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Mars is the jewel in November skies

Mars takes center stage in November. The brilliant red planet appears its largest and brightest for the rest of the century. On Nov. 19 it will be at its closest approach, 48-million miles. Then on the 27th it will be in opposition _ opposite the direction of the sun _ and will rise at sunset and set at sunrise on that date. Mars blazes forth in the constellation Taurus near the Pleiades and the orange star Aldebaran where it outshines both. Watch each night as Mars moves westward toward the Pleiades and is found 6 degrees north of Aldebaran on the 13th.

November and the first half of December is the best time to observe Mars with a telescope. Even this close, Mars is a difficult object to observe, but some of the ever-changing dark markings, clouds and polar ice cap may be visible.

Mars has seasons just like Earth since its axis of spin is tilted as ours is. In fact, it is now late winter in the northern hemisphere and late summer in the south.

Saturn can still be found toward the southwest in the constellation Sagittarius each evening after dusk. The magnificent rings are still visible in a telescope.

Jupiter rises a little before midnight with its creamy white color shining even brighter than Mars. It is a glorious sight as it continues to brighten during November. Jupiter, the largest of the planets with a diameter of 88,000 miles, is the brightest in our skies. It will rise a half hour earlier each week.

The Leonid meteor shower will peak in the pre-dawn sky on the 17th. Expect to see 15-20 meteors per hour under dark skies.