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The Buzz

November Sky Watching: Full Beaver Moon, Transit of Mercury, Leonids Meteor Shower




(Photo via Shutterstock)

November has its fair share of sky-watching events, but in a more unusual turn of events, one of the most anticipated events of the month will happen during the day.

On the morning of November 11, Mercury will pass between Earth and the sun, an event called transit of Mercury. From 6:36 a.m. to 12:04 p.m. Central time, Mercury will appear as a small, black dot moving across the face of the sun.

Mercury is small — only 1/194 of the sun's apparent diameter — so while the transit may be visible to the naked eye, it's best observed with a telescope with a magnification of at least 50. And one word of caution if you plan to observe the transit of Mercury: Just like with watching a solar eclipse, you should never look directly at the sun with either the naked eye or directly through a telescope, NASA advises. Make sure to use a solar filter. 

The transit of Mercury isn't exactly a once-in-a-lifetime event, but it is rare, happening 13 times every century, on average, according to Eclipsewise. It last happened in May 2016, but after November 11 it won't happen again until November 2032.

A more run-of-the-mill celestial occurrence this month will be the Leonids meteor shower. The meteor shower runs from November 6 to November 30, but it will peak the nights of November 16 and 17, according to the American Meteor Society. The moon will be about 80 percent full during the peak, which will limit viewing opportunities.

The Leonids are best viewed around midnight, NASA advises. The annual event typically produces about 15 meteors per hours. The meteors from the Leonids are among the fastest meteors — traveling about 44 miles per second. The Leonids are also known to produce a lot of fireballs and earthgrazer meteors. Fireballs are meteors that are brighter and larger than most meteors and sometimes more colorful. They also tend to last longer than average meteors. Earthgrazers are meteors that appear near the horizon and have long, colorful tails. 

This month's full moon will be on November 12, according to NASA. It will reach it's fullest point early in the day, at 7:34 a.m, but the moon will appear full in the night sky that evening.

November's full moon is called the beaver moon, although there's some disagreement about the origins of the name, National Geographic reports. Some say it is called the beaver moon because November is when Native Americans would put out beaver traps. Others believe the name stems from beavers being busy building their winter dams during November. 

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