Jupiter climbs high to prominence this month as it reaches oppositionon November 3rd. Jupiter will be seen brightly in the eastern sky as darkness descends and will be visible all night. Opposition means Jupiter appears opposite the Sun in the sky to us on Earth. That is, Jupiter rise in the East as the Sun sets in the West. This is also the closest we have been to Jupiter since its last opposition 13 months ago.
Being closer to Jupiter (370 million miles) makes the giant planet the brightest object in the sky, except for the Moon and until Venus rises in the eastern sky before dawn. This brightness will be especially noticeable as Jupiter lies among the dim stars of the Zodiac constellation Aries the ram. Being closer to Jupiter also makes it appear bigger when seen through telescopes and therefore its colored cloud bands and zones and the Great Red Spot become more prominent. Patient sky-watchers with telescopes may be rewarded with some finer and more subtle details in these ever-changing and shifting clouds that make up Jupiter’s outer atmosphere.
Jupiter’s 4 Galilean moons (Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa) will also be revealed, and we can watch these 4 “jewels” change positions around the giant planet; even casting their shadows onto Jupiter’s surface over successive nights through the month. Jupiter will remain visible to us well into the winter months ahead.
Do not neglect Saturn, the ringed planet which remains well placed for viewing in our southern skies all evening, until setting just before 2 am in the western sky. Uranus, the 7th planet from the Sun also reaches opposition 10 days after Jupiter does (November 13th), but observing it is far more difficult than seeing Jupiter because it is a billion miles away and is quite dim.
However, Jupiter can help us to find Uranus; but we will need binoculars to do so. Scan the sky between Jupiter and the Pleiades star cluster which is below and left of Jupiter. Uranus will be roughly midway between the two looking east on November 13th around 7 or 8 pm. Uranus will be below and slightly right of a 4th magnitude star, that itself is about 10 degrees below and right of the Pleiades. Uranus appears bluish-green and is bright enough to be seen easily with binoculars. When found, lower the binoculars and try to see Uranus without them. You will need very dark skies away from city, town, or street lights; but it is a very interesting challenge to see it with just your unaided eyes!
Venus is the very brilliant “morning star” which will be up in the eastern sky 4 hours before the Sun, and will have a crescent Moon just above it on November 9th. From November 27 to November 30 Venus will pass close to Virgo’s brightest star, Spica.
Finally the Leonid meteor shower, which appears to come from the sky where we see Leo the lion, will peak on November 17 to 19. Best viewing time is from 4 to 6 am looking east about halfway up to the zenith (top of the sky). Leonids are known to be very swift and many leave persistent trains that glow, which are fascinating.
Full Moon is November 27th. Happy Thanksgiving!