A November observing challenge

Robert Bigelow
During the first half of November the planets Mercury and Venus will appear close to each other in the evening sky. The challenge is seeing them. The difficulty arises from the geometric relationship between Earth’s axis tilt and its orbit at this time of year. This particular geometry results in a shallow viewing angle between the horizon and the orbital planes of planets in the evening sky. (In the morning sky the angle is much larger). This means Venus and Mercury will appear low in the sky after sunset.
Finding them in the twilight so close to the horizon can be a challenge. Look for the pair in the southwest right after sunset. Binoculars can be a great help in searching for them. Venus is the brighter of the two. Mercury will appear about 2 degrees below Venus. (An index finger held at arm’s length has an apparent width of about 2 degrees).
Other astronomical happenings in November:
We will experience a 25 hour day on Sunday, November 6 as Daylight Saving Time ends.
The Leonid meteor shower peaks on the evening of November 17, but light from a last quarter moon will interfere with the view for those observing after midnight.
Blog readers in Antarctica will experience a partial solar eclipse on November 25.

During the first half of November the planets Mercury and Venus will appear close to each other in the evening sky. The challenge is seeing them. The difficulty arises from the geometric relationship between Earth’s axis tilt and its orbit at this time of year. This particular geometry results in a shallow viewing angle between the horizon and the orbital planes of planets in the evening sky (in the morning sky the angle is much larger). This means Venus and Mercury will appear low in the sky after sunset.

Finding them in the twilight so close to the horizon can be a challenge. Look for the pair in the southwest right after sunset. Binoculars can be a great help in searching for them. Venus is the brighter of the two. Mercury will appear about 2 degrees below Venus (an index finger held at arm’s length has an apparent width of about 2 degrees).

Looking southwest from Salt Lake City on November 4 at 6:10 p.m.

Looking southwest from Salt Lake City on November 4 at 6:10 p.m.

Other astronomical happenings in November:

We will experience a 25 hour day on Sunday, November 6 as Daylight Saving Time ends.

The Leonid meteor shower peaks on the evening of November 17, but light from a last quarter moon will interfere with the view for those observing after midnight.

Blog readers in Antarctica will have the opportunity to observe a partial solar eclipse on November 25.

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