by Tristan Radtke
Coastal Journal contributor
Although it's colder outside this month than much of the year, November plays host to the Leonid meteor shower, one of the most prolific showers of the year. From historical high estimates of more than one hundred thousand meteors per hour to the average over the past few decades of around 2,000 to 3,000 per hour, the Leonid shower is known for producing large numbers of meteors.
While these estimates sound high, however, Earth's close encounter with Jupiter over the past few years is expected to disturb the bands of debris that create the shower, left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle, and thus no showers of extraordinary magnitude are expected by astronomers for another few decades. Still, the average rate of meteors per hour in North America in the 2009 Leonid shower was over 75, making it one of the more active showers.
With the Moon rising late, this month will be an excellent host to the Leonids this year, and if you want to brave the cold temperatures, the best viewing will be around the evening of November 17.
The Leonids, of course, emanate from the constellation Leo, best known by its backwards question mark, and its red starry heart, Regulus. Leo rises fairly late in the evening, however. The early evening is surprisingly devoid of bright stars in autumn, so much so that it is known as the ‘ocean of night’. One well known asterism still visible is the Pegasus group, including the great square of Pegasus, Andromeda, Perseus, and Andromeda’s parents who are part of the circumpolar star family, Cassiopeia and Cepheus. They can be spotted together in the night sky from early evening to after midnight.
Mercury: Mercury returns into the Sun's glare after a brief appearance near the end of October, and will briefly return again near the end of November, moving out of the glare just enough to be visible until setting about 25 minutes after sunset.
Venus: Venus moves into the glare of the Sun relatively quickly this month, but will reappear as the morning star, rising around 3:30 a.m. and forming the bottom of an early morning line consisting of Venus, Saturn and the rising Moon.
Mars: Mars begins the month setting just after sunset, but will quickly descend into the Sun's glare, where it will remain through the end of the month.
Jupiter: Jupiter and Uranus remain in close proximity, but drifting slightly further apart this month. As the month opens, Jupiter will set around 2:30 a.m., and by the end of the month it will be setting around midnight.
Saturn: Saturn starts off the month as the solitary morning star rising around 5:30 a.m., but is quickly joined by Venus and forms the center of the line between Venus and the Moon early in the morning near the end of November, when it will rise around 2:45 a.m.
Uranus: Uranus will set around 2:30 a.m. at the beginning of the month, and around midnight by the end of the month.
Neptune: Neptune remains darker than usual, but will be one of the more convenient planets to spot this month, setting around 12:45 a.m. at the beginning of the month and around 10 p.m. by the end.
Pluto: Pluto will be setting around 8:30 p.m. near the beginning of the month, and around 5:45 p.m. by the end, making November the best chance to view it over the next few months.
Entering the month waning, the Moon will reach new on November 6, first quarter by November 13, full on November 21 and third quarter on November 29, waning as we enter December.