The night sky this month

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

The night sky in September 2017

posted 29 Aug 2017, 13:37 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise  1st:   06.18        30th:   07.09
Sunset   1st:   19.58        30th:   18.47

Astronomical darkness 
1st:   22.10  to  04.07         30th:   20.44  to  05.13


Full Moon  (Harvest Moon)  Sept 6th at 08.02    New Moon  Sept.20th at 06.29

The autumnal equinox, when the Sun appears to cross the celestial equator, is on 22nd at 21.01.  Despite the name we do not have a 12 hour day and night then, or on any other day, though this year the 25th comes very close at only 15 seconds short.

Highlights

As always in September the highlights are on the ground rather than in the sky.  On Sunday 24th we have our Open Day,  11am to 4pm in the classroom and the Farm Centre Courtyard in Heaton Park, and the following Thursday, 28th, sees the first meeting of the new season at the Bowls Pavilion as usual.  On this day sunset is at 18.52 but astronomical darkness does not begin until 20.50 - ten minutes before our finishing time.   But never mind, if past years are anything to go by, it will probably be cloudy anyway.

We have no major meteor showers and the bright planets are becoming less prominent, however we do have a close (astronomically speaking) encounter with a large asteroid.

You'll have to get up early for bright ISS passes this month - all around 4am to 5am - see www.heavens-above.com for predictions.

Constellations

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

Milky Way & Summer Triangle from Derbyshire

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

For the best views of planets this month you need either a telescope or an alarm clock.

Mercury:  in Leo, mag 3.3. A morning object throughout September.  On 1st it rises at 05.35, about 45 minutes before the Sun, and not easily seen in the dawn glare.  On 10th it is only 38 arcminutes from Regulus.  Reaches Greatest Eastern Elongation on 12th, when it rises at 04.49, will have brightened to -0.3 and should be briefly visible before the sky gets too light.  On 16th it is only 28 arcminutes West of Mars, the following day it is even closer at 21 arcminutes.  By 22nd it will be at mag -1.1, and the following morning will form a line in the morning sky with Mars, Venus and Regulus. However Mercury will be very low.  It moves into Virgo on 27th but is unlikely to be visible.  On 30th, it rises at 06.20, only 40 minutes before Sunrise. 
 
Venus:  in Cancer, mag -4.0. Still shining brightly in the dawn sky at the start of the month.  On 1st, when it rises more than 3 hours before the Sun, it is just 1.5 degrees below the Beehive cluster.  It rises a few minutes later each day and moves into Cancer on 11th. On 18th, forms a line with Mercury, Mars and the thin crescent Moon.  By month end it rises at 04.37 so will still be quite prominent but beginning to dim, at mag -3.9.  By this time it will be 3.3 degrees from Mars.   

Mars:  in Leo,  mag 1.8. On 1st it rises at 05.03,  75 minutes before sunrise and only half an hour before Mercury.  By month end it rises only 5 minutes earlier but, because sunrise is not until after 7am should be more easily seen, as the sky is still reasonably dark. However it is very low in the sky -  only 2.3 degrees above the ENE horizon.

Jupiter:  in Virgo, mag -1.8. Now very low in the WSW sky after sunset and very difficult to see, on 1st it sets just an hour after the Sun.  On 22nd it is 5 degrees below the waxing 6% lit Moon and by month end it sets at 19.25, only 40 minutes after sunset.

Saturn:  in Ophiuchus, mag 0.4. Still very low in the SW evening sky despite being above the horizon until 20 minutes before midnight at the start of September.  On 26th it is 3.5 degrees below the 37% lit Moon at about 21.00.   By month end it will have faded to mag 0.3 and set at 21.43,  3 hours after the Sun but only visible for a short time as the sky darkens.

Uranus, in Pisces, mag 5.7. Much better placed than the closer, brighter planets, visible for most of the night throughout Sept - though binoculars will be needed unless you have excellent eyesight and are observing from a dark sky site.  On 21st it rises at 21.07 and reaches its highest point, 47 degrees, soon after 4am.  By the end of the month it rises half an hour after sunset and culminates at 02.14.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.8. Another distant planet which is well placed again this month.  On 1st it culminates at 01.25 and sets about half an hour before sunrise.  It reaches opposition a few days later, on 5th, and the following day is 2.5 degrees NE of the full Moon.   By month end it culminates before midnight and sets just before 5am.

For more details on planetary positons see

Meteor Showers

No major showers this month but September is said to be the peak time for sporadic activity - meteors not associated with any particular shower.

Minor showers are:

Alpha Aurigids:  active Aug 28th to Sept 5th,  peak Aug 31st/Sept 1st,   ZHR 6
These are best seen after midnight when the radiant is high in the sky.  The shower occasionally produces a much better display but in some years is not seen at all. It is thought to be associated with comet C1911/N1 Kiess and may not be a permanent shower.

September, or Epsilon, Perseids: Sept 5th to 21st, peak Sept 9th,  ZHR 5 - 9
This is a faint shower which will be adversely affected this year by the presence
of a bright gibbous Moon.

Piscids:  active for most of September, actual dates vary according to source used.  Some sites say that there is no real peak, just enhanced activity between 9th and 21st, however others give 2 separate peaks, Sept 9th,  ZHR 5,  Sept 21st,  ZHR 2.    The Moon will interfere on the first of thses dates but not the second.

Southern Taurids, active Sept 7th to November 19th.  Peak is not until early October but worth looking in September as thsi shower is often rich in fireballs.  The parent object is a fragment of former comet 2P/Encke.

The Piscids and Southern Taurids are sometimes considered to be part of the Autumn Antihelion Source.  However others say that the ANT is not very active at this time and these are 2 distinct showers.

And finally ...

On Sept 1st at 13.06 a large asteroid 3122 Florence (aka1981 ET3) will pass by us at a distance of less than 8 million km/5 million miles - but don't panic:  that's more than 18 times the Earth - Moon distance. It is expected to be around mag 9 at this time, so should be visible in amateur scopes.
At 4.35km/2.7miles in diameter it is the largest near Earth object to come so close to us since NASA started tracking them in the 1990s.  By mid Sept, when it has moved from Cygnus into Draco, it will have faded to mag 12.
For more information and exact position at any time, see https://theskylive.com/florence-info

The night sky in August 2017

posted 28 Jul 2017, 11:46 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise       1st:     05.24              31st:     06.16
Sunset        1st:     21.04              31st:     20.00

Astronomical darkness:
1st     00.35   to   01.55         31st:   22.14  to  04.04   

Full Moon:     7th  at  19.10
New Moon:  21st  at  19.30

Highlights

Astronomical darkness is increasing throughout the month -  almost 6 hours by 31st. 
We have one major meteor shower, a faint comet passing close to the Pleiades, a penumbral lunar eclipse and, of course, a total solar eclipse - for any of you who will be in certain parts of the USA on 21st.  Here in Manchester we may, weather permitting, see a very small 'bite;' taken out of the Sun just before it sets. See lower down this page for further details of these events.

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.
 
