Night Sky Notes – November 2018

Night sky notes for November 2018     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 [ The name al debaran  meaning `the follower`  follows the seven sisters star cluster across the night sky]. The famous Pleiades (M45) (Seven Sisters) star 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 late 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.

A short period comet 46P / Wirtanen brightens as it approaches perihelion (closest point in its orbit to the Sun) on December 12th 2018. Currently the comet is a binocular object low in our south eastern aspect in the constellation of Fornax [The Furnace] , indeed an obscure constellation added by Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century. The comet will brighten to unaided eye brightness late November , moving northward , the  extensive coma being visible as a `misty patch` our early evening skies in Taurus  in mid December as it approaches to within 11.5 million Km  of Earth December 17th just after  perihelion ( its closest point to the Sun  in its orbit  December 12th  – See December Night Sky Notes 2018.

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 the spiral arms extending to an apparent size being around six Full Moon diameters at 3° apparent diameter .

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 .

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, moonlight interferes up until moonset around midnight at first quarter moon, however the rates predicted are low.  Increased activity is associated with perihelion passage of the parent comet 55P Temple-Tuttle, every 33 years expected in the early 2020`s.

The Taurid meteor shower peak is around Nov 5th, with low rates and for UK observers in town may be obscured by local fireworks etc.

Comet 38P Stephan –Oterma, another short period comet is a telescopic object, magnitude 9.5m located in the constellation of Gemini. Refer to the notes for this late evening object in November.

The comet reaches perihelion on November 10th at a distance of 1.5AU, that’s just outside the orbit of Mars.  The comet shows a small coma around 2.5 arc minute apparent diameter in moderate sized telescopes.


Planets in November 2018

Mercury reaches greatest elongation (E) in our evening twilight on Nov 6th, but is poorly placed.

Venus is visible low in dawn skies shines brightly low in the east, close to the bright star Spica.

Mars is an early evening object located due south, now at 0m magnitude heading into Aquarius.

Jupiter is now moving into daytime skies with conjunction in late November.

Saturn is positioned very low in evening twilight, poorly placed.

Uranus is located in the constellation of Aries. (See notes Binocular / Telescope required)

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

Moons phases in November 2018 

New Moon         Nov 7th                  Moonless, best time for deep sky observing and Comets

First Quarter      Nov 15th               Best days to see shadow details in lunar craters (early evening)

Full Moon           Nov 23rd               Best days to see bright ray craters like Copernicus / Tycho.

Last Quarter      Nov 30th                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 18th. Moonlight interferes; rates remain low ZHR 20 / hour in 2018.


Highlight 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) a misty patch visible to the unaided eye on clear, moonless evenings when viewed from a dark site (away from lights).

Crescent Moon visibility.   November 8th A thin 1.3% waxing crescent Moon is visible  very low in the west from 16:45 ( 4:45 pm) i.e. look only after sun has completely set until moonset at 17:17 (5:17pm )

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  2018

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  2018



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


View looking  east early evening in mid November  2018

The Milky Way stretches up from the north east horizon through the constellations of Gemini , Auriga , Perseus and Cassiopeia – use binoculars on crisp clear moonless evenings from a dark site  to see some very nice  rich star fields.


View looking  north mid evening in mid November  2018

Low in the northern aspect the constellation of Ursa Major is easily recognisable as `the Plough` star asterism.  Locate Polaris the pole star using the pointers (Merek and Dubhe, 5 times the spacing)
Uranus / Neptune   [Note during November Mars tracks eastward, Conjunction with Neptune Dec 6th]

Binoculars show Uranus and Neptune as green / blue coloured stars respectively, telescope only show very tiny disks in comparison with pin sharp stars.

Detailed finder charts (LAS Newsletter No 205) are available to Luton Astronomical Society members.

Comet 38P Stephan –Oterma    A Telescopic comet moving through constellation of Gemini during November 2018.

Detailed finder charts (LAS Newsletter No 207) are available to Luton Astronomical Society members.




Comet 46P Wirtanen

A binocular short period comet currently poorly place low in the southern aspect during November. The comet will brighten and move into our evening skies in December 2018. Current predictions suggest that the comets coma may reach the apparent diameter of the Full Moon and be visible (as a diffuse fuzzy patch ) to the unaided eye located mid way between the Seven Sisters (M45) and Hyades star (Mel 25) clusters  mid December around close approach to earth (0.07AU , 11.6 million km )


Detailed finder charts (LAS Newsletter No 202) are available to Luton Astronomical Society m