The clocks have changed, and the sun now sets not long after 4:00 pm to give us long dark nights for stargazing. The Great Square of Pegasus is now in the southern sky and available for us to use to find our way around the many constellations that surround it. Jupiter is still shining bright and Mars will almost double in brightness this month, giving us the opportunity for some planet watching. Finally, you may be able to spot shooting stars produced as a steady stream from the Taurid meteor showers in the first part of the month, while there is also the possibility of spotting some more from the Leonids meteor shower which peaks on 17 November.
Following the clock change at end of last month, the sun now sets not long after 4:00 pm, meaning that the stars and constellations start to become visible from about 5:30 pm onwards. During the previous three months we have been watching the Milky Way get lower and lower in the southern night sky and you may have noticed the constellations in the south getting dimmer. This is because the position of the Earth is now such that we are looking out of the plane of our galaxy and into the rest of the universe.
The Milky Way has not gone altogether, and you can see it over in the west along with the Summer Triangle of the three bright stars of Vega, Altair and Deneb, which we have been using to navigate our way around the night sky in previous months. However, it is now better to use the Great Square of Pegasus, a large square asterism made up of 4 stars of nearly equal brightness which you can find high up in the southern night sky. The four stars are Scheat, Alpheratz, Markab and Algenib and you will need to look carefully to find them as they are all of second magnitude, so they aren’t the brightest.
If you follow the diagonal down from the top left of the Square to beyond its bottom right star, you’ll come to a faint group of stars known as the Water Jar of Aquarius. It is an asterism formed by four relatively bright stars in the constellation of Aquarius (the Water-Carrier). It is easily recognised by its arrow shape, which looks a bit like a fighter plane with swept wings. Though it’s not the brightest part of Aquarius, it’s a good pattern that helps you to find its other stars.
A line of stars in the constellation of Andromeda stretches from the top left edge of the Square a constellation that is named after the daughter of Cassiopeia who, in the Greek myth, was chained to a rock to be eaten by the sea monster Cetus but was saved from death by Perseus. The constellation is the home of the Andromeda Galaxy which, at approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth, is the nearest spiral galaxy to our own galaxy, the Milky Way. It is also the most distant object that you are likely to see without an optical aid. However, if you can’t find it with the naked eye, use binoculars to look for a little oval blur.
Below Andromeda and to the left of Pegasus is where you will find the constellation of Pisces (the Fishes). It is very faint and difficult to see, so the best way to find it is to look directly below the Square of Pegasus for the Circlet of Pisces, which is a pentagonal asterism of 5 stars that marks the head of the Western Fish. Once you’ve found it, go on from there to catch the Eastern Fish which is jumping upward to the east of the Square of Pegasus. The entire constellation looks like the letter V.
Below Pisces is the constellation of Cetus, the Sea Monster which in Greek mythology both Perseus and Heracles needed to slay. You’ll find its tail marked by a fairly bright star called Diphda located low down in the sky, which is almost directly below the left-hand edge of the Square of Pegasus, while further over to the left and up a little, you’ll find Menkar, a reasonably bright star that marks its head.
You may have noticed that all the constellations in this part of the sky have watery connections. It is said that this is because the Sun travelled through these constellations during the wet season in ancient Mesopotamia, which was from November to March, and flooding was a major problem. The naming of many of our constellations dates from that location and time.
Finally, to the east of the Square is Aries, the Ram, whose three main stars form an easily recognised triangle. You’ll find another more regular triangle close to this one which is actually called Tringulum, the Triangle. It contains the nearby galaxy M33, which will be visible with binoculars if you have a reasonably dark sky.
If you look north, you’ll see the same stars as you would in any other month, except that their orientation varies. This month the familiar Plough asterism, which many people will recognise, is low down in the north at the moment with its rectangular end almost directly below Polaris, the Pole Star. If you look over to the north-east you can see Capella. It is a yellow giant star, the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga (the Charioteer), the sixth-brightest star in the night sky, and the third brightest in the northern celestial hemisphere after Arcturus and Vega.
