Muskegon, Muskegon County's online magazine

The center of our Milky Way galaxy is hidden from the prying eyes of optical telescopes by clouds of obscuring dust and gas. But in this photo, the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared cameras penetrate much of the dust, revealing the stars of the crowded galactic center region. NASA reports the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will offer a much-improved infrared view, teasing out fainter stars and sharper details. Unfortunately, here in Muskegon, we must be on alert this month for clear nights to star gaze. Photo courtesy NASA, JPL-Caltech, Susan Stolovy (SSC/Caltech) et al.

Search for Clear Nights for November Star Gazing


November can be a difficult month for star gazing. Nights in November are frequently cloudy here in Michigan, yet the clear nights offer a chance to enjoy the stars of autumn, as well a preview of some of the best stars of winter. Sky watchers will also have opportunities to enjoy five naked eye planets this month.

As this month begins, sky watchers can spot the bright planet Jupiter low in the southwest about an hour after sunset. Near the end of the month, Jupiter is joined by brilliant Venus. The pair of planets will appear closest together on November 24. On the night of the 28th, a young waxing crescent moon joins the pair of planets, making for a spectacular sight.

About an hour after sunset during November, sky watchers can locate Saturn in the southwestern sky higher or above Jupiter and Venus. The waxing crescent moon will be just south of Saturn the evening of November 29.

This month sky watchers can locate Mars as a morning planet very low in the southeast about an hour before sunrise. The bright blue star Spica of Virgo is just to the west of Mars. Near the end of the month, Mars is joined by much brighter planet Mercury low in the dawn sky. Look for a bright white star below Mars and close to the horizon.

Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. November 5 through December 12, the MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents Mystery of the Christmas Star, which investigates possible dates for the sighting of the “star,” and looks at significant astronomical events visible in the sky in those time frames. See which of the “sky signs” was remarkable enough to have caused the Wise Men to travel over 600 miles through the desert from Babylon to Bethlehem. The program will be followed by a brief tour of the current night sky, using the planetarium.

The Leonid meteor shower reaches peak activity during the early morning hours of November 17 and 18. Normally sky watchers can enjoy at least 25 meteors per hour coming from Leo. Meteors will appear in any direction of the sky, but their paths will trace back to Leo. The best time to view the show is between midnight and dawn. This month’s waning gibbous moon on the 17th will be bright enough to interfere with the shower making it difficult to see some of the fainter meteors.

As darkness falls after sunset during November, the “Summer Triangle” made of the three bright stars Vega, Altair, and Deneb is high in the west. Low in the west, orange Arcturus, brightest star of summer is still visible.

Looking low on the north horizon, locate the “Big Dipper” formed by the stars of Ursa Major. High in the north, locate the “W” formed by the stars of Cassiopeia. Low in the northeast, locate the bright yellow star Capella of Auriga, the charioteer.

The winter constellation of Taurus can be seen rising low on the east horizon. Looking low in the south, locate the bright white star Fomalhaut, of Piscis Austrinus, the only bright star in the south. About three hours after sunset, the bright constellation of Orion is rising in the east. Look for three bright stars in a row, with two other bright stars above and below. The three stars are the famous “belt” of Orion. Above or northeast of the “belt” is orange-red Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star. The bright blue star below the “belt” is Rigel.

This month’s Full moon occurs on the night of November 12 among the stars of Taurus the Bull. Locate the faint stars of the Pleaides star cluster to the northeast of the moon, looking like a tiny dipper.

The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents free of charge “Mystery of the Christmas Star” Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., November 5 through December 12, 2019. Visit the MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium website for upcoming events and call (231) 777-0289 for sky show information. Carr-Fles Planetarium is located on the Muskegon Community College campus in Room 135. Thanks to the generosity of the Reach for the Stars campaign donors, you can now experience Carr-Fles Planetarium with state-of-the-art digital projection, sound and lighting systems; all-new library of shows; and modern theater seating and domed ceiling.

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