As October winds down, it takes with it spooky pumpkins, fall leaves and the hope of any remaining warm weather — so it's time to bundle up and turn our attention to the crisp month of November. What can we expect from the night sky during our transition to winter? Grab a cup of hot chocolate, shake out that scarf and let's look at a few of the highlights.
Gain an extra hour with Daylight Saving Time (Nov. 3)
Yes, Daylight Saving Time is believed by many to be an outdated and terribly inconvenient idea. But if you want to put a positive spin on the upcoming "fall back" slated for much of the United States on Nov 3. at 2 a.m. EDT, how about an extra hour of sleeping — or stargazing?
The return of Standard Time means the sun will rise a little earlier, which is good news for early birds, but not so great if you like to see the sun when you leave the office for the day. We know it's not as sexy as an extra hour of sleep, but perhaps we can tempt you with a few meteor showers this month?
View the peak of the Taurids meteor shower (Nov. 5-12)
A taurid fireball and aurora light up the night sky over the state of Washington in 2015. (Photo: Rocky Raybell [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)
This month is full of night sky double-headers. First up, the Taurid fireballs, also known as "Halloween's fireballs" in some space-nerd corners. According to Space.com, though the showers last from roughly Oct. 20 to Nov. 30, the best time to catch them in all their fiery action is the week of Nov. 5-12.
The shower, remnants from the comet Encke, is known less for its volume of shooting stars and more for how exceptionally bright they are. Despite an expected showing of fewer than 12 meteors per hour, these fireballs are well worth the time it might take to observe them. As a bonus, the new moon on Oct. 28 should give us a week or so of dark skies, making it all the easier to see these unusually bright meteors.
Say hello to Vesta at opposition (Nov. 12)
Vesta, as captured by NASA's Dawn spacecraft in 2011, features a mountain that rises more than 65,000 feet above the asteroid's south pole. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA [public domain]/Wikimedia Commons)
If you're still awake after watching the fireballs fly by, consider catching the asteroid Vesta. This 326-mile-wide object of beauty lives in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars and will be at opposition on the night of Nov. 12.
No matter where you might be on planet Earth, Vesta will reach its highest point in the sky around midnight local time. Unfortunately, the nearly full moon will make viewing tricky, but it's worth a shot to try and see the solar system's lone remaining protoplanet.
Catch the zippy Leonid meteor shower (Nov. 18)
Taken during the peak of the 2009 Leonid meteor shower, this photo shows the meteor, afterglow and wake as distinct components. (Photo: Navicore [CC by 3.0]/Wikimedia Commons)
Produced by dust streams left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle, a periodic comet that will return in 2031, the Leonids are a moderate meteor shower with a peak display of about 10-15 meteors per hour. The showers occur through most of November, but the night of peak activity is Nov. 18. Like other meteor showers, this one will be best viewed after midnight. Turn your gaze towards the constellation Leo the Lion, where the shooting stars appear to emanate.
It's worth noting that the Leonids are responsible for some of the most spectacular meteor showers ever witnessed by man. Every 33 years, which is the orbital period of the parent comet, Earth passes through young debris trails that can spark as many as 1,000 meteors per hour. The last one, in 2001, featured hundreds per hour. The one in 1966? Downright magical.
"Meteorites began to appear by 10:30 p.m.; there were about three or four every five minutes," recalled skywatcher Christine Downing, one of many who wrote in to NASA to share their experiences. "At the time that seemed extraordinary, but by 12:30 a.m. it was raining stars over the entire sky. We were in a dark, desert valley bowl, rimmed by mountains; the Sierras were in the west. By 2:00 a.m. it was a blizzard. There was the unnerving feeling that the mountains were being set on fire. Falling stars filled the entire sky to the horizon, yet it was silent. If these Leonids had been hail, we wouldn't have been able to hear each other. If they had been a show of fireworks, we would have been deaf."
Close approach of moon, Venus and Jupiter (Nov. 28)
The European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile shows off the moon with two bright companions: Venus and Jupiter. (Photo: ESO/Y. Beletsky [CC by 4.0]/Wikimedia Commons
With only a two-day-old moon in the sky, it's a good night to view some planets. The young moon will pass within 0°43′ of Jupiter — and just a few minutes later, within 1°10′ of Venus.
The planets will become visible as dusk fades above the southwestern horizon (no matter where you're located). Though too wide apart to fit in a telescope's field of view, you'll be able to see them with your naked eye or binoculars.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was first published in November 2017.