We have a first quarter Moon (a half moon) on 1 November, and you will find it sitting below and to the right of Saturn over in the southeast darkness falls, while three days later, on 4 November, the Moon will be below and to the right of Jupiter.
This month’s full Moon is called the Beaver Moon. There is disagreement over the origin this name with some saying that it comes from Native Americans setting beaver traps during this month, while others say it comes from the heavy activity of beavers building their winter dams. It is also known as the Frosty Moon, and along with December’s Full Moon, some called it the Oak Moon. Traditionally, if the Beaver Moon is the last Full Moon before the winter solstice, it is also called the Mourning Moon.
There is a total eclipse of the Moon on 8 November, but this will not be visible from the British Isles as it starts just after the Moon has set. It will, however, be visible from North America and the Pacific.
On 10 and 11 November, the Moon will spend the night traversing the sky near Mars and on 13 November, it will be next to Castor and Pollux.
The last quarter Moon is on 16 November and the new Moon (no moon) is on 23 November and a couple of days later in the evenings of 26 and 27 November, you should be able to pick out the thinnest of crescent moons sitting close to south to southwest horizon as darkness falls.
Although it is past its closest point to Earth, Jupiter is still the brightest object that you’ll see in the night sky this month (apart from the Moon), so it will be the first thing that you will see as darkness falls. You will find it over in the southeast and it will stay above the horizon until it sets in the west at around 2:00 am. If you look at it through binoculars or a telescope, you will see some tiny starry objects on either side of it. These are its brightest and largest moons. They are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto and are known as the Galilean moons. If you watch them on different nights, you will notice that they change position as they circle the mighty gas giant planet.
Saturn is well over to the lower right of Jupiter, sitting in the southern night sky as darkness falls and shining a lot less brightly. It sets in the southwest at around 10:00 pm and if you look at it through binoculars or a telescope that magnify by about 40 or 50 times, you be able to see its famous rings and its biggest moons. The largest moon, Titan, is enormous. In fact, it’s 40% more massive than the planet Mercury and 80% more massive than our own moon.
Not too far to the right of Jupiter, lies Neptune. However, this most distant planet will be very faint, so you will need a telescope to see it. It sets at about 1:30 am.
You’ll find Uranus well over to the left of Jupiter and to the right of Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus the Bull. It is at its closest to Earth on 9 November, but even then, it will not be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. However, you may be able to see it with binoculars or a telescope.
Mars rises in the northeast at about 5:30 pm and will spend the night traversing the sky from east to west. Its brightness will almost double during November and it moves closer to reaching its opposition on 8 December. This when it Earth will fly between Mars and the Sun for the first time in about 2 years, casting a shadow over the Red Planet and causing it to shine at its brightest. You'll easily spot it above the noticeable constellation of Orion the Hunter.
At the moment, Mercury and Venus are too close to the Sun to be seen.
During the first part of the month, the South and North Taurid meteor showers are very noticeable. Unlike other meteor showers, they don’t have strong peaks but instead have “staying power” and produce a steady stream of meteors over a number of weeks. The South Taurids are active from about 23 September to 12 November, while the North Taurids are active from about 13 October to 2 December.
These showers produce about 5 meteors/hour each and because they overlap up until the 12 November, you can expect to see up to 10 meteors/hour during the first 2 weeks of the month. However, the best nights to look for them will be right at the start of the month, before the ever-increasing light from a waxing Moon drowns them out before it becomes 100% full on 8 November. The showers’ radiant points, the part of the sky from which the meteors originate, rise in early evening and are at their highest in the sky around midnight, so this will be the best time on these nights to look for them.
We also have the Leonid meteor shower this month and it is known for periodic storms of historic proportions, when shooting stars fall like rain. While no storm is predicted for the 2022 Leonids, you can still catch plenty of meteors between 3 November and 2 December.
This meteor shower peaks the morning of 17 November, a day after the last quarter Moon, so look for them before the Moon rises at around midnight. This is also when the shower’s radiant rises, so there will only be a narrow window of darkness before moonlight will brighten the sky and wash out many of them.