The night sky this month

Constellations, planets, meteor showers etc. on show this month.

The night sky in January 2021

posted 30 Dec 2020, 12:54 by Pete Collins   [ updated 31 Dec 2020, 04:17 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise     1st:   08.24       31st:   07.55
Sunset      1st:   16.00       31st:   16.50

Astronomical darkness
1st:   18.11 to 06.14       31st:  18.51 to 05.52

Earth is at perihelion on 2nd, when it will be 0.98 AU from the Sun. Its orbit is almost circular so the apparent size of the Sun doesn't differ by much,  it will appear only 5% larger than at aphelion.

New Moon:  13th at 05.02      Full Moon:  28th at 19.18

Lunar perigee:  9th at 15.36  (367389 Km)  On this day the Moon will be a thin waning crescent with a diameter of 32.51 arcminutes.

Lunar apogee:  21st at 13.10  (464360 Km)  waxing gibbous phase, diameter 29.32 arcminutes.

The January full Moon is most commonly referred to as the Wolf Moon, because the animals howl more at this time.  It was thought that this was because they were hungry but it is now believed to be the time when they are marking their territory and locating other pack members to gather together to go hunting. 
Other names are the Moon after Yule, the Old Moon and the Snow Moon. It's the Colonial American Snow Moon, the Chinese Holiday Moon and the Celtic Quiet Moon or Stay Home Moon - very appropriate right now!  The neo pagan name is the Ice Moon and the Medieval English also called it the Wolf Moon.  As always there are many indigenous American names - the Cherokee Cold Moon, the Choctaw Cooking Moon and the Dakota Sioux Moon of the Terrible (didn't say terrible what).  The best name this month is from the Oneida tribe - the Someone's Ears are Freezing Moon.


Highlights

After the excitement of December's Grand Conjunction there's not a lot to look forward to this month.  We still have plenty of astro darkness - a few minutes over 12 hours on 1st and an hour less by the end of January. The naked eye planets are past their best now, Venus is hardly visible in the morning sky  and Jupiter and Saturn are very low in the evening twilight as they approach solar conjunction near the end of the month. As they get lower, Mercury gets higher, towards the end of January it will be visible to observers with a clear SW horizon. Mars continues to fade but is still quite prominent in the evening sky. The one major meteor shower will be marred by the presence of the gibbous Moon and no bright comets are expected.
However January can be a very good time for naked eye observing.  On a cold, clear night the sky, particularly the region of the Winter Hexagon, is a magnificent sight especially from a dark sky area.

Constellations

There isn't much change in the prominent constellations since December, just that everything rises, or sets, a couple of hours earlier. Orion is now well above the horizon by 8pm at the start of the month, with Sirius rising at this time.  By month end, Sirius will rise at about 6pm.  Auriga, Gemini and Cassiopeia are all high in the sky. The Summer Triangle is now setting earlier as the Winter Hexagon rises. Taurus and the Pleiades are still very prominent and the spring constellation of Leo is above the south eastern horizon by 9pm.

Planets

Mercury:  in Sagittarius, mag -1.0
Not visible in early January.  On 1st it sets 20 minutes after the Sun and appears only 7 degrees from it. It moves into Capricorn on 9th when it is only 1 degree above the horizon at dusk, setting at 16.58.  Over the next few days it is close to Jupiter and Saturn, on 10th it is lower than both, forming an approximately equilateral triangle, but moves higher as the gas giants get lower in the evening twilight.  By 11th it is slightly higher than Saturn and on 13th they are in a line wih Mercury highest, Jupiter below it slightly to the right and Saturn, the faintest of the three, close to the horizon. The following day the thin crescent Moon is to the left of the trio. By 22nd, now at mag -0.8, Mercury should be easier to spot at 8 degrees above the SW horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 18.10.  It is at greatest eastern elongation on 24th, separated from the Sun by 18.6 degrees, but still only 9 degrees in the SW at dusk, setting at 18.18. It is harder to see in the last week of the month as it fades rapidly as it gets lower in the evening sky.  By 31st it is down to mag 0.7 and only 7 degrees above the horizon at dusk.

Venus:  in Ophiuchus, mag -3.9
Not easy to see now, still bright but very low in the morning sky. On 1st it rises at 06.52 and only gets to 6 degrees above the horizon by dawn.  This is down to 4 degrees on 6th, when it moves into Sagittarius. On 11th, the thin crescent Moon passes 1 degree 29' south of the planet at 20.11 while they are both below the horizon.  On the morning of 11th the Moon rises at 06.27, Venus at 07.13, they will be separated by just over 5 degrees but Venus will be only 3 degrees above the horizon when the sky brightens.  By the last week in January it fails to clear the horizon by dawn.

Mars:  in Pisces, mag -0.2
Still quite bright and high in the sky in the early part of the night.  On 1st it should become visible around 16.30 as the sky darkens, 38 degrees in the SE,  reaching its highest point, 47 degrees in the south, at 19.02.  By 01.00 it is down to 9 degrees in the west, setting at 02.13.  It moves into Aries on 6th, now down to mag -0.1 and culminating at 18.51 when it is at 48 degrees. On the evening of 20th the almost 1st quarter Moon is close to the planet, about 7 degrees to the SW as they set soon after midnight.  The following evening the Moon is ESE of Mars, separated by 6 degrees 25' as they become visible around 17.10.  On this night Mars is only 1 degree 43' north of the much fainter Uranus. By 31st Mars has faded to mag 0.4, visible from 17.30 and culminating half an hour later at 52 degrees, setting at 01.44.

Jupiter:  in Capricorn, Mag -2.0
Now very low in the evening twilight but still bright enough to be seen in early January.  On 1st it is 8 degrees above the SW horizon at 16.30, setting at 17.50. A week later it is only at 6 degrees as the sky darkens and sets at 17.32.  On 9th Mercury is 3 degrees 10' to the SW with Saturn between them.  By 20th Jupiter is no longer visible as it appears only 7 degrees from the Sun.  It is at solar conjunction on 29th, when it passes 31' south of the Sun at 01.44. On 31st it is only 1 degree from the Sun, rising a minute after it.

Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.6
On 1st it is still only 1 degree 20' from Jupiter but is much harder to see as it is now lower and much fainter at dusk, setting at 17.44.  By 8th this is down to 2 degrees and on 17th it appears separated from the Sun by only 6 degrees. It reaches solar conjunction on 24th, passing 24' to the south.  By 31st it is theoretically a morning object but rises just 10 minutes before the Sun, apparent separation 6 degrees.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.7
Still high in the sky for much of the night. On 1st it should be visible from around 17.30 at 42 degrees in the SE, culminating at 19.40, when it reaches 49 degrees in the south. It will remain visible until shortly after midnight when it is down to 21 degrees in the west, setting at 03.03.  In the first half of January it appears to be moving from east to west against the background stars, known as retrograde motion, on 16th it apears to stand still for a short while before starting to move in the opposite direction - west to east, prograde motion.  On 20th and 21st Mars passes north of Uranus, closest on the night of 20th when they are separated by 1 degree 37'.  On 21st at 23.34 they are in conjunction, with Mars 1 degree 43' directly north of the distant ice giant.   By this time they are quite low in the western sky, only 21 degrees.  These two nights are a good time to try to spot Uranus through binoculars, they will be visible in the same field of view of a pair of 20x50s.  It will probably be difficult to see Uranus with the naked eye around this time, even from a very dark sky site, because of the proximity of the gibbous Moon - SW of the planets on 20th and SE on 21st. On 31st Uranus culminates at 17.42 in nautical twilight, becoming visible, 42 degrees in the south, about half an hour later as the sky darkens.  It remains reasonably high until 22.30 and sets at 01.05.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.8
On 1st it should be observable from 17.30 when it will be at 29 degrees in the south, having culminated at 16.42. By 19.20 it will be very low in the west, setting at 22.15. On 10th at 16.47 it is in conjunction with dwarf planet Ceres but the two aren't very close - Neptune passes 8 degrees 37' to the north.  It will be at 27 degrees in the south as the sky darkens around 17.30.  Ceres, fainter and much lower will be a more difficult target.  By the last week in January Neptune is very low as the sky darkens, only 21 degrees on 23rd and 17 degrees on 31st, when it sets at 21.21.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Aquarius, mag 9.4
Low in the evening sky this month.  On 1st it is only 20 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 21.06.  On 31st it is 19 degrees at dusk and sets at 20.13.

The rest are much fainter, orbiting in the distant Kuiper Belt and therefore out of reach of all but the very best astrophotographers.  They have orbits which are highly inclined to the plane of the Solar System so aren't confined to the ecliptic band of the sky.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15
Appears only 13 degrees from the Sun on 1st and moves even closer during the first half of January.  On 14th it is at solar conjunction, passing 1 degree 12' south of the Sun.  On 31st it rises only half an hour before the Sun, apparent separation 15 degrees.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.4
Discovered in 2004 and named after the Hawaiian goddess of fertility.  It has two small moons, found the following year, which were given the names of her daughters Hi'iaka and Namaka.
Well positioned for imaging in the morning sky.  On 1st it is at 21 degrees by 3am and reaches 49 degrees in the SE before the sky gets too bright a little before 07.00.  On 31st it gets to 21 degrees in the east by 01.00 and is at its highest point, 51 degrees in the south, at 05.55, only a couple of minutes after the end of astro darkness.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2
First observed in March 2005 and given the nickname Easterbunny before being officially named Haumea after the Easter Island Rapa Nui people's creator of humanity and god of fertility. It has one tiny moon which still hasn't been given a mythological name and is referred to as MK2.
On 1st it reaches 21 degrees in the east soon after 1am and culminates,  59 degrees in the south, at 06.40 a few minutes after the sky begins to brighten. On 31st it will be at 21 degrees in the east at 23.00, culminating at 04.42 when it is 59 degrees above the southern horizon and remaining high until dawn.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
Appropriately named after the goddess of discord, her moon is Dysnomia - called after her daughter, not the condition of being unable to recall words. 
High in the sky in the early part of the night but much too faint for most amateurs to attempt.  On 1st it is at 31 degrees in the east as the sky darkens and reaches 34 degrees in the south a few minutes after 19.00, down to 22 degrees in the SW by 22.19.  On 31st it culminates only 20 minutes after sunset, is at 31 degrees in the south as astro twilight begins and is high enough for imaging for just a couple of hours.

There are a couple of reasonably bright asteroids at opposition in January

15 Eunomia:  in Cancer, mag 8.4
At opposition on 21st, when it is high in the sky from 19.16 until dawn, reaching its highest point, 53 degrees above the southern horizon, at 00.23

14 Irene:  in Cancer, mag 9.3
Opposition on 24th, when it is high from 18.30 to 06.05.  Highest point, 65 degrees in the south, at 00.37

Comets

Nothing spectacular predicted for January.

141P/Machholz: in Aquarius, mag 9.8
On 1st it culminates a few minutes after sunset, becoming visible, 27 degrees above the southern horizon, at 17.45 and remaining reasonably high for just over an hour.  It moves into Cetus on 11th, probably slightly fainter at mag 10.2.  On 31st, predicted mag now 11.8, it should become visible (through a scope) at 18.13, when it is 32 degrees in the south, remaining quite high until just before 21.00, setting at 23.45.

C/2020 M3 (ATLAS):  in Auriga, mag 11.0
Circumpolar, high for most of the night, but faint - and fading. On 1st it is at 42 degrees in the NE as the sky fades, culminating,  82 degrees in the south, at 22.37. By dawn it is down to 21 degrees in the NW.  It is moving northwards, passing to the right of Capella during the first few days in January, then veering across the top of Auriga towards Gemini. (eastwards in the early evening sky). On 31st, estimated mag now 13.3, it is 63 degrees in the east soon after 18.00, 85 degrees in the south at 20.58 and 17 degrees NW at 06.26.

C/2020 S3 (Erasmus): in Scutum, mag 8.2
On 1st it rises 40 minutes before the Sun and appears separated by only 7 degrees.  It moves into Sagittarius on 2nd, Aquila on 12th, Capricorn on 15th, back into Aquila on 21st and into Aquarius on 23rd.  During this time its separation from the Sun increases but it also fades significantly. On 31st it is 12 degrees from the Sun but its predicted mag is only 11.8.

For more information on all Solar System objects, including co-ordinates and position charts, see:
https://in-the-sky.org  (this is the one that I find most useful, it has all the information you could ever need, easily accessible)

www.cometwatch.co.uk appears to be dormant once again. the current comets page hasn't been updated since mid November, everything else is even more out of date.

Meteor Showers

One major shower this month, marred this year by moonlight, daylight - and probably clouds.

Quadrantids:  active Dec 28th to Jan 12th, has a short peak of around 6 hours centred on 14.28 on 3rd.  The circumpolar radiant is highest in daylight, so the shower is best seen before dawn on that day.  ZHR varies according to source, the highest given is around 100 but, as the peak is in daylight, we are unlikely to see more than 25 per hour in darkness.  These are medium speed meteors, mainly of only medium brightness, so they will be badly affected by the presence of the gibbous Moon, shining at mag -12.6.  However, on the plus side, the shower does usually include some bright meteors, and maybe even a few fireballs, which should be visible in the bright sky. The shower is named after the short lived constellation Quadrans Muralis, the wall quadrant, created in 1795 by French astronomer Jerome Lalande who used one of these to measure star positions.  When the IAU divided the sky into 88 officialy recognised constellations in 1922 it was not included, the area which it covered is now in northern Bootes.  There are no records of this shower prior to 1815, it is thought that the dust stream was shifted by the gravitational pull of Jupiter, so Earth has only passed through it since the early 19th century.  The parent body isn't known for sure, the most likely candidate is asteroid 2003 EH1, which could be a part of the defunct comet C/1490 Y1, observed by Chinese and Korean astronomers in 1490 but which disintegrated about 100 years later. 

Gamma Ursa Minorids:  active Jan 10th to 22nd, peak 19th/20th. ZHR 3.
Not much is known about this weak shower of slow moving meteors, best seen just before dawn.

Kappa Cancrids.  There has been little or no activity from these in recent years.  The radiant is close to that of the ANT (see below) but these are much faster moving.  Peak given as Jan 10th, so one or two meteors might possibly be seen around that date.

Antihelion Source (ANT) is active in January.  These are meteors which can't be attributed to a particular shower, as there are a number of very weak ones having a radiant on the ecliptic, opposite the position of the Sun. It starts January in SE Gemini then moves through Cancer during the month.  These slow moving meteors have a ZHR of 4 under ideal conditions.





The night sky in December 2020

posted 29 Nov 2020, 08:36 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Nov 2020, 04:39 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise      1st:    08.02       31st:    08.25
Sunset       1st:    15.53       31st:    15.59

Astronomical darkness
1st:  18.01 to 06.55           31st:  18.10 to 06.14

Shortest day:  21st at  7hr  28'  27".  
This day is also the winter solstice, when the Sun reaches its most southerly point in the sky.  It is overhead at local noon along the Tropic of Capricorn.
In the southern hemisphere it's the summer solstice.

Latest sunrise:  08.25  from 28th to 31st. 
Earliest sunset:  15.49 from 9th to 17th.

Earliest astro darkness start:  18.00  from 4th to 16th.  
Latest astro darkness end:      06.14 from 28th to Jan 6th.

New Moon:  14th at 16.16     Full Moon:  30th at 03.28
There is a total solar eclipse on 14th but it is only visible from parts of Chile and Argentina.

