In Our Skies, November 2023: Meteor Showers

by Shaphan Shank | Nov 1, 2023 | 0 comments

As Earth orbits the Sun, it passes between the Sun and the outer planets. Each time Earth passes between the Sun and another planet, that planet is said to be at opposition. This is because, from our perspective on Earth, the Sun and planet are on opposite sides of the sky, one rising while the other is setting.

Jupiter will be at opposition on November 3. At opposition, Jupiter is closer to Earth than at other times of the year. The giant planet is also fully illuminated by the Sun during this time. As a result, Jupiter will appear larger and brighter
during the weeks around opposition than it will throughout the rest of the year.

In the wee hours of November 9, the Moon will pass about 0.5° from Venus as seen from the eastern United States and Canada. Sky watchers in Iceland and continental Europe will get to watch the Moon occult, or pass in front of, Venus. However, the occultation will occur after sunrise in these locations.

The Leonid meteor shower will peak on the night of November 17–18. This shower is famous for the meteor storms it has produced on several occasions in the last two centuries. However, this year, like most others, the Leonid shower is expected to produce its normal peak rate of 10–15 meteors per hour. The Leonid shower is best observed in the early morning hours. This year the Moon will set well before midnight, leaving the best hours dark for optimal meteor viewing.

The Geminid meteor shower will peak about four weeks later, on December 14. This shower is the strongest of the year, with a zenith hourly rate of around 150. Furthermore, the peak is fairly broad, so good meteor rates should be visible for several nights around the peak of the shower. Unlike most other meteor showers, the Geminids produce high meteor rates in both the evening and early morning, so any time from mid-evening on is a good time to watch the shower. This year the Moon will set shortly after sunset, so moonlight will not hinder meteor viewing.

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