The night sky this month

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

The night sky in April 2021

posted 29 Mar 2021, 02:07 by Pete Collins   [ updated 29 Mar 2021, 11:55 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise     1st:   06.42       30th:   05.36

Sunset      1st:   19.44       30th:   20.37


Astronomical Darkness

1st:      21.50 to 04.33       30th:    23.23 to 02.48


Day Length  1st:  13:02:32  30th:  15:01:07


New Moon:  12th at 03.33

Full Moon:    27th at 04.33 (angular diameter 33' 23")


Lunar apogee:   14th at 18.48  (406119 Km, angular diameter 29' 41")

Lunar perigee:   27th at 16.25  (357378 Km, angular diameter 33' 25")


Because this month's full Moon is only 12 hours before perigee, the second closest of this year, it will appear slightly larger and brighter than average - a Supermoon.  It is also known as a perigee-syzygy Moon, a syzygy being 3 or more astronomical objects (in this case the Sun, Earth and Moon) in a straight line.


The most common name for the April full Moon is the Old Farmer's Almanac’s Pink Moon.  It's no more likely to appear pink than last month's was to resemble a worm, the name comes from the colour of phlox flowers, one of the first blossoms to appear in Spring.

Other names include the Colonial American Planters Moon, the Celtic Growing Moon or Hare Moon, the Medieval English Seed Moon, the Neo Pagan Awakening Moon and the Old English/Anglo Saxon Egg Moon. For the Chinese it was the Peony Moon and, as always, Indigenous Americans had their own, descriptive, names.  It was the Cherokee Flower Moon, the Choctaw called it the Wildcat Moon and it was the Ojibwa tribe's Sap Running Moon.  The Dakota Sioux were a little more precise - The Moon when Geese Return in Scattered Formation.  They seem to be a little behind some other tribes, whose geese returned last month.


Highlights


Again, rather more lows than highs.  Jupiter is low in the dawn sky for much of April, but might be visible in the morning twilight towards month end.  The fainter Saturn is more difficult to see despite being slightly higher.  Mercury, Venus and Uranus all appear close to the Sun for most of the month, but might be spotted in the evening sky - Uranus at the start of April, the other two right at the end of the month.  Only Mars is high enough to be seen easily, but is getting lower in the evening sky as the month progresses.

We have one comet, high in the sky, not expected to reach naked eye visibility, starting the month around mag 6.8, fading to 8.3 by late April.

At last we have a reasonably active meteor shower, the Lyrids, but the bad news is that the gibbous Moon is above the horizon for most of the peak night.

And the nights are getting shorter (and starting later, thanks to BST), on 1st we have 6hrs 47 minutes of astro darkness, about half that by the end of April.


There are also a couple of events with astronomical connections.

On 12th, it will be 60 years since Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into space, albeit for just one orbit lasting 108 minutes. His Soyuz capsule reached 327 km above Earth - by accident.  It was intended to orbit at 230 km but an engine failing to cut out took it much higher.  He came down 300km from the intended landing site, his parachute landing was watched by a farmer and her daughter.  He told them that he was a Soviet citizen who had descended from space and must find a telephone to call Moscow.

The site is now a memorial park, Gagarin Field, with a 25 metre stylised rocket shaped monument and a statue of the first cosmonaut.

And, at the start of the month we have Easter.  There is a tenuous astronomical connection in that Easter Day is the Sunday after the first full Moon on or after the Vernal Equinox.  In reality it's a bit more complicated, the date of the equinox is always taken as March 21st, even when it occurs on a different day, and the Eccelsiastical Full Moon date is used, rather than the actual one.  This is calculated using the Metonic Cycle, a 19 year period, divided into 235 months of 29 or 30 days. The first day of each month is the Ecclesiastical New Moon, the Full Moon is 14 days later.

The earliest date for Easter Sunday is March 22nd.  This happens when there is a full Moon on Saturday March 21st.  It is very rare - the last time was in 1818, it won't happen again until 2285

The latest possible date, April 25th, occurs when there is a full Moon on March 20th, the day before the equinox, and the next one is on Sunday April 18th, making Easter Day a week later.  This is a bit more frequent, the last time was in 1943, the next in 2038. 


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 -0.4

Not easily seen this month.  On 1st it is 4 degrees below the horizon at dawn. It moves into Pisces on 3rd, Cetus on 8th and back into Pisces on 11th.  It closes in on the Sun quite rapidly over the next week, reaching superior solar conjunction on 19th, when it passes 34' to the south at 02.36.  It moves into Aries the following day and on 25th is only 1 degree 12' NNW of Venus, very low in the evening sky, both set only 40 minutes after the Sun.