Lunar perigee:   12th at 20.43   (361776 km)
Lunar Apogee:   24th at 16.33   (405009 km)

The December full Moon is known as the Cold Moon, for obvious reasons.
Other names are the Colonial American Christmas Moon, the Chinese Bitter Moon, the English Medieval Oak Moon, and the Neo Pagan Long Night Moon.  As always indigenous American tribes had various names, including the Cherokee Snow Moon and the Choctaw Peach Moon (maybe they thought it looked like a peach, I doubt they grew at that time). The Dakota Sioux, usually good for very descriptive names appear to have run out of ideas - either that or nothing much happened in December.  They called it the Twelfth Moon.
The Old English / Anglo Saxon name for December's full Moon is the Moon Before Yule.  No idea what they called it when, as this year, it fell after Christmas, right at the end of the Yule period.

Highlights

We have lots of astro darkness in December, nearly 13 hours on 1st and a few minutes over 12 hours at the end of the month. 
Mars is still high in the sky in the early part of the night, fainter now but still prominent as it is in an area of the sky with no really bright stars.  Venus is shining brightly in the morning sky early in December, but not getting very high before dawn breaks.  By the end of the month it will be difficult to see, only reaching 6 degrees as the sky brightens.   The 2 ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, are well placed for binocular and telescopic observation in the early part of the night. 
We have several minor meteor showers and one very major one, the Geminids, usually the best of the year, if the clouds stay away.
And, of course, there is the long awaited Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, they will be close but also very low in the evening sky, so only visible for a short time after sunset.  This won't be an exciting sight for the naked eye, as it will appear much as Jupiter usually does, however both planets, and maybe a few moons, in the same field of view of a telescope will be something really worth seeing.

Constellations

Orion, with the stars of his belt pointing down to the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, is now well above the horizon by midnight, and is a beautiful sight especially from a dark sky site.  By month end these will be visible from 10pm - weather permitting.  Taurus and the Pleiades precede him across the sky.

Gemini, including the 'twins' Castor and Pollux, and Auriga with the bright Capella are also very prominent. Aries and Pisces, while not particularly bright - or often not even visible in our light polluted skies - are both quite high this month.

Perseus, Andromeda and the Great Square of Pegasus  are also well placed for most of the night. The Plough starts the night quite low in the Northern sky, with Cassiopeia high overhead.  Because of the long winter nights, these last two will have changed places before dawn as they rotate around the celestial north pole.

Planets

Mercury:  in Libra, mag -0.8
Not easy to see this month as it remains very low in the sky.  On 1st it rises at 07.00, an hour before the Sun, and only gets to 3 degrees above the horizon by dawn. On 4th, when it moves into Scorpio, that is down to 1 degree.  It moves into Ophiuchus on 9th and is at aphelion, at 0.49 AU, on 16th.  Even though it is now at its furthest from the Sun, it appears very close to it, only 2 degrees separation.  On 19th it goes into Sagittarius and the following day is at superior solar conjunction, passing about one and a half degrees to the south of the Sun. By 31st it is an evening object but still not visible, it sets only a few minutes after the Sun and appears separated from it by only 6 degrees.

Venus:  in Libra, mag -4.0
Now only visible for a short time in the morning sky.  On 1st it rises at 05.17 and reaches 15 degrees in the SE as the sky brightens around 07.30.  On 12th the thin crescent Moon passes only 47' from the planet at 21.07, they are separated by about 5 degrees soon after 06.00 on 13th, as the Moon rises.  Observers on the NE Pacific Ocean will see an occultation, those in parts of the west coast of the US and Canada should be able to see Venus disappear behind the Moon before they set.  It moves into Scorpio on 18th, when it rises at 06.13 and only gets to 9 degrees by dawn, on 22nd when it goes into Ophiuchus that is down to 8 degrees.  On 31st it rises at 06.50 and is only at 6 degrees when the sky brightens.

Mars:  in Pisces, mag -1.1.
Still high in the early evening sky, culminating in darkness throughout December. Despite being almost a magnitude fainter than Jupiter, it looks as bright in the early evening as it is higher and further east, so is seen in a darker part of the sky.  On 1st it reaches 43 degrees in the south at 20.27 and should be visible until around 2am, when it drops to 8 degrees in the west, setting at 03.10. On 23rd the 68% Moon passes just over 5 degrees to the south at 23.24, four hours after the planet has culminated.  On this day it should be visible till around 01.20, setting at 02.25.  On 31st it culminates, 47 degrees in the south, at 19.05 and is down to 9 degrees in the west soon after 1am, setting at 02.14 now at mag -0.3.

Jupiter and Saturn: in Sagittarius, mags -2.0 and 0.6 respectively.
Moving closer together quite quickly as they approach conjunction. On 1st they are separated by 2 degrees 15' at 16.30.  Jupiter should be visible from 16.15, at 14 degrees in the south, Saturn, because it is so much fainter, probably won't be seen for another half hour, when it will be at 13 degrees. Jupiter sets at 19.14, Saturn at 19.28.  On 16th Saturn moves into Capricorn and the following morning the waxing crescent Moon passes just under 3 degrees south of the planets at 05.12, while they are all below the horizon. It is quite close to the pair on the evenings of 16th, when it is about 7 degrees to the right, and 17th when it is to their left.   On 19th, when Jupiter follows Saturn over the border into Capricorn, the separation between the two is around 15' (that's half the width of the ful Moon).  On this day Jupiter sets at 18.25, Saturn at 18.27.  Two days later, as the sky fades around 16.20, the pair will be separated by only 6' - the closest since 16th July 1623. On this occasion they were only a few degrees from the Sun so wouldn't have been visible.  The last easily seen Great Conjunction was on 4th March 1226.   On 21st, Jupiter should be easy to see despite its low altitude - only 11 degrees - the much fainter Saturn just above it, less so.  The two will easily fit into the same field of view of a pair of binoculars or an amateur scope.
Jupiter sets at 18.18, Saturn very soon after.
The usual warning:  DO NOT use binoculars or a scope to look at the pair until you are sure that the Sun has fully set. Catching just a few rays could result in instant, permanent blindness.
Sunset in Manchester on this day is at 15.51. Check local times if observing from elsewhere.
Of course, it's quite likely that the sky will be cloudy on 21st so, if there are any clear evenings in the week before or after that date, it's worth looking, as the two planets will be close enough to be seen together in a scope at a magnification of around x40 during that time.  They will be less than 1 degree apart from 13th to 30th, less than half a degree from 18th to 26th. Obviously the days before 21st are preferable, as the pair will be even lower in the sky towards the end of the month. On 31st the separation is just over one degree but Jupiter will be visible for only a very short time in the twilight, 9 degrees above the horizon around 16.30, setting at 17.52. Saturn will be too faint to see in the still quite bright sky, setting at 17.47.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.7
Now rising in daylight but still high enough for observing for much of the night. On 1st it is at 25 degrees in the east as the sky darkens around 17.30. It culminates, 30 degrees in the south, at 21.45 and will remain high enough for observing until after 02.30. On the night of 24th/25th the gibbous Moon passes close to the planet, about 4 degrees to the WSW at midnight. This is a good time to try to spot it through binoculars or even with the naked eye if you're lucky enough to be in a dark sky area.  You never know, while you're out there observing you might even spot Santa on his rounds. On 31st it should become visible, 41 degrees in the SE, soon after 17.30, culminating 8 degrees higher at 19.44.  It will be down to 21 degrees in the west by 00.35, setting at 03.07.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9
Also rising in daylight.  On 1st it is 28 degrees in the SE at 17.25, culminating at 18.42 when it is a couple of degrees higher. It remains reasonably high until almost 21.30.  On 20th at 20.00 the 32% lit Moon passes 5 degrees SW of the planet, which at this time is at 22 degrees in the SW.  On 31st it will be at 30 degrees in the south as it becomes visible around 17.30, having culminated in twilight at 16.46.  It will be high enough for telescopic or binocular (for those with dark skies) observation for a couple of hours, setting at 22.15.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres: in Aquarius, mag 9.2
In the same region of the sky as Neptune, but considerably lower and fainter, so difficult to see, even with optical aid.  On 1st it culminates at 18.04 as astro darkness begins, but is only 16 degrees above the southern horizon.  By 31st, now down to mag 9.4, it culminates half an hour after sunset and sets at 21.09.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.1
Jupiter and Saturn are now moving away from the very much fainter dwarf planet. On 1st it is very low in the SW as the sky darkens - much too low for successful imaging, and its position gets even worse as the month progresses.  By 31st it appears only 14 degrees from the Sun.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.4
An early evening target for keen astrophotographers. On 1st it rises at 02.11 and reaches 34 degrees in the SE before the sky gets too bright.  On 31st it rises at 00.26 and gets to 40 degrees in darkness, still not quite culminating before dawn.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2
High enough in the morning sky for imaging.  On 1st it rises at 00.21 and is 49 degrees in the east at dawn.  On 31st it rises at 00.21 and reaches 21 degrees in the east soon after 1am, culminating at 58 degrees half an hour after the end of astro darkness.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
A target for only the most experienced astrophotographers as it is so faint.  On 1st it is almost 20 magnitudes fainter than Mars.  At a difference of 100x for 5 magnitudes this means that the difference between the two is 100x100x100x100, so Eris is 100 million times fainter than Mars!  The good news is that it's quite high in the sky in the early part of the night, reaching 34 degrees by 21.00 on 1st and the same altitude at 19.11 on 31st.

Comets

Once again nothing spectacular is predicted.  There are a few comets around but they are quite low or very faint.  As always, comet brightness is difficult to predict so the figures given could prove to be wrong - in either direction.

C/2020 S3 (Erasmus)
Discovered on Sept 17th by Nicolas Erasmus, while working on the ATLAS sky survey. It is expected to reach binocular brightness in the early morning sky.  However it is very low and getting lower as the month progresses. On 1st, in Libra, at predicted mag 6.8 it rises at 06.20 but only reaches 12 degrees before dawn.  It brightens over the next 3 weeks but gets lower in the sky as its apparent distance from the Sun decreases.  It moves into Scorpio on 9th, when it rises at 07.04, now at mag 5.9 but separated from the Sun by only 16 degrees. This is down to 12 degrees on 13th when it crosses into Ophiuchus.  On 22nd it goes into Sagittarius, rising at 07.40 in civil twilight and only 5 degrees from the Sun. It is now down to mag 6.9.  On 31st it rises 40 minutes before the Sun and sets 50 minutes after it but still appears very close - separation 7 degrees.  Mag now predicted to be down to 8.3.

C/2020 M3 (ATLAS)   (not to be confused with C/2019 N1 (ATLAS) which is too low to be seen from the UK.)
in Taurus, mag 9.4
This one gets higher during the month but fades rapidly. On 1st it is reasonably high for most of the night, culminating at 00.59 when it is 61 degrees above the southern horizon. On 4th it moves into Auriga and culminates at 00.40, now at 66 degrees.  It is circumpolar from 17th but much fainter, predicted mag now 10.4.  On 31st it gets to 81 degrees in the south at 22.40 but will have faded to mag 12.1.

88P/Howell: in Capricorn, mag 10.2
An evening object, fading as it gets higher in the sky.  On 1st it is at 14 degrees in the SW as the sky darkens, setting at 19.59. It moves into Aquarius on 27th and on 31st, down to mag 11.3, is 18 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 20.24.

141P/Machholz:  in Aquila, mag 10.8
Might be visible through a scope for a short time as the sky fades.  On 1st it will be at 22 degrees in the SW at 17.30, setting at 20.40.  During the month it should brighten slightly and get higher in the evening sky. It moves into Capricorn on 2nd, Aquarius on 9th and back into Capricorn on 19th when it will be at 23 degrees in the SW at dusk, now at mag 9.7.  It is back in Aquarius from 25th, when it is 24 degrees in the SW as the sky darkens.  On 31st it is a degree higher at dusk but now fading again, down to mag 9.8,and setting at 21.23.

Recommended websites for more information and exact positions of all solar system objects
https://in-the-sky.org  (this is my favourite, most of the information here derives from this site)

www.cometwatch.co.uk  (often not updated for months.  The current observable comets page was done on Nov 11th, the rest not for quite some time)

Meteor Showers

This month we have what is generally regarded as the best, most reliable shower of the year.  It's definitely worth piling on all the thermals and venturing outside if the sky is clear.

Geminids:  active 4th to 20th with a broad peak centred on the early hours of 14th. ZHR under ideal conditions is 150, much fewer from Manchester, of course, but could reach 100 from the darkest parts of the region. The best displays should be around 2am, when the radiant is highest, however it rises soon after sunset so there could be reasonable activity earlier in the evening.  They are slow moving meteors, often very bright especially round the peak time, and sometimes colourful, so are ideal photographic subjects.  Parent body is asteroid 3200 Phaeton.  The good news is that there won't be any Moon interference arond the peak time. Fingers crossed that the same is true for clouds.

Minor showers

December (phi) Cassiopeiids: active 1st to 8th,  peak 5th, ZHR variable.  The radiant of these is circumpolar, highest at 21.00, peak time given as 23.00.  This shower is not included in the IMO list, which probably means that there hasn't been much, if any, activity in recent years.

Monocerotids:  active 5th to 20th, peak activity predicted to be 22.00 on 8th but best seen around 2am, when the radiant is highest.  ZHR 2 or 3. These metors are often confused with Geminids as they have a similar velocity and appear to emanate from roughly the same part of the sky.

Sigma Hydrids:  active 3rd to 20th.  The IMO gives the peak as 9th, but says it could be several days later on 14th.  Other sources say 11th or 12th.  ZHR 7.  The shower is best seen around 3am, when the radiant is highest - but on which day is anyone's guess!  It often includes several very bright meteors, much faster moving than the Geminids and Monocerotids which are active at the same time.

Coma Berenecids: active 12th to 23rd, peak 16th, ZHR 3.  Once thought to be part of the Geminids but now considered to be a separate shower.  These are much faster moving, best seen just before dawn when the radiant is highest.

December Leonis Minorids:  active Dec 5th to Feb 4th, peak Dec 19th, ZHR 5.  This is a weak but long lasting shower.  A few meteors may be seen at any time during the peak night.
 
Ursids:  active 17th to 26th, paek 22nd, ZHR 10 (but occasionally up to 50). This shower of medium slow meteors had major outbursts in 1945 and 1986 and lesser ones in 2014 and 2015.  There could be enhanced activity this year on 22nd, between 03.00 and 22.00, especially at 05.27 and 06.10.  Rates for these outbursts are given as 420 and 490 but, as they are predicted to last for a very short time, this means only 7 or 8 in a minute.

There are a couple of showers only visible from the southern hemisphere.

Phoenicids:  active Nov 28th to Dec 4th,  peak 2nd, ZHR variable.  Very slow moving meteors.

Puppis Velids:  active Dec 1st to 15th, ZHR 10.  Medium speed.

And there is the possibility of a few meteors on Dec 4th at 05.55 - the 66 Daconids, very slow moving meteors originating from debris left by asteroid 2001 XQ.






The night sky in November 2020

posted 30 Oct 2020, 10:36 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Oct 2020, 15:47 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise      1st:   07.08        30th:   08.00
Sunset       1st:   16.35        30th:   15.54

Astronomical darkness
1st:  18.34  to  05.11        30th:   18.02  to  05.54

New Moon:  15th at 05.07      Full Moon:   30th at 09.29

Lunar perigee:   14th at 11.49  (357838km)
Lunar apogee:   27th at 00.30  (405890km)

There is a penumbral Lunar Eclipse on 30th but hardly visible from the Manchester area.  The eclipse begins at 07.32, the Moon sets at 07.56.

November's full Moon is known as the Beaver Moon, because they are very active at this time, building their dams. 
Other names are the Frost Moon and the Chinese White Moon (which unlike the Pink Moon and Blue Moon could actually be the colour of its name, especially when high in the sky)  The Celts called it the Dark Moon, the English Medieval name was the Snow Moon and for Neo Pagans it's the Tree Moon.  As always there are several native N American names:  the Cherokee Trading Moon, the Choctaw Sassefras Moon and the Dakota Sioux's Moon when horns are broken off.  And, as it's the last full Moon before the Winter Solstice, it's also known as the Mourning Moon.

