The night sky for November 2016

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during November 2016.

The Planets

  • Jupiter is the only planet that can be seen in the pre-dawn sky this month rising some two and a half hours before the Sun at the start of November, but by around 2:20 UT (GMT) by the end of the month. On the first of November it will lie some 20 degrees above the south-eastern horizon an hour before sunrise and some 10 degrees higher by month’s end. Though at its smallest and dimmest, it still has a magnitude of around -1.7 and shows a 32 arc second disk. It remains in Virgo throughout the month and initially lies just 2 degrees below Porrima, Gamma Virginis, and sinks slowly southwards until by month’s end it lies half way between Porrima and Spica, Alpha Virginis. With a small telescope, early risers should be able to see the equatorial bands in the atmosphere and the four Gallilean moons as they weave their way around it.
  • Saturn is still visible low in the southwest after sunset, but is only some 10 degrees above the horizon 45 minutes after sunset. However as the month progresses it will sink lower and become harder to see. It lies in the southern part of Ophiuchus some 7 degrees up and to the left of Antares in Scorpius. One could not hope for a sharp view (but I am going to try using an Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector to help) but its wide open ring system should be seen. Sadly Saturn is moving towards the southern part of the ecliptic so for quite a few years will only be seen at low elevations
  • Mercury, shining at magnitude -0.5 and with a disk some 5 arcs seconds across becomes visible low in the southwest after sunset by the third week of November and slowly climbs higher in the sky until it reaches its furthest angular distance from the Sun in mid December. It might just be spotted close to Venus on the 23rd.
  • Mars, moving quickly eastwards through eastern Sagittarius and Capricornus, dims from magnitude +0.4 to +0.6 during November. The red (actually salmon pink) planet can be seen low above the southern horizon throughout the month but, with a disk only about 7 arc seconds across, no surface features will be seen.
  • Venus, in the west, sets some 2 hours after the Sun at the start of the month but an hour later by month’s end as it begins to dominate the evening sky. Its brightness increases from -4.0 to -4.2 magnitudes during the month whilst the angular size of its gibbous disk increases from 14 to 17 arc seconds. As it does so its phase reduces from 78 to 70% which explains why the brightness changes so little. Venus is moving eastwards, leaving Ophiuchus on the 9th into Sagittarius where it passes over the Teapot and will be just 7.5 arc minutes below its ‘lid’ star, Lamda Sagittari (shining at magnitude 2.8) on the 17th.


  • November early mornings: November Meteors.

    In the hours before dawn, November gives us a chance to observe meteors from two showers. The first that it is thought might produce some bright events is the Northern Taurids shower which has a broad peak of around 10 days but normally gives relatively few meteors per hour. The peak is around the 10th of November and, pleasingly, the Moon is first quarter on the 7th so, in the first week of November will have set by midnight. The meteors arise from comet 2P/Encke. Its tail is especially rich in large particles and, this year, we may pass through a relatively rich band so it is possible that a number of fireballs might be observed!

    The better known November shower is the Leonids which peak on the night of the 17th/18th of the month. Sadly, the Moon will be just after full so will hinder our view. As one might expect, the shower’s radiant lies within the sickle of Leo and meteors could be spotted from the 15th to the 20th of the month. The Leonids enter the atmosphere at ~71 km/sec and this makes them somewhat challenging to photograph but its worth trying as one might just capture a bright fireball. Up to 15 meteors an hour could be observed if near the zenith. The Leonids are famous because every 33 years a meteor storm might be observed when the parent comet, 55P/Temple-Tuttle passes close to the Sun. In 1999, 3,000 meteors were observed per hour but we are now halfway between these impressive events hence with a far lower expected rate.

  • Around the beginning and end of November (with no Moon in the sky): find M31 – The Andromeda Galaxy – and perhaps M33 in Triangulum

    In the evening, the galaxy M31 in Andromeda is visible in the south. The chart provides two ways of finding it:

    1) Find the square of Pegasus. Start at the top left star of the square – Alpha Andromedae – and move two stars to the left and up a bit. Then turn 90 degrees to the right, move up to one reasonably bright star and continue a similar distance in the same direction. You should easily spot M31 with binoculars and, if there is a dark sky, you can even see it with your unaided eye. The photons that are falling on your retina left Andromeda well over two million years ago!

    2) You can also find M31 by following the “arrow” made by the three rightmost bright stars of Cassiopeia down to the lower right as shown on the chart.

    Around new Moon (11th November) – and away from towns and cities – you may also be able to spot M33, the third largest galaxy after M31 and our own galaxy in our Local Group of galaxies. It is a face on spiral and its surface brightness is pretty low so a dark, transparent sky will be needed to spot it using binoculars (8×40 or, preferably, 10×50). Follow the two stars back from M31 and continue in the same direction sweeping slowly as you go. It looks like a piece of tissue paper stuck on the sky just a bit brighter than the sky background. Good Hunting!

  • November 2nd – after sunset: Venus, Saturn and a thin crescent Moon

    After sunset on the 2nd and seen in the west, a thin crescent Moon will lie above Saturn (magnitude +0.5) whilst over to the lower left will lie Venus (magnitude -4).

  • November 5th – before sunrise: Jupiter lies below Porrima in Virgo

    Around one hour before sunrise looking towards the the East-Southeast, Jupiter will be seen lying in Virgo below Porrima, Gamma Virginis, and above Spica, Alpha Virginis.

  • November 15th – late evening until sunrise: The full Moon close to the Hyades Cluster.

