Planetary action happens before sunrise this month with an amazing close conjunction of the two brightest planets: Venus and Jupiter.
In early November, at around 6:30 a.m., it is easy to spot Venus low above the horizon. Observers will begin noticing another bright object piercing morning twilight and gaining altitude each morning. This is mighty Jupiter, having recently exited the evening sky and transitioned into the morning sky.
Jupiter creeps closer to Venus until the morning of Nov. 13, when the two come within .3 degrees of each other in the sky. For reference, this is less than the diameter of the full moon. Such proximity makes them easily visible in a pair of binoculars or a telescope at low power. What’s more, all four of Jupiter’s largest moons can be seen lining up next to Jupiter. They include Ganymede and Io below Jupiter and Europa and Calisto above.
These Galilean moons are named for Italian astronomer Galileo who discovered them in 1609. He was the first to observe Jupiter and other worlds through a telescope and make drawings of what he saw. The moons can be seen as white dots in moderately powered binoculars, but a telescope yields a better view.
Up and to the right of the planetary pair of Venus and Jupiter is red Mars, as if watching the action from above. On the morning of Nov. 14, the waning crescent moon hangs above Mars and the next morning slides below. Then on Nov. 16 and 17, the razor-thin crescent moon dips even lower, forming a triangle with Jupiter and Venus, which by this time, have separated some.
Finally, the Leonid meteor shower peaks on the nights of Nov. 17 and 18. This yearly shower stems from the leftover debris of Comet Temple-Tuttle and can produce up to 15 meteors per hour. The best viewing is after midnight. While these meteors will generally emanate from the east, they can be observed anywhere in the sky.
Brad Nuest is space science educator and Scout programs manager at the Cosmosphere.