Mars pops into view as soon as darkness falls, though rather low in the southwest sky, throughout November 2014. Catch the red planet at nightfall because this world sets by mid-evening, or around 8 p.m. in November and December at mid-northern latitudes. Although Saturn and Venus are both evening objects as we enter into the month of November, both worlds sit too close to the glare of sunset to be easily visible. In fact, Saturn passes into the morning sky on November 18 (around the time of the Leonid meteor shower) and should be visible before dawn by early December 2014. Venus probably won’t be first visible at evening dusk until December 2014. Jupiter becomes an evening planet later this month in the sense that it rises before midnight, though it’s most easily viewed in the predawn and dawn hours.
Mercury and Jupiter star as this month’s morning planets. Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the rising sun on November 1, 2014. At mid-northern latitudes, Mercury rises above the eastern horizon a whopping 90 minutes before sunrise during the first week of November, featuring Mercury’s best morning apparition of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Jupiter rises in the east at about midnight in early November, and around 10 p.m. by the month’s end. Once Jupiter rises, this brilliant world stays out until dawn, and reaches its highest point point in the sky shortly before sunrise. Look for the last quarter moon near Jupiter in the morning hours on and near November 14.
Special sky events coming up in November 2014:
Mars visible from evening dusk until mid-evening. Although the red planet Mars is getting dimmer as it lags behind us in its larger and slower orbit, Mars nonetheless remains moderately bright throughout November 2014. This ruddy world still shines as brilliantly as as 1st-magnitude star. Mars starts the month and ends the month in the constellation Sagittarius, and then enters the constellation Capricornus by early December 2014.
At mid-northern latitudes, Mars sets about 3 hours after the sun all month long.
Saturn fades into November evening dusk. This world fades into the glare of sunset and then enters the morning sky in the second half of November. You probably won’t see the ringed planet in the predawn/dawn sky until December 2014.
Binoculars don’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings. For that, you need a small telescope. Early December will probably present your first opportunity to view Saturn in the morning sky, which might become a decent telescopic object by late December. Saturn’s rings are inclined at about 23o from edge-on in November 2014, exhibitng their northern face. Several years from now, in October 2017, the rings will open most widely, displaying a maximum inclination of 27o. 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.
At mid-northern latitudes, Saturn sets about 45 minutes after sunset in early November, and rises about one hour before the sun by the month’s end.
Venus lost in sun’s glare in November. Venus transitioned from the morning to the evening sky in October 2014. However, Venus hovers close to the setting sun all through November, and probably won’t become visible at dusk until December 2014.
Mercury at dawn in early November. in late October/early November Mercury rises more than one and one-half hours before the sun at mid-northern latitudes, to present the Northern Hemisphere’s best morning apparition of Mercury for the year. Mercury will reach its greatest elongation from the rising sun on November 1, 2014.
Jupiter in predawn/dawn sky all month Jupiter had a wonderful conjunction with Venus – the year’s closest of any two planets – on the morning of August 18, 2014. But Jupiter now shines high in the sky at dawn while Venus sits in the glare of the sun. Jupiter lords over the morning sky right now, rising at late evening, or close to midnight all month long. Look for the moon near Jupiter on the nights of November 12-13 and November 13-14.
If you have binoculars or a telescope, be sure to check out Jupiter’s four major moons, which look like pinpricks of light 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. Io and Europa are about the size of Earth’s moon while the diameters of Ganymede and Callisto are about one and one-half times greater. Because these moons move quickly around Jupiter, their positions vary considerably from night to night. Click here for a Jupiter’s moons almanac, courtesy of Sky & Telescope.
Like Earth’s moon, one side of Jupiter’s moons perpetually faces its parent planet whereas the opposite side always remains the far side. That is because of synchronous rotation – whereby the moon’s rotational period equals its orbital period. In other words, the moon rotates on its axis and circles its parent planet in the same period of time. Interestingly, the three inner moons – Ganymede, Europa and Io – exhibit a 1:2:4 orbital resonance, meaning that Ganymede orbits Jupiter one time for every two times that Europa does, and every four times that Io does.
What do we mean by visible planet? By visible 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 visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These planets are visible in our sky because their disks reflect sunlight, and these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars. They tend to be bright! You can spot them, and come to know them as faithful friends, if you try.
Bottom line: In November 2014 Mars lights up the early evening hours; Jupiter is out from midnight till dawn; and Mercury is found low in the east as darkness gives way to dawn. This month, Saturn and Venus are lost in the sun’s glare.