    During the night, the full moon will be seen moving away to the left of the Hyades Cluster in Taurus. Lying half way towards the cluster is the red-giant star Aldebaran.

  • November 25th – one hour before sunrise: The third quarter Moon close to Regulus in Leo.

    In the hours befor dawn, the third quarter Moon will seen lie close (just over 3 degrees) to Regulus in Leo.

Southern Hemisphere

Claire Bretherton from the Space Place at Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the southern hemisphere night sky during November 2016.

Kia ora, and welcome to the November Jodcast from Carter Observatory in Wellington, New Zealand.

As Scorpius/ Te Matau a Maui sets in the west, his arch enemy, and our summer constellation, Orion rises towards the east along with Taurus and Canis Major. The bright star Antares, which marks the heart of the Scorpion, is also known as Rehua to Maori. It represents one of the four Pou, or pillars, that hold Ranginui, the sky father up in the sky. It sits just above the south western horizon at around 11pm at the beginning of the month. These four pou form the basis of a celestial compass, a map of the night sky that was used to navigate the vast oceans of our planet and bring our ancestors to Aotearoa/ New Zealand.

The other three pou are marked by Matariki (the Pleiades), Tautoru (the belt of Orion) and Takurua (Sirius), which line up along the eastern horizon. Matariki supports one of Rangi’s shoulders and marks the rising point of the Sun at the winter solstice. Takurua (Sirius) supports the other shoulder and is the closest bright star to the Sun’s rising point at the summer solstice. These two stars represent the extent of the Sun’s movement throughout the year. In between, rising directly east, is Tautoru, or the belt of Orion, marking the rising point of the Sun at the time of the equinox.

Stretching from Scorpius around to Orion is Te Waka o Tamareriti, or Tamarereti’s canoe, which lines up along the horizon in our evening sky. The front of the canoe is marked by the tail of Scorpius, with the sting representing the beautifully carved wood that adorns the prow. The star at the end of the Scorpion’s curving tail marks the place where the bow meets the water, whilst the bright, orange star, Antares, marks the crest of a wave as the great waka glides through the waters of the Milky Way.

The Southern cross marks the anchor, Te Punga and the pointers, alpha and Beta Centauri are the anchor line, Te Taura. The key seasonal markers of Takurua (Sirius) and Rehua (Antares) are on either side.

Orion marks the stern of the canoe, with the elaborately carved stern post rising all the way up from red Betelgeuse to bluish Rigel. A tall mast rises from the waka all the way to Achernar, high in the south, which, at magnitude 0.46, is the brightest start in the southern constellation of Eridanus, the river, and the tenth brightest in the night sky.

A little below Achernar are two small fuzzy patches of light, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which mark the waka’s sails.

One story tells of Tamarereti sailing across the sky in his waka with all the stars in kete or baskets. He places the key seasonal and navigational stars in their correct positions in the sky, but finds he has lots of smaller stars left over. So he capsizes his waka spilling all the smaller stars into the sky forming Te Ika Roa, or the Milky Way. Another story tells of Tamareriti scattering bright pebbles in the dark, lightless sky to help guide his way home. The pebbles became the stars and the wake of his waka formed the Milky Way.

The sky we see in the mid-evening in October/November each year is, in fact, the same sky we see just before sunrise around June, the time we celebrate Matariki, or Māori New Year. It is said that the bright star Canopus, or Atutahi (the ariki or high chief of the heavens), pulls up the anchor at the start of the year starting the waka in motion. During the year you can track the progress of Tamarereti’s waka as it moves across the sky, one day at a time.

Canopus is the second brightest star in the night time sky, with a magnitude of -0.74, and the brightest in the southern constellation of Carina. It is a white F-type supergiant with a mass around 10 times that of our Sun. It can be seen midway up the south eastern evening sky this month.

Saturn can still be found in our evening skies at the start of the month, just to the right of Antares, and setting around 9:30, but it will disappear into the evening twilight by months end. Venus starts November just above the pair, but continues to move eastwards against the background stars, rising through Sagittarius over the second half of the month. On the 17th, you’ll find it right at the tip of the lid of the upside down teapot asterism. Venus will be setting around 3 hours and 20 minutes after the Sun throughout November.

Mars is higher still, and continues to hold its position well, moving from Sagittarius through Capricorn, and setting after midnight.

Mercury also makes an appearance this month. On the 20th it moves between Saturn and Antares forming a line of similar brightness “stars” along the dusk horizon, before continuing to move up away from the pair. Unfortunately, Mercury’s evening appearance this month will not be as favourable as that of August this year, as Mercury will set before twilight ends.

Look out for the Leonid meteor shower, which peaks around the 17th of the month, when the Earth passes through the trail of dust and debris left behind by the comet Temple-Tuttle. Whilst normally a reliable but fairly quiet meteor shower, observers have noticed that roughly every 33 years the number of meteors observed during the shower show a marked increase as the Earth passes through the denser parts of the cometary debris trail.

Sadly, the 2016 shower is not expected to reach these high levels, with a predicted maximum of around 10-20 meteors per hour, and with a bright 18 day old Moon in the sky, there will be significant interference to hamper our viewing.

The radiant of the shower, from which the meteors appear to originate, is located in the constellation of Leo, which rises only a couple of hours before the Sun in our morning sky. The best time to observe the Leonids is about 2-3 hours before sunrise on the mornings around the peak.

Wishing you clear skies from the team here at Space Place at Carter Observatory.

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