Highlights

We have lots of astronomical darkness, just over ten and a half hours on 1st, almost 12 hours by 30th.  There's a penumbral Lunar Eclipse - difficult to see at the best of times, this one almost impossible from Manchester as it begins just a few minutes before the Moon sets.  This month is a good time to try to spot the elusive Mercury, especially a few days before mid month when it reaches 11 degrees by dawn.  Venus is still very bright but getting much lower in the morning sky, Mars is on view for most of the night, but fading rapidly during the month, and Jupiter and Saturn now set in the early evening.  They are moving closer together, separated by about 5 degrees at the start of November, 3 degrees 18' at the end of the month. International Space Station passes are in the morning sky until 8th, then in the evening sky from 22nd. And we have a few minor and one not quite so minor meteor showers.

Constellations

If it is clear you will see that the Summer Triangle comprising the 3 bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair is now sinking slowly in the West, giving way to the stars of winter now rising in the east.

Mid-evening the square of Pegasus, the signature constellation of autumn, is fairly high in the south but not particularly prominent, containing only 2nd magnitude stars. It's an easy star-hop from Alpheratz, the top left star of the square of Pegasus to the Andromeda Galaxy, M31, which is now nicely placed fairly high in the south east.

The Winter Hexagon is a beautifully rich area bounded by Sirius (Canis Major), Rigel (Orion), Aldebaran (Taurus), Capella (Auriga), Pollux (Gemini) and Procyon (Canis Minor).  This relatively small region contains half of the ten brightest stars. It will be above the horizon not long after midnight at the start of November and before 11pm by month end.

The Pleiades, just outside the Hexagon are also very well placed and are a beautiful sight in binoculars or a small telescope.

Cassiopeia is still riding high leaving the Plough, on the opposite side of Polaris, low in the Northern sky for much of the night.

Planets

Mercury:  in Virgo, mag 1.1
A morning object, its position improving during the first third of November. On 1st it rises at 05.43 but only gets to 3 degrees above the horizon by dawn.  It's at perihelion on 2nd, when its distance from the Sun is 0.31AU. It reaches its highest point in the morning sky on 9th, when it will have brightened to mag -0.5, rising at 05.25 and visible for a short time around 06.30, reaching 11 degrees in the ESE before the sky brightens.  The following day it is at Greatest Western Elongation, separated from the Sun by 19 degrees. By 12th it has brightened further to mag -0.7 and on 13th the thin crescent Moon passes 1 degree 43' to the north at 20.44.  The following morning they will be about 5 degrees apart, with Mercury at 10 degrees in reasonable darkness. It moves into Libra on 17th, when it only gets to 9 degrees by dawn.  Its position then deteriorates rapidly, by 30th it rises at 06.54 and only gets to 3 degrees before the sky brightens, still at mag -0.7.

Venus:  in Virgo, mag -4.0
Now much lower, but still very bright in the morning sky.  On 1st it rises at 03.42 and should be easily visible an hour later, reaching 24 degrees in the SE by dawn. The crescent Moon is close to the planet on the morning of 13th, they are separated by 5 degrees at 06.00. The pair are closest, 2 degrees 46', the previous night at 23.46 while they are below the horizon for observers in the Manchester area.  On 28th, when it moves into Libra, it rises at 05.08 and reaches 16 degrees in the SE before the sky brightens. By 30th, that is down to 15 degrees.

Mars:  in Pisces, mag -2.1
Now beginning to fade quite rapidly after last month's spectacular opposition.  On 1st it is 8 degrees above the eastern horizon at 17.00, reaching 41 degrees in the south by 22.30. Its apparent motion is currently westwards, retrograde, but on 15th it appears to stand still for a while then start moving eastwards across the sky - prograde motion.  On 25th the gibbous Moon passes 4 degrees 29' to the south at 22.59, while the planet is still quite high in the sky, having culminated 2 hours earlier. It is now down to mag -1.3 and should be visible till 02.30 when it sinks to 8 degrees in the west. On 30th it will be 20 degrees in the east at dusk, culminating, 42 degrees in the south at 20.30 setting at 03.13 and down to mag -1.2.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius, mag -2.2
The giant of the solar system has now regained its place as the second brightest planet in the sky.  On 1st it culminates at 16.54 as the sky darkens, at 14 degrees in the south. By 19.15 it is very low in the west, setting at 20.45.  On 19th the 24% Moon passes 2 degrees 28' to the south at 09.22. As the planet becomes visible around 16.30 they will be separated by 5 degrees with the Moon to the SE.  At this time Saturn is a few degrees north of the Moon.  Jupiter should be easily visible until around 18.30, setting at 19.49.  On 30th, slightly fainter at mag -2.1, it is 14 degrees in the south at dusk, setting at 19.17.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.6,
On 1st it should become visible around 17.15, as it culminates 15 degrees above the southern horizon, high enough to be seen until a few minutes after 19.00. setting at 21.14. On 19th, the Moon also visits Saturn, 2 degrees 50' to the south at 15.29.  Saturn is not as easy to see as nearby Jupiter in the fading sky.  It should be visible from around 17.00 to 18.07, setting at 20.09.  On 30th it is at 13 degrees in the south as the sky darkens, visible for only 45 minutes before it sinks too low, setting at 19.31.

Uranus: in Aries, mag 5.7
Still very well placed, high in the sky for most of the night so a good time to try to find it using binoculars - or even the naked eye, given the usual caveat.   On 1st it rises at 16.25 and reaches 20 degrees in the east by 19.00, culminating at 23.57, when it is 50 degrees above the southern horizon.  On 27th, the 90% Moon passes 3 degrees to the south at 18.00, in nautical twilight.  They are still close when astro darkness begins, just over an hour later.  On 30th it is at 24 degrees in the east as the sky fades, reaching 50 degrees in the south at 21.49 and sinking to 21 degrees in the west shortly before 3am.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.8
Fairly high in the sky from dusk till late evening. On 1st it is at 22 degrees in the SE at 18.02 culminating, 30 degrees in the south, at 20.41 and setting at 02.18.  On 23rd the just past first quarter Moon is 5 degrees to the south of the planet at 18.00, and on 29th it reaches its stationary point before resuming prograde motion.  On 30th it should be visible from around 17.30 when it is 28 degrees above the southern horizon, culminating 2 degrees higher at 18.46 and visible until it sinks to 22 degrees in the SW at 21.25.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Aquarius, mag 8.7
The closest and brightest of the dwarf planets is not easy to see this month, as it is so low in the evening sky.  On 1st it culminates at 19.48, in astro darkness,  at an altitude of only 12 degrees, setting at 23.28. On 30th it is at 16 degrees as astro twilight ends, setting at 22.12 now down to mag 9.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.2
Still too low for imaging, with no improvement for a long time to come.  On 1st it culminates at 17.03 but is only 13 degrees above the horizon.  On 15th Jupiter passes close to Pluto, 41' to the north 40 minutes before sunset. They are slightly closer on the evening of 14th, with Pluto to the SSE.  On 30th it sets at 18.59, less than an hour into astro darkness.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.4
Too low for imaging in early November.  On 1st it rises at 04.07 and only reaches 11 degrees by dawn. By mid month it is briefly high enough, on 15th  it rises at 03.24 and reaches 22 degrees by 6am.  It improves rapidly during the second half of the month, on 30th it rises at 02.28 and reaches a reasonable altitude by 5am,  getting to 33 degrees as the sky brightens around 06.30.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.4
Higher than Haumea, on 1st it reaches 27 degrees in reasonable darkness, on 30th it rises half an hour after midnight and gets to 48 degrees by dawn.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8 . 
Very faint, so a difficult target for even the most experienced astrophotographers. This month it is quite high in the sky for a few hours each night.  On 1st it reaches 21 degrees just before 20.00 and its highest point, 34 degrees, at 23.08, and is down to 21 degrees again by 02.25. On 30th it is at the same altitudes about a couple of hours earlier.

Asteroids

8 Flora reaches opposition this month on 1st,  in Cetus, at mag 8.0.  It rises at 17.44 and gets to 21 degrees in the SE by 20.20 culminating, 39 degrees in the south, at 00.09 and remaining reasonably high until 4am.  By 30th it has faded to mag 8.7 but is still quite high from around 18.00 to 01.39, highest point 39 degrees, at 21.48.
 
Comets

Again, nothing likely to be spectacular.  

C//2020 P1 (NEOWISE) in Bootes, mag 8.1
Very low in the sky.  On 1st it rises at 04.08 but only reaches 13 degrees by dawn.  It does get higher in the morning sky as the month progresses but, unfortunately, fades considerably.  On 30th it rises at 03.40 and will be at 21 degrees by dawn.  The bad news is that its predicted mag is now 15.9.

C/2020 M3 (ATLAS) in Lepus, mag 9.2
On 1st it reaches 21 degrees in the SE by 01.16 and culminates, 3 degrees higher, at 02.42, setting soon after sunrise.  On 2nd it goes into Orion and on 8th will be at its brightest, predicted mag 9.1.  On this day it rises at 20.35 and should be high enough for imaging, or viewing through a scope, between 23.23 and 05.16.  It culminates at 02.21, when it is 32 degrees above the southern horizon.  By 24th, when it crosses into Taurus, it is down to mag 9.3 and culminates, 53 degrees in the south, at 01.22.  By the end of the month its predicted mag is 9.5 and it will reach 21 degrees soon after 19.00, getting to 60 degrees in the south at 00.57 and visible until dawn. 

Recommended websites for more details and exact positions of all Solar System objects:
https://in-the-sky.org   (my favourite site. this is the one where I find most of the information given above)

Meteor Showers

Leonids:  active Nov 6th to 30th, peak 16th/17th,  ZHR 15 (probably no more than 12 from Manchester) These are fast moving meteors, often leaving trails. Peak activity predicted at 12.00 on 17th, so the shower is best seen just before dawn on that day. Parent comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle.
This shower occasionally produces such high rates that it is known as a meteor storm.  Unfortunately few of us will ever see this, next time it's predicted is 2099. 

Northern Taurids: active Oct 20th to Dec 10th, peak given as the night of 11th/12th but often has a longer peak, lasting a few days on either side of this date.  ZHR 5.  These are slow moving meteors, best seen around 5am when the radiant is highest.  As with the associated Southern Taurids, there could be a few fireballs.  However there is thought to be a seven year period of enhanced fireball activity, the next maximum is not expected until 2022.  The parent comet is usually given as 2P/Encke, or sometimes a fragment of the precursor of this comet.  This year I have seen a couple of sites which say it is asteroid 2004 TG 10.  Confused?  No need to be: this asteroid is thought to be a fragment of 2P/Encke, so it's all the same thing really.
And the good news - no Moon interference this year. Pity the same thing can't be said about clouds.

Alpha Monocerotids:  active Nov 15th to 25th, peak 21st, ZHR variable but usually around 5.  This is another shower which sometimes produces higher rates but, again, not predicted for this year.  They are fast moving meteors, best seen around 4am.  Parent comet  C/1917 F1 (Mellish)

November Orionids:  active Nov 13th to Dec 6th, peak 28th,  ZHR 3 (2 from Manchester).  Best seen when Orion is high at around 2am. This is also the time of peak activity.  The radiant is close to that of the Northern Taurids but the meteors are easily distinguishable as the Nov Orionids are much faster moving.  The gibbous Moon may interfere until it sets at 05.33.

Iota Aurigids: active 1st to 23rd, peak 15th, ZHR 8.  Medium speed meteors, best seen in the evening as the sky darkens.  This shower is not mentioned in the IMO calendar so that could mean that it has had a very poor showing in the last few years.  Or that they just forgot.






The night sky in October 2020

posted 30 Sept 2020, 04:42 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Sept 2020, 06:47 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise     1st:    07.11        31st:  07.06
Sunset      1st:    18.44        31st:  16.37

Astronomical darkness     1st:  20.41 to 05.15       31st:  18.36 to 05.09

BST ends on Sunday 25th at 02.00

Full Moon:       1st at 22.05
                      31st at 14.49

New Moon:     16th at 20.31

Lunar apogee:    3rd at  17.24  (406319 km)
                         31st at 18.47  (406392 km)
Lunar perigee    16th at 23.48  (356912 km)

The Full Moon on 1st is the Harvest Moon as it's the one closest to the Autumn Equinox, which was on Sept 22nd.  Other names are the Hunters' Moon, the Dying Grass Moon, the Chinese Kindly Moon and the English Medieval and Neo Pagan Blood Moon.  To the Celts and the North American Cherokee it was also the Harvest Moon, it was the Choctaw Blackberry Moon and the Algonquin Raven Moon.  The Dakota Sioux again have the most descriptive name - the Moon when Quilting and Beading are Done.
The New Moon on 16th is only a few hours before perigee, so it is a Super New Moon.  Of course, we can't actually see the New Moon but the thin crescent a day or so later will appear larger than average. We have 2 Full Moons this month, some sources say that the second one in a calendar month is a Blue Moon but this is inaccurate. The true definition is the third Full Moon in a season which has 4.  The current season, going from the Autumnal Equinox to the Winter Solstice, has only 3, so no Blue Moon.  Either way, the Full Moon on 31st will be the same colour as always.

Highlights

As always in October we have plenty of astronomical darkness - eight and a half hours at the start of the month, a couple more by 31st.  GMT returns towards the end of October, so we have noon and midnight at the correct time for the next 5 months. 

We have 2 Full Moons, the first is the Harvest Moon the second will be called a Blue Moon by some, but isn't really.  Both are close to apogee so will appear smaller than average.

Venus is still brilliant in the pre dawn sky and Jupiter, fading but still very bright, is an early evening object. 

We have several minor meteor showers and a good chance of a few fireballs, especially towards the end of the month when the Southern and Northern Taurids are both active.  The one middling shower, the Orionids, might be much better than average this year.  On the other hand, of course, it might not!

The real highlight this month is Mars, at its closest to us on 6th and at opposition on 14th.  During this time its magnitude will be -2.6.  Because it takes only 687 days to orbit the Sun, it moves away from us quite quickly and it is only so close to us, and therefore so bright, for a short time, by month end it will have started to fade again. Mars has a big variation in magnitude between perigee, when it reaches -2.6 to -2.8, and apogee, when it's down to around 1.6 or 1.7.  This is because, as with all the outer planets, the difference in distance, which is 2AU - the diameter of the Earth's orbit - is a greater proportion of the total distance than it is for the much further gas and ice giants.  Mars is about 7 times further from us at apogee than it is at perigee.  For Jupiter it's only about 1.5 times.
And finally, if you've ever seen the internet urban myth, which often appears around opposition, 'tonight Mars will appear the same size in the sky as the Full Moon', of course it won't.  Apparently, at the 2003 opposition someone commented that Mars, when seen through a scope with a magnification of around x75, would appear the same size as the Moon does when seen with the naked eye.  Someone, somewhere, missed the bit about the telescope and the myth was born.

Constellations

The Summer Triangle, made up of Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus and Altair in Aquila, is losing its dominance in the night sky.  It is still visible during the first part of October high in the south west but by the end of the month all three constellations will have set by 4am. It's place in the southern sky is being taken by the Great Square of Pegasus, autumn's signature constellation.

The beautiful star cluster the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters) followed by the rest of Taurus, will be visible by 11pm in early October and by 8pm (now back to GMT) at month end.

By the end of October Orion will be easily visible by midnight, with Sirius just above the eastern horizon at this time.

Perseus and Andromeda are still high in the sky for most of the night, making it a good time to look for M31, the Andromeda galaxy.   If you are at a very dark sky site, it should be visible to the naked eye, especially when using averted vision.

