This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, November 5th and 6th.
Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended, the Sun sets at 4:43 PM; night falls at 6:19. Dawn breaks at 4:59 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 6:36.
Dusk reveals the planetary lineup, but two planets are difficult to see. Jupiter blazes with minus 1st magnitude, but lies only 2º above the southwestern horizon. It sets at 5:32 PM, and will disappear at mid-month. However, it assists the observer in finding Mercury. This elusive planet made a mad dash around the Sun to appear in our evening sky. However, this is an unfavorable visit; it reaches maximum elongation from the Sun on Tuesday, and soon begins to dive back down. Mercury glows with minus zero magnitude only 3º high and about 7º to Jupiter’s left. Mercury sets at 5:37 PM. Both require an unobstructed view.
Saturn, in Sagittarius, glows with zero magnitude, appears about 15 arc-seconds in size and is about 19º high in the South. This month, it becomes increasingly difficult to get fine views of its rings. Saturn sets at 7:50 PM. Mars, to Saturn’s left, occupies Capricornus. These days find it next to the Goat-Fish’s tail – the star Deneb Algiedi. Mars dims this month from minus 0.5 to minus 0.1 magnitude and shrinks from 12 arc-seconds to 9. Mars is moderately high in the southern sky, appears about 85% lit and 11 arc-seconds in size. The Red Planet sets at 11:46 PM.
Nightfall reveals two more planets. Neptune, in Aquarius, was already up by sunset. It shines with 7th magnitude and is a tiny 2.3 arc-seconds in size. It is best observed at 7:56 PM, when it is 35º high and near the star Hydor; it sets at 1:31 AM. Uranus, in Pisces, is brighter, a bit larger and near the star Omicron Piscium. Uranus is best observed at 10:46 PM and sets at 5:30 AM. Both planets require finder charts from astronomical media.
The Moon rises at 5:09 AM on Tuesday. It is about only 1.7% illuminated, shines with zero magnitude and 31 minutes in size. Only 8º high in the east, it becomes a challenge object. Wednesday, the Moon turns “New” at 11:02 AM.
Early sky watchers can witness the variable star Algol disappear at 3:24 AM on Wednesday. They should begin their session about 2 hours before and end 2 hours after the occultation.
Two pre-dawn comets attract out attention. Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner is still visible in Canis Major. Recent observations place it at 9th magnitude near the Great Dog’s tail. While 21P is leaving the scene, Comet 46P/Wirtanen is approaching Earth. This comet, in the constellation Fornax, also shines with 9th magnitude. The comet’s track heads toward Taurus, and is closest to the Sun on December 12th. It is expected to be visible through the new year. Observers should consult online media for sky charts of both comets.
By midnight, the constellations Orion and Taurus are quite high. If a meteor streaks across the sky from the Northeast, chances are it belongs to the South Taurid Meteor shower. This shower lasts most of November. The stream of meteors is rather weak – the debris of periodic Comet Encke. Taurids are rather slow, traveling about 31 kilometers per second, but very bright. Their radiant lies near the beautiful Pleiades star cluster; bright meteors seem to streak in different directions from that point. The Taurids reach their maximum Monday afternoon; experts expect about 10 meteors per hour.