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Jupiter blazes on as Leonids return

By Mike Shanahan

Bishop Museum

LAST UPDATED: 9:06 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Jupiter continues to blaze away in the evening sky at minus 2.8 magnitude, and Venus at minus 4.3 magnitude joins Saturn in the morning sky.

The Leonid meteor shower returns Nov. 17-18, but don't expect the spectacular show we got from the Leonids in 2001.

The Big Dipper, Orion and the Southern Cross are missing from our early evening skies. As a "constellation prize," all six constellations that tell the story of Perseus and Andromeda are visible in the November evening sky.

The brightness of stars and planets is measured in magnitude. Very bright stars are called "first magnitude" stars. Every time the magnitude of a star goes up by 1, the brightness increases by 2.5 times. Some stars and planets are brighter than first magnitude. The brightest star of all, Sirius, is minus 1.43 magnitude. Since Jupiter shines at minus 2.8 magnitude in early November, this means that it's several times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star. Venus, in the morning sky, shines at minus 4.3 magnitude, making it several times brighter than Jupiter and roughly 15 times brighter than Sirius.

At minus 2.8 magnitude, Jupiter is the brightest dot of light in this November's evening sky. Look for Jupiter about halfway up the eastern sky around 7 p.m. at the start of November. Early in the month, Jupiter reaches its highest point in the sky at about 9:30 p.m., when it's due south. At that point it will be about two-thirds of the way up in the southern sky.

Jupiter then slowly sinks down the western sky, setting in early November at 3:15 a.m. Jupiter will be a little higher at dusk each night as the month goes on, and will set a little earlier each night. By Nov. 15, Jupiter will be two-thirds up in the southeastern eastern sky at 7 p.m. and will set by 2:15 a.m. By Nov. 30 the giant planet will be almost due south at 7 p.m. and will set by 1:15 a.m. Look for the waxing gibbous moon next to Jupiter on the nights of Nov. 15 and 16.

While Venus was still visible in the evening sky as recently as Oct. 15, by early November it will have become a morning star. By the end of the first week of November, look for Venus around 6 a.m. low in the east, shining at minus 4.3 magnitude. In early November you'll have only about 20 minutes to catch Venus before daybreak. By the end of the month, Venus rises around 4 a.m. and will be about one-third of the way up in the eastern sky by the time day breaks. Look for the waning crescent moon next to Venus on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

Saturn has also popped into the morning sky. Saturn is 15 degrees above Venus in the morning sky, or about the width of your hand held at arm's length. Saturn shines nicely in the eastern sky at 0.9 magnitude. The famous ringed planet rises in the east at 4:45 a.m. at the start of the month and is only about 15 degrees above the eastern horizon as day starts to break at 6 a.m.

By the end of the month, Saturn rises just before 3 a.m. and is halfway up the sky as day breaks. Look for the waning crescent moon next to Saturn on the mornings of Nov. 2 and 3.

Mars hovers just above the west-southwest horizon all month at dusk; look for it around 6:45 p.m. It's dim and has a faint orange color. From Nov. 15 onward, look for brighter Mercury below Mars, also low in the west-southwest. By Nov. 20, Mercury will be just to the left of Mars. From then until the end of the month, Mercury will be somewhat higher than Mars, to the left of the red planet, and much brighter than Mars.


The map for this November is good for 9 p.m. at the start of the month, 8 p.m. in the middle and 7 p.m. at the month's end. Hold this map over your head or the four directions will never line up.

We'll start in the southern part of the map and then work our way north.

The brightest object on the map is Jupiter, marked on this map by a large round dot in the southern portion of the sky. Jupiter should "pop" more than ever, since it's surrounded by faint constellations.

While the southern sky in November consists mainly of faint stars, there are a few bright diamonds. Look for Fomalhaut, a first-magnitude star in the otherwise dim constellation of Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish. Look also for Achernar, the bright star that marks one end of Eridanus the River. Below Fomalhaut is the constellation of Grus the Crane. The most distinctive part of Grus: two second-magnitude stars, Beta Gruis and Al Nair, that pop out nicely.

Low in the west you can still see the summer triangle, even though it's November. This triangle is made up of three bright stars from three different constellations. This includes Vega, the brightest star in the triangle, in Lyra the Harp; Altair, in Aquila the Eagle; and Deneb, the dimmest of the three bright stars, in Cygnus the Swan. We've shown both the individual constellations and the triangle on our map.

Looking north, use the constellation of Cassiopeia to find the North Star. Cassiopeia is made up of five stars that form a squished "W" shape. The three middle stars of Cassiopeia's "W" form an arrowhead that points roughly to the North Star.

Mike Shanahan is director of education, exhibits and the planetarium at Bishop Museum. Reach him at


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