The Skies of November 2020 by Dick Cookman

Highlights:  Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Planet Plotting, November Moon

Focus Constellations:  Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, Lyra, Aquila, Cygnus, Pegasus, Pisces, Andromeda, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Taurus, Auriga, Camelopardalis

Comet Journals

Comet  88P/Howell (2020) is in Sagittarius and will move into Capricornus in early December. It reached 8th magnitude as it passed through perihelion in Scorpius on September 26th and is rapidly dimming. It is a short period comet with an aphelion slightly inside the orbit of Jupiter and a perihelion inside the orbit of Mars. 

C/2020 S3 (Erasmus) is a predawn, 10th magnitude comet in Sextans. In November, it will move through Crater and Corvus and end up in Virgo on the 30th. At perihelion on Dec. 12/13 in Scorpius, it may reach 6th magnitude.   

Comet C/2020 M3 (ATLAS) is at 8th magnitude and is entering Orion after passing perihelion on October 25. It will move into Taurus in December then will began to dim as it retreats from the inner Solar System. 

Mars Landers

The InSight heat sensing “mole” is now buried in the hole that it is digging. The only visible component is the copper communication tether connecting it to lander. Mission scientists plan to pack soil in the hole above “mole” in order to maintain downward pressure on the “mole” so that it can resume pounding in early 2021 with its hammer drill and dig its way through the hard “duracrust” unexpectedly discovered at the drilling site. When it reaches the desired depth of 10 to 16 feet, its instrumentation will began measurement of Mars’ internal heat.  

Curiosity spent most of September and October drilling and sampling three drill holes at the Mary Anning outcrop on Mt. Sharp in Gale Crater. Drill samples were  analyzed with its various instruments and environmental conditions were measured during intervals when drilling activities were on hold. At the end of October, the rover moved to nearby locale where it could embark on observation of the Maybole rock outcrop where additional drilling is planned.

In a recent Nature Astronomy report on a multi-year experiment conducted in the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) chemistry lab, a team of scientists found that certain minerals in rocks at Gale Crater may have formed in an ice-covered lake. These minerals may have formed during a cold stage sandwiched between warmer periods, or after Mars lost most of its atmosphere and began to turn permanently cold. The team found evidence for a cold ancient environment in the  carbon dioxide and oxygen extracted by the SAM lab from 13 dust and rock samples collected over the course of five years.

Carbon in CO2 provides clues about the mysterious Martian climate. This element is as critical as water in the search for life elsewhere. On Earth, carbon flows continuously through the air, water, and surface in a well-understood cycle that hinges on life and natural physical and chemical processes. Scientists are finding there’s also a carbon cycle on Mars and they’re working to understand it. With little water or abundant surface life on the Red Planet for at least the past 3 billion years, the carbon cycle is much different than Earth’s.

“Nevertheless, the carbon cycling is still happening and is still important because it’s not only helping reveal information about Mars’ ancient climate,” says Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator on SAM and director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA Goddard. “It’s also showing us that Mars is a dynamic planet that’s circulating elements that are the buildings blocks of life as we know it.” 

Meteor Showers

November meteor showers include the Taurid fireballs which are best viewed after midnight on the 11th and 12th before moonrise. The Leonids peak at about 20 per hour before dawn on the 17th followed by fewer Alpha Monocerotids on the 21st.

November 5 – 12: Taurids. Active October 1-November 25. Radiant 03h52m +22°, ZHR 5. 29km/sec. Waning Gibbous and Crescent Moon. Progenitors: Asteroid 2004 TG10, Comet Enke.

November 17: Leonids. Active November 6-November 30, Radiant 10h12m +22°, ZHR 10 – storm, 70 km/sec. Waxing Crescent Moon. Progenitor: Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle 

November 21: Alpha Monocerotids. Active November 15-November 25, Radiant 07h48m +01°, ZHR 5 – 400+, 65km/sec. Waxing Crescent Moon. Progenitor: Unknown.