Milky Way and Summer Triangle - Vega top, Altair bottom, Deneb left

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 Leo, mag 0.4. At the start of August it sets about 70 minutes after the Sun and might be visible for a short while, very low in the West. On 5th it moves into Sextans, another non zodiac constellation, and spends most of August within its boundaries.  What will astrologers make of that?  It reaches inferior conjunction on 26th and goes back into Leo on 28th.  At the end of the month it rises only half an hour before the Sun and is not visible in the bright dawn sky.

Venus:  in Gemini, mag -4.0.  Shining brightly in the Eastern morning sky throughout August.  On 1st it rises more than 3 hours before the Sun and reaches an altitude of 20 degrees above the horizon before dawn.  On the morning of 19th it is close to the 8% waning Moon.  It moves into Cancer on 25th and by month end it rises around 3am and gets up to 22 degrees by sunrise.
  
Mars:  in Cancer, mag 1.7.    On 1st it rises at 05.07, just 17 minutes before the Sun, so is not visible.  It moves into Leo on 18th and by 31st will rise 70 minutes before the Sun but it is still very low in the East and too faint to be seen in the brightening sky.

Jupiter:  in Virgo, mag  -1.9.  Still bright but not now very prominent.    On 1st it sets a few minutes after 23.00 and will be only 12 degrees above the SW horizon half an hour after sunset.   On 25th it is 3 degrees below the 18% lit Moon, close to the Western horizon in the evening twilight.  By month end it will have faded slightly to mag -1.7 and be barely visible as it sets at 21.14 while the sky is still quite bright.

Saturn:  in Ophiuchus, mag 0.3.   On 1st it reaches its highest point in the sky at 21.49, 45 minutes after Sunset.  It is still very low - just 14 degrees above the Southern horizon, and sets at 01.46.  On the evening of 3rd it is 5 degrees SW of the 73% lit Moon.   It resumes prograde motion (moving from West to East against the background stars) on 25th. By month end it sets about 20 minutes before midnight.   However, despite being so low in the sky and setting early, it is still well worth viewing through a telescope - the planet's South pole is tilted towards us at an angle of 27 degrees, making it a spectacular sight.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.8.   On 1st it rises at 23.09, 2 hours after sunset, and gets to 34 degrees above the SE horizon as the sky brightens before dawn. By month end its position is even better - it rises at 21.11 and reaches an altitude of 46 degrees a couple of hours before dawn and will have brightened marginally to mag 5.7.    It is, in theory, a naked eye object - provided the eye in question has 20/20 vision and is situated in a very dark sky site. And knows exactly where to look.    Otherwise binoculars are needed,  or a scope if you want to see the small blue green disc.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.8.   Another distant ice giant which is favourably placed this month.  On 1st it rises at 22.02, an hour after sunset and reaches its highest point, 29 degrees, in the South, at 03.30.   Around midnight on the night of 9th/10th it is 1.7 degrees North of the 94% lit Moon.  On 31st it culminates at 01.29, about 28 degrees above the Southern horizon   A decent amateur scope should show its rich blue colour.

Dwarf planet Ceres appears quite close to Venus in August, following a parallel path through Gemini, though it appears to move more slowly.  At mag 8.9 it needs to be viewed through a telescope or, better still, photographed.  It is at its closest to Venus on 12th, when it appears 2.5 degrees North of the bright planet.
 
Meteor Showers

In  August we have one of the best showers of  the year and a few minor ones.

Perseids:  active betwen July 17th and Aug 24th, peak on the night of 12th/13th, but it is also worth looking on a couple of nights either side of this date.  ZHR is given as 50 to 80 per hour but this is in ideal conditions - this year we'll be lucky if we see as many as 25 as the bright gibbous Moon will wash out all but the brightest.  On the night of 12th the Moon is 80% lit and rises at 22.49.   The good news is that the peak is on a Saturday night/Sunday morning so, for most people, work won't interfere.   Although meteor watchers are usually told that  the best time for observing is after midnight, in the case of the Perseids it could be rewarding to look earlier, when the radiant is low in the SE, as the shower sometimes includes Earthgrazers - rare, slow moving colourful meteors which streak along just above the horizon, leaving bright persistent trails.  This shower occurs when the Earth crosses the orbit of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle and some of the debris left by the comet burns up in our atmosphere.
You may have seen, on the internet, that this shower is going to be the best since records began and there won't be anything like it for the next 99 years - there will be so many meteors that the sky will light up almost as bright as day.  Don't believe a word of it!  I've checked and no reputable site makes any mention of it - it appears to be one of these enormous Moon, bright pink Moon type urban myths which surface from time to time.

Minor Showers

Kappa Cygnids:  active August 3rd to 25th, peak 18th  ZHR 3.  Some sources give the peak as 14th, so the best bet is probably to look on both nights.  The shower has occasionally shown enhanced activity but this is not predicted for 2017.

Aurigids:  August 28th  to September 6th,  peak on the night of Aug 31st/Sept 1st,  ZHR  6.   Another shower which sometimes produces a much better show - but probably not this year.

Alpha Capricornids:  active to August 17th,  ZHR 4 to 5. The peak is sometimes given as July 30th but activity is often said to show a plateau, rather than a sharp peak, so try looking during the first few days in August.  They are slow moving yellow coloured meteors often leaving trails.  There could also be some fireballs.

There are also 3 showers which are often considered to be part of the Summer Antihelion Source, as they have radiants close together on the ecliptic.  They are all faint and medium paced, making it difficult to distinguish them from background ANT meteors.   As the ecliptic is very low at this time, these are all better seen from further south.
 
Southern Delta Aquarids:  peak 6th,    ZHR 1 to 2
Northern Delta Aquarids:   peak 13th,  ZHR 1 to 2
Northern Iota Aquarids:   peak 25th,  ZHR 1 to 5

Comets

We have one faint comet, not visible to the naked eye , magnitude somwhere between 10 & 12 (as always, sources give different info).  2015 ER61 PanSTARRS  is now reaching an altitude of 30 degrees while the sky is still reasonably dark.  It moves from Aries into Taurus on 2nd, rising at around 23.30.  During the third week of the month it passes about half a degree below the Pleiades.  

As always, for exact positions of planets, comets etc on any night see:


Eclipses

On August 7th, there is a partial lunar eclipse, however from the UK we will only see the penumbra - the faint outer part of the Earth's shadow - on the face of the Moon and probably won't notice any appreciable dimming. When the Moon rises at 20.44 a large part of it will already be in shadow, the maximum being only a few minutes later.  The Moon moves out of the shadow at 21.50.

On 21st for those who live in, or are visiting certain areas of the USA (or the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans) there is a total solar eclipse.  Here, weather and low Western horizon permitting, we might see a partial eclipse.  However, only a very small part of the Sun (6% at maximum) will be covered by the Moon.  The eclipse starts at 19.39 when the Sun is only 6 dgrees above the Western horizon, the maximum is at 20.02 when its altitude has dropped to 2.75 degrees, the Sun sets at 20.23.

REMEMBER:   NEVER look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection. SUNGLASSES ARE NOT ENOUGH, your eyes will still be permanently damaged. 

