November 1, 2004
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The two brightest planets — which far outshine the brightest stars — are putting on a grand show in the dawn sky. Venus and Jupiter shine close together in the east before daybreak, creating a head-turning sight. And right now they're inching closer together every morning. Moreover, the crescent Moon will soon join the show.
Daybreak comes late at this time of year, so lots of people are up and starting their day while the sky is still fairly dark and the celestial objects are on parade. Here's what's happening on the coming mornings, according to the editors of Sky & Telescope:
November 4 and 5: Venus and Jupiter appear their closest together, being separated by only about the width of a pencil seen at arm's length. Venus is the brighter of the two. Although they certainly look close together, they're actually not; Venus is currently 118 million miles away from us, while Jupiter is almost five times as distant at 580 million miles.
November 6, 7, and 8: Venus and Jupiter now pull a little farther apart each morning, while still remaining a very unusual spectacle. Meanwhile, the waning crescent Moon closes in toward them morning by morning, shining high to their upper right.
November 9 and 10: The crescent Moon appears poised near the widening Venus-Jupiter pair.
November 11 and afterward: Jupiter and Venus continue to move farther apart each day.
Meanwhile, all this time a third planet awaits viewing far down below them. Little Mars is much dimmer and may be hard to pick out of the skyglow, but take a look for it. Also in Mars's vicinity is the star Spica. Binoculars will give a beautiful view of everything and will help in particular for spotting Mars and Spica.
Weak meteor shower due. Later in November comes the annual Leonid meteor shower. It should peak before the first light of dawn on Wednesday morning, November 17th. But this year's display will probably be quite sparse. We're well past the 1999–2002 period, when skywatchers in some parts of the world saw Leonids streaking across the sky as often as once every second or two. The shower's parent comet, Comet Tempel-Tuttle, is long gone from its 1998 return through our part of the solar system, and so are the densest streams of meteoroids traveling in its path. The bottom line: this year, skywatchers with ideal dark-sky conditions might see 15 or 20 Leonids per hour on the morning of maximum. Any light pollution in the sky will reduce these numbers.
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