Look Up At The Night Sky (November 2020)

Here’s our list of celestial events you’ll be able to see during the month of November. It will be an exciting month for viewing stunning planets, multiple meteor showers, and a full Moon. Be sure to bookmark this page and refer to it all month long!

Take note that we sometimes will use angular degrees to define the separation between two objects, such as (for example) a bright planet and the Moon. Keep in mind that the width of your clenched fist, held at arm’s length, measures roughly 10°.

When we speak of magnitude, we are referring to the brightness of an object, the lower the figure of magnitude, the brighter the object. The brightest stars are zero and first magnitude. Under a dark, clear sky, the faintest objects that you can see with just your eyes are fifth or sixth magnitude. Objects with negative magnitudes are the brightest. Sirius, the brightest star, is -1.4. Venus can get as bright as -4.8. A full Moon is -12.7 and the Sun is a blindingly bright -26.7!

All times are listed in Eastern Time for the Northern Hemisphere.

November 5-12—The South and North Taurid Meteor Showers will be most active during this one-week time period. If there were no moonlight, an observer after midnight would count up to 10 per hour. The Taurids tend to have a higher percentage of fireballs than other showers do, and emanate from two spots in the sky. One is located near the Pleiades star cluster and the other near the star Lambda (λ) Tauri. This year, the Moon will be a waning gibbous on the 5th, so its light will seriously reduce the number of shooting stars seen, but by the 12th, it will have slimmed to a crescent phase and will be much less of a hindrance. Observers can also take advantage of the unusually long duration of the shower and avoid the Moon entirely. The Earth takes at least two months to traverse the Taurid stream, believed to have become diffuse through great age.

November 8—Last Quarter Moon at 8:46 a.m. In this phase, the Moon appears as a half Moon due to the direct sunlight; the illuminated part is decreasing toward the new Moon phase.

November 10Mercury enjoys its very best morning apparition of 2020 this month. On the 3rd, it will appear as a star of magnitude +0.6 rising in tandem with the bluish 1st-magnitude star, Spica, low in the east-southeast about 40 minutes before sunrise. Each morning thereafter it rises a couple of minutes earlier, climbs noticeably higher and also gets noticeably brighter. This morning it reaches its greatest elongation west of the Sun; its angular distance measuring 19°. For several mornings both before and after this date, Mercury will appear to rise prior to the onset of twilight, in a dark sky, about 1 hour 45 minutes before sunup. At a brilliant magnitude of -0.6 it will be easily recognized about a dozen degrees to the lower left of dazzling Venus. After greatest elongation, Mercury will slide rapidly back toward the Sun. By the 24th it’s again rising about 75 minutes before sunrise, but still should be bright enough (-0.8) to be seen against the bright twilight glow. Thereafter it will disappear into the glare of the rising Sun. Superior conjunction occurs on December 19th.

Mercury will reach superior conjunction next month.

November 12—Venus continues its slow slide down from its late summer peak of prominence this month. On the 1st, it rises nearly 3 hours before sunrise, but by month’s end this has been reduced to about 2 hours 15 minutes. It also does not seem to glow with quite the dazzling radiance that it once had as it recedes from the Earth. By midmonth it shines at magnitude -3.9, still far outshining any other star or planet, yet now appearing only about half as bright as it was back in mid-July. This morning you’ll find it glowing 6½° below a lovely waning crescent moon. On the 15th, it will pass 4° to the upper left of Spica.

November 13—At around 5 a.m. local time, an even slimmer crescent Moon—less than two days from new phase—will be positioned about 5½° above and slightly to the right of Mercury.

November 15 —New Moon at 12:07 a.m. In this phase, the Moon is not illuminated by direct sunlight and is completely invisible to the naked eye.

November 17—For a few days around this date the sharply defined Leonid meteor shower flares up, but the shower’s peak is due before dawn early Tuesday morning. These ultrafast meteors appear to dart from within the curve of the sickle of Leo, and its meteors are among the swiftest seen. This is the famous shower that produces spectacular outbursts about every 33 years as in 1833 when “stars fell on Alabama,” and again in 1966 when up to 144,000 meteors per hour left observers awestruck. The most recent Leonid storms occurred in 2001 and 2002 producing several thousand per hour. The recent lean years have generated only about a dozen or so Leonids per hour, but rates may pick up later this decade as the parent comet of these meteors (Tempel-Tuttle) draws near.

November 19—A fat waxing crescent Moon pays a visit to Jupiter and Saturn this evening. Together they form a scalene triangle (a triangle in which all three sides have different lengths) which will remain in view, low in the southwest until roughly 8:30 p.m. The Moon-Saturn side measures 5° long, the Moon-Jupiter side 8°, while Jupiter and Saturn are now just 3½° apart and getting a bit closer with each passing night as they enter the home stretch on route to their “Great Conjunction” next month.

November 21—First Quarter Moon at 11:45 p.m. In this phase, the Moon looks like a half-Moon in the sky. One-half of the Moon is illuminated by direct sunlight while the illuminated part is increasing, on its way to becoming a full Moon.

November 25—Mars, now coming off of its highly favorable opposition last month, is rapidly receding from Earth and consequently growing dimmer and shrinking in telescopes. At the start of November, the red planet is 43.8 million miles away, but by month’s end it is 16 million miles farther away, and in telescopes its disk will appear 27% smaller.

November 25—On this evening before Thanksgiving, the waxing gibbous Moon will be accompanied through the night by pumpkin-colored Mars, which will shine conspicuously about 5° above it. At magnitude -1.3, Mars will be only a trifle dimmer than Sirius, the brightest of all stars. Still, compared to the way it appeared six weeks ago, it’s now only one-third as bright.

November 30—The Full Beaver Moon 4:30 a.m.

There will also be a penumbral lunar eclipse this morning, with most of North America able to see it. With more than four-fifths of the Moon becoming immersed the faint penumbral shadow a noticeable shading effect should be evident over the Moon’s upper limb for some minutes around the time of mid-eclipse at 4:42 a.m. EST (1:42 a.m. PST).

By Farmers’ Almanac Astronomer Joe Rao. This calendar is adapted from “Skylog,” a regular feature appearing in Natural History magazine written by Mr. Rao since 1995.