The night sky in July 2017

posted 29 Jun 2017, 12:00 by Pete Collins   [ updated 17 Jul 2017, 13:55 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:   1st   04.44        31st    05.23
Sunset     1st   21.48        31st    21.06

Astronomical darkness:   1st    none    31st    00.47 to 01.44

Full Moon   9th       New Moon   23rd

Earth is at aphelion  (the furthest point in its orbit from the sun) on 3rd at 21.11, when it will be at a distance of approx 94.5 million miles  (152 million Km)

Highlights

Yet again there is nothing spectacular to report, we do have some astronomical darkness to look forward to at the end of July - 16  minutes on 30th and almost an hour on 31st.

Pluto reaches opposition on 10th, 4 days before the second anniversary of New Horizons' closest approach.   We now know a lot more about the tiny distant world, which has surprised everyone.

Venus is still shining brightly in the morning sky, but Jupiter is now only prominent in the early part of the night.

We could still see some Noctilucent Clouds after sunset and before sunrise - see previous months' notes for more details.

There are some bright ISS passes from mid month, around 2am or 3am at first, then some before midnight during the last week of the month.

There are still a few faint fuzzies around, especially at the start of the month, and we have a planet occulted by the moon - in daylight.

Constellations

The Summer Triangle (made up of Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus and Altair in Aquila) is now quite high in the southern half of the sky. Cygnus, with its Northern Cross asterism, and Lyra are particularly prominent.

At the start of the month Pegasus, followed by Andromeda, is rising in the early hours.

As always during the summer months, it isn't the best time to see the zodiac constellations or planets as the ecliptic never gets very high in the sky.  However, if you do happen to visit a dark sky site over the next few months you should be rewarded with good views of the Milky Way high overhead running through Cygnus and down to Sagittarius just above the southern horizon.

Planets


Mercury
:  in Gemini, mag -1.1. An evening object, low on the Western horizon after sunset.  At the start of July it sets around 22.30, 50 minutes after the sun.  On 5th it moves into Cancer and into Leo on 17th.  It reaches greatest eastern elongation on 20th. On 25th it is 6 degrees west of the 7% lit waxing moon, close to Regulus in Leo.  The Moon does actually occult the planet earlier that day - too early, as it is in daylight.  By month end it sets at 21.40 and will have faded to mag 0.5.

Venus
:  in Taurus, mag -4.1. Still a very bright morning object, rising at 02.26 on 1st.   When seen through binoculars or a telescope its phase increases during the month, 63% lit on 1st, 74% on 31st. However its apparent size is decreasing as it moves away from us.  On 5th it passes close to the Pleiades star cluster and on 14th is near Aldebaran, the eye of the bull.  On 20th and 21st it is quite close to the waning crescent moon.  On 30th and 31st it spends some time in the non zodiac constellation, Orion.

Mars
:  in Gemini, moving into Cancer on 18th.  Sets too soon after the Sun to be visible in July.

Jupiter
:  in Virgo, mag -2.1. Sets soon after 1am on 1st, on this day the 58% lit moon passes 7 degrees west of the planet.  On 28th they are even closer, separated  by just 2 degrees, low in the south west.   By month end it will have faded slightly to mag -1.9 and set soon after 23.00.

Saturn
:  in Ophiuchus, mag 0.1. Sets just before 4am on 1st, when it culminates around midnight,  On 7th the 95% lit Moon passes 5 degrees to the north.  The rings are still wide open but Saturn remains very low in the sky - as it will for the next few years.  It takes 29 years to make one orbit of the sun, so remains in each zodiac constellation for over 2 years, and won't move north of the celestial equator until at least 2025. ( Can't give an exact date as the tables I use only go up to Dec 2023, when it will be in Aquarius)  At month end it will set at 01.50.

Uranus,  in Pisces, mag 5.9. On 1st it rises at 01.14 and at 23.13 by month end.  Best seen towards the end of July when it reaches an altitude of 25 degrees while the sky is still dark.  Should be visible in binoculars but a telescope is needed to show the small blue/green disc.  On the morning of 15th the 3rd quarter Moon passes 5 degrees south of the planet.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9. Rises a few minutes after midnight on 1st and at 22.06 on 31st.  During the month it brightens very slightly to mag 7.8.  On 31st it culminates at 03.34,  nearly 3 hours before sunrise - though not in the small period of astronomical darkness.   

Dwarf planet Pluto reaches  opposition on 10th, when it culminates at 01.13,  a little SE of the teaspoon asterism in Sagittarius.   At mag 14.8 it is probably too faint to be seen directly in even the best amateur scopes but might be a good photographic target.  Why not try to emulate Clyde Tombaugh and take a couple of pics a few days apart.  Even without the aid of his blink comparator, it should be possible to see what has moved    For its exact position see https://theskylive.com/pluto-info

Meteors

No major showers in July; we have a couple of minor ones towards the end of the month but they have low radiants and are better seen from further south.

Delta Aquarids:  Active July 2th to August 23rd, peak 30th.   ZHR  given as up to 25 but likely to be much lower from our northern latitude.  These are faint, medium paced meteors not usually leaving trails.  Parent comet not known for sure, could possibly be 96P/Macholz

Alpha Capricornids:  Active July 13 to August 15th, ZHR 5.  This shower doesn't have a defined peak but is probably best seen 30th/31st July.  These are slow moving, bright meteors leaving long trails. There could also be some fireballs.  This shower is caused by the Earth passing through debris left by comet 169P/CAT.

The radiants of both these showers are near the ecliptic, opposite the Sun, so it can be difficult to distinguish them from meteors from the antihelion source, which is active in late July.   However, these tend to be rather faster moving than meteors from either of the showers.

The Perseids are active from 11th July, so a few may be seen in the second half of the month, and sporadic activity - meteors not belonging to any particular shower - is usually quite good in July.

Comets

The three faint comets which have been visible in our skies for the last few months are now getting very low, faint and difficult to spot.

71P/Clark: mag 11.2, moving southwards through Scorpio.  At the beinning of July it is above the horizon from around 21.00 to 1am but only reaches an elevation of about 2 degrees.  By month end it is only visible from the southern hemisphere.

V2/Johnson:  mag 8.5.  Starts the month a little east of Spica, then moves southwards.  From mid July is only visible from further south.

4P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak:  mag 7.5.   Yet another now best seen from further south.   Starts the month in Serpens, moving into Scutum on 2nd.

However, we do have one comet whose position is slightly better.  C2015/ER61 PANSTARRS is moving through Aries and into Taurus. Its predicted mag is around 9, but it has shown signs of becomng brighter.  In early July it rises around 1am and by 23.30 at month end, when it will be heading towards the Pleiades.

As always, more info and position details can be found on:
 .

The night sky in June 2017

posted 31 May 2017, 09:37 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:    1st     04.46      30th      04.44
Sunset:     1st     21.27      30th      21.41

Astronomical darkness:   none

Full Moon      9th   at  14.09
New Moon   24th   at   03.33

The Summer Solstice, when the Sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky, is on 21st at 05.24.  This is also the longest day, at 17hrs 01min 48sec (9hrs and 33 minutes longer than the shortest in December). Earliest sunrise is 04.39 on 17th,  latest sunset is a week later - 21.41 on 24th

Highlights

More light evenings, not much use for astronomers, though during the last week the nights do begin to draw in - by a few seconds each day. 
Saturn is at its best for the year, we still have 3 faint comets around, and there are a couple 'highlights' which can't be seen: daytime meteor showers and a new moon close to perigee - a new Supermoon.  The full moon this month occurs when the Moon is almost at it's furthest from us, known as a Micromoon.
And there's still a chance of seeing some noctilucent clouds, wispy electric blue clouds, low in the west after sunset and in the east before sunrise - if you happen to be in a dark sky area with a clear horizon. There are some bright late evening passes of the International Space Station for the first 4 days of June, then that's it for evening passes until late July.

