Pioneer 6 is considered ‘extant,’ or still operable, making it the oldest operating probe in the history of space exploration. It was launched on Dec. 16, 1965 into a circular orbit about the sun at a distance of 0.8 A.U (A.U. = 93 million miles). Its mission was to analyze the solar wind, study interplanetary electron density, cosmic rays, and the interplanetary magnetic field. It remained operable until 1995 when its primary transmitter failed. The backup transmitter was turned on in 1996, and Pioneer 6 was again operable but with only a few of the instruments on board still functioning. The last data contact was made by Deep Space Station #43 in Oct. of 1997. Contact was then discontinued because newer space missions required the time of the Deep Space Station array. However, Deep Space Station #14 made contact for 2 hours on Dec. 8, 2000, to celebrate Pioneer 6’s 35th anniversary. No further contact is planned.

Focus on the planets

Mercury appears above the east-southeast horizon about 45 minutes before sunrise in one of its best appearances of the year. It appears lower in the sky each morning and disappears by mid-month.

Venus is essentially lost to view in November but will reappear very low in the west-southwest at sunset as the month draws to a close.

Mars hovers above the southwestern horizon at dusk and stays up for about three hours after sunset. Mars’ orange-red disk is readily discernable but, at 150 million miles from Earth, is only a featureless disk by telescope.

Jupiter rises in the east shortly after midnight as November opens but is visible two hours earlier by month’s end. It sets in the south at dawn. This month, Earth is edge-on with the Jovian moon’s orbital plane; this gives rise to a number of occultations and eclipses.

Saturn is lost to view during November and will return to the morning sky in December.

Uranus in Pisces is a blue-green disk well up in the southwest after midnight, while Neptune resides among the stars of Aquarius as a dim blue-gray disk. Aids to locating these planets may be found in the September issue of Sky & Telescope or at skypub.com/urnep.

November events

1: Sunrise, 7:13 a.m.; sunset, 5:24 p.m. Mercury is low in the East at dawn with the bright star Spica to its lower right

2: This is the first Sunday in November and time to change the clocks back one hour from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time.

3: The moon is at perigee or nearest approach to Earth today.

6: Full moon, 5:23 p.m. The full moon of November is known as the Beaver Moon, Hunter’s Moon or Frost Moon.

8: Mercury is low in the east-southeast before an hour before sunrise with Spica to the upper right. In the evening Aldebaran, the “Red Eye” of the Bull is to the upper right of the moon.

9: The orange giant Betelgeuse is located to the lower right of the moon during the evening hours.

14: Last quarter moon, 10:17 a.m. Jupiter is to the upper left of the moon an hour before sunrise. An hour after sunset, Mars is located well up in the southwest.

15: The moon is at apogee or farthest distance from the Earth today.

17: This is the peak night for the Leonid meteor shower. The waning crescent moon will not interfere, and viewers can expect up to 15 bright, fast-moving meteors per hour. The radiant will be out of the east close to Jupiter and well above the crescent moon.

22: New moon, 7:32 a.m.

23: The sun enters Scorpius on the ecliptic.

25: Mars is close to the left of the moon after sunset in the southwest.

29: First quarter moon, 5:06 a.m.

30: The sun enters Ophiuchus on the ecliptic. Sunrise, 6:51 a.m.; sunset, 3:57 p.m.

Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at cgmewood@aol.com or care of the Bangor Daily News, Features Desk, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402.