How to see the planets in the night sky: November 2020

Read our astronomy guide to find out what planets will be visible in the night sky this month, and how you can spot one tonight.

Uranus is well placed for viewing in the night sky from the UK throughout November and December 2020, reaching opposition on 31 October. While opposition marks a big change in the appearance of a close planet like Mars, for the distant ice giants Uranus and Neptune, the difference is small.

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Easily seen though binoculars, the tricky aspect of identifying Uranus currently comes from its location in southern Aries where there aren’t many stars to signpost it.

How to see Uranus, Mars and the other planets in the night sky, November 2020
Uranus sits about 60% of the way along a line between Menkar and Sheratan. Credit: Pete Lawrence

One way to locate its general area is to identify Menkar (Alpha (α) Ceti) and Sheratan (Beta (β) Arietis). Uranus lies 60% of the way along this line, starting at Menkar.

Through binoculars, Uranus looks like a mag. +5.7 star, which again isn’t particularly helpful as there are other stars of similar brightness in the area.

For more on this, read our guide on how to see Uranus in the night sky.

A small telescope is the minimum you need to bring out the amazing colour of the planet, and this is the best way to positively identify it through the eyepiece.

Uranus currently presents a 3.8 arcsecond disc, which can be seen with a small scope, while larger instruments will show this disc very clearly.

Uranus on 18 December 2017, showing surface details in infrared. The lighter polar region is tipped to the right. The moons were exposed separately from the planet and in visible light, not IR. Credit: Martin Lewis
Uranus on 18 December 2017. Credit: Martin Lewis

An interesting challenge for large aperture telescope owners, or those with planetary imaging setups, is to try and record the brighter moons of Uranus: Miranda (mag. +16.5), Ariel (+14.3), Umbriel (15.0), Titania (+13.9) and Oberon (+14.1).

Although its disc is small, imaging setups have recorded features on the planet in the past. These normally consist of bands in the planet’s atmosphere but additionally, ‘hot-spot’ bright regions have been recorded too: huge storms within the planet’s atmosphere.

Filters are typically used to reveal detail like this, popular choices being IR 685 or RG610 filters, combined with a camera that is particularly sensitive to red and infrared light.

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
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

How to see the planets in November 2020

Uranus

  • Best time to see 1 November, 23:50 UT
  • Altitude 51˚
  • Location Aries
  • Direction South
  • Features Small greenish disc, brighter moons
  • Recommended equipment 150mm or larger

Mercury

  • Best time to see 10 November, from 06:00 UT
  • Altitude 3.5˚ (low)
  • Location Virgo
  • Direction East-southeast

Mercury is a morning object all month; on 1 November it’s at mag. +1.5 and rises over the east-southeast horizon 70 minutes before the Sun. It brightens to reach mag. –0.4 on the 10th when it’s at greatest western elongation (19.1˚ W) rising two hours before the Sun. Neptune maintains a good brightness, shining at mag. –0.7 on the 30th and rising an hour before sunrise.

Venus

  • Best time to see 1 November, 05:30 UT
  • Altitude 14˚
  • Location Virgo
  • Direction East-southeast

Venus is creeping closer to the Sun in the morning sky. Despite this it remains prominent during November. On 1 November mag. –3.9 Venus rises 3.5 hours before the Sun, a telescope revealing its phase to be 81% with an apparent size of 13 arcseconds.

By the end of the month it rises 2 hours and 40 minutes before the Sun and shows an 88%-lit disc, 11 arcseconds across through a telescope eyepiece. On 13 November, it’s grouped with a 5%-lit waning crescent Moon and mag. –0.6 Mercury.

Mars

  • Best time to see 1 November, 22:30 UT
  • Altitude 42˚
  • Location Pisces
  • Direction South

Mars was at opposition on 13 October and remains bright through November, but dims from mag. –2.1 on the 1st to mag. –1.1 on the 30th. The planet reaches a stationary point in the sky on 16 November when its apparent movement changes from westward to eastward. It remains bright but dimming, with a 20 arcsecond disc on 1 November, shrinking to 15 arcseconds by the 30 November.

Jupiter

  • Best time to see 1 November, 17:45 UT
  • Altitude 14˚
  • Location Sagittarius
  • Direction Just west of south

Jupiter is visible all month in the evening sky, to the west of south as darkness falls. Shining around mag. –2.0 it appears close to Saturn. Both planets start to converge noticeably this month, their separation reducing from just over 5˚ at the start to 2.3˚ by the month’s end.

Saturn

  • Best time to see 1 November, 17:45 UT
  • Altitude 15.5˚
  • Location Sagittarius
  • Direction Just west of south

Saturn shines just to the east of Jupiter, currently at mag. +0.9, with both planets converging towards the month’s end ahead of December’s Great Conjunction. A 25%-lit waxing crescent Moon forms a right-angled triangle with Jupiter and Saturn on 19 November.

Neptune

  • Best time to see 1 November, 20:50 UT
  • Altitude 31˚
  • Location Aquarius
  • Direction South

Neptune is well placed in the evening sky, just to the east of Phi (ψ) Aquarii. It shines at mag. +7.8, so you’ll need at least binoculars to see it. It passes its highest point in the sky, due south, in darkness all month and appears to nudge west towards Phi Aquarii.

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Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and a co-host on The Sky at Night. This guide originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.