retrogrades 1.2° this month, staying 11°-14° to the lower left of Jupiter and within 2.3° of 4.3 magnitude Delta in Aries, the brightest star between Jupiter and the Pleiades. An easy binocular target, the 5.6-magnitude planet passes 2.15° south of Delta Ari on the nights of Nov. 9 and 10.
Neptune, at magnitude 7.8, some 25° to 24° east (to the left or upper left) of Saturn, is more of a challenge. Past its September opposition, Neptune slows its retrograde, creeping from 1.3° to 1.6° west-southwest of the 5.5-magnitude star 20 of Pisces, end of the handle of a compact dipper-shaped asterism of six stars of magnitude 4.4 to 5.9 fitting within a binocular field 5 1/4° across. Look for this “Neptune’s Dipper” asterism between the Circlet of Pisces and Iota in Cetus.
When you’re outdoors around Nov. 22, whether at dawn or at dusk, visualize this: On Nov. 22, Spaceship Earth is heading toward Regulus, in Leo, west of the sun in the morning sky, and racing away from Saturn, east of the sun in the evening sky. Regulus and Saturn on that date in 2023 lie in opposite directions from Earth, with both at quadrature, 90° from the sun. Also on Nov. 22, the Pleiades, or “Seven Sisters” star cluster, is at opposition, as Earth passes between that cluster and the sun. Look for this beautiful compact grouping in the east-northeast at dusk, high in the south in the middle of night, and low in the west-northwest at dawn.
Binoculars fit the entire gathering into the field with room to spare, providing wonderful views.
Planets at dawn: Venus, faded since its September peak, is still impressive at magnitude -4.4 to -4.2. Magnified by a telescope, the receding planet appears in gibbous phase, 55% to 67%, while shrinking from 22” to 17” (arcseconds) across. Watch Venus move east against the background stars by 1.1° to 1.2° per day, passing 1.1° south of third-magnitude Gamma in Virgo on Nov. 17—with a telescope at high power resolving Gamma into a striking, equal pair now 3.7 arcseconds apart.
The annual Leonid meteor shower reaches its normal peak of only 15 meteors per hour under ideal conditions just before morning twilight begins on Nov. 18. In addition this year, there’s a possible enhancement of 10-15 brighter-than-average meteors per hour, predicted to be visible from the Western U.S. on Nov. 21 around 4 a.m., from a trail of debris released by the Leonids’ source, Comet Tempel-Tuttle, during its visit in 1767. The comet is in a retrograde orbit, which means its particles enter Earth’s atmosphere from the direction of Leo at a very high speed, 44 miles per second. Don’t worry: It’s the particles, and not the comet itself, making a head-on collision with Earth.
Venus passes 4.2° north of Spica on Nov. 29. Jupiter, after its opposition on the night of Nov. 2-3, drops out of the morning twilight sky within three weeks, but you can still observe it every morning this month, just by looking earlier. Ranking next in brightness after Venus and Jupiter is Sirius, the Dog Star, in the south-southwest to southwest at dawn, following Orion across the sky.
View these two brightest planets simultaneously. From Reno’s vicinity, Venus and Jupiter are 132° apart on Nov. 1, when they’re 23° above opposite horizons 1.8 hours before sunrise; 150° apart on Nov. 15, when they’re 14° above opposite horizons 2.5 hours before sunrise; and 168° apart on Nov. 30, when they’re 6° above opposite horizons 3.1 hours before sunrise.
From an ideal place where no landscape features block your view, you’d be able to see both planets at once until Dec. 10, when they’re 180° apart, and Venus will rise just before Jupiter sets. After that, your next chance to catch Venus and Jupiter in the night sky together will begin in about a year, when they’ll appear just above opposite horizons soon after nightfall on Nov. 4, 2024.
For the next few years, the range of the moon’s north-south wanderings each month noticeably exceeds the range of the sun’s annual summer to winter solstice midday positions. This month, the moon rides highest in south, about 79° up for Reno, on Nov. 2 at 4:48 a.m., and on Nov. 29 at 1:34 a.m. The moon rides lowest in south as a 14 percent crescent on the afternoon of Nov. 16, only 21° up at 2:56 p.m.
Before dawn, watch the waning moon pass by these stars and bright planets in the belt of the zodiac: On Nov. 1, Elnath, northern horn of Taurus, the Bull; on Nov. 3, Pollux and Castor, Twins of Gemini; on Nov. 4, the Beehive cluster in Cancer; on Nov. 6, Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion; on Nov. 9, Venus (don’t miss it!); on Nov. 11, Spica; on Nov. 27, the full moon is between Pleiades and Aldebaran; on Nov. 28, Elnath; on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, Pollux and Castor.
In the evening sky, watch the waxing moon pass by these stars and bright planets: On Nov. 14, Mercury (very low—look early, with binoculars); on Nov. 19 and 20, Saturn; on Nov. 24 and 25, Jupiter; on Nov. 26, Pleiades; on Nov. 27, Aldebaran and Elnath (past full and waning); on Nov. 28, Elnath.
The Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar is available by subscription from www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar. Each monthly issue consists of a calendar page illustrating events such as mentioned in this article, and an evening sky map. For $12 per year, subscribers receive quarterly mailings, each containing three monthly issues.
Robert Victor originated the Abrams Planetarium monthly Sky Calendar in October 1968 and still helps produce an occasional issue. He enjoys being outdoors sharing the beauty of the night sky and other wonders of nature.