This month we are in for a special rare treat given us by the tiny planet Mercury. It is often difficult to see Mercury as it is usually only visible for short periods of time near the eastern or western horizons in the early mornings or evenings. On Monday November 11, Mercury will appear as a small black dot as it transits in front of the Sun. The transit, beginning at 5:35 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, will not be visible to us here in the Mountain Time Zone until after sunrise. The mid-point of the transit will occur for us at 9:19 a.m. MST and will end at 11:04 a.m. MST. All of North America will be able to view all or portions of Mercury’s transit across the Sun.
As always, viewing the Sun requires special protection for our eyes. In this case you will need a small telescope equipped with a special solar filter. Therefore, we will have a specially equipped telescope located at the Etscorn Campus Observatory and made available to the public to view the “Transit of Mercury!” Please come join us, weather permitting, at the Etscorn Campus Observatory at Sunrise on November 11th!
Venus and Jupiter spend the month shining in the twilight just above the western horizon. On November 22nd brilliant Venus at magnitude -3.9 and Jupiter at magnitude -1.9 will be separated by only two degrees above the horizon and will remain very close for the next three days reaching a separation of a scant 1.5 degrees on the 23rd and 24th.
Saturn continues to shine in the early evening southwestern sky setting about 4.5 hours after the Sun. As this month progresses Saturn, Jupiter and Venus will line up while shifting positions as Venus continues to rise above the southwestern horizon. Saturn’s rings are still wide open for telescopic viewing. You might want to take advantage of that because as the ringed planet approaches the horizon, viewing it and its rings will become more difficult.
Mars rises above the eastern horizon earlier each day so that by the end of the month it comes up fully 2.5 hours before the Sun. At magnitude -1.8 it will display a bright golden orange color. About a week after its transit of the Sun, Mercury springs up into the early morning sky. Brightening to magnitude -0.5 it will rise fully 1.25 hours before the Sun by the end of the month.
The Moon will be first quarter on the 4th, full on the 12th, last quarter on the 19th and new on the 26th. Looking south-southwest on November 1st and 2nd, about an hour after sunset, the waxing crescent Moon will appear first to the right and then to the left of the ringed planet Saturn. On the 28th and 29th, looking southwest about 45 minutes after sunset, the thin crescent Moon will be just above brilliant Venus followed on the next evening by being just below Saturn!
Don’t forget the first Saturday of the month Star Party at Etscorn Campus Observatory at New Mexico Tech on November 2nd.
Also, a reminder that on Sunday, November 3 it’s time to “fall back” as Daylight Savings Time will end at 2 a.m. Remember to set your clocks and watches back one hour. Cell phones will take care of themselves.
New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club