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ROBERTS: Bright meteors grace night skies

The Leonid meteor shower peaks this month on Nov. 17.
The Leonid meteor shower peaks this month on Nov. 17. - 123RF Stock Photo

As the seasons change so do the constellations we see in the late evening sky.

Already the late summer and autumn constellations of Pegasus, the winged horse, Cygnus, the swan, Aquila, the eagle, and Andromeda, the princess, among others. They are slowly giving way to those of winter, Orion, the hunter, Taurus, the bull, Gemini, - the twins, and Auriga, the charioteer.

Glenn K. Roberts
Glenn K. Roberts

Jupiter sets about an hour after sunset as November opens and is lost from sight during the second week of the month. Our solar system's largest planet is heading towards its superior conjunction with the sun on Nov. 26, when it will pass on the far side of the sun as seen from Earth.

Interestingly, our solar system's smallest planet, Mercury, appears just to the upper left of Jupiter during the early part of November and, like its larger celestial sibling, disappears into the setting sun's glow by mid-month. Mercury makes its inferior conjunction (passing between the Earth and sun) on Nov. 27.

Saturn is visible in the SW evening sky as November opens, sitting just above the teapot asterism in the constellation of Sagittarius, the Centaur. It sets about three hours after sunset. Look for the waxing, crescent moon to the lower right of Saturn on Nov. 10 and to the upper left of the planet on Nov. 11, an hour after sunset.

Mars sits in the eastern part of the constellation of Capricornus, the sea goat as darkness falls in early November. Though still bright, the red planet continues to dim from mag. -0.6 to -0.1 in November, as its orbit takes it further away from Earth. The waxing, gibbous moon sits to the lower right of Mars in the southern sky an hour after sunset on Nov. 15.

Venus shines brightly as our morning star this month, rising about a half hour before the Sun as November opens and around three and a half hours before sunrise by the end of the month. Venus brightens from -4.2 to -4.9 throughout November. On the 17th, look for brilliant Venus shining just to the lower left of Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo, the virgin in the SE sky an hour before sunrise.

The Leonid meteor shower (radiant in the constellation of Leo - the Lion) peaks during the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 17. Debris from Comet 55P Tempel - Tuttle, the Leonids, though not very numerous, are swift and very bright meteors.

A bright comet, 46P/Wirtanen, is currently journeying into the inner part of our solar system. Though presently only visible in telescopes, Comet Wirtanen is expected to reach naked eye visibility (under a dark sky) sometime in December. The comet makes its closest approach to the sun (perihelion) on Dec.12, and its closest approach to Earth (perigee) on Nov. 16. More about this comet in next month's column.

Until then, clear skies.

Glenn K. Roberts lives in Stratford, P.E.I., and has been an avid amateur astronomer since he was a small child. His column appears in The Guardian on the first Wednesday of each month. He welcomes comments from readers, and anyone who would like to do so is encouraged to email him at glennkroberts@gmail.com.

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