Twilight Evening Planets — Venus, Jupiter and Mercury
Tonight, just minutes after sunset, look for a diagonal string of planets climbing left away from the setting sun.
Mercury will be the most difficult to spot. The swift planet sets only a few minutes after the sun. Look about 15 degrees from the point that the sun sets with binoculars or a small telescope to spy Mercury. You will need a great southwestern horizon and clear skies to find Mercury.
Brilliant Venus is a bit easier to spot, setting about an hour after sunset tonight about 6 degrees to the left of Mercury. You will also need binoculars to see Venus low in the southwest.
Bright Jupiter will be easy to locate tonight, setting nearly two hours after sunset. Look about 21 degrees to the left of Venus to spot Jupiter.
Mercury is lost in the sunset’s glare by Nov. 5 or 6. On Nov. 11, Mercury will appear to cross in front of the disk of the sun, a Mercury Solar Transit.
Each night, Venus climbs a bit away from the sun as Jupiter falls a bit toward the sunset. These two bright planets slowly close the wide early month gap. On Nov. 10, Jupiter is about 14 degrees to the left of Venus. By Nov. 17, the gap has closed to only 7 degrees. On the nights of Nov. 23 and 24, Jupiter sits about 1 ½ degrees above Venus in a wide conjunction.
Look to the southwest about 45 minutes after sunset to see what seems to be a bright wide double “star.” That’s Jupiter and Venus. Get your camera and take a picture. By Nov. 28, Venus will have slipped above pokey Jupiter and begins to climb toward Saturn. Look on Nov. 28 to see a very thin crescent moon flying above brilliant Venus with Jupiter to the lower right.
The next night, the slightly fatter crescent moon will fly to the left of Saturn.
Evening Planets — Saturn, Neptune and Uranus
Telescope observers should enjoy Saturn this month as the ringed planet begins a slow descent into the bright twilight and more turbulent sky. Look to the southwest 30 minutes after sunset to spot modestly bright Saturn. As November opens, Saturn will be about 22 degrees to the upper left of bright Jupiter.
Tonight, Saturn will set about four hours after the sun. By mid-month, Saturn sets about three and a half hours after the sun and as November closes, Saturn sets less than three hours after the sun. Best telescope observing will be during the first week of November.
Neptune begins November well placed in the south for telescope observations just as the sky darkens. Uranus follows Neptune by about two hours. Best observations in early November are after 8:30 p.m. By month’s close, Uranus and Neptune will both be well placed for observing by 7 p.m.
Mercury Transit of 2019
Mercury will appear to trek across the face of the sun on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11. Mercury passes directly between the sun and the Earth, or transits, about 14 times per century. The last transit of Mercury visible in western Oregon was May 2016. The next Mercury transit, visible here, will be May 7, 2049.
Transit watchers must take special precautions to observe Mercury cross the sun. Do not Look at the sun without special filters and knowledge of solar observing. Permanent eye damage can occur by careless solar observing. Do not take any chances with your eyesight.
Observing the Mercury transit will require a minimum of a 3” telescope. Mercury is about 3,030 miles in diameter but only about 1/200th the diameter of the sun. Mercury will appear as a very tiny perfectly round black dot.
Oregonians will see the transit in progress at sunrise on Nov. 11. At 7:27 a.m., Mercury will be nearly in the center of the sun. Over the next two plus hours, Mercury will slowly march up and to the right across the disk of the sun.
Most likely first sight of the sun and Mercury will occur after 8:20 to 8:25 a.m. The sun will only be about 10-12 degrees above the east southeast horizon. Best opportunity to spot Mercury on the sun will after 9 or 9:15 a.m.
By 9 a.m. the sun will be about 20 degrees above the southeast horizon with better chance to be out of fog or unsteady low elevation atmosphere. The Transit ends at 9:52 a.m., but seeing Mercury after 9:45 will be difficult as it disappears on the sun’s upper edge.
If you have a safe solar filter and a modest size telescope, enjoy this rare event. Venus also crosses the sun as seen from Earth but only once or twice per century. The only transit of Venus during this century was in 2012 and next will be December 2117.
Dawn planets — Mars and Mercury
After Mercury transits the sun on Nov. 11, it will rapidly dash into the morning sky to join Mars. Look after Nov. 17, about an hour before sunrise, to spot Mercury.
Mars will be about 15 degrees to the upper right of Mercury in Virgo. On the morning of Nov. 24, a slender old crescent moon will sit midway between Mercury and Mars. By month’s close, Mercury will be rising nearly 75 minutes before the sun.
Leonids Meteor Shower
Every Nov. 17, the morning sky erupts with several “shooting stars” or meteors when the famous Leonids Meteor Shower returns. This year’s Leonid display will not be one to set your alarm clock for.
A very bright moon will hang in the late night and predawn sky to drown out most of the Leonid meteors. Diehard Leonid fans will have a difficult time placing the bright moon in shadows, since it is only 22 degrees from the shower radiant. Instead of the usual peak rate of 15 meteors per hour, the bright moon will diminish the total to three or four per hour after 3 a.m.
Morgan Observatory at U.C.C. (PMO) No Scheduled Events
Please check the observatory website for short notice events. The observatory will be closed until after Thanksgiving on Nov. 28th.
Umpqua Astronomers Meeting — Next Public meeting January 2020
Come at 7 p.m. January 14, 2020 to U.C.C. Wayne Crooch Hall Room 10 for the Umpqua Astronomers monthly meeting. Anyone wanting a Q & A session about astronomy, telescopes or general star gazing information please come at 6:30 p.m.
Club news, monthly sky events and astronomy news will be presented at the monthly meeting. Astronomy events for 2020 will be discussed. Everyone interested in astronomy is welcome.
After the meeting, if skies are clear, join local astronomers for an observing session at the Morgan Observatory after the meeting.