Night Sky: November 2019

11th will see transit of Mercury (figure 1). Which means Mercury will pass in front of the Sun, casting a small black silhouette in front of the solar disk from 12:34 until 18:03 GMT (figure 2). This will be the first transit of Mercury since May 2016 and the last until November 2032. A typical transit lasts several hours.

Figure 1: Transit of Mercury May 2016. Credit NASA.

Figure 2: Map of where the transit will be visible. Credit: Dominic Ford, 2011 – 2019.

For new observers, the most striking thing about the transit of Mercury is how small the planet appears in comparison to the Sun.

The simplest way to safely project the Sun is with a projector made from two pieces of card or paper. Good for viewing a solar eclipse or the transit of Mercury (figure 3). Mercury will be extremely small and may be difficult to see.


  • 2 x stiff white cardboard or 2 x plain white paper
  • tack, sharp pin, or needle


Figure 3: Pinhole projector.

  1. Making quick version of pinhole projector, take sheet of paper/card make tiny hole in middle of it using a pin/tack. Ensuring the hole is round and smooth.
  2. Keep your back towards the Sun, hold 1 piece of paper above your shoulder allowing the Sun to shine on the paper.
  3. The 2nd sheet of paper acting as a screen. Hold it at a distance and you will see an inverted image of the Sun projected on the paper screen through the pinhole.
  4. To make image of the Sun larger, hold the screen paper further away from the paper with the pinhole.

18th will deliver the Leonid meteor shower (figure 4). Active from 6th November to 30th November, producing peak rate of meteors on 18th. They will appear in the constellation of Leo. Visible from 22:25 each night, when the radiant rises above Eastern horizon. Remaining active until dawn, approximately 06:59.

Figure 4: Leonid meteor shower, 15 meteors per hour from the trail of the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle.

18th will reveal the Pleiades (figure 5) open star cluster (M45 – NGC1432) in Taurus, well placed for observation. Visible in morning sky, accessible 17:31, when rising to altitude 12° above North Eastern horizon. Reach highest point in the sky at 00:17, 62° above Southern horizon. Becoming lost to dawn twilight, 06:45, 14° above Western horizon. M45 visible to the unaided eye, but better viewing through binoculars.

Figure 5: M45 (NGC1432), Pleiades cluster (centre). Credit: NASA/ESA/AURA/ Caltech .

WARNING: Never attempt to view through binoculars, telescope or any optical aid an object near to the Sun. Also, never attempt to view the Sun unaided, doing so may result in immediate and permanent blindness. Always use astronomical approved viewing equipment.

The Stellarium software will assist greatly in locating objects in the sky.

Mark R Smith FRAS


Nuclear Fusion Physics