Observing guide: the best planets to see in November 2019

The Sky at Night's Pete Lawrence reveals how to see the planets in the night sky this month.

An image of Venus captured by the Venus Express spacecraft.

Venus is currently an evening object, which appears to be slowly pulling away from the Sun. On 1 November it shines at mag. –3.8 and sets approximately 50 minutes after the Sun goes down.

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Through a telescope the planet appears to show a 93%-lit gibbous disc which is 10 arcseconds across on 1 November.

As Venus slowly moves further around its orbit on the distant side of the Sun, the angle between Earth, the Sun and Venus changes.

As a result, by the end of November, Venus shows a marginally reduced phase of 89% and a fractionally larger disc, 11 arcseconds across.

The position of Venus deteriorates slightly throughout the month as it drops south below the ecliptic plane.

However, its increased separation from the Sun means that it still manages to set 90 minutes after the Sun goes down on 30 November.

Although Venus and Jupiter often appear close together, it is unusual to see them so bright, at mag. –3.8 and mag. –1.7 respectively. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Although Venus and Jupiter often appear close together, it is unusual to see them so bright, at mag. –3.8 and mag. –1.7 respectively. Credit: Pete Lawrence

On 24 November, mag. –3.8 Venus can be seen close to Jupiter low in the southwest some 30 minutes after sunset. At this time Venus will appear 1.4˚ to the south of mag. –1.7 Jupiter.

Although the coming together of these two planets isn’t that uncommon, the fact that they are so bright can really capture the imagination.

Venus is starting to move into a good position ahead of an upcoming impressive winter and spring appearance.

Although there’s not much to see on its disc currently, it’s interesting to watch its progress through a scope as it appears to grow in size and shrink in phase.

It’s good to start recording this early if possible, attempting to follow it right the way through to inferior conjunction on 3 June 2020.

Observing Venus in the November night sky

Best time to see: 24 November, 30 minutes after sunset

Altitude: 4º (low)

Location: Sagittarius

Direction: Southwest

Features: Phase, faint atmospheric markings

The phase and relative sizes of the planets this month. Each planet is shown with south at the top, to show its orientation through a telescope. Credit: Pete Lawrence
The phase and relative sizes of the planets this month. Each planet is shown with south at the top, to show its orientation through a telescope. Credit: Pete Lawrence

How to see the rest of the planets this month:

Mercury

Best time to see: 28 November, 45 minutes before sunrise

Altitude: 9.5˚ (low)

Location: Libra

Direction: Southeast

Mercury is poorly placed at the month’s start, an evening object setting just after the Sun. Inferior conjunction occurs on 11 November and then Mercury re-emerges into the morning sky. This inferior conjunction will result in a transit of Mercury. It’s well placed on 20 November, shining at mag. +0.6 and rising 100 minutes before the Sun.

The good positioning remains to the month’s end. On 25 November, mag. –0.2 Mercury is less than 3˚ from a 2%-lit waning crescent Moon. Greatest western elongation occurs on 28th, with Mercury separated from the Sun by 20.1˚.

Mars

Best time to see: 30 November, 06:15 UT

Altitude:

Location: Virgo

Direction: Southeast

Mars is pulling away from the Sun in the morning sky, but remains poor telescopically due to its large distance from Earth. Mars’s mag. +1.8 orange coloured dot is 3˚ from mag. +1.0 Spica (Alpha (a) Virginis) on 11 November as they rise above the east-southeast horizon.

Jupiter

Best time to see: 1 November, 17:30 UT

Altitude: 17˚ (low)

Location: Ophiuchus

Direction: Southwest

Balanced on the eastern knee of Ophiuchus, Jupiter has a low southerly declination that is making UK-based observations tricky. Its mag. –1.8 dot appears low in the southwest as night falls at the start of the month. On 24 November, mag. –1.7 Jupiter is joined by mag. –3.8 Venus. See them after sunset above the southwest horizon. On 28th, Jupiter will reappear from a lunar occultation (see page 47) in daylight.

Saturn

Best time to see: 1 November, 18:15 UT

Altitude: 12˚

Location: Sagittarius

Direction: South-southwest

Mag. +0.9 Saturn is visible low in the south-southwest as darkness falls at the start of the month, but soon becomes too low for telescopic observation. On 1 November a 24%-lit waxing crescent Moon appears 7.5˚ west of the planet. The following evening, the now 33%-lit crescent Moon appears 5.5˚ east-southeast of Saturn. On 29 November, the 10%-lit waxing lunar crescent sits 3˚ southwest of the planet.

Uranus

Best time to see: 30 November, 21:30 UT

Altitude: 49˚

Location: Aries

Direction: South

Uranus is well positioned in Aries. At mag. +5.7 it reaches a peak altitude of 49˚ when due south. Under a dark sky it may be possible to see the planet with the naked eye.

Neptune

Best time to see: 1 November, 20:30 UT

Altitude: 30.5˚

Location: Aquarius

Direction: South

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At mag. +7.9 you’ll need at least binoculars to spot Neptune among the stars of Aquarius. It’s currently close to mag. +4.2 Phi (φ) Aquarii.