The Night Watch: November

This month look up for a Sun Dog, a Moon Halo, a Leonid Meteor, and the Full Frosty Moon.

Sun Dogs

If you’re used to checking out the sky whether it’s day or night, you may have spotted some apparently stray pieces of rainbow near the sun in the late afternoons and around sunset in October. This was a good month for spotting these sun dogs which occur when a fuzzy blanket of cirrus clouds surrounds the late day or rising sun.

I saw a couple of very bright ones fairly high in the sky but never far from the sun while driving home from work around 5 pm  but more often I see them along the western horizon when the sun is very low. Conditions were just right for the sun’s rays to be refracted through the particles in the clouds to produce this phenomenon. Sometimes the effect is so brilliant that you may actually think you are seeing multiple suns.

Similarly, you may observe a complete halo circling the sun, and people will sometimes say there is going to be a change in the weather. Often sun dogs and halos are most apparent in January at our latitude when the sun is making its lowest arc across the sky.

Any of these phenomena can also be seen in relation to the moon and would, of course, be called moon dogs or moon halos.

Image courtesy of The Weather Network. View more weather photos at

The Planets

Lovely Venus is still the morning “star” and in the last week of November Venus and Saturn will be seen tight together in the early morning.  You may even see tiny Mercury low on the horizon if you have a clear view.

You will enjoy watching bright Jupiter in the east close to the moon at the beginning of the month in the centre of the constellation Taurus. Jupiter will rise earlier each evening and provide an exquisite point of light brighter than most stars.

Reddish Mars will be seen gracing the southwestern sky just above the horizon after sunset.


On cloudless nights you will clearly notice the five bright stars shaping the sideways “W” of Cassiopeia said to represent a fabled queen sitting on her throne.   If you search below and to the south of Cassiopeia, you will see four bright stars forming a large square and this is the base for Pegasus, named for the mythical winged horse. If you use the lower “v” of Cassiopeia as a pointer, your eyes will be directed to a hazy patch which is the Andromeda Galaxy.  If you find it, you are looking at the most distant object visible to the unaided eye. It takes more than 2 million years for the light from the stars in that galaxy travelling at approximately 300,000 kilometers per second to reach the Earth.

Leonid Meteor Shower

Every year in November, Earth crosses the path of the Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Debris from this comet burns up in the Earth’s upper atmosphere to create the annual Leonid Meteor Shower. Peak rates are generally around 10 to 15 meteors per hour, but this shower has also been known to create more exciting meteor storms.  Look toward the east for the constellation Leo the Lion for the radiant, or just look up into a dark sky for the chance to catch sight of a glorious meteor or two.  The peak is expected to be November 17–18.  Last month while I was standing in the back yard scanning for meteors one evening, I caught the unexpected green glow of a curtain of northern lights around the Big Dipper. You never know what you might see when you’re out searching the night sky.

The Full Frosty Moon – Full Beaver Moon

The full moon rises at 2:44 pm on November 28 and may seem slightly smaller than usual since it has reached apogee (or its furthest distance from earth in its monthly orbit).  I don’t think you will actually notice any difference but it’s interesting to think about.  This full moon was called the Full Frosty Moon.   It was also known at the Full Beaver Moon by both the European settlers and the aboriginal tribes since this was the chance to set beaver traps before the freeze up came.  Beaver pelts were so important to provide warm furs for the upcoming bitter winter.