Northern Hemisphere gazer's guide

By , Director, The American Museum of Natural History, New York

The moon: The waxing crescent moon decorates the western sky at sundown in early November, passing through Sagittarius on the 1st and 2nd, and entering Capricornus to become the first quarter moon on the 4th. Full moon is on the 11 th, and the waning gibbous moon is above Aldebaran, in Taurus, on the 12th. On the 17th and 18th, the last quarter moon passes Regulus in Leo, as the moon and the star rise shortly before midnight. New moon is on Nov. 26, and the crescent moon of the next cycle should be seen on the 29th and 30th. In early December first quarter moon is on the 4th, full moon on the 11th.

Stars and planets:The planet scene has clearly shifted into the morning sky this month (except for Venus), focused in Virgo, where Jupiter and Saturn cluster on either side of the bright star Spica. Look for them from before dawn until they fade into the morning twilight. They rise as a triangle about four hours past midnight, Saturn leading them up, followed by Spica (to the right) and Jupiter (easily the brightest of the three). During the first week of November, Mercury passes through the group to make it a "4-Star" event (three are actually planets, of course), and late in the month the waning crescent moon highlights the trio. Venus is the only bright evening planet. It reaches greatest easterly elongation on the 10th, which ordinarily places it in the best position for viewing in the evening sky. But this evening configuration of Venus is poor even at its best. Were it not for Venus's brilliance, it might go unnoticed. Bright it is, of course (approaching greatest brilliancy in mid-December), so don't be surprised to see it flash out like a bright beacon in the west southwest any evening during late twilight, should the western sky be clear or partly cloudy.

Nov. 1-2: The early crescent moon is in Sagittarius. Look for the "teapot" beneath the moon in the southwest during late twilight.

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Nov. 1-2: The taurid meteor shower reaches maxium tonight during after-mid-night hours. Its meteors are not particularly bright or numerous (about 15 per hour from 2:00 a.m. on), but there is no moon to interfere.

Nov. 2: Mercury is at greatest westerly (morning) elongation, and this is a favorable morning cycle for the planet. Look for it above the eastern horizon at dawn from Nov. 2 through 6 near the "triangle" formed by Saturn, Spica, and Jupiter. Jupiter is the brightest object in that direction; Mercury is second brightest and closest to Jupiter. Saturn and Spica, to Jupiter's right, are about equal in brightness.

Nov. 4: The first quarter moon is in Capricornus, a large, triangle-shape group of faint stars to the south of Altair and on a line from Vega through Altair.

Nov. 10: Greatest easterly elongation of Venus will not materially improve its visibility in the evening sky. Though the planet is now at its greatest distance (elongation) to the sun's left, it is in the part of its orbit that keeps it in our southern sky, hence it remains low and sets soon after sundown.

Nov. 11-12: The full moon is in Taurus, to the right of Aldebaran and the Hyades cluster. Perigee moon (nearest earth) on the morning of the 12th is only 13 hours after full moon, so that the effects of perige on the full moon spring tide should be pronounced. Expect substantially higher tides on the 12th.

Nov. 16-17: The waning gibbous moon will brighten the after-midnight sky during maximum of the famous Leonid meteor shower. The leonids are ordinarily not more productive than the early November Taurids (about 15 meteors per hour in normal years), but the meteors are swift and oftern very bright. You should see some, with patience, despite the moon.

Nov. 22-23: The waning crescent moon is in Virgo, passing near the trio of Saturn, Spica, and Jupiter. Look for them from just before dawn until they fade in the twilight. The moon is closer to Saturn on the morning of the 22nd, to Jupiter on the 23rd, passing above both.

Nov. 26: The moon is new today, beginning another cycle of phases. It is also at apogee (farthest from earth).

Nov. 30: The young crescent moon will guide you to Venus tonight. Look below the crescent as it becomes visible in the west during evening twilight.

December 10: Mercury doesn't last too long as a morning star! Today it is in superior conjunction with the sun, in line with earth but beyond the sun. It passes the sun from right to left, ending its cycle in the morning sky.

December 10-11: The perigee moon in December comes on the 10th, eight hours before the full moon of the 11th. The effects will be felt in the perigee spring tides late on the 11th and the morning of the 12th.

December 13-14: The usually productive Geminid meteor shower (about 50 per hour near maximum) will be partly spoiled by the brightness of the waning gibbous moon.

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