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Astronomy: Observing Highlights for November


Comet ISON continues to zip toward the sun, making its closest approach on November 28. Until then, you can look for ISON on November mornings in the southeast before sunrise in the constellation Virgo. ISON will head toward Virgo’s brightest star, Spica, passing it on the mornings of November 17 and 18. At the end of the week, look for ISON just to the right of Mercury and Saturn. A tail, if visible, will extend back up toward Spica. After it passes the sun it will enter northern skies during the early evening. Its magnitude is still only in telescopic range, but observers hope that it will be a binocular or naked-eye object by late in the month.

Another comet, Comet 2P/Encke, is currently brighter than ISON. Encke should reach its peak brightness at around magnitude 7 (binocular range) by the end of November. On November 24, both the comets will be visible in the same wide telescopic field of view (1 ¼ degrees apart) in predawn hours.

On November evenings the winter constellations, including Taurus and Orion, are rising in the east. Just behind them is Gemini, where Jupiter is currently found. The giant planet stays in late evening skies for much of fall. On November 21, look for Jupiter pairing with the moon as they come over the eastern horizon.

In the west, Venus is still prominent as it shines more brightly than any other natural object in the night sky except the moon. The moon and Venus pair up on November 6 as they both float in front of the Milky Way.

On November 3 a hybrid solar eclipse occurs, but in order to see any part of it in the United States, you’ll have to be on the east coast.  Places such as the Florida coast will see a slim partial eclipse, while totality will wait for the other side of the Atlantic, crossing over the heart of Africa and ending as an annular eclipse in Somalia.

Three meteor showers occur in the month of November. The first meteor shower is the South Taurids, which peaks on November 4/5. The next week is the companion North Taurids, which peaks on November 11/12. The last and best known of the November meteor showers is the Leonids. Unfortunately, this year the Leonids’ peak on November 17 coincides with the full moon, which reaches 100-percent lit the same night. 

(Comet ISON has been glowing with a green gas as it nears Earth. Credit: John Chumack)

HS_KellyWhittKelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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