Our Friendly Skies

November 03, 2008|By ROD MARTIN and ANDY SMETZE, Tristate Astronomers

Visible evening planets

Jupiter is the bright evening planet low in the southwest. Venus is bright and lower in the west during evening twilight.

Visible Morning Planets

Saturn is in the east before sunrise. Mercury is visible in the east before sunrise early in the month. For more information about the visible evening planets and nighttime sky, download the planetarium's podcast "Skylights" from

Solar System

The word "Planet" means "wandering star." That is obvious this month with the two brightest planets, Jupiter and Venus. These two planets are very obvious and easy to see this month as they approach each other. At -4 magnitude, Venus is about six times brighter than Jupiter and nearly 40 times brighter than the brighter stars. Jupiter is about six times brighter than the brighter stars. As soon as evening twilight begins early in November, Jupiter shines about one fourth up the sky in the south and Venus is about thirty degrees to its lower right with a lower altitude. Thirty degrees is about the width of three fists held at arm's length. Venus approaches Jupiter by about one degree each evening, that's the width of an outstretched finger. By the end of November, the two bright planets are about two degrees apart, with the closest approach on Nov. 30. Watch the thin crescent moon rendezvous with the planets from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1.  This would be an interesting subject to try your hand at astrophotography. Mercury may be visible early in November. Look low in the east 30 to 60 minutes before sunrise. Mercury will reach superior conjunction on Nov. 25 when it passes behind the Sun. Saturn takes over the morning stage this month. It is not the brightest object at +1 magnitude, but as the month passes it rises earlier each day, from around 2:30 a.m. early to before 1 a.m. late. The rings are now tilted less open than over the past year because of our viewing angle. That means that it will not appear as bright in the sky.



Since we have passed the fall equinox, we now have more nighttime than daylight. This will continue until the winter solstice on Dec. 21. Don't forget to change your clocks to standard time on Nov. 2.  Move your clocks back one hour. On Nov. 2, the Sun rises at 6:41, sets at 5:07 for 10 hours and 26 minutes of daylight.  By Nov. 30, the Sun rises at 7:12, sets at 4:47 for 9 hours and 35 minutes of daylight. The Sun enters the astronomic boundaries of Scorpius from Libra on Nov. 22 and from Scorpius to Ophiuchus on Nov. 29.

The moon reaches first quarter on Nov. 6, full on Nov. 13, last quarter on Nov. 19, and new on Nov. 27.


Since this is the 40th anniversary year of the planetarium, many good previous programs will be shown this year. Except for January and February, programs will be changed monthly. The public program is "Worlds in Motion." The program will be presented on Nov. 4, 11, 18, and 25 at 7 p.m. "Worlds in Motion" presents ways that everything moves from atoms to planets to stars to galaxies. Newton and Kepler are discussed as well as why satellites are launched from the southern part of our country. Programs are held Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. when schools are in session, unless noted otherwise. Admission fees are $3 for adults, $2 for children and students, and senior citizens with a WCPS gold card are free. The Tristate Astronomers meet monthly in the planetarium. For more information and schedules for the club, go to The planetarium is located at the Central Offices of the Washington County Public Schools on Commonwealth Avenue off Frederick Street in Hagerstown.

The planetarium's website is and the phone number is 301-766-2898.

Stay up to date with public programs and take a tour of the night sky with "Skylights," the Brish Planetarium's monthly podcasts on and "Skylights" are made possible by Antietam Cable Television, the Herald Mail Newspapers,and the Washington County Public Schools Public Information Office.

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