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 - it's to the right of, and a bit below, the slightly brighter Saturn.

Planets

Mercury:  in Aries, moving into Taurus on 4th, mag -0.3. A morning object for most of June, but appears too close to the sun to be easily seen.  On 1st it rises at 04.08, only just over half an hour before sunrise. It reaches superior conjunction on 21st and moves into Gemini the following day. Still hardly visible as it becomes an evening object, despite having brightened slightly to mag -1.0.  On 30th it sets 45 minutes afer the sun.

Venus:  in Pisces, mag -4.4. Becoming more prominent in the pre dawn sky,  on 1st it rises almost 90 minutes before the sun.  Reaches greatest western elongaton on 3rd, but it's position then improves as the angle of the ecliptic to the horizon is increasing, so the planet is higher in the sky just before sunrise, despite the decrease in it's apparent distance from the sun. It briefly passes through Cetus on 10th, then into Aries, and into Taurus on 29th.  On 30th it rises at 02.27,  2 hours 17 mins before the sun.

Mars: in Taurus.mag 1.7. Appears very close to the sun throughout June, so not visible.  Sets about 90 minutes before sunset on 1st, so not bright enough to be easily seen in the twilight.  By 30th it sets only 33 minutes after sunset.

Jupiter:  in Virgo, mag -2.2. Now past its best for this year but still prominent in the early part of the night.  Reachs its highest point in the sky before sunset, setting at 03.10 on 1st.  In the early hours of 3rd the 74% waxing moon passes close by - separated by only 1.4 degrees at 02.20.  At the start of June it is retrograde but on 10th it goes back to prograde motion (moving eastwards against the background stars).  For an explanation of this see   earthsky.org/space/what-is-retrograde-motion    By month end it sets at 01.10 and will have dimmed to mag -2.0.

Saturn:  in Ophiuchus, mag 0.1. Now at it's best for this year and visible all night, but, unfortunately, still low in the sky - maximum 15 degrees above the southern horizon.  On 10th, at 01.00 it is just 2 degrees south of the full moon.  The rings now appear wide open, at their best since 2003, and, on a couple of nights either side of opposition on 15th, will appear much brighter than usual. This is because the direct sunlight on the individual particles making up the rings means that the shadows are not visible.  This is known as the Seeliger effect.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.9. A morning object, barely visible in the dawn sky in early June: on 1st it rises only 90 minutes before the sun. On 3rd it is 1.75 degrees from Venus at 03.30 - unfortunately this is only a few minutes after they rise.  By month end it rises at 01.18 and might be visible in binoculars in the early hours.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9. Rises a few minutes after 2am on 1st and soon after midnight on 30th. Should be visible in amateur telescopes as a small blue disc in the later part of the month.  Retrograde motion from 17th.

Meteor Showers

No major showers in June.  The Antihelion source, with a radiant moving through Ophiuchus and Sagittarius, is active early in the month and again towards the end,  ZHR 3-4.

June Bootids,  June 22nd to July 2nd, peak 27th.  ZHR is extremely variable - has been known to occasionally reach 100 but often none at all are seen. This is because the orbit of the parent comet, 7P/Pons - Winnecke has altered and it is now further from that of Earth.  A good display happens when we cross a dust cloud on the previous orbit. This is not predicted to happen this year.

June Lyrids:   Peak  15th/16th. A  ZHR of 8 - 10 has been reported in the past but there has been no activity in recent years.  Parent comet not known but probably another whose orbit has shifted.

There are also a few daytime showers, only detectable using radar or radio telescopes.  They were first seen in 1947 at Jodrell Bank, when a team including Prof (later Sir) Bernard Lovell was studying cosmic rays. The major one of these is the daytime Arieds, active May 22nd to July 7th, peak June 7th,  ZHR up to 30.  The radiant is 30 degrees from the sun and a few meteors have been observed visually around this time, in the pre dawn sky.
We also have the Zeta Perseids, peak 9th, and the Beta Taurids, on 25th.

Comets

The three faint comets are still around. 

V2/Johnson is predicted to remain at peak brightness of around 6.7 during the first week of June, however the waxing gibbous moon will interfere during this time.  Starts the month in Bootes, passing about 5 degrees east of Arcturus on 5th and 6th.  On 15th it crosses into Virgo.

71P/Clark is a telescopic object, mag around 11.8.  On 1st, at 01.00,  it passes 2 degrees east of Antares as it moves southwards.

41P Tuttle-Giacobini- Kresak is still moving southwards between Aquila and Ophiuchus.  By the end of June it will be a little to the north west of the mid point between Altair and Saturn.

The night sky in May 2017

posted 28 Apr 2017, 16:03 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:       1st    05.34         31st     04.47
Sunset:        1st    20.39         31st     21.26 

Astronomical darkness:    1st   23.27  to  02.43        31st   none

Full Moon  10th       New Moon  25th

Highlights

Once again it's a problem finding any - there's more light than high.   On 1st of May we have 3 and a quarter hours of astronomical darkness but this rapidly diminishes and from 14th there is none at all until the end of July.  We have one reasonably good meteor shower (as always, weather permitting) and a trio of comets.  The end of the month sees the start of the season for noctilucent clouds.  These are very fine, wispy blue tinged clouds. so high in the atmosphere that they catch the sunlight before sunrise and after sunset.  They could be seen low in the NW, 90 mins to 2 hrs after sunset, and in the NE before sunrise. The ISS is back in the late evening sky from 23May and into June.

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

Still not a good time for planetary observing with only Jupiter particularly prominent this month.

Mercury:  in Pisces, mag 2.4. A morning object throughout May but difficult to see as it remains very low in the sky.  At the start of the month it rises only 20 minutes before the sun.  It reaches Greatest Western Elongation on 17th but is still too low to be seen in the bright dawn sky.  By month end it rises 40 minutes before sunrise, and will have brightened to mag -0.2 but is still not an easy target.

Venus:  in Pisces, mag -4.5. Another one which is very low in the morning sky, so not easy to spot despite its brightness.  It rises just over an hour before the Sun on 1st May, and about 90  minutes before by the end, when it will have dimmed slightly to -4.3 but should be visible in the brightening dawn sky

Mars:  in Taurus, mag 1.6. Sets around 23.00 throughout May but because of the lengthening days the gap reduces during the month, from two and a half hours to 90 minutes after sunset.   Best seen early in the month when it will be to the north of the V shaped Hyades asterism very low in the west, soon after sunset.

Jupiter:  in Virgo,  mag -2.2. Still the only planet putting on a good show, especially in early May, when it is visible for most of the night, setting about 20 minutes before sunrise.   On 7th the 22% lit moon passes to the north of the planet.  By month end it reaches its highest point in the sky only an hour after sunset and sets around 3am. 

