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Long nights extend opportunities for stargazing

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With the change of seasons, we’re entering that time of year when nights are long and darkness comes early.

Starting Nov. 5, it’ll come even earlier with the end of daylight savings time. Remember to set your clock back an hour (“fall back”). Sunset on Nov. 5 will come at 4:45 p.m, and will drop to 4:22 p.m. by the end of the month.

Our bright planets are no longer high in the evening sky and easy to see.

Saturn is low in the west, and will set by 8 p.m early in November. But the bright planets will present some interesting close encounters during the month, right after sunset or early before sunrise.

Early in the month, look for bright Venus in the morning sky, low in the east.

On Nov. 1, the bright star Spica will be below Venus, and Mars will be above it and to the right of Venus.

In the first week of the month, you’ll see Venus drop below Spica. You’ll also notice another bright “star” below Venus — the giant planet Jupiter.

On the morning of Nov. 13 the two planets will be right next to each other, which should make for an impressive view.

By Nov. 16, Venus will have passed below Jupiter. By the end of the month, Venus will be far below and to the left of Jupiter at sunrise, with Mars above Jupiter and to its right.

If you have a good view of the west at sunset, you can look for Saturn low in the southwest.

It will be brighter than any stars in the area, making it easy to find.

Late in the month, elusive Mercury will join Saturn. A good time to pick them out will be Nov. 20, when the Moon will be located right above Saturn. Mercury will be below the Moon and to the right.

By the end of the month, Saturn and Mercury will be quite close together, very low in the sky at sunset.

See if you can find them!

It is fun to see the planets change their relative positions, from our viewpoint, as they circle the Sun. The word planet is derived from a Greek term for “wanderer,” as they are the stars that wander through our skies.

November is the month for one of the most famous of meteor showers, the Leonids.

This shower peaks the evening of Nov. 17 and the morning of Nov. 18.

Every year at that time Earth passes through the orbital path of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, and we pick up some of the dust and grit orbiting in the comet’s trail.

Tempel-Tuttle orbits the Sun in only 33 years. We get a stronger than normal meteor shower on that same frequency, as we pass through parts of the comet’s orbital path that are richer in debris.

In 1833, the Leonids produced an amazing “meteor storm” with an estimated 100,000 meteors an hour!

It was noted in many historical records, and a series of articles in the New York Evening Post.

There was also a strong storm in 1966. The latest was in 1998.

We’ll have to wait until 2032 for the next peak, but we can enjoy the lesser showers in the meantime.

New moon will be on Nov. 18, so we’ll not have a bright moon to wash out the dimmer Leonids.


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