The new moon occurs on Tuesday (Nov. 26) at 10:06 a.m. EST (1506 GMT) — a day before Mercury reaches its highest point in the predawn sky and two days before our planet's natural satellite makes some close passes to Jupiter and Venus in the evening sky, according to NASA.
New moons occur when the moon is directly between the sun and Earth. About every 29.5 days the two bodies share the same celestial longitude, an alignment also called a conjunction. Celestial longitude is a projection of the Earth's longitude lines on the celestial sphere. During the new moon, if one draws a line from Polaris, the North Star due south toward the sun, that line also hits the moon.
New moons are invisible to ground-based observers (unless the moon passes directly in front of the sun, which creates a solar eclipse) because the sunlit side of the moon faces away from Earth. This New Moon won't be creating any eclipses, however.
While the November new moon is invisible, the early morning hours of Nov. 26 will have Mercury approaching its furthest point west of the sun, called greatest western elongation, according to skywatching site In-The-Sky.org.
On Nov. 26 from New York City, the planet will rise at 5:11 a.m. local time. The sun rises that day at 6:55 a.m., and civil twilight, the moment when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon, occurs at 6:25 a.m. Mercury will be at magnitude -0.2, so it will be fading from view though still visible by then as the sky brightens. By about 6 a.m. it will be 8 degrees above the horizon, enough that with clear weather and an unobstructed view observers might catch it.
Two days later, on Nov. 28, when Mercury is at greatest western elongation, it rises at 5:13 a.m., and by 6 a.m. will be about 8 degrees above the horizon once again. Perhaps the best time to catch Mercury will be a day before the new moon — on Nov. 25 the planet will be a full 17 degrees above the horizon at sunrise, and will rise at 5:13 a.m., according to calculations from heavens-above.com.
Perhaps the best place to try and spot Mercury from is near the equator; in Quito, for example, the sun rises on both Nov. 26 and Nov. 28 at 5:57 a.m. local time, and Mercury rises at 4:42 a.m. and 4:41 a.m. About a half hour before sunrise the planet is at about 13 degrees above the horizon; the local times will be roughly the same at any locations near Quito's latitude.
You can find out exactly when the planets are visible from your specific location using timeanddate.com's astronomy calculator.
The only other morning-sky planet will be Mars, which on the day of the new moon rises at 4:29 a.m. in New York City, reaching an altitude of 22 degrees by 6 a.m. local time. Mars is in the constellation Virgo, and will be just south of east. One way to find it will be to use the "arc to Arcturus" — using the Big Dipper, sweep an arc along its handle to the bright orange-ish star Arcturus, and continue along the same line until you reach Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. Mars will be below Spica, distinctive because of its red hue.
The evening sky offers more planets on the night of the new moon, and as the moon moves into the dusk sky it makes a pass by Jupiter and then Saturn. On Nov. 26, Jupiter will be in the western sky, just 11 degrees above the horizon about 15 minutes after sunset (which occurs at 4:31 p.m. local time in New York City). The planet itself sets at 6 p.m. sharp, and looking just east of it (up and to the left) one can see Saturn, which is at an altitude of about 21 degrees. Both planets are in the constellation of Sagittarius, which is fading from view as winter approaches.
On Nov. 28, the two-day-old moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 5:49 a.m. EST (1049 GMT), coming within about three-fourths of a degree (43 arcminutes) of the planet. That's about one and a half lunar diameters. The moment of conjunction won't be visible from the U.S. that morning (Jupiter is east of the sun, so in the predawn hours it hasn't risen yet), but in the evening, the pair will still be close, with the moon just to the right of Jupiter. The same day the moon will pass Venus, reaching conjunction at 1:49 p.m. EST (1849 GMT).
That means Venus, Jupiter and the slender, crescent moon will be grouped together in the evening sky. Given that the moon is a thin crescent, and close to the sun, the trio will be challenging to catch after sunset, but clear weather and an unobstructed horizon should allow for it. The sun sets at 4:30 p.m. local time in New York, and about 15 minutes later the sky will darken enough that the two planets and the moon will all be visible about 10 to 11 degrees above the horizon.
The very next day (Nov. 29) a slightly easier-to-spot lunar crescent will pass Saturn at 4:03 p.m. EST (2103 GMT), and the sun will set at 4:29 p.m. local time in New York. By about 15 minutes before sunset, the sky will be getting dark enough that observers can see the moon and use it to spot the ringed planet nearby; the two will be 55 arcminutes apart, or almost two lunar diameters.
For Southern Hemisphere skywatchers catching the trio is a bit easier. In Melbourne, Australia, for example, the sun sets later, at 8:23 p.m. local time on Nov. 28. Twenty minutes later the planet closest to the horizon is Jupiter, at an altitude of 14 degrees. The conjunction of the moon and Jupiter will happen at 9:49 p.m. local time. The conjunction of the moon and Saturn won't be visible from there as it will be during the day, but even so the moon will be close to the ringed planet on the evening of Nov. 29. On that day, Jupiter, Venus, the crescent moon and Saturn, will form a rough line from west to east in the Australian sky by about 9 p.m. local time, according to heavens-above.com.
Stars and constellations
Late November is when the winter constellations of the Northern Hemisphere start to show their stuff. By 6 p.m. local time in mid-northern latitudes, the sun is well below the horizon, and in the Northeast one can see Capella, the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga, the charioteer. Just south of Auriga is Taurus, the bull, and from a dark sky location one can see the star cluster known as the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters, making a rough triangle with Capella and Aldebaran.
By about 8 p.m. local time, the constellation of Orion, the hunter is above the horizon, and one can see Orion's distinctive belt of three stars — Alnilam, Alnitak, and Mintaka — going from west to east. By 11 p.m. local time, the constellation Canis Major, the big dog, is fully above the horizon and with it the brightest star in the entire sky, Sirius. At midnight and getting into the wee hours of Nov. 27 the constellations Gemini and Leo are in the northeast.
For observers in Australia and New Zealand, the new moon occurs in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Nov. 27. The sun sets later there, after 8 p.m. local time. Midsummer is approaching in the Southern Hemisphere, and after sunset the constellations of Puppis, Vela and Carina — which make up the Argo constellation — are rising in the east. High in the south is the Southern Cross, and in the west one will see Sagittarius and Scorpius setting "upside down."
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