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November guide to the bright planets

As November opens, Venus and Mars are up before dawn. Jupiter peeps over the sunrise horizon after November’s 1st week and sweeps spectacularly near Venus. Saturn and Mercury are evening planets.

Let the moon help guide your eye to the planet Saturn (and possibly Mercury) for several days, centered on or near November 20. Read more.

Two of the five bright planets – Saturn and Mercury – are evening planets, but only Saturn is clearly visible after nightfall in early November, 2017. Mercury is lost in the sunset glare during the first half of the month and will likely be seen after mid-month. The other three bright planets – dazzlingly bright Venus, extremely bright Jupiter and super-faint Mars – adorn the morning sky, before sunup. Venus and Jupiter will have a spectacular conjunction – albeit low in the sky – around November 13. Follow the links below to learn more about the planets in November 2017.

Venus, brilliant in east at morning dawn

Jupiter climbs out of the glare of sunrise

Mars visible in eastern predawn sky

Saturn out from dusk until early evening

Seek for Mercury after sunset

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And wow! Just as Venus and Jupiter are closest, the moon will be there, too. Let the moon be your guide to the early morning planets on November 13, 14, 15 and 16. Read more.

Venus, brilliant in east at morning dawn Venus is always brilliant and beautiful, the brightest celestial body to light up our sky besides the sun and moon. Although it’s lower in the sky now than it was a month ago, if you’re an early bird, you can count on Venus to be your morning companion throughout November, 2017.

Although Venus will remain in the morning sky for the rest of this year, this dazzling planet will sink closer and closer to the glare of sunrise over the next two months.

As Venus sinks downward in our morning sky (really, moving behind the sun as seen from our earthly perspective), Jupiter will be climbing upward, out of the dawn.

Watch for Venus and Jupiter to have a spectacular conjunction in the morning sky on or around November 13. Around that same time, enjoy the picturesque displays of the waning crescent moon with Venus, Jupiter and Mars. the moon and Venus will be closest on the mornings of November 16 and November 17.

Jenney Disimon in Sabah, Borneo captured Venus before dawn. It’s easy to spot, the brightest object in our sky besides the sun and moon.

Venus reached a milestone as the morning “star” when it swung out to its greatest elongation from the sun on June 3, 2017. At this juncture, Venus was farthest from the sun on our sky’s dome, and a telescope showed Venus as half-illuminated in sunshine, like a first quarter moon. For the rest of the year, Venus will wax toward full phase.

Click here to know Venus’s exact phase at present, remembering to select Venus as your object of interest.

From mid-northern latitudes (U.S. and Europe), Venus rises about one and one-half before the sun in early November, and about 45 minutes before sunrise by the month’s end.

At temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere (Australia and South Africa), Venus rises about 40 minutes before sunup in early November. By the month’s end, that’ll taper to about 30 minutes.

Click here for recommended almanacs; they can provide rising times of Venus in your sky.

The chart below helps to illustrate why we sometimes see Venus in the evening, and sometimes before dawn.

Earth's and Venus' orbits

The Earth and Venus orbit the sun counterclockwise as seen from earthly north. When Venus is to the east (left) of the Earth-sun line, we see Venus as an evening “star” in the west after sunset. After Venus reaches its inferior conjunction, Venus then moves to the west (right) of the Earth-sun line, appearing as a morning “star” in the east before sunrise.

This chart is so special that we’re using it twice in this post! Don’t miss the Venus/Jupiter conjunction on or around November 13, 2017. Read more.

Jupiter climbs out of the glare of sunrise. Jupiter’s very recent conjunction with the sun – when it was traveling more or less behind the sun from Earth – happened on October 26, 2017. That event marked Jupiter’s official transition out of the evening sky and into the morning sky. Look for the king planet to creep back into the morning sky – appearing as a strangely bright object low on the sunrise horizon – after the first week of November, 2017.

By around mid-month, a wonderful event will occur! Jupiter will join up with Venus to stage a close conjunction in the eastern morning sky on November 13. It’ll be amazing to see Venus, the sky’s brightest planet, and Jupiter, the second-brightest planet, presenting their closest conjunction since August 27, 2016!

What’s more, the moon will join the show. Let the waning crescent moon guide your eye to Jupiter (and Venus) on or before the mornings of November 16 and November 17.

After the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on November 13, look for Venus to sink into the glare of sunrise and for Jupiter to climb away from the twilight glare. For the rest of this year, Jupiter will close the gap between itself and the red planet Mars, which appears higher up in the November morning sky. Jupiter will meet up with Mars, to stage a stunningly close conjunction in the morning sky on January 7, 2018.

From mid-northern latitudes, Jupiter rises about one-half hour before the sun in early November. By late November, Jupiter will rise about two hours before sunrise.

Click here for an almanac telling you Jupiter’s rising time in your sky.

Fernando Roquel Torres in Caguas, Puerto Rico captured Jupiter, the Great Red Spot (GRS) and all 4 of its largest moons – the Galilean satellites – on the date of Jupiter’s 2017 opposition (April 7).

Jupiter starts the month of November, 2017 in front of the constellation Virgo, fairly close to Virgo’s sole 1st-magnitude star, called Spica.

By mid-month, Jupiter will enter into the constellation Libra.

