Giant asteroid flyby, and more can't-miss sky events in November

Stargazers can also look out for multiple meteor showers and a parade of planetary pairings this month.

Photograph by N. Melville CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, ESA
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A shooting star cuts across auroras in a November night sky.
Photograph by N. Melville CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, ESA

As seasonal changes really get underway in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, sky-watchers around the world can look up to get their best views of a giant asteroid as it zooms past Earth and to gaze at a double stream of bright meteors pulled apart by Jupiter’s massive gravitational field.

So dust off those binoculars, and get set to explore the night sky this month.

South Taurid Meteor Shower Peaks—November 5

The annual Taurid meteor shower is a celestial double feature: The original stream of comet debris has been tugged apart over time by gravitational effects from passing planets, resulting in two groupings of Taurid meteors with different peak times.

Meteor Showers 101 Meteor showers bring interplanetary debris, ranging from pebbles to boulders, into Earth's atmosphere. Find out how these dazzling displays come about.

Look for the southern shower to radiate from its namesake constellation Taurus, the bull, in the eastern sky during the predawn hours of the 5th. While this shower is really more of a trickle, with rates of no more than 10 shootings stars an hour, it makes up for the low activity with dazzling brightness. Taurids are known to be larger than average meteors, so they can produce visually impressive fireballs.

Moon Visits Saturn—November 11

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Creamy-colored Saturn will seem to hover near the moon on November 11.

Look toward the low southwest sky an hour after local sunset to see the crescent moon paired up with bright, yellow-colored Saturn. Viewers with a backyard telescope can also use the opportunity to spy on the planet’s famous rings and large moons.

North Taurid Meteor Shower Peaks—November 12

Beginning late on the 11th and into the following morning, stargazers in mid-northern latitudes will be able to watch the peak of the North Taurid meteor shower. The individual meteors will also appear to radiate from the constellation Taurus, which will be riding high in the southern sky during the overnight hours. Sky-watchers away from city lights may see about 10 to 15 shooting stars an hour, including potential fireballs.

Mars Meets Moon—November 15

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Mars will appear close to the waxing gibbous moon on November 15.

About half an hour after local sunset, look halfway up the southern sky to see Mars paired up with the waxing gibbous moon. The two objects will only be three degrees apart, a separation equal to the width of your three middle fingers held at arm’s length.

The red planet is quickly getting fainter and smaller in our sky throughout this month. As such, telescope observers will get their best views of Mars’ surface features in the next few weeks before its disk shrinks.

Leonid Meteor Shower Peak—November 17

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Leonid meteors seem to radiate from their namesake constellation.

Wait late into the night on the 17th and into the following early morning, and you’ll witness the peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower. In most years, this shower shines with as many as 20 shooting stars an hour visible from the dark countryside. This year, however, the full moon will unfortunately drown out all but the brightest shooting stars. With lunar glare in the way, your best shot to see meteors will be in the predawn hours, while the moon is setting in the west.

Asteroid Juno at Opposition—November 17

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The asteroid Juno will be at its brightest since 2005 in the night sky on November 17.

At about 160 miles wide, the asteroid Juno should be easily visible with binoculars or small telescopes as it makes its closest approach to Earth since 2005. The space rock will zoom within 92,955,806 miles of our planet, and it won’t come this close again until 2031.

To find Juno, look toward the Eridanus constellation, next to Orion and Taurus, rising in the east near local midnight. Juno will appear to be just over one degree west of the faint star 32 Eridani. The best way to identify and track Juno is to photograph or sketch the same star field over a couple of nights—the “star” that moves is the asteroid.

Moon Buzzes Beehive—November 27

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The waning gibbous moon will hang just below the Beehive cluster on November 27.

Watch the eastern horizon before sunrise for the waning gibbous moon to pair with the Beehive star cluster. A pair of binoculars will easily resolve the cluster into its dozens of member stars.

Clear skies!

Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, is the author of Star Trek: The Official Guide to Our Universe. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.