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Sky Diary

The Sky at Night

Winter is really making its entrance to the sky by November. During summer months the constellations are difficult to see because of the brightness of our northern sky but now that the sky is dark by 6pm we can see the glory of the winter constellations. Pegasus is still high towards the south followed by Perseus and Auriga with its very bright star, Capella. By about 10pm, Gemini, the twins, will be seen rising over the eastern horizon, their heads marked by the bright stars Castor and Pollux. If your eastern horizon is low you may catch sight of Betelgeuse and the three stars of Orion's belt as they rise, then we will know that winter has indeed arrived.

Given a reasonably cloud free day, an unusual event takes place on the 11th November. This is a transit of the planet Mercury across the face of the Sun. Transits of Mercury only take place 13 or 14 times each century when the small dark spot of the planet can be seen to slowly cross the Sun over a few hours. Before going any further, anyone wishing to see this event should be warned of the risk to eyesight if observation is attempted without suitable eye protection. Safe solar filters and glasses can be obtained from most suppliers of astronomical equipment. However, the disc of Mercury as it crosses the Sun is only about 10 arc seconds in diameter and it is unlikely to be seen with the unaided eye. A telescope modified to project the image of the Sun is probably the safest way to view the event or a telescope fitted with a suitable filter over the objective lens, not one which can be inserted into an eyepiece. Mercury will make contact with the Sun's limb at 12.35pm and will cross to near the centre of the Sun at 3.20pm. By this time the Sun will only be at an elevation of 5º towards the south-west. The Sun will set at 4.10pm but Mercury will remain on its face until 6.04pm, so the last part of the transit will be lost to us in the UK.

The Leonid meteor shower reaches a peak at around 11pm on the 17th November. The last quarter Moon will tend to interfere by hiding many of the meteors because of its brightness which will be at its worst after midnight. On an average year there is unlikely to be more than 15 Leonids seen per hour near maximum but in exceptional years, and at 33 year intervals, there have been 'meteor storms' when, for a short time, a rate of thousands per hour has been recorded. Such a display was seen in 1966 but it is difficult to predict when the next Leonid storm may occur and it is very unlikely that will be in November this year.

The Planets

Mercury

Mercury

Mercury moves westwards towards the Sun and crosses its face on the 11th November. It then continues westwards to be seen low in the south-east before sunrise from around the 20th until the end of the month.

Venus

Venus

Venus is not well placed for observation but may just be seen low in the south-west after sunset from around the 17th until the end of November. It will become brighter as it moves from the twilight area but will remain very low in the sky.

Mars

Mars

Mars for most of the month will be lost in morning twilight.

Jupiter

Jupiter

Jupiter is all but lost in the twilight of the setting Sun during November but will be close to Venus on the 23/24th of the month. It will be less bright than Venus and more difficult to spot.

Saturn

Saturn

Saturn can be found low in the south south-west after sunset. The planet will set at around 7pm.

The Moon

The Moon

The Moon is at first quarter on the 4th, full on the 12th, last quarter on the 19th and new on the 26th November.

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