First up for November is my reminder to be sure to set your clocks back one hour on Sunday, the 3rd. That’s when most of the United States switch back to Eastern Standard Time from Daylight Saving Time. The mnemonic is “spring ahead and fall back/behind”. Thank goodness for most of us it occurs on a weekend!
While the premiere astronomical event during November will be the transit of Mercury between the Earth and the Sun (which I will preview in a separate column), there are two meteor showers as well.
From November 4th thru the 6th watch the sky for no more than a half dozen or so Taurid meteors. These often very bright yellow fireballs (meteors that explode and fragment into multiple pieces) are fairly slow and enter our atmosphere at approximately 17 miles per second. Observe after midnight to increase your chances of seeing one. Look in the general direction of the constellation Taurus. To locate Taurus find the V-shaped pattern that defines the bull’s face, or locate the Pleiades — the Seven Sisters star cluster. A waxing gibbous Moon will overshadow all but the brightest of the meteors this year.
Another more productive meteor shower will occur on the night of November 17-18, with the peak of the annual Leonids between midnight and dawn on the 18th. Unfortunately a bright waning gibbous Moon in neighboring constellation Cancer will also overshadow all but the brightest of the shooting stars. An observer well away from man-made light pollution may see about 10-15 green or blue shooting stars per hour, though the interfering moonlight may reduce that optimistic forecast. Please note a cluster of stars above the Moon. It is the Beehive Cluster. Check it out with binoculars.
The Leonids blaze across the sky at around 44 miles per second as they hit the Earth’s atmosphere nearly head-on. The resulting display produces many fireballs, with about half of them leaving trains of dust that can persist for minutes. The area of sky where the meteors appear to radiate from is in the Sickle (backwards question mark) asterism in Leo. Clear skies and some luck will favor seeing as many shooting stars as possible.
Finally, just after sunset on the 24th look towards the southwestern sky to see a conjunction (close proximity of two celestial bodies) of Venus and Jupiter ten degrees above the horizon. They will be about 1.4 degrees apart—three full moon diameters Venus will be the brighter of the two planets.
Keep your eyes to the skies.