This month, both the morning and evening skies get an infusion of new planets.
Mars begins November as a dim, reddish dot close above the east-southeastern horizon. Look for it just before the day starts to break. Don’t confuse it with the bright star Arcturus, which is also near the horizon early in the month. As the days go by, Arcturus climbs rapidly away from Mars while Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, clears the horizon and heads toward the planet.
During the second week of the month, Spica climbs past Mars on the right.
By the last week of November, Mercury will have popped into the sky below Mars. For several days between Nov. 22 and 27, Spica, Mars and Mercury will be nearly equally spaced, in that order top-to-bottom, along a diagonal line.
Meanwhile, Venus is slipping into the evening sky. The brightest of planets, it comes out in the southwestern twilight not far below Jupiter. But while Venus is climbing, Jupiter is falling, and on Nov. 24, the planets come closest to each other, with Venus just to the lower left of Jupiter. On Nov. 28, a young crescent moon appears above Venus, en route to a rendezvous the next night with Saturn.
In mid-December, the ringed planet has its own brush with Venus.
All month long, watch the bright winter constellations make their annual grand entrance into the evening sky, appearing over the eastern horizon earlier each night. Most recognizable is hourglass-shaped Orion, thanks largely to the three stars of his famous belt.
November’s full moon arrives at 7:34 a.m. Nov. 12. The moon will have set by then; to catch it at its roundest, go outside an hour beforehand (even earlier in eastern parts of the state). If you prefer moonrises, look for one in the east around sunset on the 11th and about half an hour afterward Nov. 12.
In the predawn hours of Nov. 18, a bright waning moon puts a damper on the peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower. On Nov. 24, however, a thinned-out crescent makes partial amends by rising close to Mars.
The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Morris, Duluth, and Twin Cities campuses. For more information and viewing schedules in Duluth, visit the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium at www.d.umn.edu/planet.