There are several transits of the Galilean moons and their shadows, including two brief shadow transits.  On the morning of 12th the shadows of Europa and Io are both on the face of the planet between 02.58 and 03.04 -  a whole six minutes! On 25th we have the shadows of Ganymede and Io for slightly longer, 23 minutes from 01.16 to 01.39. 

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.3. Starts the month to the north of the teapot asterism, rising around half an hour after midnight.  On 14th it is 2.3 degrees from the 91% lit Moon, rising about 20 minutes before midnight.   It is currently moving westwards against the background stars (retrograde) and crosses back into Ophiuchus on 19th.
At the end of May it rises at 22.17 and will have brightened slightly to mag 0.1. It remains very low in the sky - max 15 degrees - throughout May but is still worth viewing through a scope as the angle of the rings makes it a beautiful sight.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.9. Rises 20 minutes before the Sun at the start of May and only 90 minutes before on 31st,  so not visible in the dawn sky.

Neptune:  in Aquarius,  mag 7.9. Not visible in early May, rising a few minutes after 4am, only 90 minutes after the Sun.  By month end it rises soon after 2am and may be seen through a telescope as a small blue disc in the dawn sky.

Meteor Showers

One fairly major shower this month, the Eta Aquarids, dust particles from Halley's Comet, are active between April 19th and May 28th.  The peak is expected on the night of 5th/6th but enhanced activity is probable for a few days either side of this.  ZHR could be anywhere between 10 and 50, depending on which source of information is believed, but is likely to be closer to the lower figure from our latitudes as the radiant is very low and the shower is best seen from the Southern Hemisphere.
These are fast moving meteors, often leaving persistent trails, and may include some Earthgrazers:  bright, long lasting meteors moving horizontally across the sky just before dawn.  This is the best time to view the shower, especially this year when the 85% lit moon doesn't set until 04.14 on the morning of 6th.

Minor Showers

Eta Lyrids:  active 3rd to 12th, peak 9th/10th  ZHR 7.  These originate from comet C/1983 H1 (IRAS Araki-Alcock) and are best seen between 2am and dawn.

The antihelion source, meteors with a radiant on the ecliptic, directly opposite the position of the sun, are active in early May and again towards the end of the month.  ZHR 3-4.

And, in the latter half of May there are a couple of daytime showers -  which isn't much use unless you happen to have radio or radar detectors.

Comets

C2015/V2 Johnson starts May in Hercules, at mag 7.4, then moves into Bootes on 3rd, spending the rest of the month moving down the eastern edge of the kite asterism.  By month end it should have reached its maximum brightness of mag 6.7.   Best seen in the second half of the month when the Moon is out of the way. 

41P Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak *** is close to Vega in Lyra at the start of May, then moves southwards down the border of Lyra and Hercules during the month.  Starts May at around mag 9 and fades to 10.9 by the end.

71P Clark  starts May in Ophiuchus before moving into Scorpio, finishing the month 2 degrees east of Antares.  Magnitude around 12, making it a telescopic rather than binocular target.

***  Aplologies, last month I referred to this as Tuttle-Giacobini-Knesal.  Obviously can't read my own writing in my notes.  Did anybody spot this? (the mistake, not the comet)

For more more detailed positions of planets and comets see
http://in-the-sky.org

The night sky in April 2017

posted 1 Apr 2017, 08:30 by Pete Collins   [ updated 3 Apr 2017, 12:37 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:  1st    06.42         30th    05.36
Sunset    1st    19.44         31st    20.37

Astronomical darkness 
1st:     21.50  to  04.33        30th:   23.33  to  02.50

Full Moon   11th       New Moon   26th

Highlights

'Light' is the key word here - we're approaching the time of year when there's far too much of it for astronomers' liking.

We have one bright planet, a couple of binocular comets, an ancient meteor shower, and a chance of some fireballs.

On 28th the 8% lit moon occults Aldeberan - the eye of the bull - in Taurus, between 19.08 and 20.00.   This is, as you have probably realised, is in daylight but should be visible in scopes.

There are some bright early evening passes of the International Space Station from 1 - 9 April.
 

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 beautiful area round the Winter Hexagon, so rich in bright stars, is sinking slowly in the West.

Winter Hexagon

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

One planet puts on a really good show this month - and this time it isn't Venus!

Mercury:  in Aries, mag -0.1. Best seen in the first week of April.  At greatest Eastern elongation on 1st,  when it sets at 21.35.  It is still very low in the Western sky and should be visible between 20.00 and 20.30.  During the rest of the month it won't be easy to see - it fades rapidly as it approaches inferior conjunction on 20th.   It then becomes a morning object, moving into Pisces on 22nd and rising only 20 minutes before the sun at month end.

Venus:  in Pisces, mag -4.0. Another one which isn't easily seen during April.  It rises about an hour before the sun throughout the month but is very low in the dawn sky, so, despite its brilliance, it is nowhere near as prominent as it has been in the evening sky during the last few months.

Mars:  in Aries,  mag 1.5. Best seen in the early part of the month.  It sets at around 23.00 throughout April but by the end of the month, when the sun isn't setting until after 20.00, is quite low in the West as the sky darkens.   Moves into Taurus on 13th, and on 20th is slightly less than 4 degrees South of the Pleiades

Jupiter:  in Virgo, mag -2.4. The star of the April sky, shining brightly for most of the night throughout the month,  rising soon after sunset at the start of April.  It is at opposition on 7th and by month end is quite high in the sky as it gets dark, culminating half an hour before midnight.    In the early hours of 11th the full Moon passes just 1.5 degrees north of the planet. On the morning of 4th both Io and Ganymede pass into Jupiter's shadow,  Io at 01.40 and Ganymede at 05.38.  Io reappears from behind the planet's disc at 03.57.  On the night of 14th/15th Ganymede and its shadow cross the face of Jupiter,  Ganymede from to 22.57  to  01.01, the shadow following about an hour later.  Ganymede also transits on 22nd between 02.12 and 05.49.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius,  mag 0.4. Rises around 02.30 in early April and a couple of hours earlier at the end of the month.  Still very low in the sky - only 15 degrees above the horizon at its highest point.   However the rings are still wide open so it is well worth viewing through a telescope if you have a clear southern horizon.

Uranus:  in Pisces,  mag 5.9. Sets about an hour after the Sun so is barely visible this month.

Neptune:  not visible.

Meteor Showers

One fairly strong shower this month.

The Lyrids, active 16th to 25th, peak on the night of 22nd/23rd but should also be quite good on the nights before and after.   ZHR 20,  occasionally much higher but the enhanced rates are not predicted for this year.   As with most showers, the best time to observe is between midnight and dawn.  The Moon will not interfere.
These meteors originate from Comet C/1801G1 Thatcher,  it is the oldest known shower, recorded by Chinese astronomers in 687BC.  It is also the strongest shower from a long period comet.

Minor Showers

Librids:  active 15th to 30th with several short peaks.

Delta Draconids:  active March 28th to April 17th with no definite peak.  These are very slow meteors which leave conspicuous trails.  they were first recorded in 1971.

Spring antihelion source, meteors appearing to come from the area of the ecliptic directly opposite the position of the sun, are active early to mid April and again near the end of the month.  ZHR 3 - 4.

