This Week’s Sky at a Glance, November 13 – 21

Friday, November 13

• Around 8 or 9 p.m. this week, the Great Square of Pegasus stands in its level position very high toward the south. (It's straight overhead if you're at the latitude of Miami.) Its right (western) side points very far down toward Fomalhaut. Its eastern side points down less directly toward Beta Ceti, not as low.

If you have a very good view down to a dark south horizon, and if you're not much farther north than roughly New York or Denver, picture an equilateral triangle with Fomalhaut and Beta Ceti forming its top two corners. Near where the third corner would be is Alpha Phoenicis, or Ankaa, in the constellation Phoenix. It's magnitude 2.4, not very bright but the brightest thing in the area. It has an orange tint (binoculars help). Have you ever seen anything of the constellation Phoenix?

Moon in twilight, Nov. 14-16, 2015

The crescent Moon waxes above the disappearing Sagittarius Teapot. (The visibility of the faint stars in twilight is exaggerated.)

Saturday, November 14

• The waxing crescent Moon hangs in the southwest after sunset. As twilight fades away, can you make out any last stars of summery Sagittarius to its left, as shown here? Bring binoculars!

Sunday, November 15

• Look very high above the crescent Moon in early twilight. How soon can you spot 1st-magnitude Altair? And if you're in the latitudes of the northern U.S. and southern Canada, look almost straight overhead for Deneb, only slightly fainter.

Monday, November 16

• This is the time of year when the dim Little Dipper extends to the left from Polaris just as twilight ends. If you can't see the Little Dipper's 4th- and 5th-magnitude stars, at least you can see 2nd-magnitude Kochab and 3rd-magnitude Pherkad, "the Guardians of the Pole," at the end of the Little Dipper's bowl some 17° to Polaris's left. That's nearly two fists at arm's length. Farther left lies the arched back of Draco.

Tuesday, November 17

• The typically weak Leonid meteor shower is likely to peak late tonight: from about midnight local time until dawn Wednesday morning. Good luck.

Wednesday, November 18

• The brightest star on the northeastern side of the November evening sky is Capella, magnitude zero. It's below Perseus. Look well to its right (about three fists at arm's length) for the Pleiades, the size of your fingertip at arm's length. Below the Pleiades blinks orange Aldebaran.

Thursday, November 19

• Orion is now clearing your eastern horizon by about 8 p.m. (depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone). Aldebaran is high above Orion. Above Aldebaran are the Pleiades. Aldebaran and the Pleiades always serve as Orion's early announcers.

Moon and Great Square of Pegasus, Nov 20-21, 2015.

As the November Moon waxes into its gibbous phase, it always passes beneath the Great Square of Pegasus.

Friday, November 20

• Whenever Fomalhaut is "southing" (crossing the meridian due south, which it does around 7 p.m. this week), the first stars of Orion are just about to rise in the east, and the Pointers of the Big Dipper stand directly below Polaris (for skywatchers in the world's mid-northern latitudes).

• Before dawn tomorrow morning, look east for bright Jupiter and brighter Venus. Between them is little orange Mars. Look carefully; very close to Mars is the 4th-magnitude star Eta Virginis. The two may appear less than 0.1° apart depending on where you are.

Saturday, November 21

• After dark these nights, Altair is the brightest star in the west-southwest. Look upper left of it, by barely more than a fist at arm's length, for the delicate little constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin. To Altair's upper right by a lesser distance is little Sagitta, the Arrow.

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Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.

This is an outdoor nature hobby. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy.

Pocket Sky Atlas

The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6 — which may sound like a lot, but it's still less than one per square degree on the sky. Also plotted are many hundreds of telescopic galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae.

Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and once you know your way around, the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.

You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.

Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (meaning heavy and expensive). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."


This Week's Planet Roundup

Mercury is hidden in superior conjunction with the Sun.

Planets before dawn, Nov. 14, 2015

Before dawn begins the Jupiter-Mars-Venus line shines especially bright, but Spica is still low.

Venus, Mars, and Jupiter continue their display in the east before and during dawn, but they're drawing farther apart. Venus is the brightest at magnitude –4.4. Jupiter, higher, is –1.9, and Mars, between them, is much fainter at +1.6.

Watch the line lengthen this week. Venus is descending; Jupiter and Mars are moving higher. And so is Spica; look for it well below Venus, more or less in line with the planets.

Saturn (magnitude +0.6) is hidden deep in the afterglow of sunset.

Uranus (magnitude +5.7, in Pisces) and Neptune (magnitude +7.8, in Aquarius) are high in the southern sky during evening. Finder charts for Uranus and Neptune.

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All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America.

Eastern Standard Time (EST) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.

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“This adventure is made possible by generations of searchers strictly adhering to a simple set of rules. Test ideas by experiments and observations. Build on those ideas that pass the test. Reject the ones that fail. Follow the evidence wherever it leads, and question everything. Accept these terms, and the cosmos is yours.”

— Neil deGrasse Tyson