Cassiopeia is now high in the sky for most of the night, so the Plough, on the opposite side of the North Celestial Pole, is low in the north.


Planets

Mercury: in Virgo, mag 0.0
An evening object in theory but, in practice, almost impossible to see as it is so low in the sky.  On 1st it is at Greatest Eastern Elongation, separated from the Sun by almost 26 degrees.  However, because of the shallow angle of the ecliptic at this time, it has sunk below the horizon by the time the sky begins to darken, setting only 20 minutes after the Sun.  It moves into Libra on 6th and reaches inferior solar conjunction on 25th, now down to mag 5.8 and passing about one degree south of the Sun. By 31st it will have brightened to mag 2.8, rising at 06.09, an hour before the Sun, but still not visible as it appears only 9 degrees from it.

Venus:  in Leo, mag - 4.1
Still shining brightly in the morning sky, an unmissable sight for early birds and insomniacs.  On 1st it rises at 03.12 and should be high enough to be easily visible about an hour later, reaching 30 degrees in the east by dawn.  During the first few days in the month it is very close to Regulus, alpha Leonis, the dot at the bottom of the reverse question mark asterism which represents the head of the lion.  It is closest, only a few arcminutes to the SE, on the morning of 3rd.  On the 14th the 9% lit Moon passes 4 degrees 2' north of the planet at 03.50, just as it is rising.  It moves into Virgo on 23rd and should be visible from 05.15, getting to 26 degrees in the SE in reasonable darkness. It is at perihelion (closest point in its orbit to the Sun) on 30th. Because its orbit is almost circular there is very little variation in the amount of light and heat it receives.  On 31st, now at mag -4.0, it rises at 03.36 (GMT) and is at 24 degrees in the east by dawn.

Mars:  in Aries, mag -2.5
The star of the show this month.  On 1st it rises at 19.25 and should be easily visible an hour later, when it reaches 7 degrees in the east, culminating, 42 degrees in the south, at 02.06.  On 3rd the just past full Moon passes to the south of the planet, the pair will be separated by about 3 degrees at midnight on 2nd/3rd, moving closer till about 5am, when they are just 39' apart. As last month, there will be an occultation  but once again it isn't visible from the UK, only those at the southern tip of South America or sailing in the S Atlantic will be able to see it.  On 6th it is at its closest to us (perigee) when it will be at a distance of 0.41 AU.  It will now be at mag -2.6, reaching 42 degrees in the south at 01.40.  It is at its brightest around midnight on 12th/13th when its magnitude is -2.62. It is at opposition on 14th, when it rises at 18.22 and gets to 7 degrees in the east an hour later, culminating at 00.59. It won't be quite as close to us, therefore as bright, as it was at the last opposition in July 2018, but makes up for it by being in a much better position - then it was in Capricorn and only got to 8 degrees above the horizon.  Fingers crossed for clear skies this time, as this is the best it will be until 2035.  On 29th Mars is again visited by the Moon, the planet, now down to mag -2.2, will be 3 degrees to the north at 18.00. On 31st it rises at 16.00 and will be at 8 degrees in the east as the sky darkens.  It reaches its highest point, 41 degrees, at 22.30 and sets at 05.03. 

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius, mag -2.4
Now an early evening object, fading but still bright enough to be easily seen in the darkening sky. On 1st it culminates, 13 degrees in the south, at 19.43 in astro twilight, and should be visible until around 22.00 when it is down to 8 degrees in the SW.  On the evening of 22nd, as the sky darkens, the 41% Moon will be just south of the planet.  They are closest, 2 degrees, at 18.26, a few minutes before it reaches its highest point. On 31st, now at mag -2.2, it culminates about 20 minutes after sunset and should be visible for a couple of hours from 17.00, setting at 20.48.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.5
Slightly higher and much fainter than nearby Jupiter, the pair are moving closer - Saturn is 7.4 degrees to the east on 1st, down to 5.2 degrees on 31st.  On 1st it is at its highest point, 14 degrees in the south at 20.14 and should be visible till shortly after 22.00, when it is at 11 degrees in the SW.  On the night of 22nd/23rd the 46% Moon moves to the south of the planet after its close encounter with nearby Jupiter,  They are separated by about 5 degrees at 20.00, closest, 2 degrees 34', at 05.15 after they have set for Manchester observers.  On 31st it should be visible at 15 degrees in the south, by 17.20, ten minutes before reaching its highest point. It will be down to 11 degrees in the SW by 19.15 setting a couple of hours later.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.7
High in the sky for most of the night, it's now at its best for the year - in fact the best positioned that it's been for about 50 years. Given a dark sky site it should be easily visible in binoculars and even to the naked eye, if the eye in question has perfect vision. A small scope should show its blue.green disc but a large scope is needed to see any variations in the mainly featureless disc. On 1st it reaches 21 degrees in the east by 22.00 and culminates, 50 degrees in the south, at 02.58.  On 4th, the 91% Moon passes just less than 5 degrees 30' to the SW at 05.00.  The Moon is again close on the night of 31st - 4 degrees to the south at 19.00, when Uranus is 20 degrees above the eastern horizon. On this night it is at opposition, directly opposite the Sun in the sky, so at its highest point around midnight. It rises at 16.29 and is at 50 degrees in the south at 23.52, down to 21 degrees in the west by 04.45.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.8
Still quite high in the sky for most of the night, especially in the earlier part of the month.  On 1st it is at 22 degrees in the SE at 21.00, its highest point, 31 degrees in the south by 23.46, and down to 21 degrees in the SW by 02.30. On 31st it is 22 degrees in the SE at 18.00, culminating, 8 degrees higher, at 20.45 and down to 22 degrees before midnight, setting at 02.22.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Piscis Austrinus, mag 8.2
The closest and brightest of the dwarf planets is too low to be viewed or imaged this month. On 1st it culminates at 22.54 but only reaches 11 degrees in the south. It moves into Aquarius on 13th and at the end of the month reaches 12 degrees by 19.51, now fainter at mag 8.7.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.1
It is in the same area of the sky as Jupiter and Saturn but, as it is so much fainter, is not an easy target for imaging.  It doesn't get higher than 13 degrees  and sets before midnight in early October, and by 9pm (now GMT) on 31st.

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4
Too low for successful imaging as it heads towards solar conjunction on 20th. On 1st it is 18 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 22.18.  On 20th it is on the opposite side of the Sun to the Earth but, because its orbit is highly inclined to the ecliptic (28 degrees), passes 26 degrees above the Sun and is 13 degrees above the horizon at dusk. On 31st it rises at 04.21 and sets at 19.21, still only at 10 degrees as the sky darkens.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, Mag 17.4
Very low in the sky but its position is improving after last month's solar conjunction.  On 1st it rises at 05.15 and sets at 21.58, still an evening object as, like Haumea, it passed above the Sun, but only 13 degrees at dusk. By month end it is a morning object, quite high in the sky (25 degrees) for about half an hour from 05.10.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
Well placed this month but very faint, a difficult subject for imaging, even for the very best amateurs. On 1st it rises at 20.18 and is high enough from 23.00, culminating, 34 degrees in the south, at 02.15. It is at opposition on 17th, when it reaches 21 degrees in the SE by 22.00 and culminates at 34 degrees at 01.12.  On 31st it is higher than 20 degrees from 20.00 to 02,30, reaching its highest point, still 34 degrees, at 23.12

Asteroids

Two reach opposition in October.

11 Parthenope
At opposition on 23rd, in Pisces, mag 9.4, culminates at 01.07, 40 degrees in the south.

471 Papagena
Opposition on 27th, in Cetus, mag 9.5. Reaches 27 degrees in the south at 00.17.

Comets

Nothing noteworthy this month, all the comets around are either very faint, very low in the evening sky - or both.
Newly discovered C/2020 Q1 (Borisov) discovered on August 18th by Gennady Borisov, is in Cepheus, circumpolar at the start of the month and high in the sky for most of the night.  However it is only around mag 11, and predicted to fade to 13 by the end of October.

Websites for more information and exact positions of all solar system objects


Meteor Showers

One middling (but might possibly be good) and several very minor ones, this month

Orionids: active Oct 2nd to Nov 7th, peak on the night of 20th/21st, ZHR 20 to 25 from a dark sky site.  Figure for Manchester given as 11.
This shower often has short periods of reasonable activity during the couple of days before and after the peak. Numbers have been as high as ZHR 50 to 75 but not in recent years.  However, if a suspected 12 year cycle of activity proves to be the case, we might have a good show this year. The peak time is around 7am on the morning of 21st, so the best time to look is in the early hours. These are fast moving meteors, often leaving trails. Parent comet is 1P/Halley. There will be no Moon interference but probably some cloud interference.

Camelopardalids: active 5th to 6th, peak in the early hours of 6th, ZHR 5.  The radiant, in Draco, is highest at 11am.  This very short lived shower has been known to also produce short outbursts and there could be one on the evening of 5th.

Draconids:  active 6th to 10th, peak 8th, ZHR 10
Usually seen soon after dusk when the radiant is high in the sky. However a couple of very short outbursts are predicted for the morning of 7th, at 02.25 and 02.57. These are very faint, slow moving meteors likely to be affected by bright moonlight on the morning of 7th and later part of the evening of 8th.  Parent comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner.

Southern Taurids:  active 10th Sept to 20th November, peak Oct 10th, with enhanced activity on the days either side of this date. ZHR 5.
These are bright, slow moving meteors so are excellent photographic targets. The radiant is highest at 2am, peak activity predicted for 4am. This shower, along with the related Northern Taurids which are active from the 20th, is often rich in fireballs because the dust cloud left by parent comet 2P/Encke contains many larger than average dust particles.

Delta Aurigids: active 10th to 18th, peak 11th, ZHR 2
The radiant of these is circumpolar, highest around 05.00 so best seen between 2am and dawn.

Epsilon Geminids:  active 14th to 27th,  peak 18th, ZHR 3
According to the IMO the peak of these could be 4 or 5 days later than the date given.  The shower is best seen just before dawn, but on which day is anyone's guess.

Leonis Minorids:  active 19th to 27th, peak 24th, ZHR 2
The peak is expected around 07.00 on 24th, so the best chance of seeing anything is just before dawn on that day. The Moon sets at 22.47 on 23rd, so no interference.  Parent comet C/1739 K1













The night sky in September 2020

posted 30 Aug 2020, 09:08 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Aug 2020, 14:39 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise   1st:    06.18      30th:    07.09
Sunset    1st:    19.57      30th:    18.47

Astronomical darkness    1st:  22.09  to  04.08     30th:  20.44  to  05.13

The Autumnal Equinox, when the Sun crosses the celestial equator, is on 22nd at 14.30.  However, despite the name meaning equal night, we do not have a 12 hour day and night at this time.  The day is actually 12hrs 11minutes 14 seconds long.  The difference is partly because of refraction of sunlight by our atmosphere, so we can see the Sun for a few minutes before it rises and for a few minutes after it sets. This adds about 6 minutes to the day length.  The rest of the difference is because, on this day, the centre of the Sun is above the horizon for 12 hours but sunrise is the time when the upper edge becomes visible, which is slightly later, and sunset is when it sinks below the horizon, a few minutes after the centre does so.
The day which is closest to 12 hours is the 25th at 11hr 58mins 30 seconds.

Full Moon:   2nd at 06.22       New Moon: 17th at 12.00

Lunar apogee:     6th  at  06.32  (405605km)
Lunar perigee:   18th  at  14.45  (359080km)

The new Moon is the day before perigee, so the waxing crescent will appear slightly larger than average.

September's full Moon is known, according to the Farmers' Almanac, as the Corn Moon or Barley Moon,  the Celtic names are the Singing Moon or Blood Moon, the Chinese call it the Chrysanthemum Moon, to the Cherokee it's the Nut Moon and for the Chocktaw, the Mulberry Moon.  The Dakota Sioux have what must be one of the best of all the full Moon names - the Moon when the calves grow hair.
This year's September full Moon isn't the Harvest Moon.  That will be in October as it is closer to the Autumnal Equinox.

Highlights

As always in September, one of the main highlights for astronomers is the lack of light.  On the night of 1st/2nd we have just one minute short of 6 hours, increasing to almost eight and a half hours by month end.  Venus is still shining brightly in the morning sky, and Jupiter in the evening, albeit very low.  Mars is brightening rapidly as it gets closer to us and is much higher in the sky, so easier to see, and they all have some close visits from the Moon.
We don't have much in the way of meteor showers but could see some fireballs later in the month, and, unless something new turns up, no bright comets. 
But all those who believe in a****logy, beware!   Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all retrograde for part of the month, and Uranus and Neptune, plus dwarf planets Ceres, Pluto and Eris, for the whole of September.  For a couple of days towards the middle of the month, all of them appear to move from east to west across the sky.   

Constellations

The Milky Way is still prominent overhead, albeit not in these parts! Find a dark sky site though, and it's spectacular.

The Summer Triangle is high in the southern sky for much of the night in early September.  By month end Aquila is setting in the west at about 2am, with Lyra and Cygnus following just before dawn.

However, on the opposite side of the sky, the Pleiades are climbing above the horizon in the east by 10.30pm at the start of September, and as darkness falls at month end. Capella, in Auriga, and the V shaped Hyades cluster at the head of Taurus the Bull are not far behind.

If you stay up until about 4am (or get up very early) you might see Orion making a welcome return to the night sky.  By the end of September, it should be above the horizon by 2am.

The ecliptic is now slightly higher across the Eastern sky, passing through Capricorn, Aquarius and Aries - though none of these are particularly bright or memorable.

Pegasus, Perseus and Andromeda are still well placed, rising in the east to north east from mid evening, as is the bright W asterism of Cassiopeia higher in the north east.

Planets

Mercury:  in Leo, mag -0.6
An evening object, very low so hardly visible this month.  On 1st, it is on the horizon at dusk, setting only 35 minutes after the Sun.  It moves into Virgo on 3rd, and on 9th reaches its highest point in the evening sky - still only 4 degrees in the east at sunset and just below the horizon as the sky darkens.  On 18th, the one day old Moon passes 6 degrees 25' north of the planet at 22.53, an hour after it has set.  It will now be at mag -0.1, very low at sunset, setting less than half an hour later.  It reaches perihelion on 19th, at a distance of 0.47AU.  On 30th, now at mag zero, it is 2 degrees below the horizon as the sky begins to darken.

Venus:  in Gemini, mag -4.2
Now fading slightly but still brilliant in the morning sky, starting the month a little to the south of Castor and Pollux.  On 1st it rises at 02.09 and should be easily visible from around 03.15, reaching 31 degrees in the east before the sky brightens. It is in Cancer from the 5th and is at its highest point in the morning sky on 7th, when it is at 35 degrees at sunrise.  From 11th to 15th it is to the south of the Beehive cluster.  On 14th the 13% Moon passes north of Venus, closest, 4 degrees 21', in daylight at 07.23.  The pair should be visible before dawn, with the Beehive between them.   All three should be in the same field of view of 10 x 50 binoculars. The planet moves into Leo on 23rd, when it rises at 02.52 and reaches 30 degrees in the east by dawn.  On 30th it rises at 03.10, still getting to 30 degrees before the sky brightens. 

