If you like planets, you’ll need to get up early this month. The most noticeable planet throughout November, 2015, is dazzling Venus. Look east before dawn! You can’t miss it. In that same part of the sky, you’ll notice Jupiter, second-brightest planet. Fainter Mars is also in the picture, in conjunction with Venus in early November. Mercury, though nominally a morning planet at the start of the month, is really transitioning over to the evening sky, so it’s virtually invisible in November. Saturn is the lone evening planet this month, though it’ll be hard to spot in the glare of dusk. Saturn will swing over to the morning sky at the month’s end. Follow the links below to learn more about the November planets.
Saturn – lone evening planet – visible at dusk. In early November 2015, the golden planet Saturn pops into view at dusk/nightfall. At northerly latitudes, Saturn sets before nightfall in early November and sets at sunset by the month’s end. From the Southern Hemisphere, Saturn stays out a bit later, setting shortly after nightfall in early November and at sunset by the month’s end.
From all around the world, Saturn is sinking toward the glare of sunset all month long. That’s happening because Earth is zooming ahead of Saturn in the race of the planets around the sun. Soon, the sun will come between us and the ringed planet by the end of November.
Saturn will disappear from the evening sky by around mid-November 2015 and will reappear in the morning sky toward the latter part of December 2015.
How can you recognize this wonderful planet? It’s golden in color, to the eye. It shines with a steady light. Check the chart above for when Saturn will appear near the moon on or near November 12. If you can identify Saturn, near the moon, on this date, we’ll be imopressed! It’ll even be harder to see the nearby ruddy star Antares, especially at northerly latitudes.
Binoculars don’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings, by the way. For that, you need a small telescope. But binoculars will enhance Saturn’s golden color and Antares’ reddish complexion.
Saturn’s rings are inclined at about 25o from edge-on in November 2015, exhibiting their northern face. A few 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.
Venus brightest object in the east before sunrise. Here’s a very fun observation to make this month: Venus before dawn. Venus is the brightest planet and third-brightest sky object overall, after the sun and moon. When it’s visible, it’s very, very prominent in our sky. So step outside some early morning, and look east. You’ll surely see Venus shining there.
What’s more, this dazzling world will enable you to locate the fainter yet relatively nearby planets Mars and Jupiter in the morning sky. Be sure to use the waning crescent moon to locate Venus (plus Mars and Jupiter) in the morning sky for several days, centered on Saturday, November 7.
You won’t want to miss Venus and the early morning planets, which glorify the predawn darkness all month long. On Tuesday, November 3, Venus and Mars stage their closest conjunction until October 5, 2017. Throughout November, watch Jupiter and Mars climb higher above Venus in the November morning sky, and for Jupiter to pair up with the bright star Spica on and around November 29.
Jupiter second-brightest, east before sunrise Jupiter starts out the month a short hop above Venus and Mars, which are in conjunction on November 3.
Then just keep watching, and witness Jupiter’s quick ascent upward, above Mars and Venus in the morning sky. Around the world, Jupiter rises about 2 to 3 a.m. local time in early November. By the end of the month, Jupiter rises around local midnight at mid-northern latitudes, and roughly one hour after local midnight at temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere.
The waning crescent moon shines close to Jupiter for several mornings, centered on November 6.
If you have binoculars or a telescope, it’s fairly easy to see 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. In September of 2015, however, Jupiter’s moons will have a hard time competing with the sun’s glare in the morning sky.
These moons circle Jupiter around the Jovian equator. In cycles of six years, we view Jupiter’s equator edge-on. So, in 2015, we got to view a number of mutual events involving Jupiter’s moons through a high-powered telescope. Click here or here or here for more details.
Click here for a Jupiter’s moons almanac, courtesy of Sky & Telescope.
Mars and Venus in conjunction early November. Mars is nowhere as bright as Venus or Jupiter. Even so, modestly-bright Mars is easily visible in the predawn sky. Mars shines very close to Venus during the first week of November, and these two worlds are actually in conjunction on Tuesday, November 3. Circle Saturday, November 7 on your calendar, for the waning crescent moon, Mars and Venus will all gather together in the predawn/dawn sky on that date.
After the conjunction of Mars and Venus on November 3, Mars will climb upward, away from Venus. And Jupiter will continue to climb upward, away from Mars. But the planetary line-up will be striking all month long, and you can easily find Mars in between Jupiter and Venus throughout November. Click here for a preview of the November 29 morning sky.
As alluded to before, let the waning crescent moon help guide your eye to Mars in the morning sky for several days, centered Saturday November 7.
Mars will continue to brighten month by month, until the Red Planet culminates in brightness in May, 2016. Believe it or not, Mars will be about as brilliant as Jupiter is now!
Mercury lost in sun’s glare. Mercury is our solar system’s innermost planet and always stays near the sun in our sky. This month Mercury transitions from the morning to evening sky, so it’s essentially lost behind the the sun this month.
Mercury will stay in the morning sky until November 17, 2015. Then it’ll pass into the evening sky, to give both hemispheres a decent evening apparition of Mercury in latter part of December 2015.
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: Venus, Mars and Jupiter adorn the eastern predawn sky all month long. In November 2015, Saturn is the lone evening planet, though quickly fading into the sunset glare.