If you have binoculars or a telescope, it’s fairly easy to see Jupiter’s four major moons, which look like pinpricks of light all on or near the same plane. They are often called the Galilean moons to honor Galileo, who discovered these great Jovian moons in 1610. In their order from Jupiter, these moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

These moons orbit Jupiter around the Jovian equator. In cycles of six years, we view Jupiter’s equator edge-on. So, in 2015, we were able to view a number of mutual events involving Jupiter’s moons, through high-powered telescopes. Starting in late 2016, Jupiter’s axis began tilting enough toward the sun and Earth so that the farthest of these four moons, Callisto, has not been passing in front of Jupiter or behind Jupiter, as seen from our vantage point. This will continue for a period of about three years, during which time Callisto is perpetually visible to those with telescopes, alternately swinging above and below Jupiter as seen from Earth.

Click here for a Jupiter’s moons almanac, courtesy of skyandtelescope.com.

Mars, Mercury, Earth’s moon and the dwarf planet Ceres. Mars is smaller than Earth, but bigger than our moon. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA.

Let the waning crescent moon guide your eye to the planet Mars on the mornings of November 14 and 15. Read more.

Mars visible in eastern predawn sky. Mars transitioned out of the evening sky and into the morning sky on July 27, 2017, at which juncture Mars was on the far side of the sun at what astronomers call superior conjunction.

Look for Mars to rise in the east before dawn’s first light. Mars is the only one of the three morning planets – Venus, Mars and Jupiter – to grace the predawn sky throughout the month. Jupiter begins the month deeply buried in the glow of twilight whereas Venus ends the month deeply buried in the twilight glare.

It’s best to look for Mars before dawn (approximately one and one-half hours before sunrise) because this second-magnitude gem is only modestly bright right now. Mars is nowhere as brilliant as Venus or Jupiter, which are easily visible in a twilight sky.

Be sure to let the waning crescent moon help guide your eye to Mars on the mornings of November 14 and 15.

Exactly one year after Mars’s superior conjunction on July 27, 2017, Mars will swing to opposition on July 27, 2018. This will be Mars’s best opposition since its historically close opposition on August 28, 2003. In fact, Mars will become the fourth-brightest heavenly body to light up the sky in July 2018, after the sun, moon and the planet Venus. It’s not often that Mars outshines Jupiter, normally the fourth-brightest celestial object.

James Martin in Albuquerque, New Mexico caught this wonderful photo of Saturn on its June 15, 2017 opposition.

Let the moon help guide your eye to the planet Saturn (and possibly Mercury) for several days, centered on or near November 20. Read more.

Saturn out from dusk until early evening. On these November evenings, look for Saturn as soon as darkness falls. It’s in the southwest sky at dusk or nightfall. Your best view of Saturn, from either the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, is around nightfall because that’s when Saturn is highest up for the night.

From mid-northern latitudes (US and Europe), Saturn sets about one hour after nightfall in early November and around nightfall (1.5 hours after sunset) by the month’s end.

From temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere (South Africa, southern Australia), Saturn sets about 2 hours after nightfall in early November and around nightfall by the month’s end.

From anywhere worldwide, this will be the final full month for seeing Saturn in the evening sky before it transitions over into the morning sky in December 2017.

Be sure to let the moon guide you to Saturn (and possibly Mercury, which lurks beneath Saturn) for several days, centered on or near November 20. Saturn and Mercury will be in conjunction on November 28.

Saturn, the farthest world that you can easily view with the eye alone, appears golden in color. It shines with a steady light.

Binoculars don’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings, by the way, although binoculars will enhance Saturn’s color. To see the rings, you need a small telescope. A telescope will also reveal one or more of Saturn’s many moons, most notably Titan.

Saturn’s rings are now inclined at nearly 27o from edge-on, exhibiting their northern face. In 2017, the north side of the rings opened up most widely since since the last grand opening in 1988. The next maximum exposure of the north side of Saturn’s rings will take place in 2046.

As with so much in space (and on Earth), the appearance of Saturn’s rings from Earth is cyclical. In the year 2025, the rings will appear edge-on as seen from Earth. After that, we’ll begin to see the south side of Saturn’s rings, to increase to a maximum inclination of 27o by May 2032.

Click here for recommended almanacs; they can help you know when the planets rise, transit and set in your sky.

Wow! Wonderful shot of Mercury – over the Chilean Andes – January 2017, from Yuri Beletsky Nightscapes.

Let the moon help guide your eye to the planet Mercury on November 19, 20 and 21. Read more.

Seek for Mercury after sunset. This apparition of Mercury in the November evening sky greatly favors the Southern Hemisphere. Even so, we at mid-northern latitudes have a fairly decent shot of catching this world in the second half of the month.

Mercury is tricky, even when it becomes visible. If you look too early, Mercury will still be obscured by evening twilight; if you look too late, it will have followed the sun beneath the horizon. Watch for Mercury low in the sky, and near the sunset point on the horizon, being mindful of Mercury’s setting time.

Let the thin waxing crescent moon help guide your eye to Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet, on the evenings of November 19, 20 and 21. Then watch for the conjunction of Mercury and Saturn on November 28.

What do we mean by bright planet? By bright planet, we mean any solar system planet that is easily visible without an optical aid and that has been watched by our ancestors since time immemorial. In their outward order from the sun, the five bright planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These planets actually do appear bright in our sky. They are typically as bright as – or brighter than – the brightest stars. Plus, these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars. You can spot them, and come to know them as faithful friends, if you try.

From late January, and through mid-February, 5 bright planets were visible at once in the predawn sky. This image is from February 8, 2016.  It's by Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona.  View on Flickr.

This image is from February 8, 2016. It shows all 5 bright planets at once. Photo by our friend Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona.

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

Bottom line: In November 2017, two of the five bright planets – Saturn and Mercury – reign as evening planets, and the other three bright planets – Venus, Mars and Jupiter – are found in the morning sky, before sunup.

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Bruce McClure

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