The night sky in November 2017

posted 31 Oct 2017, 13:53 by Pete Collins
by Anne Holt

Sunrise   1st:   07.08       30th:  08.00
Sunset    1st:  16.36        30th   15.54

Astronomical darkness
1st:  18.34  -  05.11       31st   18.02  -  05.53

Full Moon      05.22 on Nov 4th
New Moon     11.42 on Nov 18th


Not much in the way of highlights this month, the main one being that we have lots of astronomical darkness - about ten and a half hours on 1st and and almost 12 hours at the end of the month.  And it starts at a reasonable time now we've gone back to proper time.   The planets are still not great for naked eye observers,  Venus and Saturn are past their best, Mars and Jupiter start November badly placed but their positions improve over the month.  We have a reasonable meteor shower in the Leonids, a few minor meteor showers and several very faint comets, most of which are only visible in fair sized scopes.


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: in Libra, mag -0.4. At the start of November it sets only a few minutes after the Sun and is not visible.  Moves into Scorpio on 6th then spends most of the month along the border of that and Ophiuchus before crossing into Sagittarius on 29th.  Reaches greatest Eastern elongation around midnight on 23rd/24th.  On 30th it sets at 16.48, almost an hour after the Sun and will have dimmed slightly to mag -0.2.  On this day it is 3 degrees South of Saturn, very low in the SW just after Sunset and still not easy to spot.

Venus: in Virgo,  mag -3.9. On 1st it rises at 05.22, less than 2 hours before Sunrise, and may be visible for a short time before the sky gets too bright.  On the morning of 13th it is only 16 arcminutes from Jupiter, low in the SE. It moves into Libra on 14th.  At the end of the month it rises only 70 minutes before the Sun and is not easy to see, despite its brightness.
Mars:  in Virgo, mag 1.8. A morning object, appearing low in the sky before Sunrise.  On 1st it rises at 03.50 and might be spotted before the sky begins to brighten.  On the morning of 15th it is 3 degrees from the 9% lit Moon.   Its position improves during the month, by 31st it  rises about 4 hours before the Sun. Because of its apparent Eastward motion against the background stars, the planet rises around 4am throughout November but the Sun is rising a little later each day so the difference is increasing.  It is still on the far side of its orbit, relative to Earth, so is not particularly bright and shows only a small disc when seen through a scope.

Jupiter:  in Virgo, mag -1.7. Another morning object whose position is improving during November.  On 1st it rises only half an hour before Sunrise. It moves into Libra on 15th, and rises at 6am.  The following morning Jupiter, Venus and the 1% lit Moon form a triangle which may be seen very low in the ESE at about 06.30 - if you are viewing from a site with a very low, unobstructed horizon.  On 30th  it rises just over 2 and a half hours before the Sun - about 30 mins before astronomical darkness ends.

Saturn:  in Ophiuchus, mag 0.5. Unlike Jupiter, Saturn's position deteriorates during November.   On 1st it sets 2hrs 14 minutes after the Sun, 15 minutes after the sky gets fully dark.  On 20th it moves into Sagittarius and is less than 5 degrees East of the 4% lit Moon, very low in the West, setting at 7.42pm.  At the end of the month it sets only 75 minutes after the Sun and is not bright enough to be seen in the twilit sky.

For those with telescopes, the 2 ice giants are a much better prospect.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.7. Still a good binocular target.  It's the only planet currently above the celestial equator.  On 1st it reaches is highest point in the sky (46 degrees) just before 11pm and sets at 6am, about an hour before Sunrise.  On 30th it culminates at 9pm and sets at 4am.   For those with perfect eyesight, who are lucky enough to be visiting (or live in) a dark sky site, now is a good time to try to spot it with the naked eye.  If you have average sight and live in the Manchester area you will need good binoculars.  A telescope will show the small blue/green disc.  If we get some clear nights over the next few weeks we should be able to see it through the scopes at HPAG meetings.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9. Best seen in the early part of the night this month. On 1st it culminates at 20.15 and sets soon after 1.30,  by 30th it culminates at 18.22, a few minutes before astronomical darkness begins, and sets 20 minutes before midnight.  Could possibly be seen in very good binoculars, under ideal conditions, but its blue coloured disc can only be seen through a telescope.

Recommended websites for exact positions of all planets, minor planets and asteroids are:

Meteor Showers

No major showers this month, but we have one reasonable one.

Leonids:  active November 6th to 30th, peak 18th midnight till dawn,  ZHR 10. These are very fast moving (44 miles/second) bright meteors, often leaving trails. The parent comet is 65P Tempel-Tuttle.  The Moon won't interfere, as it doesn't rise until 6am on 17th.  However, the weather probably will interfere!

Minor Showers

Northern Taurids: active Oct 20th - Dec 10th.  Peak 11/12th  ZHR 5. Bright, slow moving meteors, associated with the Southern Taurids, they are thought to have originated as one shower, which later broke into 2 separate streams.  Parent comet for both is the predecessor of Comet Encke - a large comet which broke up, one piece becoming the comet., another generating the meteors. This year the shower is probably best seen before the Moon rises at midnight. In late October and early November, when both the S & N Taurids are active, there is sometimes a big increase in the number of fireballs seen.  Maybe not this year but still worth looking.

November Orionids:  active Nov 14th to Dec 6th,  peak 28th.  ZHR 3. The Moon sets just before 2am on 28th, so the best time to see them is between then and around 6am, when the sky begins to brighten. They are debris from comet C1917F1(Mellish). The radiant of these is only a few degrees East of that of  the N Taurids but it should be easy to distinguish between meteors from the 2 showers as the Orionids are much faster moving.

Alpha Monocerids:  active Nov 13th to Dec 2nd,  peak 21st, ZHR 3 -5. This shower is mainly known for its occasional very short spectacular outbursts - the last, in 1995, saw about 35 meteors in 5 minutes.  The radiant is very low from our latitude, so the actual number seen is likely to be fewer than 3.

And finally - on the night of 30th Nov/1st Dec we could have a shower that doesn't even have a name.  The Earth is expected to pass through debris from Comet 46P/Wirtanen, producing some fairly slow moving meteors.  The radiant is in Pisces - and that's all I could find out about that one.


There are still a few faint fuzzy blobs around, none naked eye, unfortunately.

2017/01 (ASSASN) moves through Camelopardalis and Cepheus towards Polaris. Best seen in the middle of the month, when it will be about 10 degrees above Polaris at midnight. 
24P Schaumasse and 62P/Tsuchinan are both in Leo, moving into Virgo, following very similar paths,  with 62P about 2 weeks behind.
On 3rd, 24P/Schaumasse passes just south of the Triplet Galaxy cluster but the Moon will interfere.  24P/Tsuchinan passes between M96 and M105 on the morning of 11th.
A very good site for details of all visible comets, including magnitude and exact position on any night, is