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Our Friendly Skies: November 2009

November 02, 2009|By ROD MARTIN / Brish Planetarium and ANDY SMETZER / Tristate Astronomers

Visible evening planets

Jupiter is visible all evening.

Mercury might be visible at the end of the month.

Visible morning planets

Vemus is bright in the east before sunrise.

Mars is high in the southeast.

Saturn rises shortly before the sun.

For more information about the visible evening planets and nighttime sky, download the planetarium's podcast "Skylights" from

Solar System

The November sky has many bright stars from the fall as it transitions to the well-known winter stars and constellations. The bright summer triangle and the less-bright great square of Pegasus frame the position of the brightest evening planet, Jupiter. Jupiter is bright at -2.4 magnitude, making it at least eight times brighter than the brightest star in the sky.

Find the giant planet in the faint constellation Capricornus. A good pair of binoculars will make it is easy to observe its disc and four bright satellites, but hold the binoculars very steady.


The four bright satellites were discovered by Galileo 400 years ago and are called the Galilean Moons. Because of this discovery which revolutionized astronomy, 2009 has been designated as the International Year of Astronomy. See below for information about an exciting event coming this month.

Mercury passes behind the sun at superior conjunction on Nov. 5. It will emerge late in the month, but will be much easier to see during December.

Mars is becoming higher in the morning sky as it passes near the Beehive Star Cluster in Cancer early in the month. At 0 magnitude, Mars is about as bright as nearby stars. Its color helps identify it. This month, Mars rises around 11 p.m. early and 9 p.m. late. As we approach Mars in our orbit, the red planet will seem to increase in size. We are now entering the beginning of the time to look for surface details through a telescope.

Venus is the brightest morning planet slightly below -4 magnitude. It is now dropping toward the Sun as November passes. It is getting lower and becoming more difficult to see well.

Saturn is now a morning planet. It is low in Virgo and rises three to four hours before the sun. It will get better throughout the fall and winter.

One of the highlights of November is the Leonid Meteor Shower. This could be a great year for these meteors. The peak activity will be during the predawn hours of Nov. 17. The conditions are good since the moon is near new and Earth is passing through a fairly rich stream of meteoric debris. You might see a couple meteors per minute. They are usually fast and bright. Good luck.

Sun and moon

On Nov. 1, the sun rose at 6:39 a.m., and set at 5:08 p.m. for 10 hours and 29 minutes of daylight. By Nov. 30, the sun rises at 7:11 a.m. and sets at 4:47 p.m.

for 9 hours and 36 minutes of daylight.

The sun enters the astronomical boundaries of Scorpius from Libra on Nov. 22, then into Ophiuchus on Nov. 29. Ophiuchus lies mostly above the plane of the solar system, but his leg actually contains more of the path of the sun than neighboring Scorpius.

The moon reached full on Nov. 2, last quarter on Nov. 9, new on Nov. 16 and first quarter on Nov. 24.

Brish Planetarium and events

The public planetarium program is "Planets." The program talks about the objects of our solar system as well as planets around other stars.

The programs are held Tuesdays at 7 p.m. Admission costs $3 for adults, $2 for children and students, and senior citizens with a WCPS Gold Card are admitted free.

Discovery Station

Celebrate the International Year of Astronomy with the Brish Planetarium and the Discovery Station in downtown Hagerstown on Saturday, Nov. 14. The event will consist of portable planetarium programs, talks by members of the Tristate Astronomers, displays in Discovery Station, and the main event, which is the unveiling of NASA Great Observatory images of the center of the Milky Way. Contact Discovery Station for more information.

This image unveiling is part of the worldwide release of these images from NASA's Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer space observatories. About 150 locations around the United States were chosen for this honor.

The planetarium is at the Central Offices of Washington County Public Schools on Commonwealth Avenue off Frederick Street in Hagerstown.

The planetarium's Web site is 

For more information about schedules and special events, go to

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