The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 1, 2011

November Starline: Observe all the planets this month

By Steve Kipp
Minnesota State University Information Service

MANKATO —           An ambitious observer can spot all the naked-eye planets this November.  Jupiter is not a challenge. It rises in the east before sunset and is conspicuous by its brightness. Venus is slowly moving into the evening sky but to see it you need a clear southwest horizon.

It is visible, slightly brighter than Jupiter, very low in the southwest just after sunset. By Christmas Venus will be a fine evening star, reasonably high in the west at sunset.  Mercury is the most difficult planet to spot in November. It is bright but very low in the southwest. Look for it for a few days around November 14 when Mercury will be just below Venus. Uranus and Neptune are also in the evening sky.

Uranus is technically just barely visible to the naked eye but I have never spotted it. Neptune is too faint to see. To see the other two naked-eye planets get up just before sunrise. You can see a bright Saturn, rising in the east around sunrise and as a bonus, Mars will be seen high in the southeast. Saturn will be higher at sunrise the later in November you look.


Finally, November 6, the first Sunday in November, we return to standard time. Set your clocks back one hour at 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning. To make Sunday particularly safe and enjoyable remember to change your smoke alarm batteries and set your bathroom scale back 10 pounds.


          On November 8 a sizable asteroid will come between the Earth and moon. Asteroid 2005 YU55 is almost 0.5 kilometer across and will come within 85% of the moon's distance. The asteroid that hit 65 million years ago and resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs was estimated to have been about 10 km in diameter.  


November usually brings the first snow showers but it definitely will bring meteor showers. The South Taurid meteors peak November 5 and the North Taurids peak November 12.  Taurid meteors seem to stream from the constellation Taurus, just to the right of Orion. Taurid meteors are produced when debris left by comet Encke gets swept up by the Earth and burns up in the atmosphere. Look for South Taurid meteors after the moon has set.  The moon is full November 10 and the north Taurids will be obscured by bright moonlight from a waning gibbous moon.


The Leonids meteor shower is the best shower of November and one of the best showers of the year. This year it is predicted to peak in the early hours of November 17. Unfortunately the same waning gibbous moon that spoils the North Taurids will brighten the sky around the constellation Leo, the radiant point for the Leonids. If you see any meteors you can guess that they are Leonids if they are very fast.


It was the evening of November 30, 1609 when Galileo first started drawing the moon as seen through his telescope. The moon was a waxing crescent. This year on the last day of November the night sky is similar to the sky Galileo saw.  The moon phase is a waxing crescent and Jupiter is rising in the east in the evening just as it was for Galileo. 


Send comments and questions to Steve Kipp, at