In our schedule, remember that when measuring the angular separation between two celestial objects, your clenched fist held at arm's length measures roughly 10-degrees. Here, we present a schedule below which provides some of the best planet viewing times as well directing you as to where to look to see them.
Mercury puts in its poorest apparition of the year for Northern Hemisphere viewers, even though it's a very good one for people in mid-southern latitudes. Northerners will have their best shot at the zero magnitude planet in the second half of the month, when they may glimpse it very low in the southwest about 40 minutes after sunset. This rocky world reaches greatest elongation on Nov. 23, when it will be 22-degrees east of the sun and will within 85 minutes after sundown. This is a relatively unfavorable apparition for northern observers, because the ecliptic makes a small angle with the horizon during autumn evenings. On Nov. 20, about 40 minutes after sunset, Mercury will be hovering near the west-southwest horizon, directly below a very thin crescent Moon and Saturn; by the Nov. 28, Saturn will be to Mercury's upper right. Binoculars will prove very helpful for making both viewing attempts.
Venus rises about 1.5 hours before the sun at the beginning of the month. Look for it rising about 10 degrees south of due east. Less than 10 minutes later the blue gem of the much fainter star Spica appears. On Nov. 2, planet and star are in conjunction with Spica (about 1/85th as bright as Venus) 3.5-degrees to Venus' lower right. During the second week of November, the planet Jupiter begins making itself evident slowly climbing up from the horizon toward Venus.
The two planets will appear spectacularly close together, rising side by side on the morning of Nov. 13. Thereafter, as the month progresses, Jupiter and Spica keep appearing higher and Venus lower at dawn. Here is a challenging observation: on Nov. 17, look for an exceedingly thin crescent moon (1-percent illuminated) about 5-degrees to the left of Venus. By month's end, Venus rises less than an hour before the sun and is becoming difficult to find low in bright twilight.
Mars is an inconspicuous ochre-reddish light in Virgo. It is still unusually faint (magnitude +1.8) because it is far from the Earth, fleeing ahead of us in the race around the Sun and rising more than three hours before the Sun at midmonth. But watch out for Mars. It will brighten every month and edge closer to the evening sky as Earth, moving faster, eventually catches up to it next summer. On the morning of Nov. 15, Mars will be 6 degrees to the upper right of a waning crescent moon. On Nov. 27, the Red Planet passes 3.1-degrees north of Spica, which is twice as bright.
Jupiter, after the first week of November, begins to emerge into view low in the glow of dawn, about 8 degrees to the lower left of Venus in the east-southeast. Watch for this spectacular "dynamic duo" on three consecutive mornings . . . Nov. 12, 13 and 14. On Nov 12, Jupiter appears 1.25 degrees below Venus. On Nov. 13, they are separated by just 0.3 degrees or little more than one-half the apparent width of the moon. They will appear to rise side-by-side with brighter Venus (magnitude -3.9) on the left and Jupiter (magnitude -1.7) on the right. Most telescopes will show them in the same field of view. The great Jovian planet appears three times wider than the nearly full disk of Venus. On the 14th, the two planets are again separated by 1.25 degrees, but this time with Jupiter appearing to the upper right of Venus. On Nov. 16, a very thin crescent moon will hang 7-degrees directly above Jupiter. By month's end Jupiter will be rising more than two hours before sunrise.
Saturn still lingers forlornly in the southwest after dusk. Catch it early; the ringed planet sets more than an hour after dark at the beginning of the month, but before the end of evening twilight by Nov. 30. On Nov. 20, 40 minutes after sunset, look about 10-degrees above the west-southwest horizon to sight a slender sliver of a crescent Moon (just 5-percent illuminated) sitting to the right and slightly above Saturn. Then, on Nov. 28, use binoculars to scan near the west-southwest horizon again about 40 minutes after sunset to find Saturn and to its lower left, Mercury glowing almost twice as bright.
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for Fios1 News in Rye Brook, NY.