This months fun fact about the planets:
- Uranus appears to be a featureless blue ball at first glance, but this gas gets pretty weird upon closer inspection. First, the planet rotates on its side for reasons scientists haven’t quite figured out. The most likely explanation is that it underwent some sort of one or more titanic collisions in the ancient past. This tilt makes Uranus unique among the solar system planets.
- It also has tenuous rings, confirmed when the planet passed in front of a star (from Earth’s perspective) in 1977. More recently, astronomers spotted storms in Uranus’ atmosphere.
- Mercury is not easy to see this month. It will be only a few degrees above the eastern dawn horizon in early November and heading back towards the Sun and superior conjunction. The Earth and Mercury are on opposite sides of the Sun on the 29th.
- Venus is still shining brilliantly in the western evening sky, and you certainly can’t miss it. Venus will be in the constellation Sagitarrius for November. On the 8th, the planet will be 2° from the 4-day old waxing crescent Moon, an impressive sight in the early western evening sky.
- Mars has been lost in the Sun’s glare since conjunction in early October and now finally reappears a few degrees above the horizon at the end of the month, still well in the dawn glare.
- Jupiter spends the Month in Capricorn. It is high in the north-western evening sky at the end of twilight. On the 11th, the First Quarter Moon appears near Jupiter, not the closest of conjunctions. Still, it’s always an excellent photo opportunity when you have a bright planet near the Moon. Toward the month’s end, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus appear in a straight line and dominate the early western sky.
- Saturn is visible in the early western evening sky in Capricornus. This month the planet is at the point in its orbit known as the eastern quadrature. This occurs when the Sun-Earth-Saturn angle is 90 degrees. The maximum extent of the shadow of the planet’s globe is cast onto its magnificent rings. When viewing this world, it’s interesting to reflect on Galileo’s first observations of Saturn when he noted it looked like a planet with ears. Telescopes have certainly come a long way since then! On the 10th, the 6-day old waxing crescent Moon appears near the ringed world.
Uranus rises in the eastern sky soon after sunset. Since it is at opposition on November 4/5th, it is the best time to see the elusive planet. Because Uranus is opposite the Sun, it climbs highest up for the night at midnight. So Uranus stays out all night long. Also, around the time of opposition, Earth’s motion brings Uranus closest to Earth for 2021. Even at its brightest, Uranus is still quite faint. It’s barely perceptible as a dim speck of light to the unaided eye, under dark skies. To help find it – it is situated in a barren part of Aries the Ram.
- Now past opposition, Neptune transits the meridian (is due north) around 10 pm mid-month Aquarius.
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