There’s no sense crying over the end of Halloween festivities, the shorter daylight hours or the fickle weather. Yes, November can be gloomy, but the fall nights hold some lovely surprises. Oppositions, conjunctions and meteor showers take turns appearing throughout the month: A full menu to be enjoyed by novice and experienced astronomers alike once the long nights return, before the bitter cold sets in... and after the mosquitoes and blackflies have disappeared!
The giants in opposition
The first nights of November will be marked by an exceptionally visible Jupiter. The gas giant will come closest to Earth on the night of November 1-2, appearing brighter in the sky (magnitude –2.9) and bigger in our telescopes (49.5 arc seconds) than at any other time during the year. An especially favourable time for observing Jupiter will be when the planet reaches opposition on the night of November 3-4. Directly opposite the Sun from our viewpoint, Jupiter appears in the sky at nightfall and remains visible until the first light of dawn. It reaches a maximum altitude of 58 degrees around 12:30 a.m. (Eastern Daylight Time), whereas Saturn will still be visible in the constellation Aquarius, further west. The early nighttime hours will therefore be an ideal time to observe the two giants.
Do you love a challenge? Uranus will also reach opposition on November 13, which will be the best time to spot this distant planet, at the limit of naked-eye visibility (magnitude +5.8). At around midnight, head outside with binoculars or a telescope and look for the giant planet in the south, halfway between Jupiter and the Pleiades. What’s more, the Moon won’t interfere with viewing, as it will be in its new phase.
Follow the guide!
The Moon has a busy schedule in November! Throughout the month, our satellite serves as a guide to several planets visible from Earth. At around 4 a.m. on November 9, the thin crescent Moon will lie less than ¼ of a degree from Venus, treating us to one of the finest conjunctions this fall. For lucky observers in Europe and North Africa, the Moon will even completely occult Venus for several hours on November 9.
On November 13, the Moon will take a short break in its journey, disappearing from view during its new phase. Mid-November will therefore be a good time to view earthshine, which occurs when sunlight is reflected by the Earth onto the dark side of the thin crescent Moon. You’ll be able to observe the Moon’s ashen glow at dawn on November 10, or at twilight on November 15.
On November 20, the first quarter Moon will lie less than 5 degrees from Saturn in the early evening, reaching a maximum altitude of 31 degrees around 6:30 p.m. (EST). And on the night of November 24-25, three days before the full Moon, there will be another great opportunity to see Jupiter: From dusk to 4 a.m., the Moon will hang very near the giant, reaching a minimum gap of 2 degrees at daybreak.
Our satellite wraps up its planetary tour in the early hours of November 26 when it comes to within about 2 degrees of Uranus. However, the intense brightness of the near-full Moon will make it difficult to spot the planet.
A parade of fireballs
November is marked by several meteor showers that remain active throughout the month. These include the Southern and Northern Taurids (STA & NTA), produced by comet 2P/Encke, and the Leonids (LEO) that originate from comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. The November meteor showers put on a much more modest show compared to the August Perseids or the December Geminids. When viewing conditions are good, far away from light pollution, you can expect to see 5 to 15 meteors per hour on the nights of November 5 (STA), 12 (NTA) and 18 (LEO). But these showers are rich in fireballs, and thanks to the practically moonless sky, those rare meteors will truly light up the night, blazing brighter than Venus. A must-see show during your nighttime outings, so keep your eyes peeled!
The clocks fall back
Remember that Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday, November 5, 2023, with clocks moving back one hour. That means at 3 a.m. EDT, it will be 2 a.m. EST, and we’ll gain an hour of sleep—or an extra hour of sky watching!