And finally, we may have some fireballs - meteors of magnitude minus 3 or brighter. 

The April fireballs are active 14th to 20th.  These have no specific radiant, but appear to emanate from the South Eastern part of the sky.  They sometimes reach the ground as meteorites.

Alpha Bootids, peak on 28th.   This shower could also include fireballs - slow moving and leaving smoky trails.

Comets

41P / Tuttle-Giacobini-Knesal starts April in Draco, just above the bowl of the Plough - close to the location of the Hubble Deep Field.  During the month it moves eastwards and is SW of Vega on 30th.  Its magnitude is expected to reach a peak of 6.6 between 5th and 11th,  then fade to 7.6 by month end.

C/2015 V2 Johnson moves much more slowly through Hercules during April.  It should brighten slowly from 8.3 to 7.4

Both should be visible in binoculars.

For more detailed info on planet and comet positions see

International Space Station passes


Times are correct for North Manchester. See www.heavens-above.com for more information and to set your observing location.

The night sky in March 2017

posted 28 Feb 2017, 07:24 by Pete Collins   [ updated 28 Feb 2017, 07:30 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:   1st    06.56      31st    06.44
Sunset     1st    17.47      31st    19.42

Astronomical darkness:  
                 1st:  19.43   to   04.58
               31st   21.48   to   04.36

Full Moon  12th      New Moon  28th

Highlights

As in previous years, it's a struggle to find any real highlights in March.  Venus is losing its place as the bright evening 'star' but Jupiter is rising earlier and is beginning to dominate the late evening sky. We also have two binocular comets. There are plenty of visible ISS passes this month, but they are in the hours before dawn.

However at this time of year the skies tend to be cloudy rather than bright and starry and darkness falls later and later throughout the month.  By month end the Sun sets before 20.00 - though that is partly because of the compulsory 'do everything an hour earlier'  aka British Summer Time which is imposed on us from Sunday 26th. 
The Vernal (Spring) Equinox, defined as the moment when the plane of the Earth's equator passes through the centre of the Sun's disc, is at 10.29 on March 20th.  Despitre the name day and night are not quite equal then - the day is actually 12 hr: 11 min : 20 secs long.  The closest to 12 hours is March 17th, which is just 88 seconds short.

Constellations

We are now losing the winter highlights of Orion, Sirius and Taurus soon after midnight, though they are still promiinent in the south in the early part of the night.
Auriga, with the bright yellowish-white star Capella, is now overhead soon after sunset, with Gemini and Leo also prominent. The not very obvious zodiac constellation, Cancer, is now well placed. The Plough is overhead by midnight, the handle pointing to the orange hued Arcturus, the brightest star north of the celestial equator, in the constellation of Bootes. By the end of March the Summer Triangle will be above the horizon soon after 2am - or by 1am if you've forgotten to put the clock forward.

Planets

Mercury:  in Aquarius  mag -1.4. Not visible early in the month as it approaches inferior conjunction on 7th,   on 1st it rises only 5 minutes after the Sun.  By mid March it may be seen in the evening setting 40 minutes after the Sun on 14th and at 21.35, almost 2 hours after Sunset, on 31st.  By this time it will be around mag -0.4 and best seen around 20.00. Around these dates is probably the best time this year to track down this elusive planet - it's bright, but not easy to see so close to the horizon.

Venus:  in Pisces  mag -4.4. Still very bright in the evening sky at the start of March but rapidly losing height above the western horizon as the month progresses.  Reaches inferior conjunction (the closest point in its orbit to the Earth) on 23rd, when, because of the inclination of its orbit, it will appear to be directly above the sun and may be seen in both the morning and evening twilight for a couple of days.   By month end it is a morning object, rising about an hour before the sun and showing a 2% lit crescent.

Mars  in Pisces, moving into Aries on 9th, mag 1.3. On 1st it sets at 21.50, 4 hours after the sun, and will be only 2 degrees above Uranus - a good binocular target, weather permitting.  By month end it will be setting at 23.00 (now BST, so actually around the same time throughout the month)  but slightly dimmer, at mag 1.5.

Jupiter:  in Virgo  mag -2.3. Now becoming prominent in the late evening sky. At the start of March it rises at 21.27 and by month end will be above the horizon soon after 20.00, culminating (reaching its highest point in the sky) at 10.42.  There are several transits this month, as the Galilean moons and their shadows pass between us and the planet.
These include:
2nd/3rd   Ganymede's shadow  22.30  to  01.10
               Ganymede                02.06  to  04.02

10th        Ganymede's shadow  02.37  to  05.06
               Ganymede                05.30  to  07.26

19th/20th  Io's shadow             23.44  to  01.55 
                 Io                           00.11  to  02.21

So, between 00.11 and 01.56, both Io and its shadow will be seen against the face of the planet - a good photo opportunity, perhaps.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius  mag 0.5. Not particularly prominent this month.  It's a morning object throughout, rising just before 03.30 on 1st.  By month end, when it rises at 02.30, it culminates at 06.19 just under half an hour before Sunrise.  It will still be very low in the sky, reaching an altitude of only 22 and a half degrees but worth seeing as the rings are still favourably positioned, angled at around 26 degrees.

Uranus:  in Pisces  mag 5.9. Appears close to Mars in early March but is only 17 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 21.39.  By month end it sets just over an hour after the sun and won't be visible in the twilit sky.

Neptune: Not visible this month.

Comets

C/2015V2 Johnson is still around, spending March moving through Hercules. It is expected to brighten during the month, from mag 9.1 to mag 8.1. It isexpected to reach mag 6 by May (but comets are notoriously unpredictable!)

41PTuttle-Giacobini-Knesak starts the month at mag 10, positioned to the north of Leo's Sickle asterism, then moves towards Ursa Major ending the month just above the bowl of the Plough.   It will be much brighter at mag 6.9,  unfortunately still below the limit of naked eye visibility - even for those lucky enough to live in an area where the skies are really dark.

For more details of positions of planets, comets etc see:

Meteors

No major showers this month, and not much in the way of minor ones either.

The Gamma Normids, which peak on March 16th, are only visible from the Southern Hemisphere, and the Camelopardids, peaking on 22nd, have a ZHR of only 1. Their main (only!) claim to fame is that they are the slowest known meteors, moving at only 7km/sec. 

The best chance of seeing a few meteors is probably the Spring Antihelion Source, radiant on the ecliptic directly opposite the position of the sun,  ZHR 3 to 4.

The night sky in February 2017

posted 31 Jan 2017, 15:45 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:  1st    07.54        28th     06.59
Sunset:   1st    16.32        28th     17.54

Astronomical darkness
1st:   18.53  to   05.57      28th:   19.41  to  05.00

Full Moon  11th      New Moon   26th

Struggling to find any real highlights this month.  Venus and Jupiter are still bright and well placed,  we have a couple of comets described as 'binocular' - though probably only visible through scopes in our polluted skies. 

There's a penumbral Lunar eclipse on 26th/27th, when the Moon passes through the outer, fainter, part of the Earth's shadow.  If the sky is clear a slight darkening may be seen between 22.34 and 02.53.

