This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, November Second and Third written by Joe Slomka.
Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended, the Sun sets at 4:47 PM; night falls at 6:22. Dawn breaks at 4:55 AM and ends with Sunrise at 6:31.
The darkening sky reveals only one bright planet – Saturn. During Civil Twilight, Saturn is seven degrees above the western horizon. Earth’s turbulent atmosphere ruins views of its ring system; still, a binocular observer can find it amid the solar glare before it sets at 6:06 PM.
Nightfall unmasks the dim planets Neptune and Uranus. Neptune rises first and is still located in Aquarius. It is highest at about 6:30 PM. Uranus rises next, but is brighter in Pisces. It is best viewed at about 10 PM. Neptune sets after 1 AM and Uranus hangs on until 4:38 AM.
Asteroid 4Vesta is also visible during late evening. It hovers about two degrees from the star Iota Ceti and is best observed about 9:20 PM. All three objects require finder charts from astronomy magazines, website and apps.
By midnight, the constellations Orion and Taurus are relatively high. If a meteor streaks across the sky from the Northeast, chances are it belongs to the Taurid Meteor shower. This shower lasts most of November. The stream of meteors is rather weak – the debris of periodic Comet Encke. Taurids are relatively 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. Even the bright Moon will not hinder the frequent bright fireballs for which the Taurids are famous.
Midnight also sees Moonrise. The Last Quarter Moon rises in Cancer at 10:42 PM Monday. It rises at 11:40 PM on Tuesday in Leo. The Moon remains up for the rest of the night.
Astronomical Dawn sees the rise of three bright planets. For the past month, we have been tracking the progress of Jupiter, Venus and Mars. These two dawns now see Jupiter alone by Leo’s hind foot, while Venus and Mars experience their very close third conjunction in Virgo. Tuesday finds Venus and Mars the closest they will be – only a half-degree apart. Wednesday finds them about three-quarters of a degree separated. Venus is also pulling away from Jupiter. The once compact cluster is now too large for binoculars; Venus lies seven degrees from Jupiter on Tuesday’s Dawn, and eight degrees on Wednesday.
Mercury brings up the rear and presents our challenge object for the week. Mercury rises about 5:44 AM but only appears about three degrees above the eastern horizon. It sinks daily into the Sun’s glare. An observer must have an unobstructed horizon and probably binoculars if there is any change of observing this elusive planet. Do not mistake the bright star Spica for nearby Mercury. Mercury is lower and dimmer than first magnitude Spica.