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Astronomy: Observing Highlights for November

November 2012 Southern Hemisphere panorama ESO HH HeyerNovember has a little something for everyone, including a different array of planets for night owls versus for early birds and a total solar eclipse for Australia to the South Pacific to South America.

Jupiter and Mars are the planets to watch in the evening. On November 1, the moon will rise just below Jupiter in Taurus. Jupiter is arriving earlier in the evening now and that will be sped up by one hour after Daylight Saving Time ends on November 4. Rising in the east-northeast, Jupiter's four largest moons and the Great Red Spot can be spotted through even small telescopes.

The moon pairs up with Jupiter for a second time at the end of the month, on November 28, the night of the full moon. The moon will be at apogee on this date, its farthest point in its orbit around Earth, making it the most distant and smallest full moon of the year.

Mars stays low to the horizon after sunset. The Red Planet crosses in front of the Milky Way during November, passing deep-sky objects that make great telescopic targets. On November 23, find the Red Planet next to M28, a magnitude-6.9 globular cluster. On November 27 and 28, Mars is near the magnitude-5.2 globular cluster M22. Mars also pairs with a much more visible target, the moon, on November 15 and 16.

For early birds up before the sun, Venus is the planet to watch. On November 11, Venus and the crescent moon will be nearly side by side, with the star Spica in the constellation Virgo just below, with Saturn lower still. On the next morning, November 12, the moon will be lower and found beside Saturn. Venus passes Spica on the morning of the 18th, headed toward Saturn. Venus and Saturn have a conjunction on the mornings of November 26 and 27, when the pair is less than a degree apart. Can you spot Mercury just below them before the sun rises?

November hosts three quiet meteor showers. From November 4 to 5 is the South Taurids with about 7 meteors an hour. The following weekend, November 11 and 12, is the North Taurid meteor shower; while it will also have about 7 meteors an hour it will occur under darker skies, being closer to New Moon on the 13th. The last shower is the most famous, the Leonid meteor shower, because it has produced some of the biggest storms in history. This year expect only 10 to 15 meteors an hour at peak over November 16 to 17.

A total solar eclipse starts 19:37 Universal Time (UT or Greenwich Mean Time) on November 13 and ends at 0:45 UT on November 14. However, a quirk of this eclipse is that because it crosses the International Date Line, it also begins on November 14 local time and ends the day before, on November 13 local time. The eclipse will first hit during daybreak in northeastern Australia on November 14, darkening the city of Cairns in Queensland for about two minutes not long after sunrise. The shadow of the sun then sweeps out across a great expanse of empty South Pacific Ocean. The path of totality does not touch much land, crossing just north of New Zealand, but that country will still see up to 80 percent of the sun in eclipse. The eclipse crosses the International Date Line and reaches maximum eclipse on November 13 at 22:12 UT. The event will end in Chile on the evening of November 13, where a partial eclipse will be visible before sunset.

Photo: A panoramic view of the night sky in Chile, where a partial solar eclipse will be visible at sunset in November. Credit: ESO/H.H. Heyer

HS_KellyWhittKelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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