In the Sky: November

November will be an interesting time of transition in the sky. Along with the change in seasons, the bright stars of winter will start to make their appearance in the eastern sky. They will be led by Aldebaran, the brightest star in the “V” shaped face of Taurus (the Bull), and to its upper left Capella, the brightest star in the five-sided Auriga (the Charioteer). They will rise at about 8:00 DST as November begins and at about 5:00 standard time at the end of the month. Meanwhile, the summer triangle of bright Vega in Lyra (the Harp), followed by Deneb in Cygnus (the Swan), and to the south Altair in Aquilla (the Eagle) will start November high in the western sky but will move lower during the month. Also, the Big Dipper will be reaching its lowest point in the northern sky.

The planets also will be interesting. Brilliant Venus will be unmistakable fairly high in the eastern, pre-dawn sky. It will be very close to the crescent Moon on the morning of November 9. This pairing should not be missed, and since the Sun will not rise until about 6:45 standard time, you will not have to get up very early to see it. If you do get up when the sky is still dark, they will be midway between the bright stars Regulus in Leo (the Lion) to the west and Spica in Virgo (the Maiden) to the east.

In the evening sky, Mercury will make an appearance low in the southwestern sky during the last half of the month. It will move higher in the sky each day until it reaches its highest point during the first days of December. Bright Saturn will be in the southern sky but will move into the southwestern sky during the month as it starts to be left behind by faster orbiting Earth. It will set at about 1:00 a.m. DST early in the month and at about 10:00 standard time at the end of November.

Very bright Jupiter will be in the southeastern sky and moving very slowly in retrograde, or western, motion when compared to the background brighter stars in Aries (the Ram). This motion is so slow that it can only be seen after several days or weeks. However, ancient astrologers used very accurate devices to measure the movement of planets. They also used surprisingly accurate charts, so they did not even need to look at the sky to know what the planets were doing. That is probably how the astrologers, or Magi, on their way to Bethlehem could have known that Jupiter had ended its retrograde motion and stopped in the sky (Matthew 2:9).

Jupiter was called the king star because of its brightness and its stately motion across the sky. As such, it was involved with the activities of kings. For example, when Octavian, who ruled Rome as Caesar Augustus, learned that Julius Caesar had been assassinated, he immediately went to his astrologer to learn what his horoscope, and especially the position of Jupiter, foretold about his future. Likewise, according to the theory of Michael Molnar, when the Magi saw that Jupiter had stopped and was most powerful in Aries, the sign for Judea, it would have confirmed to them that a king of the Jews had been born.

David Voigts is a retired ecologist and the current Conservation Chair for the Prairie Rapids Audubon Society. He is a Tama County native, graduating from Dinsdale High School, and lives in rural Jesup on his wife’s family farm.