Mars:  in Pisces, mag -1.8
Visible for much of the night, brightening as it gets closer to Earth, its red colour now very obvious.  On 1st it rises at 21.31 and reaches 43 degrees in the south by 04.14.  On 6th, at 05.44, the 85% Moon passes only a couple of arcminutes north of the planet.  Observers in some parts of Central and South America, West Africa and southern Europe will see an occultation.  From 10th, Mars is retrograde, moving across the sky from east to west.  Of course, it doesn't actually change direction, it's a visual effect caused by the Earth appearing to overtake the outer planet as it approaches opposition. On 30th it rises at 19.29 and culminates at 02.11, now at 42 degrees in the south.  Much brighter at mag -2.5, it is now outshining Jupiter.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius, mag -2.6
Now an early evening object, still very bright but very low.  On 1st it should be visible from around 20.20, 13 degrees above the southern horizon.  It culminates at 21.59, not much higher, and sets at 01.30.  For the last few weeks it's apparent movement across the sky has been from east to west - retrograde -  but from 13th it reverts to prograde motion, west to east.  On the evening of 24th the 62% Moon will be 7 degrees SW of the planet as it culminates at 20.08. They are closest, 1 degree 35', at 07.57 on 25th, and at 20.00 that evening the now 68% Moon will be 7 degrees to the SE.  On 30th Jupiter culminates only an hour before sunset and will be at 13 degrees in the south as the sky darkens, setting at 23.34.  Now at mag -2.4 it is slightly fainter than Mars.

Saturn: in Sagittarius, mag 0.3
Close to Jupiter in the sky, slightly higher but much fainter.  On 1st it should be visible, 12 degrees in the SE, around 20.40 and reaches its highest point, 15 degrees in the south, at 22.18.  On 25th the 68% Moon is just 2 degrees 18' to the south at 22.06, with Saturn at around 10 degrees in the SW.  The pair should be visible from 20.00, with Jupiter also close by.  Saturn is also currently retrograde, reverting to prograde motion on 29th.  It ends the month 7.4 degrees east of Jupiter, culminating at 20.18, 15 degrees above the southern horizon, down to mag 0.5 and setting at 00.19.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.7
On 1st it rises at 21.29 and  and should be high enough to be visible from midnight.  It culminates, 50 degrees in the south, a few minutes after the sky begins to brighten. On 30th it reaches 21 degrees in the east by 22.00 culminating at 03.02 and down to 39 degrees in the SW by dawn.  It should be an easy binocular target, given clear skies, maybe even naked eye from a very dark sky site.

Neptune:   in Aquarius,  mag 7.8
Much fainter, and lower in the sky, than Uranus but well positioned for telescopic observation.  On 1st it is at 21 degrees in the SE by 23.00 and culminates, 31 degrees in the south, at 01.50.  It is at opposition on 11th, when it reaches its highest point at 01.10.  On 30th it culminates at 23.50, still at 31 degrees and will be reasonably high until 02.30, when it is down to 21 degrees in the SE.  May be visible in good binoculars from a dark sky site, and is an easy target for amateur scopes. 

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9
Above the horizon for much of the night but low, so not an easy target.  On 1st it culminates at 01.15, only 12 degrees above the southern horizon, and sets at 04.56.  It moves into  Piscis Austrinus on 15th and on 30th, down to mag 8.2. culminates at 22.59 and sets at 02.31.

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 15.1
Too low for successful imaging, max 13 degrees above the horizon.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.4
Now getting very low in the sky.  On 1st it may be high enough for imaging, 23 degrees in the west, for a short time around 21.30.  After the first week it is too low by the time the sky gets dark.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.3
Appears very close to the Sun this month.  It is at solar conjunction on 29th when, because of its highly inclined orbit, it passes 27 degrees north of the Sun.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
Quite high in the sky but much too faint for most amateur astrophotographers to attempt.  However, it is in conjunction with Mars twice this month, on 1st when the red planet is 7 degrees 58' to the north at 04.14, and on 19th when they are slightly further apart, 8 degrees 09', at 03.03.  This happens because Mars is retrograde from 10th and passes Eris once in each direction. So, if you look at Mars at these times, you can work out exactly where Eris is - even though you can't see it.

Asteroids

19 Fortuna is at opposition on 11th.  It starts the month at mag 9.8 in Pisces, culminating, 31 degrees in the south, at 01.31.  By 11th it has brightened to mag 9.4 and reaches its highest point, 34 degrees, at 01.04.  It moves into Aquarius on 21st and on 30th, faded to mag 9.9, reaches 32 degrees in the south at 23.31.

68 Leto is at opposition on 30th. On 1st it is at mag 10.2 in Cetus, reaching its highest point, 32 degrees, at 03.28. On 30th it is at mag 9.6, culminating at 01.13, now at 31 degrees in the south.

Comets

Not much happening this month. There are a few comets around but they are all very low, very faint, or both.
C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) and C/2019 T2 (PanSTARRS) are getting very faint and very low in the sky after sunset.
88P/Howell is much brighter, predicted mag around 8.8, but again very low - 13 degrees at dusk in early September, down to 10 degrees by the end of the month.
C/2019 U6 (Lemmon) is high in the evening sky, but extremely faint, predicted mag on 1st, when it is 36 degrees in the west at dusk, is 12.3.  On 30th it is higher, 42 degrees, as the sky fades but much fainter at mag 14.5.

For more information and exact positions of any Solar System objects see

www.cometwatch.co.uk again hasn't been updated for a couple of months.

Meteor Showers

After last month's Perseids, which most of us missed because of cloudy skies, we only have a few very minor showers this month.

September Epsilon Perseids: active 5th to 21st, peak 9th,  ZHR 5. The radiant of these very slow meteors is closer to Algol than it is to epsilon Persei.  It's circumpolar, highest at 05.00 so the shower is best seen just before dawn.

Alpha Aurigids: active until Sept 5th, peak on August 31st,  ZHR 6.  These very bright meteors are best seen just before dawn, unfortunately the almost full Moon doesn't set until just before 5am, as astro twilight ends, on the morning of 1st.  Parent comet is C/1911/Kiess.

Piscids:  active throughout Sept, ZHR 5 (more likely 2 from light polluted Manchester skies).  Not much is known about this shower of very slow moving meteors. It is thought by some to be 2 separate showers, the Northern and Southern Piscids, one having a peak on Sept 9th, the other on 21st.  Or it could be one shower with low activity throughout September and a diffuse peak from 9th to 21st.

Daytime Sextantids: active Sept 9th to October 9th, peak Sept 27th, ZHR 5. As the name says, this shower is mainly active in the daytime, however a few may be spotted visually just before dawn around the time of the peak. 

Southern Taurids, active from Sept 10th. These don't peak until October, ZHR rarely more than 5, but worth looking out for as the shower often includes many fireballs.



The night sky in August 2020

posted 29 Jul 2020, 13:53 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise       1st:  05.25         31st:  06.17
Sunset        1st:  21.05         31st:  20.00

Astronomical darkness
1st:   00.33 to 01.57       31st:  22.13 to 04.05

Day length   1st:  15.38.45        31st:  13.42.56

Full Moon:  3rd at 16.58     New Moon:  19th at 03.41

Lunar apogee:   9th at 10.52  (404657 km)
Lunar perigee:  21st at 11.00  (363512 km)

August's Full Moon is known as the Sturgeon Moon because this is the time when they were plentiful in the lakes where the Algonquin fished.  Other Native American tribes had different names - to the Sioux it was the Moon When All Things Ripen, the Chocktaw called it the Women's Moon, for the Cherokee it was the Fruit Moon and for many other tribes it was the Red Moon, as it often took on a reddish hue when seen through the summer haze. Other names are the Green Corn Moon,  the Barley Moon, the Old English / Anglo Saxon Grain Moon, the Chinese Harvest Moon and the Celtic Dispute Moon.

Highlights

Astronomical darkness increases considerably during August, on 1st we have 1 hour 24 minutes, increasing to almost 6 hours by the end of the month.  Venus is still shining brightly in the morning sky and Jupiter and Saturn are visible before midnight, unfortunately still very low.  Mars rises a little later but gets much higher in the morning sky. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is fading rapidly and is now very low at dusk.  Two more faint comets are in the same area of sky,  one of them is now getting higher, all end the month at around mag 10.
The main highlight, as in every August, is the Perseid meteor shower, marred again this year by the Moon rising around midnight.

Constellations

When it finally gets dark enough, the Milky Way is now at its best.  From a dark sky site it can be seen stretching right across the sky and down to the southern horizon, passing almost overhead around midnight.

The Milky Way passes through the Summer Triangle, which is now high in the sky, with Deneb and Vega particularly prominent.  Alberio, a beautiful yellow and blue double star at the head of Cygnus the swan, is very well placed for telescopic observation.

The Plough and its host constellation Ursa Major are now very low in the Northern sky which means that the W asterism of Cassiopeia is riding high in the south east and very easy to spot.

Pegasus and Andromeda are now well above the horizon for most of the night and Perseus, followed by Auriga, are rising soon after midnight.

Planets

Mercury:  in Gemini, mag -0.9
Not easy to see this month, on 1st it rises at 03.51 but is only 6 degrees above the horizon when the sky begins to brighten. It moves into Cancer on  5th and reaches perihelion on 6th.  At this time, because of its highly elliptical orbit, it gets twice as much heat and light from the Sun than it does when it's at its furthest point.  On this day it rises at 03.51 but is still only 11 degrees by dawn. On 17th it reaches superior conjunction, on the opposite side of the Sun to the Earth.  Around this time it is at mag -2.0, but much too close to the Sun to be seen - only 1 degree 45' to the north at its closest.  It then becomes an evening object, still too low to be visible.  On 31st it sets at 20.24 and is just below the horizon at dusk.   

Venus:  in Taurus, mag -4.4
Fades slightly during the month but is still unmissable in the morning sky, getting slightly higher before the sky is too bright. On 1st it rises at 02.05 and should be easily visible an hour later, reaching 23 degrees in the east by dawn.  On 6th it moves into Orion and on 14th reaches greatest western elongation, separated from the Sun by 46 degrees. On this day it rises at 01.58 and gets to 27 degrees before the sky brightens. On 14th it crosses the border into Gemini and the following day is close to the 15% lit Moon.  At 5am the planet is 5.5 degrees to the SE, they are closest at 13.44, when the Moon passes 4 degrees to the north.  On 31st Venus is at mag -4.2, rising at 02.08 and reaching 30 degrees in reasonable darkness.

Mars:  in Pisces,  mag 1.1
Still improving in both brightness and position.  On 1st it rises at 23.14 and is at 23 degrees in the south when dawn breaks. It is at perihelion on 3rd, when its distance from the Sun is 1.38 AU.  At this time it gets 31% more radiation from the Sun than at aphelion.  On 9th the 73% Moon passes south of Mars, as the sky brightens they are 3 degrees apart, with Mars 41 degrees above the southern horizon. They are closest, in daylight, at 09.38 when the Moon is 41' to the south.  On 31st it rises at 21.34 and reaches its highest point, 43 degrees, at 04.18.  It will now be at mag -1.8.

Jupiter: In Sagittarius, mag -2.7
Still very bright, so should be easily visible despite its low altitude. On 1st it rises at 20.02 and culminates at 23.52,  only 14 degrees above the southern horizon.  On 2nd at 00.32 the almost full Moon passes 1 degree 3' to the south. The pair should be visible from around 21.30 on the night of 1st/2nd.  They are again close on the 28th/29th, at 22.00 the 83% Moon is 3.5 degrees to the SW.  They get closer during the night but are at their closest, 1 degree 24', after Jupiter has set for Manchester observers.  By 31st it is slightly fainter at mag -2.6, and is at 14 degrees in the south as the sky darkens, culminating at 21.43, only a couple of degrees higher.  Observers with a decent pair of binoculars and a clear southern horizon should be able to see the planet's disc and maybe the 4 Galilean moons.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.1
Now about 7.5 degrees to the east of Jupiter, much fainter but slightly higher than the larger planet.  On 1st Saturn rises at 20.24 and should be visible soon after 22.00, when it reaches 10 degrees in the SE.  It culminates at 00.28, at 15 degrees, and sets at 04.29.  On 2nd the 96% Moon passes 2 degrees 15' to the south at 14.29.  By 23.00 it will be 6 degrees SE of the planet.  On 29th the 87% Moon is 2 degrees 11' to the south at 17.59.  They should be visible soon after 22.00 when Saturn, now at its highest point, is 3 degrees 30' NW of the Moon.  On 31st Saturn rises at 18.21, culminating at 22.19 and setting at 02.21.  It will also have faded slightly, ending August at mag 0.3.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.8
Visible in the early hours, its position improving during August.  On 1st it rises at 23.31 and reaches 32 degrees in the east by dawn.  On 31st it rises at 21.33 and gets to 50 degrees in the south by 04.45, as the sky begins to brighten.  As always, in order to see it with the naked eye, excellent eyesight and a very dark sky site are needed - as well as knowing exactly where to look.  It should be a fairly easy binocular target, again if you know where to look.  When seen through a scope the small disc has a greenish blue hue.

Neptune: in Aquarius, mag 7.8
Fainter and lower than Uranus but high enough for telescopic observation and imaging for much of the night, especially later in the month.  On 1st it rises at 22.14 and reaches 31 degrees in the south by 03.30.  On 31st it rises at 20.15 and culminates in astro darkness at 01.34, still at 31 degrees.  An amateur scope should show that the small disc is much bluer than that of Uranus.  A large telescope is needed to see the large moon Triton, at mag 13.5.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres: in Aquarius, mag 8.1
The closest and largest of the 5 dwarf planets - by far the largest body in the asteroid belt, and the first to be discovered - is not easy to see this month, as it remains low, even at opposition.  On 1st it rises at 23.35 and culminates, 15 degrees in the south, at 03.42.  It is at opposition on 28th, slightly brighter at mag 7.7 but even lower.  It reaches its highest point, only 12 degrees, at 01.23.

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 15.0
Despite being above the horizon for most of the night, it is still too low for imaging, reaching a maximum altitude of 14 degrees.

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4
On 1st it is briefly high enough for imaging from 23.00 to 23.45, when it will be at 27 degrees in the west, setting at 02.23.  By 31st it is only at a reasonable altitude for a few minutes around 21.30, setting at 00.24.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.3
Very low this month.  On 1st it is at 22 degrees in the west as the sky darkens, setting at 02.03.   By 31st it is down to 19 degrees in darkness, setting soon after midnight.

Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.8
The cause of poor Pluto's demotion, appropriately named after the goddess of discord, is higher but very much fainter and therefore only a target for the most experienced astrophotographers using the very best equipment.  On 1st it rises at 00.20 and reaches 24 degrees in the SE by dawn. On 31st it rises at 22.18 and culminates, 35 degrees in the south, at 04.18, only a few minutes after the end of astro darkness.

Comets

C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) in Coma Berenices, mag 5.5  (maybe!)
Moving away from the Sun and fading rapidly, also very low in the evening sky - though, for a change this one did live up to expectations.  On 1st it is best seen for a few minutes after 23.00, when it is 22 degrees above the western horizon. It moves into Virgo on 10th, when it is only 17 degrees in the west at dusk, setting at 00.46.  It is in Bootes on 12th to 15th, then back into Virgo on 16th.  On 31st it is only 8 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 22.43.  Predicted mag now 10.3, but remember the advice given in in-the-sky.org - take all magnitude forecasts with a pinch of salt, as comets are very unpredictable.

C/2019 U6 (Lemmon)  in Coma Berenices, mag around 8
This one, discovered by the Mount Lemmon Sky Survey in Arizona last October, was originally thought to be an asteroid. It was confirmed as a comet in March 2020.  Unlike the other 2 comets in the area, its position improves during August as it moves north eastwards.  On 1st it is almost midway between Haumea and Makemeke, and only about 2 degrees from C/2017 T2 (PanSTARRS) .  It will be 21 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 01.42. It moves into Bootes on 3rd, when it is at 23 degrees at 23.00, setting at 01.47.  By mid month it gets to 30 degrees and should be high enough for imaging for about an hour from 22.15, still setting around 2am.  By 31st it will have moved to about 6 degrees NW of Haumea and have faded to mag 10.  It will then be at 36 degrees in the west as the sky darkens around 21.30 and be reasonably high until just after 23.00, setting at 02.02.

