Welcome to our Night Sky Guide for November 2017!
Are you confused about constellations or confounded by conjunctions? Or perhaps just puzzled trying to pinpoint the position of the planets?
No problem! Here’s this month’s guide to “what’s up” in the night sky.
Please note that while this night sky guide is written for southern hemisphere amateur astronomers, much of the content is still relevant for those in the northern hemisphere – the precise time and location in the sky may vary to those noted, though.
Mercury starts the month low on the western evening horizon but quickly continues its journey eastward over the following nights. It reaches its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 24th, which affords the best opportunity to view our innermost planet.**
Venus spends the mornings of this month close to the eastern horizon and is not well-placed for observations. While there is a close conjunction with Jupiter on the 13th and 14th, caution is urged due to the close proximity of the rising Sun.**
Mars can also be located in the predawn, eastern sky during the month of November, however, its separation from the Sun makes it a safer target for observations than either Venus or Jupiter. At month’s end, Mars will be relatively close to the star Spica, which is the brightest in the constellation of Virgo.
Jupiter spends most of this month too close to the Sun for safe observations. It passes close by Venus on the 13th, and the bright pair will be joined by a crescent Moon on the 17th, however, the brightness of the pre-dawn sky will make for a lackluster (and somewhat dangerous) conjunction that is not recommended for inexperienced observers**
Saturn, like most of the brighter planets this month, is not well-placed for observations. The ringed planet spends November low on the western horizon just after sunset and will be visible to naked-eye observers, but its altitude rules out clear telescopic observations.
Uranus can be found high in the northern sky (southern, if you happen to live in the northern hemisphere) this month. It can be found in the constellation of Pisces, close to its borders with Aries and Cetus. Best viewing will be around mid-month, as light from the nearby, bright Moon at month’s beginning and end will detract from the view.
Neptune can be located not far from its sister planet Uranus this month, in the constellation of Aquarius. It remains within 1° of the 4th magnitude star Lambda Aquarii and, as with Uranus, is best observed mid-month.
** Observations close to the Sun should not be attempted by inexperienced observers! Instant and permanent blindness can occur as a result of small errors. For maximum safety, the Sun should be obscured by a structure or by the ground.
- 3rd – Uranus 4° from the Moon
- 6th – Aldebaran 0.8° from the Moon
- 10th – Mercury 0.6° from M80
- 12th – Mercury 0.8° from Rho Ophiuchi
- 12th – Regulus 0.5° from the Moon
- 13th – Antares 2° from Mercury
- 15th – Mars 3° from the Moon
- 17th – Jupiter 4° from the Moon
- 21st – Saturn 3° from the Moon
- 27th – Neptune 1.2° from the Moon
- 28th – Saturn 3° from Mercury
- 30th – Uranus 4° from the Moon
The Leonids are a meteor shower that is associated with debris streams left by Comet Tempel-Tuttle. These debris streams are quite variable in density, and so the number of meteors seen per hour can range from single-digits through to hundreds-of-thousands.
One particularly active appearance of the Leonids in 1833, which had estimates of between one-hundred thousand and almost one-quarter of a million meteors per hour, led scientists of the day to question the prevailing wisdom that such showers were caused by some kind of atmospheric phenomena.
“The Chained Woman“: The home of M31 (the Andromeda galaxy), Andromeda is named after the daughter of Cassiopeia who, in Greek myth, was chained to a rock to be eaten by Cetus, the sea monster, but was saved by Perseus (who now accompanies her through the sky).
Brightest Star: Alpheratz (Alpha Andromedae)
“The Seated Queen“: According to Greek myth, Cassiopeia was the queen of ancient Aethopia who was doomed to spend eternity in the heavens by Poseidon, god of the sea. She is accompanied in her celestial travels by her husband, Cephus, and daughter, Andromeda.
Brightest Star: Schedar (Alpha Cassiopeia)
“The King / King Cephus“: Mythological husband to Cassiopeia and father to Andromeda, the constellation of Cephus is home to Delta Cephii – the prototype “Cepheid Variable” star whose pulsations help astronomers to calculate the distance to nearby galaxies.
Brightest Star: Alderamin (Alpha Cephei)
“The Whale ” (“The Sea Monster“): Although often referred to as “The Whale”, Cetus is the sea monster from Greek myth that was to devour Andromeda. It is surrounded by other “water” constellations such as Pisces (the fish), Eridanus (the river), and Aquarius (the water-bearer).
Brightest Star: Deneb Kaitos (Beta Ceti) (or Mira (Omicron Ceti) variable star when brightest)
“The Phoenix“: Named after the mythological bird, the constellation of Phoenix is located in an area of the southern sky where it has many feathered friends, such as Pavo (the Peacock), Grus (the Crane) and Tucana (the Toucan). These are known as “The Southern Birds”.
Brightest Star: Ankaa (Alpha Phoenicis)