Night Sky Notes – November 2017

Night sky notes for November 2017        Geoff Mitchell

Late autumn skies herald the constellations of Taurus, Auriga, Orion and Gemini. The Milky Way stretches from the constellation of Aquila [The Eagle] in the west up through the `W ` shaped constellation of Cassiopeia , on through Perseus high overhead down through Auriga and down into Gemini low in the east. On clear moonless evenings the Milky Way appears as a faint misty band of light , binoculars however reveal rich star clouds and dark lanes of obscuring dust , especially in the constellation of Cygnus [The Swan] , a summer constellation now seen low in the west early evening.

The constellation of Taurus [The Bull] can be seen rising in the east by early evening has the red star Aldebaren a foreground star in line of sight with the V shaped Hyades star cluster [al debaran meaning `the follower` follows the seven sisters star cluster across the night sky]

The famous Pleiades star cluster (M45) (Seven Sisters) cluster. is easy to spot low in the east early evening , some people with acute eyesight may see perhaps up to 13 stars unaided , binoculars show many more of the 400 stars in the cluster located at a distance of around 380 light years.

Auriga has the bright star Capella and can be seen to the east and slightly above Taurus. The rich background of stars of the Milky Way is best seen on moonless evenings from outside the light from the town and the three fine star clusters M36, M37 and M38 can all be seen using binoculars.

Late evening, the constellation of Gemini, noted for two stars Castor and Pollux rises by late evening but can be seen throughout the late autumn, winter and spring. Gemini contains some nice star fields and the star cluster M35.

In the south east the familiar constellation of Orion can be seen rising mid evening , noted by the three stars of Orion’s belt , the red giant star Betelgeuse (top left) , the white star Rigel (bottom right) and the misty patch of the Orion Nebula (M42) of the sword , just below the belt stars. M42 is a fine object when viewed with binoculars or a telescope, the hot young stars known as `The Trapezium ` light up the surrounding clouds of gas and dust that form the nebula.

In the south west the large box shaped constellation of Pegasus can be a useful signpost to finding the constellation of Andromeda, a chain of several stars just east of Pegasus and is famed for the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Visible to the unaided eye from dark skies on moonless evenings as a faint misty patch, the galaxy can best be seen in binoculars.

In the west the familiar stars of Vega (in the constellation Lyra) , Deneb (in Cygnus , or The northern Cross ) and Altair (in Aquila) form the asterism `The Summer Triangle ` and now heads into the early evening twilight.

In the north Ursa Major, The Plough or The Great Bear, can be seen low down. Use the right hand pair of stars Dubhe and Merak (The pointers ) to find the faint pole star Polaris and hence the position of North .

Comet 2017 O1 ASASSNI continues to move northward into the constellation of Perseus, however its large apparent diameter and low surface brightness makes this a difficult object to see visually with binoculars even in dark moonless conditions, telescopes see through the faint tenuous coma to the stars beyond.

Two planets Uranus and Neptune are located in our autumn evening skies, visible in binoculars, telescopes however show each planet as a tiny disk. Each notable by the characteristic blue /green colour and in contrast to the background stars appearing sharper points of light.

The Leonid meteor shower maxima occur around Nov 17th, favourable new moon gives dark skies, however the rates predicted are low. Increased activity is associated with perihelion passage of the parent comet 55P Temple-Tuttle, every 33 years.

Planets in November 2017

Mercury reaches greatest elongation (E) in our evening twilight on Nov 24th , but is poorly placed.

Venus is visible low in dawn skies shines brightly in the east.

Mars is an early morning object in Virgo but returns to the evening skies by spring 2018

Jupiter emerges into dawn skies in November, conjunction with Venus Nov 13th separation 0.3°

Saturn is positioned low in evening twilight, poorly placed in conjunction with Mercury on Nov 26th.

Uranus is located in the constellation of Pisces. ( see notes Binocular / Telescope required)

Neptune in the constellation of Aquarius (see notes Binocular / Telescope required)

Moons phases in November 2017

New Moon         Nov 18th               Moonless, best time for deep sky observing and Comets

First Quarter     Nov 26th             Best days to see shadow details in lunar craters ( early evening)

Full Moon           Nov 4th                  Best days to see bright ray craters like Copernicus / Tycho.

Last Quarter     Nov 10th               Moon visible in daytime skies. Do not look directly at the Sun

Meteor Showers in November  

Taurids maxima   Nov 5th unfavourable and Nov 12th   , ZHR 10 / hour – slow meteors, fireballs possible


Leonids range from Nov 15th to Nov 20th, peak around Nov 17th.New moon makes this favourable and rates remain low ZHR 20 / hour


Highlights of the Month

Star clouds of the Milky Way high overhead in the constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus, noted for the famous double cluster (NGC 884, NGC 869) a superb sight telescopically at low magnification.

Constellation of Taurus with the Hyades star cluster [Mel 25] and Seven Sisters star cluster (M45)

Constellation of Orion with super giant orange star Betelgeuse and the famous Orion Nebula (M42)

Constellation of Andromeda and the famous Andromeda Galaxy (M31)

Bright planets Venus and Jupiter are in conjunction in the dawn twilight, joined by the thin crescent Moon.

Early risers may see a close conjunction of Jupiter and Venus low in dawn skies by mid month, joined by a thin waning crescent Moon in morning twilight Nov 16th and 17th.

Crescent Moon visibility. A 1.6% waxing crescent Moon is visible on Nov 19th from 4:30pm very low in the west i.e. look only after sun has completely set until moonset at 5:11 pm. Binoculars show the unlit part of the Moon made faintly visible by reflected sunlight from Earth (Earthshine) .

Caution Do NOT look directly at the Sun with the unaided eye or any form of optical aid.


More detailed sky notes and LAS Newsletters / finder charts are available to members

International Space Station (ISS) visibility – please refer to the website links page


View looking south mid evening in mid November 2017

Looking south the `signpost` asterism of the Square of Pegasus lies on the meridian mid evening.

The square points to the bright star Fomalhaut in the constellation of the Southern Fishes (Pisces Australis ) – at UK latitude (52° N) this constellation is glimpsed low on the southern aspect.

View looking west mid evening in mid November 2017

Looking west the summer constellations of Cygnus , Lyra and Aquila head into evening twilight .


View looking east mid evening in mid November 2017

Looking east the winter constellations now rise by mid / late evening. The most easily recognised constellation is Orion , identified by the three `belt` stars and bright stars Belelgeuse (top left) and Rigel (bottom right), the misty patch below Orion’s belt is the sword of Orion famous for the Orion Nebula. , a stunning sight when viewed in a telescope .

In moonless conditions our companion galaxy M33 ( known as The Pinwheel ` is a challenge for binocular observers , it has low surface brightness due to its large apparent diameter 1° is around twice the apparent size of the Full Moon.

View looking north mid evening in mid November 2017

Finder Charts for Uranus & Neptune