Column

Searching the Sky: Planets not bashful at all this month

David Baumgartner writes that Venus, Pluto, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus are viewable this month.
Saturn. Photo by David Baumgartner
Saturn. Photo by David Baumgartner
The moon. Photo by David Baumgartner.
The moon. Photo by David Baumgartner.

This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.

 

Everywhere you look, it’s planets, planets, planets. That pretty much gives you an idea of what’s in store for the night skies in November. In order, from the setting sun stretching out to the east, you will see Venus, Pluto, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus.  

But wait, what about Mercury and Mars? Well, Mercury is playing the loner the rest of this month. It will be in the early morning portion of the sky, but by December it will be showing up following the sun as it sets in the evening. 

Mercury is a fast-moving planet. This speedy body travels so quickly around our sun that it doesn’t get a chance to stay around very long. So make sure you get a glimpse of it before it’s gone again. 

As far as Mars goes, it will be too close to the morning sun to observe during most of this month but will return to the morning sky by month’s end. 

There actually is one more planet that is visible to us. It’s the big one we are standing on, the Earth. Okay, so it’s not in the night sky. Or is it? It’s dark, and you are standing on the moon looking toward Earth. Well there it is, the Earth in the night sky. I know that is stretching things somewhat, but it always makes for a good trivia question.

First in line is the very bright planet Venus. I can’t tell you how many calls I have received from curious onlookers about this bright star-like object in the western horizon late in the evening, or early morning. 

Is it a UFO? Maybe a comet heading toward us getting ready to end our word as we know it? Well, It’s none of those. Thank heavens (a little play on words there). That bright star-like object would be Venus. Other than the moon, Venus is the brightest regular object in the evening sky.

Venus has phases much like our moon. At the beginning of November, Venus starts out looking quite similar to a quarter moon, showing us just half of its visible surface. I guess we can call it a quarter Venus. But by the end of the month Venus takes on a small crescent look. These phases can be viewed even with some of the smaller telescopes.

One of the most amazing objects in the sky that is available to you in your own backyard telescope, is the planet Saturn. This beautiful picture in the sky is one that remains with first-time viewers for their entire lives.  

One evening I had some grade school children over to take a look at Saturn. I remember one little guy saying while looking at Saturn, “look at this, it almost looks real.” 

I’m not sure what he meant by that, but he was certainly impressed with what he saw. He actually looked at the end of the telescope to see if I had fixed a picture of the planet on it.

I enjoy watching the responses of young and old alike when they see Saturn for the first time.  Maybe when Saturn comes to this same location again on its 29.5-year trip around the sun that same little guy, now not so little, will think fondly and remember that old man who showed him his first view of the ringed planet.  

And just maybe at that time he will have his own telescope and will share the same views with some other little guy.

So it’s late at night and you still haven’t had enough of the wonders of the heavens. Well then, it’s time for the last of our easy-to-view planets and it’s the mightiest of them all, ranking second in brightness only to Venus. 

Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and remains visible just after midnight on Nov. 1 and 11 a.m. by the end of the month. This giant provides a wealth of entertainment on any clear night.

It’s always interesting to watch Jupiter’s moons dancing or transiting in front of the planet. It’s not easy to see the moons themselves while in transit, but to view the shadows of those moons in the service of Jupiter is quite achievable.  

The four Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, trek back and forth as they orbit Jupiter and prove to be easy targets through most 8-inch telescopes and larger, or even a pair of real good binoculars.

Speaking of an 8-inch and larger telescope, that’s just what you’ll need to observe the last three planets on our list: Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Even with that size scope, all you may see is a star-like object for Pluto or a small bluish-green disk for Uranus and Neptune. 

That is possibly the best we can expect with their distance from the sun—Uranus is 1.75 billion miles, Neptune is 2.8 billion miles and Pluto is 3.19 billion miles. And yes, that’s billions of miles. It’s hard to comprehend these distances, especially comparing them to our menial system of measurement here on Earth.

A good opportunity to take some great photos is when the moon passes by the planets. The moon is always a great guide tool for locating other objects in the sky, including planets and stars (use the list below as a guide). It does have a tendency to block out the deep-sky objects, but it does give you an idea where objects are located after the moon moves on its way.

Don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour on Nov. 7 at 2 a.m. I guess you can set them the night before, or if you would like I could come by at 2 a.m. and set all your clocks back for you. Probably not the best idea.  

Always remember, “Spring forward, fall back”

 

Clear skies.

What’s going on up there this month?

 

Nov. 3: Moon passes 1.2 degrees north of Mercury

Nov. 4: New moon

Nov. 5: Moon is at perigee (222,975 miles from Earth)

Nov. 7: Moon passes 1.1 degrees north of Venus

Nov. 7: Daylight saving time ends (turn ’em back)

Nov. 10: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Saturn

Nov. 11: First quarter moon

Nov. 11: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Jupiter

Nov. 13: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Neptune

 

David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. College (Now Gavilan). Then joined the US Air Force where I specialized in Airborne Radar. Married my high school sweetheart JoAnne., shortly after three children arrived; Cindi, Michael, and Lisa. Somehow we ended up with nine Grandchildren.  Went on to San Luis Obispo, Questa, Colleges, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonville, and Hollister. The family spent two and a half years running a ranch up in Oregon. Made our way back to Hollister.  Got my Real Estate License in 1982, opened my own office in 93'. In the mean time raised Swans and revitalized my old hobby of Astronomy.  In 2001 I was named Chamber of Commence Man of the Year. I think I was the only one nominated. I don't care, I'm taking it. In December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. None the less, I am retired and I think it was time. Now the last thing I have to do is buy a coffin. I hear COSCO sells them now. But the only drawback is; you have to buy them in lots of six.  I guess I could buy them for the whole family. Not that funny, but thrifty.