Backyard Observatory

See Meteor Showers, a Lunar Eclipse & Bright Planets Throughout November

Here's what to look for when you're looking up.

The cold is creeping across the country a little faster than most of us would like. For stargazers, it's certainly coming on far too soon. It makes for some cold nights if you're going out at all. 

Still, we're in the middle of a pandemic. Socially distant activities are recommended, and with increased frequency, as winter comes barreling toward us, those activities can be hard to come by. Stargazing is still there, though. It's always an option. (At least, it is until we've polluted the night so much with lights and satellites that we can't see anything without traveling out to the countryside.) Nonetheless, that day isn't here yet, and November offers a whole lot of stargazing opportunities. Moreover, many of those events can be seen from inside cities. November is coming stuffed with beautifully bright planets, a penumbral lunar eclipse, and a couple of meteor showers. 

Here are all of the stargazing activities you can't miss in November. 

November 10 - Mercury hits the heights

Starting on the morning of November 10, Mercury will hit its highest point in the sky through its morning apparitions from October to December. It'll be shining relatively bright, at magnitude -0.6, according to In the Sky. It sounds appealing, but Mercury just doesn't get that high in the sky ever, given its placement between Earth and the sun.

The fiery little planet reaches a peak altitude of 17 degrees over the horizon at sunrise. To see it, you'll need to be out just before sunrise and look low in the sky to the southeast. That also means you need to find a spot where you have a clear view along the southeast horizon because trees or buildings could very easily hide the low rise of the planet.

You'll be able to see it at about the same height each morning from November 10 to November 13.

November 11-12 - Northern Taurid meteor shower peaks

The Taurids have been around for a couple of weeks, but they'll hit their peak the night of November 11 into the morning of November 12. The best time to go out is right about midnight local time on November 12 when the shower's radiant—the constellation Taurus the Bull—is at its highest point in the sky

This isn't, however, a super-active shower. You're probably looking at seeing around five meteors per hour if you're placed under dark skies, far from the rampant light pollution of cities. However, the shower is known for producing brilliant fireballs. So, if you do see meteors from the Taurids, they might be spectacular.

November 12-13 - Venus and the moon come together

Venus and the moon will be having a conjunction on the evening of November 12. That will, however, take place while the sun is still up (even though it feels like it gets dark at noon), and Venus is only visible in the morning right now. You'll be able to get a view of the brightest planet and the moon coming together on the mornings of both November 12 and 13. 

Venus will rise just before 4 am local time, per In the Sky, giving you almost three hours of viewing before the sun rises. Look to the south to find the pair.

November 17 - Leonid meteor shower peaks

You'll see about ten meteors every 60 minutes in the hours before dawn, Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist. The moon will set before the radiant rises, providing good conditions for the storm, even if it doesn't produce an incredible number of meteors. If you're lucky, you might even catch a late fireball from the Northern Taurids.

November 19 - Saturn, Jupiter, and the moon are dancing

As has been the case monthly since late summer, you're going to get a night in November where Saturn, Jupiter, and the moon all come together in the night sky. Though, the gas giants are going to be setting around 8:30 pm local time. You'll have to go out early in the evening if you want to catch them moving across the black dome overhead. This month, Jupiter surpassed Mars to become the fourth-brightest object in our skies. So, the trio will be easy to spot in the south-southwest sky. 

Mars in October
An image of Mars taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. | NASA, ESA, and STScI - Edited

November 25 - The moon & Mars get together once more

Like they did twice in October , the moon and Mars are going to have a close pass. Though Jupiter is brighter than Mars now, with the red planet more than a month past opposition when it was at its brightest point for years to come, Mars is still glowing a beautiful red in the sky. 

You'll find the duo in the sky after sunset and hanging together until just after 3 am, starting in the south and moving westward throughout the night. 

November 30 - A minor lunar eclipse arrives

Early on the morning of November 30, the moon will pass through Earth's shadow. The full moon won't be spectacular during this penumbral eclipse . This isn't a total eclipse that will make the moon shine with an eerie red glow. The moon will simply dim a little, with the eclipse running from 2:33 am to 6:54 am EST, per In the Sky. The maximum eclipse takes place at 4:44 am EST.

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.