November 2017 Night Skies

A Hunter’s Moon story

A mystical Moon rises early this month and it can almost be considered a supermoon. November’s Full Moon, also known as the Hunter’s Moon, occurs on November 3 at 11:23 pm. The Moon’s closest approach to Earth occurs just two days later on November 5th.

Hunter’s Moon usually occurs in October; the first Full Moon after the Harvest Moon which is the Full Moon closest to the fall equinox in the northern hemisphere. Some believe that the Hunter’s Moon is redder and larger than other full moons. And while this is true, it is only because of tricks with the atmosphere. Any full moon this time of year is going to rise just as the Sun is setting. And any Moon this time of year really is more orange when it’s near the horizon. Sunlight is made up of all colors (think rainbows) and because the sky scatters blue light, the sky appears blue. While looking at this month’s moonrise, you’ll be looking through a thicker slice of the Earth’s atmosphere which scatters blue light even more while letting reddish light through. So any Moon, and Sun, near the horizon appears more reddish.

The fact that the Moon appears larger is just a trick of the eyes called Moon illusion. In reality, the Moon is the same size whether near the horizon or high in the sky (check it out for yourself by holding a dime at arm’s length and comparing its size to the Moon on the horizon or higher in the sky). But because you have something like horizon to compare it to, it appears huge.

Autumn full moons are a bit different than other full moons because the ecliptic, or the path of the Sun, Moon and planets across our sky, makes a narrow angle with the eastern horizon. Watch the moonrise in November and you’ll probably note it is rising noticeably farther north each night. In turn, this causes earlier than normal moonrises that are closer together in time each night. Usually the Moon rises about 50 minutes later each night but this time of year at our latitude, that time shrinks to just 30 minutes later per night. The phenomena is known as minor lunar standstill. Before the advent of electricity, our ancestors could count on moonlight all night to hunt by.

Definitely wake up early on November 13. Look in the eastern sky and you’ll find an extremely close pairing of the brightest planets in the sky, Jupiter and Venus. This should be a spectacular conjunction just before sunrise. The two bright planets rise at 5:35 am. Mars can also be seen higher in the morning sky this month. Saturn rises at about 9:30 p.m. this month and at this point in its orbit, the rings show prominently from our vantage point in space in small telescopes.