C/2017 T2 (PanSTARRS) in Coma Berenices, mag 9.9
High enough for imaging in the first few days of the month.  On 1st it is 23 degrees above the western horizon around 11pm, setting just before 2am.  From then on, as Lemmon gets higher, this one gets lower. It moves into Bootes on 6th but is down to 21 degrees at dusk, setting at 01.26.  It is in Virgo from 24th, probably now around mag 10.5 and only 15 degrees in the west as the sky darkens.  On 31st, predicted mag 10.7, it's even lower, only 13 degrees, and sets at 23.06.

For more information, including position charts and exact co-ordinates of any Solar System object, see


For news about comets
www.cometwatch.co.uk   This has now been updated.

Meteor Showers

One really major shower this month.

Perseids, active July 17th to August 26th, peak on the 12th, between 14.00 and 17.00.  ZHR figure varies according to source used - somewhere between 50 and 150 from a dark sky site.  The radiant is circumpolar from Manchester, at its highest at 07.00, so the best time for viewing is just before dawn on 12th. It might also be worth looking after dusk on that day.  These are fast moving meteors, often leaving bright trails.  The third quarter Moon may interfere, rising at 23.41 on 11th and 00.03 on the morning of 13th. This shower occurs when the Earth passes through debris left in the wake of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle

There are also 2 very minor showers#

Kappa Cygnids:  active August 3rd to 25th.  This shower is said to be unpredictable as the dust cloud responsible is very diffuse.  The peak is given as 17th but could be as early as 12th or 14th, with a shorter period of activity.  ZHR 5, at best.  The radiant is circumpolar, highest at 22.00, so they are best seen as the sky darkens. The uncertainty of the timing of the paek of this shower means that it probably isn't worth going out especially to look for meteors but, if you happen to be observing on one of the possible peak evenings,you might just see one or two.  If there is a peak on 12th, they should be easily distinguishable from Perseids, as well as coming from a different direction, the Kappa Cygnids are much slower moving.  The parent body is not known for sure but could be minor planet 2008 ED9.

Aurigids:  August 28th to Sept 5th, peak August 31st, ZHR 6  The circumpolar radiant is highest at 09.00, so the best time to look is just before dawn on 31st. On the night of 30th/31st the 95% Moon rises at 19.30 and sets at 03.39 - less than half an hour before the end of astro darkness.  Parent comet for these is C/1911 Kiess.


The night sky in July 2020

posted 29 Jun 2020, 14:56 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Jun 2020, 09:47 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise      1st:   04.44       31st:   05.23
Sunset       1st:   21.40       31st:   21.05

Astronomical darkness
1st:  none       31st:  00.43  to  01.47
None until the morning of 30th, when we have 32 minutes.

Day  length     1st:  16.55.35       31st:  15.42.11

Earth is at aphelion on 4th at 12.34, when it will be 1.02 AU from the Sun.

Full Moon:  5th at 05.44      New Moon:  20th at 18.32

Lunar apogee:   12th at 20.28   (404,200km)
Lunar perigee:   25th at 05.55   (368,366km)

The July full Moon is known as the Buck Moon, because this is the time that male deer start to grow new antlers.  Other names are the Thunder Moon, the Old English / Anglo Saxon Hay Moon and the medieval English Mead Moon. The Chinese name is the Hungry Ghost Moon, because of the Hungry Ghost Festival which was held at this time - when the veil between this world and the next was said to be thin, so spirits could move freely between the two.

Highlights

At last we have the return of astro darkness, but only right at the end of the month.  On 5th there's another penumbral lunar eclipse, this time as the Moon is setting so, with a very clear sky and a low SW horizon, it might be possible to see a slight darkening at the top of the Moon's disc in the half hour before it sets at 04.42. 
Jupiter and Saturn both reach opposition this month, low in the southern sky, with Jupiter much brighter.  However Saturn's rings are at their best at this time. Mars is improving in both brightness and position, from mid month it is in the northern celestial hemisphere. Venus is also getting higher in the pre-dawn sky. 
There are a couple of minor meteor showers at the end of the month but both are better seen from further south.  However we could have some fireballs and there may be an outburst of the (usually almost non existent) July Draconids.  Once again we have a comet which may (or may not) be a naked eye object when it gets high enough in our Manchester sky to be visible. Unfortunately it fades rapidly as it gets higher in the sky.
And we still have the chance of seeing some noctilucent clouds. There have already been some good displays this year; they have been seen in Oregon, USA, which is about 10 degrees further south than Manchester. 

Planets

Mercury:  in Gemini, mag 5.7
Not visible until late July, and even then it remains very low.  On 1st it is at inferior conjunction and is only 4 degrees 26' from the Sun.  The 2% Moon passes close to the planet around sunrise on 19th but Mercury will be on the horizon as the sky brightens so is unlikely to be seen.  On 22nd it reaches greatest western elongation at 20 degrees separation from the Sun but, because of the shallow angle of the ecliptic, is still very low rising at 03.40 and only 3 degrees above the horizon at dawn.  It will, however, be much brighter at mag 0.3.  On 31st, now at mag -0.8, it rises at 03.47 and gets to 6 degrees before the sky is too bright for it to be seen.

Venus:  in Taurus, mag -4.5
Improving its position in the morning sky and, because it is so much brighter, much easier to see than Mercury even when very low.  On 1st it rises at 03.05  and reaches 8 degrees by dawn.  From 6th it passes through the V shaped Hyades cluster and on 8th is at its greatest brightness, only marginally brighter than at the start of the month.  On this day it rises at 03.05 and should be easily visible an hour later, as the sky begins to brighten. It is at aphelion (furthest from the Sun) on 10th, when its distance is 0.73 AU.  However, because its orbit is almost circular, there is very little difference between its nearest and furthest points.  On 11th it passes about 1 degree north of Aldebaran, 'the eye of the bull'.  Venus can't get quite as far south as the bright star - yet! On August 27th, in the year 5336 there will be an occultation. No idea whether this will be visible from Manchester - or even whether there will still be a Manchester at this time. On 17th the waning crescent Moon passes north of the planet, closest - 3 degrees 03' - at 07.06.  On 31st it rises at 02.06 slightly fainter at mag -4.4 and reaches 22 degrees by dawn.

Mars:  in Pisces, mag -0.5
Gets higher and brighter during the month.  On 1st it rises at 00.50 and is easily visible from around 2am until dawn, when it is at 24 degrees in the SE. It moves into Cetus on 9th and on the night of 11th/12th the gibbous Moon passes 1 degree 46' to the south, while they are still below the horizon.  They will be separated by 3 degrees 30' at 4am, when Mars will have reached 30 degrees in the SE.  Also around this time it crosses the celestial equator as it continues its northward journey.  On 17th it goes back into Pisces; it doesn't actually change direction at this time, it's just how the constellation borders lie. On this day it rises at 23.29  and is visible from 00.30, reaching 37 degrees in the south by dawn. By 31st it will be at mag -1.1, rising at 23.17 and reaching 38 degrees before the sky begins to brighten shortly before 05.00.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius, mag -2.7
On 1st it rises at 22.15, reaching 8 degrees in the SE before midnight and culminating, 6 degrees higher, in the south at 02.14. On 5th, the just past full Moon passes 1 degree 05' south of the planet at 22.36.  They should be visible about an hour later when Jupiter is 7 degrees above the SE horizon. Highest point, 14 degrees, at 01.56 on 6th when the separation will be 3 degrees. It is at opposition, when it is directly opposite the Sun in the sky, on 14th.  On this day it rises at 21.16 and culminates at 01.16. It is at its brightest on the night of 16th/17th but, as it is only around 0.02 of a magnitude higher than on 1st, no one will notice. On 31st it rises at 20.06 and culminates just before midnight, still at only 14 degrees in the south.

Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.2
Slightly higher but much fainter than the nearby Jupiter.  On 1st it rises at 22.31 and reaches 10 degrees in the SE by 02.39.  It joins Jupiter in Sagittarius on 4th and on 6th is also visited by the Moon, which is 6 degrees SW of Saturn at 2am, closest, 2 degrees 27' in daylight at 10.13.  It is at opposition on 20th, when it rises at 21.13 and reaches 15 degrees in the south at 01.19. The planet's northern hemisphere is currently tilted towards us, the rings are at an angle of 21 degrees and are a spectacular sight when seen through a telescope. Around opposition, when sunlight falls directly on to the planet from our point of view,the rings are noticeably brighter. This is because the shadows of the particles comprising them fall directly behind,  so they can't be seen and there isn't the usual dimming - more sunlight is reflected back towards us. This is known as the Opposition Surge, or Seeliger Effect after Hugo von Seeliger who, in 1887, first explained this and saw it as proof that the rings were not solid structures but were made up of lots (now thought to be billions) of individual particles.  On 31st Saturn rises at 10.38, reaches 10 degrees in the SE by 22.15 and culminates, 5 degrees higher, at 00.32.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.8
A  morning object, not visible in early July.  On 1st it rises at 01.35 and is on the horizon at dawn. Its position improves during the month, on 14th it rises at 00.45 and reaches 13 degrees in the east as the sky brightens.  A week later it rises at 00.18 and is at 21 degrees by daybreak.  On 31st it rises at 23.35 and should be high enough to be seen soon after 2am, reaching an altitude of 31 degrees in reasonable darkness.  As always, excellent eyesight and a very dark sky site are necessary in order to see it with the naked eye.  For the rest of us binoculars are needed, or a scope to show the small blue/green disc.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9
Another one which isn't easy to see at the start of July. On 1st it rises at 00.20 and is only 11 degrees above the horizon by dawn. On 10th, at 03.00, the Moon passes 7 degrees SW of the planet, which will be 19 degrees above the horizon as the sky brightens.  From mid month it should be high enough in the still dark sky for telescopic observation. On 13th it rises at 23.29 and reaches 22 degrees in the SE before the sky begins to brighten.  On 31st it rises at 22.10 and almost reaches its highest point, 31 degrees, in the south in darkness.  A reasonable sized amateur scope should show the planet's disc, much bluer than Uranus, thought to be because the atmosphere has a higher concentration of methane, which absorbs light at the red end of the spectrum and reflects the blue.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Aquarius, mag 8.6
The only one of the 5 which orbits in the (relatively) nearby asteroid belt, is very low this month.  On 1st it rises at 01.24 and on 31st at 23.29.  By this time it will have brightened to mag 8.1 but still be too low for telescopic observation.

The rest are very faint, distant and, because they take so long to orbit the Sun, move very slowly against the background stars. Their orbits are highly inclined to the plane of the solar system, so they are not necessarily found close to the ecliptic.  With the exception of Pluto, found in Feb 1930, their discovery was announced in a short period between late Dec 2004 and late May 2005. Of these 3, only Haumea is now in a different constellation, having crossed the border between Coma Berenices and Bootes in 2007.

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 14.9.
Much too low for observing or imaging, as it will be for many years yet.  it is at opposition on 16th, less than 1 degree south of Jupiter.

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4, and Makemake in Coma Beenices, mag 17.1, are even further and fainter than Pluto but better bets for imaging as they are higher in the sky.  Haumea reaches 32 degrees in the west on 1st and 27 degrees on 31st.  Makemake is slightly lower at 2 degrees and 23 degrees respectively.

Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.5
Faintest and furthest of the 5 officially designated dwarf planets.  It is high enough for imaging by serious, experienced astrophotographers at the end of July. On 1st it rises at 00.24 and reaches 23 degrees in the east at 3am, a short time before the sky brightens.
Eris takes 558 years to orbit the Sun, but that's nothing compared to some distant objects.  Sedna, with a very eccentric orbit taking it from the outer reaches of the Kuiper Belt to the inner part of the, as yet hypothetical, Oort Cloud  has a period of around 11,000 years.  It's one of the bodies thought to be influenced by some distant, massive object, maybe planet 9.

A couple of asteroids are at opposition in July.

532 Herculina, in Sagittarius, mag 9.5
Reaches opposition on 3rd, when it culminates at 01.12, but is only 16 degrees above the horizon.

2 Pallas, in Sagitta, mag 9.6.
The second asteroid belt body to be discovered, and the third biggest, having 7% of the mass of the entire belt, is at opposition on 15th, when it is at 57 degrees in the south at 00.41. This has a similar magnitude to Herculina but should be much easier to observe, being so much higher - again, because of the inclination of its orbit.

Comets

C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) in Taurus, mag -0.3 (or less)
This was discovered on March 27th, when it was at mag 17. It was at one time predicted to reach -2.6 in early July, but now the highest estimate is -0.3.  other sources give it as mag 2 or 3, or maybe as low as 6.  All agree that it will fade rapidly during the month.
On 1st it rises at 02.32 but only reaches 3 degrees above the horizon by dawn. it is at perihelion on 3rd, when it moves into Auriga, rising at 02.55 and getting to 7 degrees in darkness.  It get higher in the morning sky but fades rapidly.  It becomes circumpolar on 8th when it will be at 14 degrees in the east as the sky begins to brighten. It moves into Lynx on 13th, when it should be visible fom around 22.30 to 04.00, reaching 15 degrees in the NE by dawn but down to mag 1.8 (or less). Crosses into Ursa Major on 18th, when it is at 19 degrees in the NW at 23.00, down to 13 degrees at 03.30. It ends the month in Coma Berenices, and should be visible, 22 degrees above the western horizon, for a short time after 23.00, much fainter now - highest estimate 5.5.
The home page of www.cometwatch.co.uk  has been updated to show images and a finder chart for this one.

C/2019 U6 (Lemmon) in Sextans, mag 5.5
Not visible from here until the latter part of July. It is moving  north eastwards but dimming as it gets higher. It passes through Leo and Virgo, still below our horizon at dusk,  and into Coma Berenices on 23rd, whe it will be at 13 degrees in darkness but fainter at a probable mag of around 7.1.  On 31st it is at 21 degrees in the west at dusk, setting at 01.39, predicted mag now 7.9.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Canes Venatici mag 9.3
Moving south westwards and fading, circumpolar for the first week in July, on 1st it is at 35 degrees in the west soon after midnight, down to 26 degrees in the NW at o 01.45. On 9th it sets for a short while and is at its highest, 32 degrees in the west, around midnight.  It is in Coma Berenices from 15th, when it will be at mag 9.5 and best seen for about an hour after midnight when it reaches 30 degrees in the west.  On 31st it is down to 24 degrees, best seen soon after 11pm, setting at 02.04, slightly fainter, predicted mag 9.9.

Websites used

www.cometwatch.co.uk has only updated its home page to give information on C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE).  The rest has not been changed since April, or even earlier.

Meteor Showers

A couple of minor showers at the end of the month, both favouring observers further south.

Southern Delta Aquarids, active July 12th to August 23rd, peak on the night of 28th/29th (or maybe 30th - sources fail to agree, yet again)  ZHR 25, but the radiant is very low as seen from Manchester, so expect far fewer.  These are faint, medium speed meteors with no trails and no fireballs.  Parent comet 96P/Machholz.

Alpha Capricornids, active July 3rd to August 15th, they have a plateau-like peak centred on 29th.  ZHR 5 but again fewer from our latitude.   Slow moving meteors but worth looking out for as as this shower often includes fireballs.  Parent comet 169P/NEAT.

There could be an outburst of the July Draconids on July 28th, around 01.30.  This shower usually shows very little activity, but the last time that Earth was in the same position realtive to the dust cloud, in 2016, a ZHR of aroud 100 was recorded.  The parent comet is unknown, probably one of the Jupiter family - comets which have had their orbits altered by a close encounter with the gas giant and now have a period of less than 20 years.

The radiant of the antihelion source moves through Capricorn into SW Aquarius during July.  The Capricornids have a radiant close by but should be easily distinguishable as meteors from the ANT are much faster moving.






