Minnesota Star Watch: Planets take to the skies

By Deane Morrison

A University of Minnesota feature

This month, both the morning and evening skies get an infusion of new planets.

Mars begins November as a dim reddish dot close above the east-southeastern horizon. Look for it just before the day starts to break. Don’t confuse it with the bright star Arcturus, which is also near the horizon early in the month. As the days go by, Arcturus climbs rapidly away from Mars while Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, clears the horizon and heads toward the planet. During the second week of the month, Spica climbs past Mars on the right.

By the last week of November, Mercury will have popped into the sky below Mars. For several days between about the 22nd and 27th, Spica, Mars and Mercury will be nearly equally spaced, in that order top-to-bottom, along a diagonal line.

Meanwhile, Venus is slipping into the evening sky. The brightest of planets, it comes out in the southwestern twilight not far below Jupiter. But while Venus is climbing, Jupiter is falling, and on the 24th the planets come closest to each other, with Venus just to the lower left of Jupiter. On the 28th, a young crescent moon appears above Venus, en route to a rendezvous the next night with Saturn. In mid-December the ringed planet has its own brush with Venus.

All month long, watch the bright winter constellations make their annual grand entrance into the evening sky, appearing over the eastern horizon earlier each night. Most recognizable is hourglass-shaped Orion, thanks largely to the three stars of his famous belt.

November’s full moon arrives at 7:34 a.m. on the 12th. The moon will have set by then; to catch it at its roundest, go outside an hour beforehand (even earlier in eastern parts of the state). If you prefer moonrises, look for one in the east around sunset on the 11th and about half an hour afterward on the 12th.

 In the predawn hours of Monday, the 18th, a bright waning moon puts a damper on the peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower. On the 24th, however, a thinned-out crescent makes partial amends by rising close to Mars.

The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. For more information and viewing schedules, see:
• Duluth, Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium: www.d.umn.edu/planet
• Twin Cities, Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics (during fall and spring semesters): www.astro.umn.edu/outreach/pubnight.

Check out the astronomy programs at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum ExploraDome: www.bellmuseum.umn.edu/ForGroups/ExploraDome/index.htm.

Contact: Deane Morrison, University Relations, (612) 624-2346,morri029@umn.edu

Find U of M astronomers and links to the world of astronomy athttp://www.astro.umn.edu.

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