The night sky in November 2016

posted 31 Oct 2016, 02:47 by Pete Collins
by Anne Holt

Sunset:  1 Nov  16.36     30 Nov  15.54

Astronomical darkness on 1st begins at 18.34, on 30th at 18.02 so all our November meetings will be held during the hours of darkness - all we need are the clear skies.

Full Moon 14th    New Moon 29th


We're back to Greenwich Mean time at last, which means that for the next 5 months (is that all?) my watch will be right.
We have one fairly major, and a couple of minor, meteor showers and naked eye planet positions are beginning to improve - slightly.
The full moon on 14th will be the closest to us this year, meaning that it will appear slightly larger than average.  This is often referred to as a supermoon, though the correct astronomical term is a perigee-syzygy moon.  (perigee meaning the closest point in the moon's orbit to Earth and syzygy meaning at opposition or conjunction - in this case the Earth, Moon and Sun are in a line:  ie full or new Moon)


If it is clear you will see that the Summer Triangle comprising the 3 bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair is now sinking slowly in the West, giving way to the stars of winter now rising in the east.

Mid-evening the square of Pegasus, the signature constellation of autumn, is fairly high in the south but not particularly prominent, containing only 2nd magnitude stars. It's an easy star-hop from Alpheratz, the top left star of the square of Pegasus to the Andromeda Galaxy, M31, which is now nicely placed fairly high in the south east.

The Winter Hexagon is a beautifully rich area bounded by Sirius (Canis Major), Rigel (Orion), Aldebaran (Taurus), Capella (Auriga), Pollux (Gemini) and Procyon (Canis Minor).  This relatively small region contains half of the ten brightest stars. It will be above the horizon not long after midnight at the start of November and before 11pm by month end.

The Pleiades, just outside the Hexagon are also very well placed and are a beautiful sight in binoculars or a small telescope.

Cassiopeia is still riding high leaving the Plough, on the opposite side of Polaris, low in the Northern sky for much of the night.


Mercury starts the month in Libra, then moves through Scorpio and into Ophiuchus on 18th. It appears very close to the Sun throughout November, setting not long after it. On 23rd it is only 3.5 derees from Saturn but, as Mercury sets only 23 minutes after sunset and Saturn half an hour later,  they won't be easy to spot very low in the Western sky.

Venus:  in Ophiuchus, moving into Sagittarius on 10th. Starts the month at mag 4.0 and sets about 80 minutes after the Sun.  By the end of November it will have brightened slightly to mag -4.2 and be above the horizon until just over two and a half hours after sunset. It will still be very low in the Western sky, because of the angle of the ecliptic, but is so bright that it should be easily visible from anywhere with a clear Western horizon.
Mars:  in Sagittarius  mag 0.4. Should be visible in the South as the sky darkens.  As it is moving Eastwards against the background stars, it sets around the same time, 21.00, throughout November.  By month end it will have moved into Capricorn and faded slightly to mag 0.6. as its distance from Earth increases.

Jupiter  in Virgo  mag -1.6. A morning object, easily visible in the pre-dawn skies.  At the start of November it rises almost 3 hours before the Sun, increasing to 5 hours by the end, when it will reach an altitude of 23 degrees during astronomical darkness.  On 25th it is just over one and a half degrees from the waning 15% Moon as they appear over the horizon a few minutes after 3am.

Saturn:   in Ophiuchus  mag 0.5. Sets at 18.00 at the start of the month and at 16.30, only half an hour after the Sun, at month end, when it will be very difficult to spot in the twilight.  On 1st it is just 4 degrees N of Venus and the following day lies beween the much brighter planet and the 7% lit moon.

Both of the distant ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, could be be good telescopic targets during HPAG meetings in November  - weather permitting, of course.

Uranus:  in Pisces mag 5.7. Favourable throughout November, at the start it reaches its highest point in the sky a little before 23.00. By month end it is at its highest at 20.45 and sets around 3.45.  It is still at the limits of naked eye visibility  so, if you are lucky enough to be viewing from a very dark sky site, have excellent eyesight - and know where to look - why not have a go? will give you its exact position. An amateur scope will show its greenish coloured disc
Neptune:   in Aquarius  mag 7.9. Not visible to the naked eye but a good amateur scope will show it as a small blue disc.  It is still quite well placed this month, at the start it reaches its highest point soon after 20.00 and sets at 1.25.  On 30th it culminates at 18.08 and sets a little before 23.30.

Meteor Showers

One major shower in November.

Leonids:  active between Nov 5th and Dec 3rd, peak Nov 17th.  ZHR could be as high as 20 but the presence of the bright gibbous moon will interfere and only the brightest will be seen.  These are very fast moving meteors often leaving persistent trains.

Minor showers

Southern Taurids:  still active but have now passed their peak.

The associated Northern Taurids are active between 20th October and 10h December.  Peak 12th November. ZHR 5. These are very bright, slow moving meteors ideal for imaging but this year will be badly affected by the presence of the almost full Moon.  Both Taurid streams are associated with a comet which broke up many thousands of years ago, one of the fragments becoming comet 2P/Encke

November Orionids: Active Nov 14th to Dec 6th.  Peak Nov 28th. ZHR 3. These have a lower rate than the other November showers but this year have the advantage of not being adversely afftected by moonlight, so might be a better bet if you want to spot a few meteors.  The parent comet is thought to be C/1917F1 (Mellish).
The November Orionids and Northern Taurids are both active in late November/early December and have radiants which are quite close together.  However, it should be fairly easy to distinguish between the two as the Orioniids are much faster moving.