The night sky in June 2020

posted 30 May 2020, 13:04 by Pete Collins   [ updated 31 May 2020, 05:28 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise      1st:   04.46         30th:  04.44
Sunset       1st:   21.27         30th:  21.40

Astronomical darkness: none. In the later part of the month we only have about 2 hours of astro twilight.

Day length      1st:  16.41.24       30th:  16.58.42
Longest day   20th: 17.01.50   (21st is less than 1 second shorter)

Earliest Sunrise     17th:  04.39
Latest Sunset        24th:  21.42

The Summer Solstice, when the Sun reaches its most northerly point in the sky, is on 20th at 22.27.  On this day the Sun is overhead at local noon along the Tropic of Cancer.

Full Moon       5th at  20.12    (366564 Km)
New Moon    21st at  07.42   (387066 Km)

Lunar perigee     3rd  (364365 Km)    30th  (368957 Km)
Lunar apogee   15th  (404596 Km)

June's full Moon is known as the Strawberry Moon.  Other names are the Rose Moon, Hot Moon, Mead Moon and Honey Moon.

On 5th June there is a partial penumbral lunar eclipse.  There will be only a very slight darkening of the right hand side of the Moon's disc as it passes through the outer part of the Earth's shadow.  And, even worse, from Manchester the eclipse will be almost over when the Moon rises at 21.21 - it finishes at 22.04 when the Moon is still only 4 degrees above the SE horizon.  

On 21st there is an annular solar eclipse, visible only from parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon is fairly close to apogee so does not appear large enough to completely cover the Sun.  On this occasion the Moon will have 99.5% the diameter of the Sun so, at maximum, will leave only a very thin 'ring of fire'.  The best view will probably be from Tibet where the high altitude means clear air and clear skies.

Highlights

Not much in the way of highlights again this month.  As always in June, the main problem is too much light, no astronomical darkness and very little astro twilight.  Mercury starts the month a day past its highest point in the evening sky but is still very low as the sky darkens.  Early risers fare a little better, Jupiter is still very bright in the early hours and Mars is brightening and getting higher in the pre dawn sky.  We have about 40 minutes of a partial penumbral lunar eclipse and an annular solar eclipse which isn't visible at all from here.  And C/2020 F8 (SWAN) is the latest in a long line of comets which fail to live up to earlier promise.
However, we might see some ...

Noctilucent Clouds
The season for observing these thin, wispy clouds runs from late May to early August.  They may, if we're lucky,  be seen in the north to NW, about 60 to 90 minutes after sunset, and in the north to NE, 90 to 60 mintes before sunrise, when the Sun is about 6 degrees below the horizon. They are usually blue and silver but occasionally red or orange.  They are composed of ice crystals in the mesosphere about 50 miles up - so high that they are still in sunlight when the Sun has set for observers at ground level.
They are formed when water vapour condenses on to dust particles and freezes in the very low temperatures, around minus 120 degrees C.
Some of the water vapour may be moisture from gaps in the troposphere but it is thought to be predominantly produced by chemical reactions involving methane.  Displays became more prominent in the first half of the 20th century when the amount of methane in the upper atmosphere increased.
The dust is mostly of meteoric origin, though some could be atmospheric pollution, the first recorded sighting of the clouds was in 1885, soon after the eruption of Krakatoa.
As well as high methane levels increasing the amount of moisture in the mesosphere, the amount of carbon dioxide also affects the formation of NLCs, high levels of the gas make it even colder which helps the ice crystals to form. 
Displays are stronger and more frequent when, as now, we are close to solar minimum.
Last year we had some exceptional displays, the clouds were seen much further south than ever before, however recent atmospheric studies have suggested that 2020 won't equal these, so we should expect only average displays.
But, recent satellite images have shown the first faint NLCs of the season, above the Arctic Circle, on May 17th, this is very early so you never know.

Update:  these are now intensifying  for up to date information see

Constellations

The Plough asterism in Ursa Major is still prominent, being overhead for much of the night, leaving Cassiopeia on the opposite side of the Pole Star, low in the northern sky. The Summer Triangle, consisting of Vega, Deneb and Altair, is now getting higher in the late evening, though Altair, in Aquila, is still quite low in the early part of the night.  The beautiful double star Albireo, at the head of Cygnus the swan, is very well placed for observing. The Milky Way is now visible from dark sky sites, running across the sky through the Summer Triangle, passing almost overhead in the early hours. The bright orange red Arcturus is shining brightly high in the SW and, if you manage to find some dark skies not obscured by cloud, you should be able to see the rest of the kite shaped Bootes, with the semicircle of stars forming Corona Borealis just to the east of it. Another red giant, Antares in Scorpio is now visible low on the southern horizon.

Planets

Mercury:  in Gemini, mag 0.1
Not easy to see this month.  On 1st it is only 7 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 23.29, a couple of hours after the Sun. It reaches greatest eastern elongation on 4th, when it appears separated from the Sun by  23.6 degrees but only 15 degrees above the horizon at sunset, down to 6 degrees by the time the sky darkens.  From mid June it is below the horizon at dusk. It also fades during the month and on 22nd it is down to mag 3.2  and appearing only 13 degrees from the Sun.  It is at aphelion, the furthest point in its elliptical orbit from the Sun, on 23rd, when it is at a distance of 0.47 AU.  On 30th it sets 20 minutes after the Sun and the apparent separation is only 4 degrees.

Venus:  in Taurus, mag -3.8
Not visible in early June.  On 1st it sets less than half an hour after the Sun and is separated by only 4 degrees.  It reaches inferior solar conjunction on 3rd, passing less than half a degree north of our star.  It then becomes a morning object but too low in the dawn sky to be visible. On 19th at 08.40 (from the centre of the UK - couldn't find local time) in daylight, the planet is occulted by the thin crescent Moon.  At dawn on that day the pair are separated by less than a degree but only 2 degrees above the horizon.  On 30th Venus has brightened to mag -4.4, rising at 03.08 and reaching 7 degrees as the sky brightens.

Mars:  in Aquarius, mag 0.0
On 1st when it rises at 02.14 and should be visible from 03.30, when it reaches 12 degrees in the SE.  On the morning of 13th, the 51% Moon passes 3 degrees south of the planet, now at mag -0.2, in the early hours.  If you look through binoculars you might have a chance of seeing the much fainter Neptune 1 degree 44' to the north.
WARNING:  the Sun rises soon after 4.30 on this day so be sure to put your binoculars away in good time.  Looking at the Sun, even for a few seconds by accident, through binoculars could result in permanent blindness. 
Mars moves into Pisces on 25th, where it rises at 01.27 and reaches 21 degrees by dawn.  On 31st it is at mag -0.5, rising at 00.52 and getting to 24 degrees in the SE as the sky brightens.

Jupiter: in Sagittarius, mag -2.6
Still shining brightly in the morning sky. On 1st it rises at 00.24 and is visible from 01.45 till dawn, when it is at 14 degrees in the south. On 8th the 89% Moon passes just over 2 degrees south of the planet, they are closest at 18.46 while still below the horizon but not much further apart on the morning of 9th.  During the last week in June, Jupiter is less than 1 degree north of Pluto.  They are in conjunction (having the same right ascension) on 25th at 19.32 but at their closest on the morning of 27th.  On this day Jupiter rises at 22.32 and reaches 14 degrees in the south at 02.32.  Unfortunately Pluto will be too faint to be easily imaged at this low altitude.  On 30th Jupiter has brightened to mag -2.7, rises at 22.19 and reaches 8 degrees in the SE by 23.45, culminating at 14 degrees at 02.18.

Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.4
Still low in the morning sky. On 1st it rises at 00.37 and should be high enough to be seen by around 02.30 and getting to 15 degrees in the south by dawn.  On 9th the Moon passes 2 degrees 38' south of the planet at 03.53, with Jupiter also close by, a few degrees to the west.  The Moon will be 86% lit, so no smiley face. By 30th Saturn will be at mag 0.2, rising at 22.35 and culminating, 16 degrees above the southern horizon, at 02.44.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9
Not visible this month.  On 1st it rises at 03.31 but is still 10 degrees below the horizon at dawn.  It does improve during the month but is still only just on the horizon at daybreak on 30th.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9
On 1st it rises at 02.17 and is still below the horizon when the sky begins to brighten.  On 12th at 13.18 Mars passes 1 degree 44' south of the fainter planet, they are still close on the morning of 13th, when Neptune rises at 01.30 but doesn't get high enough in darkness to be an easy binocular target.  On 30th it rises at 00.24 and gets to 9 degrees by dawn, still a bit too low for observing.  


Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Aquarius, mag 9.0
Rises at 03.01 on 1st but is still very low in the SE by dawn. On 30th it rises at 01.27, has brightened to mag 8.6 but still doesn't get high enough for imaging or observing.

Pluto:  In Sagittarius, mag 15.0
Orbiting in the Kuiper Belt, the faint, distant Pluto is much too low to be successfully imaged, even towards the end of the month when it is very close to Mars.

Haumea, in Bootes, mag 17.3, and Makemake in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1, are much higher in the sky and a better bet for ambitious, experienced amateur astrophotographers, despite being so distant and faint. On 1st Haumea is at 50 degrees in the SW around midnight, Makemake reaches a similar altitude.  By month end the highest points in darkness are 32 degrees and 27 degrees in the west respectively.

Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.8
The faintest, most distant of the currently recognised dwarf planets is below the horizon all night throughout June.

Asteroid 7 Iris, in Sagittarius, reaches opposition on 28th.  On this day it is at mag 8.9 and culminates at 01.14 but is only 15 degrees above the southern horizon.

Comets

C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) in Taurus.
Originally predicted to be a candidate for Comet of the Century,  then it broke up.  But the 4 main pieces are still going and are quite bright at magnitudes ranging from 3.8 to 5.9.
But we can't see them, as they are now too close to the Sun.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Ursa Major, mag 8.8
Circumpolar at the start of June, and reasonably high during the hours of darkness . By 6th it is quite low for part of the night and best seen between midnight and 2am. Moves into Canes Venatici on 25th, when it will have faded slightly and only be high enough from 01.00 to 01.30.  On 30th it is predicted to have faded to mag 9.2 and will be best positioned between 00.40 and 01.40.

C/2020 F8 (SWAN) in Auriga, mag 6.4
Yet another which hasn't lived up to expectations, estimates now a couple of magnitudes less than previously given. On 1st it is circumpolar, just over 1 degree SW of Capella, only 11 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens. It is moving south westwards, getting lower in the evening sky.  On 23rd it moves into Lynx and is only 9 degrees at dusk.  It goes back into Auriga on 28th  and on 30th, now with an estimated mag of 8.1, appears only 9 degrees from the Sun.

For more info and exact positions of any solar system objects see

I usually recommend www.cometwatch.co.uk but as it hasn't been updated since April 20th, maybe not.
If I've missed any current comets - blame them!

Meteor Showers

Not a good month for meteor spotters. The antehelion source may provide one or two, especially in early and late June but the radiant, moving across Sagittarius, is very low for observers in the northern hemisphere.

June Bootids, active (maybe) June 22nd to July 2nd, peak on the night of 27th around 23.00.  ZHR is variable, given as anything between zero and 30, but this year is predicted to be at the lower end of that range, though there could possibly be some activity on 23rd.  The parent comet of these slow moving meteors is 7P/Pons-Winnecke.

June Lyrids, peak 15th/16th.  Not much activity from these in recent years.

There are a few daytime showers:

Zeta Perseids,  active May 20th to July 5th. peak 9th (or maybe 13th).  This shower, parent comet 2P/Encke, was first discovered at Jodrell Bank in 1947.

Beta Taurids,  active June 5th to July 18th, peak 28th.  ZHR said to be 'weak' or 'modest' but it is thought that the Tunguska meteor in June 1908 could have been associated with this shower.

Daytime Arietids, active May 14th to June 24th, peak June 7th,  ZHR 30.
A few of these may be spotted visually in the morning twilight but the radiant is only 30 degrees west of the Sun.

The night sky in May 2020

posted 29 Apr 2020, 05:19 by Pete Collins   [ updated 29 Apr 2020, 06:06 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise   1st:    05.33       31st:   04.47
Sunset:   1st:   20.39       31st:   21.26

Astro Darkness   1st:  23.28 to 02.42    31st:  none
Ends at 01.20 on the morning of 13th, then none until the end of July.

Day length  1st:  15.05.23     31st:  16.39.19

Full Moon:       7th  at 11.45
New Moon:     22nd  at 18.39

Lunar perigee:    6th at 04.03   (359654 km)
Lunar apogee:    18th at 08.44   (405583 km)

This month's full Moon occurs at a distance of 361184 km, making it a Supermoon.

May full Moon is known as the Flower Moon because so many blossom around this time.  Other names are the Corn Planting Moon and the Anglo Saxon/Old English Milk Moon.

Highlights

After April's excitement of a possible naked eye comet, we're back to having not much to write home about this month.
The sky is much clearer because of the decrease in pollution (I wish the same could be said about light pollution) but to counteract that we lose astronomical darkness from mid month.  We are also losing Venus as it is getting much lower in the evening sky, though still very bright so visible until the last few days of the month.  Mars and Saturn are getting higher in the pre-dawn sky, as is the much brighter Jupiter.  The one major meteor shower is much better seen from the southern hemisphere and, as if that wasn't enough, will be affected by the presence of the almost full Moon.  Also only visible from further south is a newly discovered comet which again promises great things.

Constellations

As the sky darkens at the start of the month Lyra and Cygnus are rising in the north east, followed a couple of hours later by Aquila.  In the later part of the night the Summer Triangle formed by Vega, Deneb and Altair, the brightest star in each of these three constellations, should be easily visible. By the end of the month Aquila will be above the horizon by around 11pm. The brightest part of the Milky Way visible to us in the UK runs through the Summer Triangle and down through Scutum and Sagittarius.

The Plough is still very high in the sky for most of the night, standing on its handle, so Cassiopeia, the W shaped 'Lady in the Chair',  on the opposite side of the Pole Star is very low down in the north.

Bootes, the herdsman, is now riding high although only Arcturus, the brightest star in the celestial northern hemisphere, is above magnitude 2, so its kite asterism may not be easily visible in our light polluted skies. Arcturus is easy to find though - just follow the arc of the Plough's handle down to the south until you come to Arcturus.  Carry on the arc a bit further and you come to the star Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.

At this time of year when you look up to the south you are looking out of the plane of our Milky Way galaxy instead of along it like you do in winter and summer, so there aren't many bright stars, open star clusters and nebulae. However, if you've got a telescope this is a good time of year to hunt down globular clusters like M13, the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, and faint galaxies like the many galaxies lying in the bowl of Virgo and into Coma Berenices.

Planets

Mercury:  in Aries, mag -1.8
Not visible in early May, on 1st it is only 4 degrees from the Sun.  It reaches superior solar conjunction, when it is on the opposite side of the Sun to the Earth, on 4th, when it passes 6 minutes south of our star.  It then becomes an evening object but still not visible as it is so close to the Sun.  On 10th when it moves into Taurus it reaches perihelion, 0.31AU from the Sun, but still too close to the Sun to be visible.  Its position gets much better in the second half of May, on 15th it is 5 degrees above the horizon at dusk setting at 22.15 and now at mag -1.2.  It gets higher in the evening sky, moving closer to Venus which is now losing height.  They are at their closest - just under 1 degree - on 22nd at 08.44,  but stilll separated by only 1.3 degrees at 21.00, about 8 degrees above the horizon at dusk.  Mercury is to the south, now fainter at mag 0.7.  On 24th at 22.00 the Moon passes 5 degrees SE of the planet, with Venus also close by.  Mercury moves into Gemini on 30th, when it is at its highest point in the evening sky but still only 8 degrees at dusk.  On 31st it sets at 23.39.

