November brings with it some magnificent celestial events. Prepare to witness meteor showers, a lunar eclipse, and all the wonders that the nighttime sky can offer. So as the days shorten, and the weather turns, there are still many reasons to give thanks.
One of the most exciting occurrences in the heavens are meteor showers. Often visible to the naked eye, the sky is peppered by pins of light shooting across the sky. Throughout November, there are a number of these magnificent spectacles.
Meteors from the Southern Taurids shower appear worldwide from Sept. 23 to Nov. 19 annually. However, they reach their peak of about 10 per hour on Thursday, Nov. 5, according to Space.Com. This shower originates from debris dropped by the passage of periodic Comet 2P/Encke.
The tiny, colorful fireballs will be visible, where the debris is large enough, with the best viewing time occurring around 1 a.m. in the Americas, looking high in the southern sky, in the central Taurus constellation. A bright waning gibbous moon may, however, somewhat spoil the spectacle.
As inhabitants of Earth, we are undoubtedly intrigued by the other planets within our own solar system. Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, will be particularly visible in early November—for those prepared to get up early enough.
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, Mercury will achieve peak visibility for a morning appearance. You should look for the swiftly moving planet shining brightly very low in the east-southeastern sky between about 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. (local time). Mercury’s visibility will be better for Northern Hemisphere observers.
Meteors from the Northern Taurids shower annually appear worldwide from Oct. 19 to Dec. 10. They reach a peak of about 15 per hour on Nov. 12. Again, expect some colorful shots of light.
The best viewing time is again around 1 a.m. local time. On the peak night, a waning crescent moon, rising around 4 a.m., leaves the post-midnight sky darker, enhancing the display.
Our own moon is perhaps the most recognizable feature of any night sky. But its drama and fascination are in no way diminished by its familiarity. Sunday, Nov. 15 sees a new moon.
The Moon will be travelling between Earth and the Sun. Since sunlight can only reach its far side, the Moon will become completely hidden from view. This new moon, occurring only 17 hours after perigee (the Moon’s closest approach to Earth), will trigger large tides around the world.
Another meteor shower, The Leonids, derived from leftover material from periodic passages of Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, peaks at around 11:00 p.m. GMT on Nov. 17, with up to 20 meteors per hour. It runs from Nov. 5 to Dec. 3, annually.
Many of the meteors will have persistent trains. For observers in the Americas, the best viewing times are Tuesday and Wednesday morning before dawn, looking high in the eastern sky. Given the young crescent moon, the sky’s darkness will enhance the experience.
This November also hosts, perhaps, the most significant nighttime celestial event of them all: a lunar eclipse.
The November full moon is traditionally known as the Beaver Moon or Frost Moon. Full moons occurring during the winter months in North America will climb as high in the sky as the summer noonday sun, and cast similar, though perhaps more eerie, shadows.
November 30 will see the full moon orbit into Earth’s outer shadow, producing a penumbral eclipse, visible in its entirety across most of North and Central America, and northern Asia. The eclipse begins at approximately 7:30 a.m. GMT, peaking at 9:44 a.m., and approximately 83 percent of the Moon’s disk will be within Earth’s southern penumbral shadow.
The subtle darkening of the Moon’s right-hand (northern) limb will be visible only within about 30 minutes of peak eclipse. The eclipse ends at 11:53 a.m. GMT.
South America and northern Europe will only see the early stages, while Australia, Southeast Asia, China, and parts of Russia will only see the latter.
The celestial sky offers wondrous viewing on a nightly basis, but these events are perhaps the most significant in the month.
In the crisp autumn air, with just the naked eye, and amidst the darkness and silence of the night, you, too, can witness wonders simply by gazing up at the heavens.
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