November: Evening and Morning Planets

November 2012

Evening and Morning Planets

By Calvin L. Chrisman

There will be three bright planets to watch during November; one in the evening and two for early risers. Jupiter rises in the east in the early evening and will be high in the sky during the mid- to late evening by month’s end. It is approaching opposition to the Sun, which means that it is directly opposite the Sun from our perspective and therefore extremely bright. It will dominate the night sky.

Jupiter, the king of the planets, named after the king of the Roman gods, is a giant gas ball (mostly hydrogen and helium) and is the largest of the planets. As you look at it, it is amazing to think that, even though Jupiter appears to be only a bright point of light, it is 318 times the mass of the Earth. It is 5.2 times farther from the Sun than we are which accounts for this perception of small size. As of this writing, we know of 67 moons orbiting Jupiter and a faint ring system that is not perceptible from Earth. Seen through a telescope, one of the best-known features of Jupiter is its “Giant Red Spot”, which is actually a (very permanent) super hurricane in Jupiter’s atmosphere with winds of up to 400 mph. The Red Spot is four times the size of the Earth and was first seen in 1664.

If you are an early riser, you won’t be able to miss Venus in the eastern sky before dawn. It will precede the Sun by almost three hours riding high and bright in the early morning hours. As the month passes, it will move closer to the Sun, rising a bit later each day, but it will be on its way to a spectacular conjunction with Saturn just before month’s end. It will be worth your time to set an alarm and brew some coffee if the weather is clear on the early morning of November 26. Fourth-five minutes before dawn, the two planets will pass each other by less than one degree. Both will be beautifully bright and will present a stunning sight to the naked eye and will be close enough to be viewed together in most telescopes. Venus (which has phased similar to the Moon) will appear slightly out-of-round and much brighter than Saturn. Saturn’s rings will be nicely visible and will be tilted more than they have been in the last six years.

Following this conjunction, Mercury will appear below the two other planets at the very end of the month. It will appear to the lower left and farther down the sky from Venus and Saturn.

Clear Skies!

 

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