Venus:  in Taurus, mag -4.5
Still shining brightly, high in the evening sky, at the start of the month.  On 1st it is at 27 degrees in the west around 21.00, setting at 00.51.  It gets lower during the month, by 14th it is down to 14 degrees as the sky darkens.  On 22nd it is at its closest to Mercury and on 24th the thin crescent Moon passes less than 4 degrees south of the planet, only 8 degrees in the NW at dusk.  By 29th it is only 2 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens and on 31st appears only 6 degrees from the Sun.

Mars: in Capricorn, mag 0.4
On 1st it rises at 03.34 and reaches 7 degrees above the horizon as the sky begins to brighten.  Its position improves slightly during May, when it moves into Aquarius on 9th it is a degree higher by dawn.  On 15th, when it is at mag 0.2, the Moon passes about 2 and a half degrees to the south.  By month end  Mars is at mag zero, rising at 02.16 and getting to 10 degrees while the sky is still reasonably dark.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius, mag -2.4
A morning object, still quite low in the sky but easy to spot because of its brightness.  On 1st it rises at 02.26 and reaches 13 degrees in the south by 05.00 as the sky begins to brighten.  On 12th the Moon passes south of the planet,  5 degrees separation at 5am and closest, 2 degrees 4', at 11.09.  On this day it rises at 01.44 and is at 14 degrees in the south by dawn.  On 14th it appears to change direction and moves from east to west across the sky - known as retrograde motion.  Of course it doesn't actually start going the other way, it's a similar effect to when a car passes a slower moving vehicle - when seen from the faster vehicle the other appears to go backwards for a short time.  It is near to Saturn throughout May, they start the month separated by 5 degrees, closest on 18th at just under 4.7 degrees, with Jupiter to the SW.  On 31st it rises at 00.20, slightly brighter at mag -2.6 and visible from around 2am.   It now reaches 18 degrees by dawn.

Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.6
Slightly lower, and much fainter, than Jupiter in the morning sky but still a beautiful sight even through a small scope, with its rings at an angle of 20 degrees.  On 1st it rises at 02.39 and should be visible a couple of hours later, getting to 11 degrees in the SE by the time the sky begins to brighten.  From 11th its apparent motion is also retrograde.  The gibbous Moon passes to the south on 12th,  separated by 2 degrees 38' at 19.55 and by 5 degrees on the morning of 13th.  On 31st it is slightly brighter at mag 0.4, rising at 00.41 and reaching 15 degrees in the SE shorty before 4am as dawn breaks.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9
Not visible this month.  On 1st its apparent separation from the Sun is only 4 degrees. It moves away slighly during the month but is still below the horizon at dawn on 31st.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9
Again, not visible, still below the horizon as the sky begins to brighten throughout May.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Aquarius, mag 5.2
The only dwarf palnet which orbits in the (relatively) close Asteroid Belt is still too low for imaging.  On 1st it rises less than an hour before the Sun.  On 31st it rises at 03.04 but still very close to the horizon as day breaks.   On this day, Mars lies about 8 degrees to the north.

The rest, lying in the Kuiper belt, are so distant and therefore faint that even at their best they are a challenge for the most experienced astrophotographers.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.1
Too low for imaging and, because it moves so slowly around the sky, will be for many years yet. 

Haumea in Bootes, mag 17.3, and Makemake in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2, are both high in the sky for most of the night so could be a possible imaging target for the ambitious.  Haumea reaches 52 degrees on 1st and 51 degrees on 31st,  Makemake gets to 60 degrees, falling to 51 degrees.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
The most distant and faintest of the 5 officially recognised dwarf planets appears very close to the Sun this month.

On 24th at 10.00, asteroid Vesta passes 2 degrees west of the Moon.  Those watching from North America and parts of Europe (but unfortunately not from Manchester) will see an occultation.

Comets

C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) has not lived up to expactations - there's a surprise! Rather than becoming an unmissable naked eye object it has broken up into at least 4 fragments. They are in Camelopardalis, circumpolar and reasonably high throughout the night in early May.  It moves into Perseus on 13th, when it is much lower - around 14 degrees maximum, andon 25th dips below the horizon between 11pm and 2am.  It is in Taurus from 27th, when it appears only 12 degrees from the Sun.  Reaches perihelion on 30th.

The other ATLAS,  C/2019 Y1, mag 11.5, is also circumpolar and high enough for imaging throughout the night at the start of May. Moves into Camelopardalis on 3rd, Draco on 9th, and Ursa Major on 14th.  By 31st it is predicted to have faded to mag 14.5 and to be too low in the sky between midnight and 2am.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Camelopardalis, mag 8.9
Again circumpolar, high in the sky all night.  On 18th it briefly crosses the border into Draco then into Ursa Major the following day.  It should brighten slightly during the month, mag 8.8 from 6th to 24th then end the month back at 8.9.

C/2020 F8 (SWAN)
Discovered on 28th March with the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory's SWAN camera.  Great things are predicted for this one. The bad news is that it is currently only visible from the southern hemisphere. It starts the month in Andromeda at around mag 8, moves into Perseus on 12th and Auriga on 31st.  On this day, from our latitude, it will be 12 degrees above the horizon at dusk - still too low for imaging.

For more details and exact positions of all solar system objects see

and for latest news on comets

Meteor Showers

Not a great deal going on this month - and what there is will be seriously marred by moonlight.

Eta Aquarids:  active April 19th to May 28th, peak on the night of 5th/6th. This shower is better seen from south of the equator, from here ZHR is around 10, at best.  These bright, fast moving meteors, ofetn leaving trails, are best seen just before dawn on the morning of 6th.  However the almost full Moon sets just before the Sun rises.  Parent comet 1P/Halley.

Eta Lyrids:  active 3rd to 14th, peak 8th.  ZHR 3. Best seen just before dawn and after dusk on 8th but again there will be significant moonlight interference. Parent comet C/1983 (IRAS-Araki-Alcock).

It is thought that there could be some activity at around 23.00 on May 14th, from debris left by near Earth object 461852 (2006 GY2).  These slow meteors have a radiant in Hercules.

The antihelion source has a radiant moving across northern Scorpio into Libra. ZHR 2, but could be double that towards the end of the month.

And finally: the second half of May is a good time for daytime showers, detectable only using radio or radar equipment.  Most prominent is the daytime Arietids, beginning on May 14th, though the peak is not until early June.



The night sky in April 2020

posted 30 Mar 2020, 06:03 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise      1st:    06.41          30th:     05.35
Sunset       1st:    19.45          30th:     20.37

Astronomical darkness    1st:  21.51  to  04.33        30th:  23.24  to  02.47

Day length   1st:  13.03.35       30th:  15.02.04

Full Moon:       8th at 03.35  (363511 km).    
New Moon:    23rd at 03.27  (403817 km)

Lunar perigee:    7th at 19.10    (356908 km)
Lunar apogee:  20th at 20 02    (406461 km)
 
April's full Moon is known as the Pink Moon because of the pink flowers which bloom at this time.  Other names are the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Fish Moon, the Hare Moon, and the Old English/Anglo Saxon Egg Moon or Paschal Moon.  This is the full Moon which is used to calculate the date of Easter.

Highlights

We actually have some highlights this month - for those who have a dark garden to observe from.  Having to stay at home is not so good for those of us who have a street light outside the front garden and neighbours at the back who seem to leave their lights on all night.
Venus is still dominating the evening sky, reaching its brightest on 28th.  Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are all low in the SE in the morning, though only Jupiter is bright enough to really stand out.
This month's full Moon is is the biggest Supermoon of the year, occurring just under eight and a half hours after the year's closest perigee, and at last we have a promising meteor shower.  A newly discovered comet is brightening nicely and may become a naked eye object by month end.
We have Easter Sunday on 12th.  The astronomical connection is that it is the Sunday after the first full Moon on or after the Vernal Equinox, which is taken as 21st March even when, as this year, it actually falls on 20th. 
In case anyone is interested, the earliest date for Easter Sunday is March 22nd.  This is very rare - the last time was in 1818, the next won't be until 2285. The latest date, April 23rd, is more common, some people alive now might just manage to see one or 2 of these - last was in 1943, next in 2038.
And the sequence is not totally random:  it begins to repeat itself after 5,700,000 years.  If we still used the Julian calendar it would repeat after only 532 years!
Finally, April sees the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission, when a near tragedy became what many people consider to be NASA's greatest triumph.  It lifted off on 11th, at 13.13 local time - and we all know what happened 2 days later. 

Constellations

Now that BST has been forced upon us, we have to wait even longer for the skies to darken each evening. By the time it gets really dark the winter constellations, including the beautiful area around the Winter Hexagon, so rich in bright stars, is sinking slowly in the West.

Ursa Major is now high in the sky with the Plough overhead around midnight in the second half of the month. Follow the curve of the handle down to the orange coloured Arcturus, brightest star in the constellation Bootes the herdsman, and the 4th brightest in the night sky.
The signature constellation of spring, Leo, is still riding high in the south and the Summer Triangle of Vega (in Lyra), Deneb (Cygnus) and Altair (Aquila) is now rising in the east and visible in the early hours.

Planets

Mercury:  in Aquarius, mag 0.00
A morning object but too low for observation.  On 1st it rises at 06.16 but is still below the horizon when the sky begins to brighten. Its position gets even worse during the month, it moves into Pisces on 10th, when it is at mag -0.2, and Aries on 29th, at mag -1.5. On 30th it rises at 05.32 but appears only 5 degrees from the Sun.

Venus:  in Taurus, mag -4.4
So bright that it can easily be seen through the window of a lighted room - assuming that it faces west. On 1st it is at 36 degrees soon after 20.00 and during the first few days of the month it passes south of the Pleiades.  It continues to brighten, reaching mag -4.5 by 10th, when it is slightly lower, 28 degrees at around 21.00.  On 26th the 3 day Moon passes south of the planet, closest, 6 degrees, at 16.23.  It reaches maximum brightness on 28th, when it is at mag -4.52, a little short of the maximum possible of -4.7.  On 30th, only marginally fainter, it sets at 00.52.

Mars:  in Capricorn, mag 0.8
Very low in the morning sky, rises about 2 hours before the Sun throughout April and doesn't get higher than 7 degrees above the horizon as the sky brightens.  On 1st it rises at 04.41.  On 16th the Moon passes south of the planet, separated by 3 degrees at 5am.   On 30th it rises at 03.37 and has brightened to mag 0.4.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius, mag -2.2
Another morning object, much easier to see as it is slightly higher and much brighter than Mars. On 1st it rises at 04.16 and should reach 11 degrees in the SE before the sky begins to brighten a couple of hours later.  On 15th the 21 day Moon passes south of Jupiter, closest at 00.05 when they are below the horizon.   At 5am the Moon is between Jupiter and Saturn, with Jupiter 4 degrees NW of the Moon, Saturn 4 degrees NE.  On 30th Jupiter rises at 02.30 and should be easily visiible from around 03.50,slightly brighter at mag -2.4.

Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.7
The third major planet currently low in the morning sky. On 1st it rises at 04.34 and only reaches 8 degrees in the SE by dawn. It improves slightly during April, on 15th when the Moon passes south of the planet, it will be at about 11 degrees as the sky brightens. The pair are closest, 2 degrees 27', in daylight at 10.18. On 30th it rises at 02.43, slightly brighter at mag 0.6, but still only gets to 11 degrees while the sky is reasonably dark.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9
Not visible this month.  On 1st it is only 6 degrees above the horizon at dusk.  Its apparent separation from the Sun decreases still further during the month as it approaches solar conjunction on 26th, only 26' at its closest.  On 30th it rises at 05.35,  just a couple of minutes before the Sun, and is separated from it by just 2 degrees.

Neptune: in Aquarius, mag 8.0
Still too close to the Sun to be visible.  On 1st it rises at 06.15 but is still 9 degrees below the horizon at dawn. On 30th it rises at 04.23, more than an hour before sunrise, but still fails to get above the horizon before the sky begins to brighten.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres: in Capricorn, mag 9.3
The closest of the 5 dwarf planets, the only one which orbits in the Asteroid Belt, is still too low for telescopic viewing or imaging.  It moves into Aquarius on 9th and by month end rises a couple of hours before the Sun but is still very low in the brightening sky.

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 15.1
Still too low to be succesfully imaged which, because it moves so slowly round the sky, it will be for many years yet.

Haumea, in Bootes at mag 17.3, and Makemeke, in Coma Berenices at mag 17.2 are much higher, therefore better targets for the most experienced astrophotographers. Because their orbits are very inclined to the ecliptic (28 degrees and 29 degrees respectively) these can be found quite far from the ecliptic. Haumea reaches opposition on 16th, when it will be 52 degrees above the southern horizon at 01.52.  Makemake culminates slightly higher, 60 degrees, throughout the month.  Both will be high in the sky for much of the night.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
The most distant of the 5 officially recognised dwarf planets, the largest known solar system object which has never been visited by a spacecraft, appears too close to the Sun this month.

Asteroid 3 Juno, the third to be discovered but only the 13th in order of size, reaches opposition on 3rd.  It's in Virgo, mag 9.7.  On this night it culminates at 01.26, at 38 degrees in the South.

Comets

C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) in Camelopardalis, mag 8.7.
Discovered in December 2019, this one is looking very promising.  It has been brightening rapidly recently and is predicted to reach naked eye brightness by late April.  It is a long period comet with a similar orbit to the Great Comet of 1844 so it is thought that it could be another fragment of the same parent body.
Will it live up to its promise?
Will it become another Great Comet?
We can but hope.
At the moment it is circumpolar, close to the north celestial pole so reasonably high in the sky throughout the night. If it continues to brighten at the current rate it could end the month at mag 4.4.  It should be visible until late May when, if it behaves as predicted, could have reached mag -3.7.  Current estimates give the peak brightness as -5.5.  The bad news is that this is in early June, when it will be below the horizon in darkness from our latitude.
For anyone who wants to try their luck at imaging it while it's still quite faint, exact co-ordinates for each night are given in https://in-the-sky.org/ephemeris.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Cassiopeia, mag 9.1
Again circumpolar, so above the horizon all night.  Moves into Camelopardalis on 11th. This one is also predicted to brighten during April but nowhere near as much - estimated mag for 30th is 8.9

C/2019 Y1 (ATLAS)
Another circumpolar one, but this is fading not brightening. It starts the month in Andromeda at mag 9.0, then moves into Cassiopeia on 2nd.  Not as high in the sky as the others but still reasonably so for much of the night.  In Cepheus from 26th, when it will have faded, probably to around mag 10.9.  Finishes the month at mag 11.3.

Recommended sites for exact positions, finder charts, and more information on all Solar System objects


And for comet news


Meteor Showers

One reasonable shower this month.
Lyrids, active 14th to 30th (or maybe only till 25th - even the IMO doesn't always agree with itself)  ZHR 18, but usually also quite good on the nights before and after the peak. The shower occasionally shows much higher rates - in 1982 a ZHR of 90 was recorded, but nothing like that is predicted for this year.
It's likely that this shower was very much stronger in the past, in 687AD Chinese astronomers reported that meteors fell like rain.  These are medium speed meteors, usually without trails, but the shower could include some fireballs. They are best seen in the early hours.
The parent comet is C/1810 Thatcher, last seen in 1861, next return 2276.
The good news is that the peak is just before New Moon, so no interference.

Not much in the way of minor showers, at least not for those of us living in the northern hemisphere.
The southern hemisphere has the pi Puppids, active 15th to 28th, peak 23rd, ZHR variable.

Here, we may see a few meteors from the antehelion source, the radiant of which moves from SE Virgo into Libra during April.

It is also thought that there could be some activity in the early hours of 24th from the alpha Virginids. The radiant of these is far enough from that of the ANT for it to be considered a separate shower.  Parent body is minor planet 2010 GE35.



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