Planet Plotting 

The short reign of Mars in the evening sky is drawing to a close. After Opposition in October, it dimmed and will be 40% as bright on November 30 as it was the 1st. Although Mars is bright at opposition every two years, it will not be as bright until 2033 when south hemisphere observers will be favored as Mars will be located close to its perihelion (near Sun) point and Earth close to its aphelion, an arrangement known as a “perihelic opposition”. 




Planet Passages



Sun Libra, Scorpius, Ophiuchus


New Moon 12:07AM EST 11/15
Mercury Virgo, Libra

+1.4 to -0.7

Max West Elongation          Noon, EST 11/10
Venus Virgo, Libra


Mars Pisces

-2.1 to -1.1

Jupiter Sagittarius

-2.0 to -1.9

Saturn Sagittarius


Uranus Aries


Neptune Aquarius

+7.8 to +7.9

Uranus (+5.7) in Aries, Mars (-2.1 to -1.1) in Pisces, Neptune (+7.8 to +7.9) in Aquarius, and Saturn (+0.6) and Jupiter (-2.0 to -1.9) in Sagittarius are evening planets in November. Uranus was at Opposition on Oct. 31 and is visible all night. Mars is high in the eastern sky in the early evening and sets before dawn. Neptune rises 3 hours before sunset and sets in the wee hours. Jupiter and Saturn dominate the southern evening sky and set in the late evening.

Mercury (-1.4 to -0.7) in Virgo and Libra in November is low in the predawn western sky in the early part of the month and reaches maximum Western Elongation on the 10th at noon. By the end of November, it will dive deep into the glow of sunset and disappear. Venus (-3.9) also is in Virgo and Libra in November and is significantly brighter than Mercury. It rises and sets slightly over an hour earlier than Mercury throughout the month.

The waning crescent Moon is within 3.0° of Venus at 4:00PM EST on the 12th, and 1.7° from Mercury at 4:00PM EST on the 13th. The waxing crescent Moon is 2.0° from Jupiter at 4:00AM EST on the 19th and 3.0° from Saturn 6 hours later. The waxing gibbous Moon is 5.0° from Neptune at 7:00AM EST on the 23rd, 5.0° from Mars at 3:00PM EST on the 25th and 3.0° from Uranus at Noon EST on the 27th.

November Moon 

The New Moon on November 15 at 12:07AM EST is the beginning of Lunation 1211 which ends 29.35 days later with the New Moon on December 29 at 10:28PM EST. The Full Moon of November is on the 31st at 10:49AM EDT. It is commonly known as the “Frosty” or “Beaver” Moon. It is also the “Hunters Moon” which is the full moon following the “Harvest Moon” that we had in October this year. In colonial times, the November Moon was the “Beaver” Moon”. In Medieval England, the it was the “Snow Moon.” Celts named it the “Dark Moon” and the Chinese call it the “White Moon”. Anishinaabe (Odawa and Ojibwe) people recognize it as “Baashkaakodin-Giizis” (Freezing Moon). 

Lunar Perigee is on the 14th at 6:43AM EST when the Moon is 222,350 miles from Earth (56.11 Earth radii). Apogee (maximum orbital distance) is on November 26 at 7:29PM EST when the Moon’s distance is 252,211 miles (63.64 Earth radii).




Moon Passages

Moon Phase

Moon Age

Sun Libra


12:07AM EST, 11/15 New 0 days
Mercury Virgo


1.7°N, 4:00PM EST, 11/13 Waning Crescent 28.387 days
Venus Virgo


3.0°N, 4:00PM EST, 11/12 Waning Crescent 27.8 days
Mars Pisces


5.0°S, 3:00PM EST, 11/25 Waxing Gibbous  9.01 days
Jupiter Sagittarius


2.0°S, 4:00AM EST. 11/19 Waxing Crescent  3.16 days
Saturn Sagittarius


3.0°S, 10:00AM EST, 11/19 Waxing Crescent 3.41 days            
Uranus Aries


3.0°S,Noon EST, 11/27 Waxing Gibbous 11.50 days     
Neptune Aquarius


5.0°S, 7:00AM EST, 11/23    Waxing Gibbous 7.29 days