First off, if you are dressing up as one of the many robots we humans have sent to Mars for Halloween, watch out for the Great Galactic Ghoul. This space monster lives on a diet of spaceships we have sent to the Red Planet and is responsible for the high failure rate of Mars-bound orbiters, landers, rovers and flyby missions. Look up the “Mars Curse” on Wikipedia to find out more.
The Leonid meteor shower will peak a day before the new moon during on the morning of Nov. 17. Under those dark skies you can expect to see up to 10 meteors per hour. Look east towards the constellation of Leo the Lion, just to the right of Ursa Major. These meteors are active from Nov. 6 to 30 and are the fastest of any meteor shower, which means they produce more fireballs.
Mercury can be found low in the southwest during evening twilight. This planet will reach its highest point of the month on Nov. 23. It should be bright enough to be seen through the twilight glow, but bring binoculars just in case. On Nov. 18 and 19, the almost-new new moon will lie to the right of Mercury and upper right of Saturn. On Nov. 27, Mercury will lie just south of Saturn.
Saturn will be easiest to see in the southwest in early November as it will sink closer to sunset over the month. It shines four times brighter than the stars behind it. The best way to view the ringed planet is through a telescope, which I recommend using earlier in the month when Saturn is also at its highest. The rings are currently tilted 27 degrees to our line of sight. With binoculars under a haze-free sky you may be able to spot the faint glows of the Lagoon (M8) and Trifid (M20) nebulae just east of Saturn. Again, this is best done early in the month.
Neptune rises in the evening in the southwest, reaching its highest point of the night after 7 p.m., well before bedtime. It can be found in the constellation of Aquarius the Water-Bearer, though binoculars might help. It should be brighter than the stars close to it, but if you are uncertain just turn a telescope towards it to reveal its blue-gray colour.
Uranus starts in the east during the November evenings and moves southwest overnight. It lies in the constellation of Pisces the Fish, which tends to disappear in light-polluted skies. This planet is brighter than the surrounding stars and sharp-eyed observers should be able to pick it out with the naked eye under a dark sky. Binoculars will help, but a telescope is best for confirming your spotting of this blue-green planet.
Mars rises early in the southwest this month. It will start the month rising three hours before the sun and end the month rising four hours before. Found in the constellation of Virgo the Maiden, it stands out mostly for its red colour. It will move slightly east throughout November. Unfortunately, a view through the telescope will show only a rusty red disk with no detail. That should change next year.
Venus appears low in the east 90 minutes before dawn and will be the brightest object in the morning skies before sunrise. On Nov. 13th it will be very close to Jupiter, low in the east-southeast sky, and will repeat this again with the crescent moon on Nov. 16. Venus will disappear into the sun’s glare by the end of the month.
Having passed the far side of the sun, Jupiter is now back in the predawn sky and climbing rapidly in the east. A telescope on Nov. 13 should show it and Venus in the same field of view. Focusing further will show Jupiter’s brightest moons. This planet is easy to spot, being on the of the brightest objects in the sky, and can be found in the constellation of Libra the Scales.
For those of you with four-inch or larger telescopes, the comet PANSTARRS (C/2016 R2) will be traveling through the constellation of Orion the Hunter. Unfortunately, it won’t be a naked-eye or even binocular event since the comet will not approach the sun close enough to make much of a tail. Its closest approach to the sun will be in May 2018, but it will stay well beyond Mars’ orbit.
I mention this because it should be fairly easy to find. Start at the westernmost star in Orion’s belt (Mintaka/Delta Orionis) on Nov. 1 and look just a hair above. You should see a faint fuzzy ball. Once you have located it you might want to increase the magnification (if possible) of your telescope. You will not get much in the way of detail unless you have time reserved on Hubble, but it’s an interesting challenge. PANSTARRS will move northwest, away from Orion’s belt, during the month. This makes it easy as you just have to follow the line created by the belt to find your comet. The best viewing will be in mid and late November after midnight when the moon is absent from the morning sky.