On 26th, there is an annular Solar eclipse.  the Moon is at its furthest from Earth, so the disc appears too small to cover the sun,  leaving a ring of light.  The bad news is that it is only visible from certain parts of S America, the South Atlantic and S W Africa.  

There are some bright early evening passes of the International Space Station from 1st to 12th of the month. See heavens-above.com ISS visible passes

Constellations

Orion
and Taurus are now above the horizon as the sky darkens but start to set at around 2am at the start of February and soon after midnight by the end of the month.
Gemini and Auriga are still prominemt, remaining above the horizon until the early hours. Leo, the signpost constellation of Spring, is now high in the sky for most of the night and Bootes, with it's bright red start Arcturus is rising soon after 11, and around 9 at month end. In the early part of the evening the Plough is low in the North East standing on its 'handle', and Cassiopeia high in the North West as darkness falls. By month end, the Summer Triangle will have risen soon after 3am - Summer already?  Someone better tell the weather.

Planets

Mercury:   in Sagittarius until 7th, then moves through Capricorn and into Aquarius on 25th.  Not easily seen this month, on 1st it rises less than an hour before the Sun and a few minutes after it on 28th.   On the first few days of February it might just be possible to spot it, very low in the SE about 20 minutes before sunrise.

Venus:  in Pisces, mag - 4.5. Now at its brightest, shining like a beacon in the SW evening sky, setting around 21.15 throughout February.  During the month, observers using a scope or good binoculars will be able to see the crescent become thinner and the diameter increase as the planet is now moving towards us.

Mars:  in Pisces, mag 0.9. Remains quite close to Venus throughout February - slightly higher and to the left of the much brighter planet.  Sets at 21.38 on 1st, when it will appear midway between Venus and the 24% lit waxing Moon. By month end it will have faded slightly to mag 1.1 and set a few minutes later at 21.49.

Jupiter:  in Virgo, mag -2.1. Rises at 23.22 on 1st and 21.32 at month end, shining brightly in the later part of the night.  It culminates (reaches its highest point in the sky) during astronomical darkness throughout the month. From 6th it is retrograde - appearing to move Westwards against the background stars.

Saturn:  in Ophiuchus, mag 0.6. Still not well placed, though its position is improving slightly.  It rises a few minutes after 5am on 1st and at 03.30 by month end - when it will have finally moved out of Ophiuchus into Sagittarius.  The waxing crescent moon passes a few degrees above it on the night of 20th/21st.  

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.9. Best seen in early Feb, when it sets a little before 11.30.  On 26th it is just over half a degree SE of Mars and both should be visible through good binoculars.  Best seen around 18.30 when they will be 28 degrees above the SW horizon.  Both planets set at 21.50.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 8.0. Appears very close to the Sun this month.  On 1st it sets at 19.27, about 2 1/2 hours after the Sun and just before it by 28th.

Meteors

No major showers this month - unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere on 7th/8th when the alpha Centaurids peak.    For those of us further North the best we can manage is the delta Leonids, active between Feb 9th and March 12th, peak 26th,  ZHR up to 5.  These are slow moving, not particularly bright meteors often leaving trains.  First  recorded in 1911, they are not associated with any particular comet and are thought to be a temporary stream caused when the Earth passes through a dust cloud lying across its orbit.     The later part of the month might see some activity from the antihelion source - meteors, not belonging to a specific shower,  which appear to emanate from the point on the ecliptic directly opposite the position of the sun.

Comets

A couple of theoretically binocular comets are visible in our skies this month. 

45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova is just past perihelion and will be very low in the East just before sunrise at the start of the month, when it is predicted to have a magnitude of around 7.  As it moves rapidly Northwards it becomes visible earlier - towards the end of the month it passes above Leo and will be visible from 21.00, though it is expected to have faded to mag 11.   It is at its closest to Earth on 11th - the night of the full Moon.

C/2015 V2 (Johnson).  the orbit of this comet is thought to be a hyberbola, an open curve, so when it has passed round the Sun it will travel to the outer reaches of the Solar System, or beyond, never to return.   It starts February in Bootes, moving Westwards across the sky into Hercules by mid month. It has yet to reach its predicted maximum brightness.

For more details of these,  see www.cometwatch.co.uk  and  https://theskylive.com

The night sky in January 2017

posted 30 Dec 2016, 05:29 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise.      1st:   08.25       31st:   07.55
Sunset         1st;  16.01       31st;   16.50

Astronomical darkness:
1st:    18.11  to  06.15
31st   18.52  to  05.54

Full moon 12th      New moon  28th

Highlights

The nights have now started to get shorter but we still have plenty of dark hours for astronomers to enjoy - even if they do tend to be somewhat chilly.
The Earth reaches perihelion, the closest point in its orbit to the sun, on Jan 4th at 14.18, when it will be at a distance of 147,100,997 km, or 0.9833 AU.  (one AU being the average distance).
We have one major and two minor meteor showers, a comet which should be visible in binoculars, and a chance to see the brightest and faintest of the major planets in the same binocular field of view.

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 Leo is above the south eastern horizon by 9pm.

Planets

Mercury - mag 0.5,  in Sagittarius. A morning object, rising around 7.30 at the start of January.  On 8th it is 7 degrees East of Saturn, rising at 06.46.  It reaches greatest Western elongation on 19th, when it rises 90 minutes before the sun and will have brightened to mag -0.1. However it is still very low - only 3.7 degrees above the SE horizon.   By month end it rises at around 7am.

Venus - mag  -4.4,  in Aquarius, moving into Pisces on 24th. Totally unmissable (clouds and tall buildings permitting) in the early evening sky.  Sets soon after 20.00 in early January. On Jan 1st it is 8 degrees East of the 11% waxing moon. On 12th, when it is at greatest Eastern elongation, it is only 22 arcminutes (two thirds of a full moon width) NW of Neptune.  At about 18.20 it should be possible to see both planets in the same field of view in binoculars or a small telescope. At the end of the month it sets about 4 and a half hours after the sun.

Mars - mag 0.5,  in Aquarius, moving into Pisces on 20th. Should be visible as an orange red 'star' in the early evening SW sky, setting around 21.30 throughout the month.. On 1st it is only 20 arcminutes East of Neptune - again, a good binocular target.

Jupiter - mag -1.9   in Virgo. At the start of January it rises soon after 1am, and by 23.30 at month end, when it will be slightly brighter at mag -2.2, and will reach its highest point in the sky just before 5am, in astronomical darkness.  It is just a few degrees from bright star Spica throughout the month.

Saturn - mag 0.4,  in Ophiuchus. A morning object, visible as a yellow 'star', low in the SE sky just before dawn. Rises only 90 minutes before the sun on Jan 1st, increasing to almost 3 hours by the end of the month.

Uranus - mag 5.9, in Pisces.  Best seen in early January when it reaches its highest point (45 degrees) at around 18.30, when the sky is getting really dark, and sets around 01.30.   By the end of the month it sets a few minutes before 11.30. Still at the limits of naked eye visibility - but not from anywhere near Manchester, unfortunately.   A telescope is needed to show its blue/green disc.

Neptune - mag 7.9, in Aquarius. On 1st it is just 20 arcminutes from Mars and, on 20th, 22'  SE of Venus.  By month end it sets less than two and a half hours after the sun, soon after the start of astronomical darkness.  It might be spotted in decent binoculars under ideal conditions but best viewed through a telescope, when its beautiful blue colour can be seen.

