What’s in the sky for November 2021 – Ian Bradley

Astronomy weather forecast sites

They are customizable to your location – the links below are set to Kendal.

Nice resources

Sky Notes

The Moon

Phase   November December
New Moon 4th 4th
1st Quarter 11th 10th
Full Moon 18th 18th
3rd Quarter 27th 26th

The Planets

Mercury is in the dawn sky rising just under 2 hours before sunrise (07:13) on the first of the month. On the morning of November 10th, bright Mercury (mag. -1) will be 1° to the east of fainter Mars (mag. 1.6) as they rise (06:27) an hour before the Sun in the twilight sky – could be an interesting if rather tricky spot!

Venus is prominent in the evening sky and setting about 1 hour after the Sun but at a quite low altitude. On November 1st Venus is just a few days past greatest eastern elongation when it will be 77° east of the. At magnitude -4.2 and phase 62%, with an angular diameter of 19”, it should look fairly semi-circular in a telescope. As the month progresses, Venus moves towards the Sun so that on the 15th, it is 46° from it and setting 1 hour later at 19:25. However, it is still only 6 above the horizon at this time.

Mars is barely visible – see above for Mercury..

Jupiter is still well placed and very obvious at magnitude -2.4 and obvious to the unaided eye or in binoculars. With even 8×42 binoculars, the moons are visible although I can’t see the cloud bands on Jupiter’s disk. On November 15th, it transits about 18:15 when it’ll be at its best but only about 17° above the horizon. It is still a gorgeous sight in a telescope with its moons spread out in a line. If you are lucky, you may see a moon appear, disappear or even better, transit the disk. Using Sky and Telescope, you can identify and find the times of these events and also the visibility of the Great Red spot.

Saturn is also visible early in the night but again low in the sky but sets by midnight mid-month. It is still an easy naked eye object about 15° west of Jupiter (about 2.5 times the field of view of a typical pair of binoculars). A telescope is required to see its rings.

Uranus is visible at magnitude 5.7 all night.

Neptune is visible at magnitude 7.9 throughout much of the night and transits about 20:00 mid-month.

ISS visible passes

The month starts with early morning ISS visible passes with the last one being on November 8th but you have to be keen – between 03:40 and 06:05! Then there is a gap until November 20th when they reoccur in the evening sky through until December 10th. Have a look at Heavens Above for further timings.

Meteor showers

Taurids November 4/5th and November 11/12th. These two showers don’t show a lot of activity, typically 5 per hour, but the Southern Taurids, peaking Nov 4th (but active late September to late November) do tend to have a high percentage of fireballs. And the ‘display’ coincides with new moon, so this may well be worth looking for if clear. The Northern Taurids, peaking Nov 10th, tend to have less bright activity. These probably best around midnight.

Leonids meteor shower – November 17th/18th. Another full moon. One of the better shows with the radiant inside the reverse question mark, The Sickle, of Leo. Typically, 10 to 15 meteors per hour but does have occasional very strong showings. Best after midnight.

Geminids meteor shower – December 13th Active December 7th to 17th. Maybe over 100 meteors per hour. Another strong Moon that sets about 02:30 on the morning of December 14th so probably best after moonset. Gemini transits around 02:00 GMT. If you want to look earlier, you should be able to see the brighter meteors but hide the Moon behind a wall to preserve some night vision.


Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard)

This is an inbound long period comet (about 80,000 years) discovered by G. J. Leonard at the Mount Lemmon Observatory on 3rd January 2021 and due to reach perihelion on January 3rd 2022. The closest approach to the Earth will occur on December 12th when one prediction is suggesting it could be as bright as magnitude 6, but such predictions are notoriously difficult and frequently incorrect! If, and that is a big if, it follows the expected curve then it should be observable reasonably bright from late November.

Click for larger version.

Currently, late October, it is around magnitude 11.5, so it needs to brighten quite a lot as it makes its way towards the Sun to become naked eye. Will it? Who knows! The graphic is from astro.vanbuitenen.nl where the current magnitude can be found.

C/2021 A1 at 17:00 on December 1st. Click for larger version.

So where is it? And when to look.

The problem is that as it is approaching perihelion, it will be close to the Sun. This makes seeing it slightly problematic. It will be visible in the early evenings in the north west sky early December but it sets rather early. At 17:00 on December 1st, it will be only 7 degrees above the horizon. If you can find Arcturus and make a line to the end star of The Plough asterism (Alkaid) then the comet will be roughly level horizontally with Arcturus but halfway between these two stars. It sets at 18:30.


It then rises again about midnight and climbs into the eastern sky so that by 04:00 it is much better placed – 32 degrees high and directly above Arcturus by 14°, about 3 fields of view of a typical pair of binoculars. On December 2nd, it passes 1.5° west of the globular cluster M3, whilst on the 3rd it is 1° east. Early mornings early December are probably the best time to see it.

Click for larger version.

The graphic shows the path of the comet on a daily basis at 05:00 from December 1st to December 10th. The comet moves closer to the eastern horizon each day. The constellation positions are for December 7th but Arcturus (faded) is also shown for December 1st, 4th and 10th as a reference.

