Comet Lovejoy, C/2013 R1, crossing the Beehive on November 7th. Click image for larger view.

Rolando Ligustri

Comet ISON is upstaged! Four comets are currently on display for binoculars or small telescopes in the east before the beginning of dawn (for Northern Hemisphere observers). One is Comet ISON, still underperforming at only about 8th magnitude. It starts this week about midway between Mars and Spica and speeds toward Spica daily, to pass it on November 17th and 18th.

But ISON is being outdone! Comet 2013 R1 (Lovejoy) "is a humdinger — almost as bright now as Comet ISON was forecast to be," writes S&T's Tony Flanders. "And it's very high in the sky... big, bright, and beautiful in 10×30 binoculars."

The other two comets, Encke and C/2012 X1 (LINEAR), are fainter. See Tony's article The Other Great Morning Comet, with finder charts for Lovejoy and ISON. Further details and charts for all four are at

And don't delay. Encke is getting very low, and moonlight returns to the just-before-dawn sky after about November 15th.

Jupiter is nearly stationary all week with respect to the surrounding stars of Gemini. Jupiter and Gemini come up into good view about a half hour earlier each week.

Sky & Telescope

Friday, November 8

  • Using binoculars shortly after dark, look a little to the upper left of the nearly first-quarter Moon (as seen from North America) for Alpha and Beta Capricorni, two wide binocular double stars. Alpha is easy to resolve and can even be split with the naked eye if you have sharp vision. Beta, with its closer, fainter secondary star (just west of the primary) is a tougher double in binoculars.

    Saturday, November 9

  • First-quarter Moon (exact at 12:57 a.m. EST Sunday morning). The Moon shines at nightfall about midway between Altair far to its upper right and Fomalhaut far to its lower left. It hangs just above the dim pattern of Capricornus.

    Sunday, November 10

  • Cassiopeia shines high in the northeast in early evening, with its five-star W pattern standing on end. Look far below it for Capella rising. Far right of Capella is the little Pleiades cluster, with Aldebaran down below it.

    Monday, November 11

  • Orion displays itself well up in the east-southeast by 9 or 10 p.m. now (depending on how far east or west you are in your time zone). Far left of Orion is Jupiter, shining brightly on its background of Gemini.

    Tuesday, November 12

  • As evening grows late, catch Sirius for perhaps your first time this season! Look for it rising far below Orion (by about two fist-widths at arm's length), nearly at the place on the horizon where Orion's Belt points. Sirius rises around 10 or 11 p.m. depending on your location.

    Wednesday, November 13

  • Go out very early this morning or Thursday morning to try for the four pre-dawn comets while the sky is still moonless (see the top of this page). Print out your charts and get everything prepared the evening before. As dawn begins to brighten and you're packing up to go back in, don't miss Mercury rising low in the east-southeast. Mercury, brightening each day, is entering its best dawn showing of 2013.

    Thursday, November 14

  • Look left of the waxing gibbous Moon after dusk for the two or three leading stars of Aries, lined up more or less horizontally. High above the Moon and perhaps a bit right is the Great Square of Pegasus. The Moon itself inhabits dim Pisces.

    Friday, November 15

  • The bright star high in the west-northwest after dark this month is Vega, often associated with summer. The brightest star higher above it is Deneb. Farther to Vega's left or lower left is Altair, dimmer than Vega but outshining Deneb. These three stars form the Summer Triangle, which is sinking lower each week as summer becomes a distant memory.

    Saturday, November 16

  • The Moon is almost equally full this evening and tomorrow evening. Tonight, look above the Moon for the leading star or two of Aries glimmering through the moonlight. About twice as far to the Moon's left twinkles bright Capella.

    Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.

    This is an outdoor nature hobby. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).

    Pocket Sky Atlas

    The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6 — which may sound like a lot, but that's less than one star in an entire telescopic field of view, on average. By comparison, Sky Atlas 2000.0 plots 81,312 stars to magnitude 8.5, typically one or two stars per telescopic field. Both atlases include many hundreds of deep-sky targets — galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae — to hunt among the stars.

    Sky & Telescope

    Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and once you know your way around, the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.

    You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.

    Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability, which means heavy and expensive). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their invaluable Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."

    This Week's Planet Roundup

    Dawn view

    All this week, Mercury remains about 10° lower right of Spica in the dawn even as it brightens.

    This month Jupiter is up in the east in late evening, shining in Gemini.

    Mercury, rapidly brightening from magnitude +1.0 to –0.5 this week, has leaped up from the sunrise glare to shine low in the east-southeast in early dawn. By November 13th it's having its best morning apparition of 2013. Don't confuse it with Spica, 10° or 12° to Mercury's upper right all week as shown here, or brighter Arcturus, 30° to Mercury's upper left.

    Venus (magnitude –4.7) is the bright "Evening Star" in the southwest during dusk, shining nearly as high and bright as it will become this apparition. It now sets a good hour after dark. In a telescope, Venus has waned to its thick-crescent phase and has enlarged to be about 28 arcseconds tall.

    Mars (magnitude 1.4, in Leo) rises around 1 or 2 a.m. It's moving eastward against the background stars, pulling farther away to the lower left from Regulus. By dawn, Mars and Regulus are high in the southeast.

    Mars is still a telescopic disappointment, only 5 arcseconds in diameter. It reaches its next opposition in April 2014.

    Jupiter (magnitude –2.4, in Gemini) rises in the east-northeast around 9 p.m. with Pollux and Castor to its left. It blazes highest in the south well before dawn. In a telescope Jupiter has grown to 42 arcseconds wide as it heads toward its January 5th opposition.

    Saturn is hidden behind the glare of the Sun.

    Uranus (magnitude 5.7, in Pisces) and Neptune (magnitude 7.9, in Aquarius) are high in the southeast and south, respectively, in early evening. Finder charts for Uranus and Neptune. See also the October Sky & Telescope, page 50.

    All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America.

    Eastern Standard Time (EST) is Universal Time (known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.

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