A parade of planets will grace the November sky this year and keep amateur astronomers gazing skyward over several nights.
Remember that the switch from standard to daylight savings time takes place the night of November 2 to 3, so don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour on Saturday night.
Let’s start with Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun and the indisputable “star” of November. The 11th will be a truly exceptional day, as Mercury makes a rare transit across the face of the Sun. From Earth, it will be like gazing at an annular solar eclipse by Mercury. However, unlike solar eclipses when the Moon covers the entire Sun, the apparent diameter of Mercury is much too small to block out any significant portion of our star. The planet is actually so tiny that you’ll need a telescope—equipped with a solar filter to avoid permanent eye damage—to see it pass in front of the Sun.
Whether or not you own a telescope, you can always head to the Planétarium Rio Tinto Alcan on Monday, November 11 between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., to observe this fascinating 5½-hour event in the company of our science interpreters and astronomers. But don’t miss this transit of Mercury because you’ll need to wait 30 years before seeing another one from Québec, on May 7, 2049!
For more information on this transit, check out our special webpage: https://espacepourlavie.ca/en/visibility-transit-mercury-2019. We hope to see many of you at this free Planétarium event!
Now let’s move on to Venus as we continue to explore the parade of planets above our heads. By mid-November, Venus will stay out for nearly one hour after night falls. The planet actually appears as soon as, or even a little before, the Sun disappears and is so bright that it can be seen in full daylight! To find Venus, pick a location with a clear view of the southwestern horizon, watch the setting Sun as it dips below the horizon, and you’ll see the very brilliant planet slightly to the left of the Sun’s last position, just a few degrees higher. A sparkling diamond visible in the gathering darkness.
Trailing close behind, to the left of Venus, you’ll find the slightly dimmer but still spectacularly bright Jupiter, visible throughout November. And it’s well worth checking out the antics of its four largest moons with binoculars or a small telescope—a performance first observed by Galileo over 400 years ago! Look to the skies as soon as the Sun sets.
Then comes the magnificent Saturn, higher up and to the left of Jupiter, with its mysterious rings easily visible through a small telescope.
The Moon as a celestial guide
You can use the moon as a sort of giant beacon to easily spot these planets. Around 8 p.m. on November 1st, the Moon approaches Saturn from the right.
The November parade will be in full swing on the 28th: Just after sunset at about 5 p.m., you’ll have a chance to see Jupiter low on the horizon, with Venus immediately to its left, a thin crescent Moon just above Venus, and Saturn a little farther to the left of the Moon. A convergence of three planets and our natural satellite!
And finally, at the same time on the 29th, the three lovely planets stay relatively put, while the slightly larger crescent Moon cozies up to Saturn.
Clear skies, and hope to meet you on November 11 at the Planétarium!