Minor planet Vesta, the second largest known object in the asteroid belt, reaches opposition, in Cancer, on Jan 18th.   At mag 6.2 it is outside naked eye visibility but should be a fairly easy binocular target, or a good photo opportunity if the skies are clear for a few days around that date - take a series of images and play 'spot the difference'. For its exact position on any night see . https://theskylive/vesta-tracker

We also have a binocular comet, 45P/Honda-Mrkos/Pajdusakova.  It is in Capricorn, visible low in the South during the first half of January.   It is expected to reach mag 7.1. See https://theskylive/45P-tracker

Meteor Showers

One major shower this month, the Quadrantids - named after the former constellation Quadrans Muralis, now part of Bootes after it was left out of the IAU's official list of constellations published in 1922. Active between late December and January 10th.  It has a very short peak on Jan 3rd, centred on 14.00. ZHR 80 - 120.These meteors don't usually leave trains but the shower could include some fireballs. These are usually best seen after midnight when the radiant is high in the sky.  Try looking between 4am and dawn on 3rd, just before the peak, which is in daylight. This shower probably originates from asteroid .2003 EH1 - thought to be the remains of the nucleus of defunct comet C1490/X1.

A couple of very minor showers

Delta Cancrids - active Dec 14th to Feb 14th, peak 16/17th,  ZHR 1-4.
 
Coma Berenecids - active Dec 8th to Jan 23rd,  peak 18th, ZHR 1-2 but occasionally produces a much higher rate, including bright fireballs, so might be worth looking out for.  These are among the fastest meteors recorded, reaching a speed of 65 km/sec.  Could originate from an unconfirmed comet observed in 1912 by astronomer B Lowe.  

The night sky in December 2016

posted 30 Nov 2016, 11:23 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Nov 2016, 12:18 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise  1st:   08.02       31st:   08.25
Sunset   1st:   15.54       31st:   16.00

Astronomical darkness begins at around 18.00 throughout the month. 

Full moon:   14th     new moon:   29th 

Not much change in sunrise and sunset times this month, as we approach the Winter Solstice on 21st.   That day lasts 7 hours 28 minutes and 25 seconds  -  about 9 and a half hours shorter than the longest day, in June.
The earliest sunset is at 15.49 on 12th to 14th,  latest sunrise 08.25 on 25th to Jan 2nd.

Highlights

The Geminid meteor shower peaking on the night of 12th/13th (see below).

We have two bright Christmas 'stars' on view this month:  Venus is extremely bright, magnitude  -4.2, but in the Western evening sky, and Jupiter is shining in the East before dawn,  although much less bright than Venus at a magnitude of 'only' -1.7.

On 12th, the Moon passes through the Hyades, the V shaped asterism in Taurus, occulting several of its stars and, in the early hours of 13th, occults Aldebaran, the orange-red giant star which marks the eye of the bull.  This will be between 05.22 and 05.50 when seen from the centre of the UK.

We also have a comet,  45p/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova.  However, it isn't well placed at present, being very low in the SW sky after sunset.  It is also faint - mag 12.2 in early December, though it is expected to brighten to about 7 by the end of the month.  Its position will improve during January.

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 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 Sagittarius. Again  not easy to see this month. On 1st it sets at 16.35, only 40 minutes after the sun.  On this day it is 8 degrees below the waxing crescent moon very low in the West.   It reaches greatest Eastern elongation on 11th, when it sets about an hour after sunset.  Towards month end it will appear to move much closer to the sun, setting a few minutes before it on 31st.

Venus: mag -4.2,  in Sagittarius moving into Capricorn on 8th. Unmissable in the evening sky, despite its fairly low altitude at sunset in early December.   On 1st it sets soon after 18.30 but can easily be seen in the twilit sky.  By month end it sets a few minutes after 20.00 and will have brightened slightly to - 4.4,  though the difference will be more pronounced as it will be much higher in the now darker sky. On 3rd it is 5.5 degrees SW of the 15% lit moon, low in the SSW at around 16.30.   Photographs anyone?

Mars:  mag 0.7 in Capricorn, moving into Aquarius on 16th. Because it is moving Eastwards against the background stars it sets at around the same time throughout.December:  21.00 on 1st and only 20 minutes later on 31st, when it will have faded slightly to mag 0.9.
 
Jupiter  mag -1.8 in Virgo. Shining brightly in the morning sky.  It rises at 02.18 on Dec 1st and about an hour earlier by month end, when it reaches its highest point while the sky is still dark. On 22nd/23rd it is quite close to the waning crescent moon. For those of you who want a Christmas 'star' in the East, on the morning of 25th it rises at about 01.40 and will be quite prominent from just before 3am until the sky brightens at dawn.

Saturn:  mag 0.5 in Ophiuchus. Hardly visible in December.  An evening star at the start of the month, setting about 30 minutes after the sun.  After conjunction on 10th it becomes a morning object.  On 31st it rises at 7am, about 90 minutes before the Sun, so might be spotted low in the pre dawn sky.

Uranus:  mag 5.9  in Pisces. Sets at 3.30 at the start of December, and a couple of hours earlier by 31st. Reaches its highest point in darkness throughout.   At 20.30 on 9th it is 3.5 degrees North of the 76% lit moon. Still at the limits of naked eye visibility (has anyone here ever seen it without optical aid?) it should be an easy binocular target but a scope is needed to show its blue green disc.

Neptune:  mag 7.9,  in Aquarius. Sets just before 23.30 in early December, when it is quite high in the sky as darkness falls.  By month end it is fairly low in the SW as the sky darkens, setting around 21.30.   On 31st it is separated from Mars by only 20 arcminutes (two thirds of a full moon width).  It should be visible in binoculars - if you know where to look - but you need to look through a telescope if you want to see its rich blue colour.

For exact positions on any day see www.in-the-sky-org  or theskylive.com


Meteors

One major shower this month.

Geminids, active 4th to 16th, peak on the night of 12th/13th,  ZHR could be as high as 120. They are very bright, often multicoloured , fairly slow moving meteors.  This is the only major shower to originate from an asteroid- 3200 Phaeton - rather than a comet.  It is usually worth looking for these meteors from about 10pm, when the radiant is high in the sky. Unfortunately, this year all but the brightest will be washed out because of the proximity of the almost full moon throughout the night.

Minor showers

Ursids:  active 17th to 23rd, peak  21st/22nd.  ZHR usually 5 -10 but occasionally as many as 25.   These are medium speed meteors, associated with comet SP/Tuttle.  They will not have as much moon interference as the Gemenids - the 38% lit moon rises at 1am.


Puppa Velids,  peak 9th ZHR 15
The radiant is well below the horizon from our latitude but a few meteors may be seen shooting upwards in the SW.

Coma Berenecids,  active 12th to 23rd,  peak 18th  ZHR 3.  These were once regarded as part of the Leo Minorids but now thought to be a separate shower.

Leo Minorids:  active Dec 5th to Feb 4th,  peak 20th,  ZHR 5.  Should be distinuishable from the Coma Berenecids as they are slightly faster and stronger.

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