November nights are long and sometimes rainy, and each year they tend to sap our spirits. But in 2016, if you peer through holes in the clouds, you’ll glimpse a very special full moon, a few planets, and even some springtime constellations.
A supermoon worth seeing
Whenever a full moon occurs when the Moon’s elliptical orbit carries it closest to the Earth, it appears slightly larger than normal, and up to 30% brighter. During the night of November 13 to 14, the Moon will be full just a few hours past perigee, giving rise to a “supermoon”— the largest since 1948! Try to take full advantage of this opportunity, because the next perigean full moon, this size, won’t happen again until 2013.
A final glimpse of the rings
Saturn’s period of visibility nears an end. During the first few days of the month, it can be seen in the fading twilight, right before it sets. On November 2, 45 minutes before sunset, take advantage of a thin crescent moon, low in the southwest, to spot the planet 3 degrees below the lunar crescent. Dazzling Venus will complete a triangle just to the left of the duo.
For observers with a clear south-western horizon, Venus captures more and more attention, especially during the second half of the month, as it gains altitude with each passing day. Others will need some patience! In December, the dazzling planet will rise above any obscuring trees and buildings.
Mars is still visible this November. Throughout the month, the distinct reddish dot shines steadily in the south-western twilight and sets around 10:00 p.m. During the first week, Mars is to the left of the “teapot” in Sagittarius, but on the 8th, the Red Planet enters Capricornus and will be easy to identify among the constellation’s faint stars.
At night’s end, Jupiter rises in turn and is easy to spot in the constellation of Virgo, near Spica. At dawn, on November 25, the waning lunar crescent will be 4 degrees away.
Between summer nostalgia and dreams of green
At the heart of autumn, November nights offer a wide palette of constellations from all four seasons; while we reminiscence about summer and look forward to spring, the long nights are not all dreary.
As evening descends, several summer constellations can be observed in the west. The “Summer Triangle”, a misnomer, is actually visible until about 9:30 p.m. at the end of November. The Milky Way runs through the famous triangle; use it to scan our galaxy with binoculars or a telescope.
In the evening, the autumn constellations begin high in the sky, but they descend westward as the hours pass, giving way to the winter constellations, which steal the show during the latter half of the night. And after 2:00 a.m., night owls (or early risers) can easily see Leo rising in the east. A mid-November meteor shower, the Leonids, appears to radiate from this springtime constellation, but you’ll need some luck and dark skies to see any. In fact, even during the shower’s sparse maximum (10 to 20 meteors per hour), during the night of November 17, the glare of a waning gibbous moon will hamper the show.
Please refer to our seasonal sky map to identify the constellations that are visible during the evening.