If you prefer evenings … then each evening at 17:00, the comet has tracked further west and about the same distance above the horizon. By December 11th, it is due west and close to Marfik (magnitude 3.9) in Ophiuchus. Sadly, it passes no bright stars to help you find it.

On December 12th, sunset is 15:46 with the comet setting at 17:48. It doesn’t rise again until 6am when it just might be visible in the morning twilight – sunrise 08:23 on the 13th. After that, the comet becomes a southern hemisphere observer object… remember Comet McNaught? We got a small fuzzy object in the twilight skies and they got this magnificent tail… Bah!


Sky Charts

The charts are for the mid-November at 21:00 GMT. At the start of the month, they are correct at 22:00 and at the end of the month, 20:00.

Looking up, south is at the bottom.

We still have the fabulous Milky Way right over your heads and the asterism of the Summer Triangle consisting of Vega, Deneb and Altair (just off the chart in Aquilla) still very prominent. This is a great time of year to see objects of interest in the constellations at the zenith: Cygnus, Lyra and Cassiopeia.

The most obvious star cluster is The Double Cluster (NGC 884/869) situated between Cassiopeia and Perseus. In addition, there is Caroline’s Rose, NGC7789, and M103 in Cassiopeia, M34 in Perseus, M29 and M39 in Cygnus for starters. The area is a joy to behold in binoculars on a dark night. For wide field imaging photographic targets, what could be better than M31, The Great Andromeda Galaxy and nearby telescopic M33. I find the Square of Pegasus acts as a good signpost to M31. To find M31, star hop from the corner nearest Perseus. This star is Alpheratz, magnitude 2. Following the line of the top of the square towards Perseus there is a fainter, magnitude 3 star, then and slightly higher is Mirach at magnitude 2. Turn a right angle ‘up’ towards the pole and at the second star (both around mag 4) you are almost there. In addition, there is the North America Nebula complex, NGC7000, in Cygnus and the California Nebula, NGC1499. With a tracked 70mm lens you could capture both NCC7000 and the Pleiades, M45, in one shot.

The crowning glory of planetary nebulae, the Ring Nebula, M57, is still a splendid fuzzy ring in a small telescope. Just 2° from Vega is The Double-Double, ε−Lyrae, a binary star in binoculars, but with a telescope each of these two stars is seen to be a double star itself. Whilst on double stars, you must look at Albireo, β-Cygni. This is a beautiful low power telescopic object the brighter star golden and the dimmer one blue. See photograph later. Similarly, Almach in Andromeda is a pretty colourful double and not too far away, roughly half way between Almach and Cassiopeia, is the planetary nebula M76, The Little Dumbbell in Perseus.

Looking up, south at the bottom. Click for a larger version.

Looking south

IFour planets to look for here: Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and tiny distant Neptune. Neptune will be more of a binocular challenge. You might want a good star chart/app for that one! The two bright and large globular clusters M2 and M15, both about magnitude 6 and diameter 12’,  look good in binoculars or a small telescope.

Looking south. Click for a larger version.

Now the constellation Cetus, The Whale, is one I know little about. A quick Google tells me that it is surrounded by other water-related constellations: Aquarius, Pisces, Eridanus [not labelled on the chart but lower (south) in the sky]. It does contain one remarkable variable star – Mira (ο Ceti), “the wonderful variable star Mira” which was the first non-supernova variable star discovered. It is a pulsating variable that changes brightness with an average period of 331 days as the star’s diameter shrinks and grows…

In addition, Kaffaljidhma, γ-Ceti, is a rather close but lovely double star [magnitudes 3.6 and 6.2] with a separation of 2.6” and thus requires at least a telescope of 10cm aperture to separate them. The colours are usually described as yellow and blue although this is partly illusionary contrast effect given the known spectral types of the two stars. Actually, the system is a triple star but the faint third star [a magnitude 10 red dwarf at position angle 315°] is 840” [about half the angular diameter of the Moon] away.

Looking east

Looking east. Click for a larger version.

The winter constellations are starting to appear with Orion just peeking up around 20:00. The Pleiades, M45, is easily seen and makes a good widefield photo-op especially with California Nebula, NGC1499, as mentioned earlier. A much more open cluster in Taurus is the vee of the Hyades with Aldebaran at one end. Scan through Auriga with binoculars and the trio of Messier objects, M36, M37 and M38, will appear as faint misty clouds if you have a dark sky. In Perseus, we have another open cluster, M34, and just beneath this and west of Mirfak (a-Per) is Algol, the prototype for a class of eclipsing variable stars. Usually magnitude 2.1, it drops to 3.4 every 2.86 days – (2 days 20 hours 49 min), a rather noticeable change.

Looking west

See last month’s notes. The Milky Way with Cygnus and Lyra dominate.

Looking west. Click for a larger version.

Looking north

Ursa Major is not at its best for our map times but it provides a handy reference for north. Look out for aurora across this region of sky.

Looking north. Click for a larger version.

Next Observing Evening

Given the current situation regarding coronavirus, observing evenings can not occur.