If you do attempt to see the pair through binoculars make sure that the Sun has completely set before trying to spot them.

On 27th Mercury reaches perihelion, 0.31AU, and by 30th, now at mag -1.2, is 5 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 21.49, about 75 minutes after the Sun.


Venus:  in Pisces, mag -3.9

Appears too close to the Sun to be seen during most of April, following superior solar conjunction in late March. On 1st it sets 15 minutes after the Sun and is separated from it by just one degree. On 15th, when it moves into Aries, the separation has increased to 5 degrees. On 30th it is 3 degrees 30' in the WNW 20 minutes after sunset, but down to 1 degree by the time the sky darkens, setting at 21.21.


Mars:  in Taurus, mag 1.3

Still the only major planet which is high in the sky, though only in the early part of the night.  On 1st it will be at 43 degrees in the west, as the sky darkens around 20.30, visible until a little after midnight and setting at 02.02.  On 17th the waxing crescent Moon passes 7’ to the south at 13.08.  Observers in parts of India and SE Asia will be able to see an occultation. From the Manchester area they will be visible in the dusk sky from 21.15, with Mars 36 degrees above the western horizon, the Moon almost 4 degrees to the east. Mars moves into Gemini on 25th, when it is 32 degrees in the west as the sky fades, setting at 01.40.  On 30th, down to mag 1.5, it is at 29 degrees in the darkening sky at 21.40 and should be high enough to be easily visible until nearly midnight, setting at 01.30.


Jupiter: in Capricorn, mag -2.1

Bright but very low in the morning sky. On 1st it rises at 05.31 and reaches 5 degrees by dawn.  On 7th the waning crescent Moon passes 4 degrees 23’  to the south at 08.18.  On this day Jupiter rises at 05.10 and gets to 6 degrees by dawn.  When the Moon rises at around 05.30 the separation is 5 degrees.  By 18th the gas giant reaches 8 degrees in the SE by 05.40 as the sky brightens.  It is in Aquarius from 26th, when it rises at 04.01 and gets to 9 degrees by dawn. By the 30th it should be more easily visible to observers with a clear ESE horizon, it rises at 03.44 and is at 10 degrees soon after 5am, as dawn breaks. 


Saturn: in Capricorn, mag 0.8

Slightly higher than Jupiter in the morning sky but not so easy to spot as it is much fainter.  On 1st it rises at 05.06 and only reaches 5 degrees by dawn.  On the morning of 6th the rising 31% Moon passes 5 degrees 30’ to the south at 05.00, closest, 3 degrees 57’, in daylight at 09.30. Jupiter is 12 degrees to the east of the pair. On 30th Saturn rises at 03.13 and gets to 9 degrees before the sky gets too bright for it to be seen.


Uranus: in Aries, mag 5.9

On 1st it is only 8 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 22.20. It moves closer to the Sun, by 15th they appear separated by 14 degrees, with Uranus setting at 21.28.  It is at solar conjunction on 30th, when it is 24’ to the south at 2055, about 20 minutes after the planet has set.


Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 8.0

Very low in the morning sky following March’s conjunction. On 1st it rises at 06.20 but appears only 20 degrees from the Sun - much too close for safe binocular or telescope observing.  On 30th it is still 5 degrees below the horizon as the sky begins to brighten, rising at 04.29.


Dwarf Planets


Ceres: in Cetus, mag 9

Too close to the Sun to be seen in April. On 1st they appear separated by only 8 degrees.  It is at solar conjunction on 7th, when it passes 6 degrees 30’ to the south.  When it moves into Pisces on 22nd, the separation is 10 degrees. On 28th it is in conjunction with Eris, passing it 4 degrees 54’ to the south. Ceres is still only 13 degrees from the Sun, so the conjunction wouldn’t be visible - even if you could see the much more distant, almost 10,000 times fainter Eris.  On 30th Ceres rises at 06.01 still  only 14 degrees from the Sun.


Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.1

Much too low for imaging or telescopic observation, as it will be for many years yet - at least for anyone in the northern hemisphere. 

As you probably know, it’s highly elliptical orbit crosses that of Neptune, so it spends almost exactly 20 years of each 165.4 year period closer to the Sun than the ice giant, the last time being from Feb 7th 1979 to Feb 11th 1999.  

However, because the 2 bodies are in resonance - Pluto makes 2 journeys round the Sun in the same time that Neptune does 3 - they will never collide, never even come close. Pluto actually gets much closer to Uranus (11AU) than it does to Neptune (14AU).


The other two Kuiper Belt Dwarf Planets are high in the sky, but so faint that they are only targets for the most experienced astrophotographers.


Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.3

High enough for imaging for most of the night.  On 1st it is 21 degrees in the east when the sky darkens, culminating, 52 degrees in the south, at 02.57 and still 43 in the SW at dawn.  It is at opposition on 18th, when it is 30 degrees in the east as the sky gets dark, 52 degrees in the south at 01.51 and 41 degrees in the SW when the sky begins to brighten.  On 30th it is 41 degrees at dusk, 52 degrees in the south at 01.01 and 40 degrees in the SW at dawn.


Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1

Also high enough for imaging throughout the hours of darkness. On 1st it is 31 degrees in the east as the sky darkens, soon after 9pm, culminating at 01.46 when it reaches 59 degrees. By the time the sky gets bright at around 05.15 it is still high - 40 degrees in the west.  On 30th it is 56 degrees in the SE as darkness falls, 59 degrees south at 23.46 and 35 degrees in the west at dawn.


Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8

Appears very close to the Sun throughout April.  On 1st, when it sets at 20.13, the separation is 17 degrees. It is at solar conjunction on 14th, when it rises at 07.28, sets at 19.22 and appears 11 degrees south of the Sun,  The separation at conjunction is much higher than the major planets because Eris’ orbit is inclined to the ecliptic by 44 degrees. On 30th it rises at 06.25, almost an hour after sunrise, still only separated by 18 degrees.



Asteroid 9 Metis

Discovered on April 25th 1848 by Andrew Graham.  Its main claim to fame is that it was the first one found by observations made in Ireland. It contains half a percent of the total mass of the asteroid belt and was named after a Titaness, the mother of prudence and wisdom.  It shouldn’t be confused with Jupiter’s innermost moon, also named Metis, which wasn’t found and named until over 100 years later.

Metis takes 3.69 years to orbit the Sun at a distance ranging from 2.1 AU to 2.68 AU.

It begins April in Virgo, at mag 9.5, rising at 19.38, reaching 21 degrees in the east soon after 22.15 and culminating, 37 degrees in the south, at 01.45.  It remains high enough for observation for the rest of the night. It is at opposition on 5th, reasonably high throughout the hours of darkness, culminating at 10.13, when it is 37 degrees above the southern horizon. By 30th, down to mag 10.1, it is higher than 21 degrees between 22.25 and 03.00, highest point, 38 degrees, at 23.22. 



Comets


C/2021 A1 (Leonard) in Ursa Major.

Still very faint, now around mag 17.8, but high in the sky for most of the night, well positioned for anyone ambitious enough to try imaging it before it gets so bright (we hope) that everyone is having a go.

It is currently circumpolar, on 1st it is 56 degrees in the NE at dusk, highest point, 82 degrees above the northern horizon (or, if you prefer, 98 degrees in the south) at 01.23 and down to 58 degrees in the NW by dawn.  On 30th it is 81 degrees in the north when the sky gets dark, dropping to 47 degrees in the NW by daybreak.


C/2020 R4 (ATLAS)

Those of you who saw Dave Bell’s February talk on comet naming will be able to work out that this is a non periodic or long period comet, the fourth found in the second half of September 2020, by astronomers studying images taken by NASA’s robotic Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, which searches for possibly hazardous near Earth objects - and, along with other similar surveys, also finds lots of comets.

On 1st it is in Aquila, mag 6.8, rising at 02.28 and reaching 22 degrees in the SE by dawn. It moves into Ophiuchus on 14th, but it’s only a fleeting visit, the following day it goes into Hercules, rising at 22.42 and visible from a little before 01.30, reaching 45 degrees by dawn. It is at its closest to Earth, 0.46 AU, on 23rd and crosses into Corona Borealis on 24th, when it is at 30 degrees in the east as the sky darkens, highest point, 65 degrees, at 03.14 and not much lower in the SW at daybreak.   On 30th it is down to mag 8.3 but still high - 56 degrees in the east at 22.23, 69 degrees south at 00.36 and 52 degrees in the west at dawn. 



Meteor Showers


One reasonably active shower this month, unfortunately marred by the presence of the waxing gibbous Moon, which doesn’t set until around 5am, in nautical twilight, on the peak nights.


Lyrids:  active 14th to 30th, peak on 22nd but usually shows good activity on the nights before and after.  ZHR 18, under ideal conditions, from the darkest areas around Greater Manchester, maybe as many as 16.  The peak is at 14.00 on 22nd, so the best time to look is before dawn on that day, when the radiant is high in the sky.  For those who don’t like to get up early, even for astronomy, it might be worth trying in the early evenings of 21st and 22nd.  The shower does occasionally produce higher rates, in 1982 a ZHR of 90 was recorded, but nothing like that is predicted for this year.

It is thought that this used to be a much more prolific shower, in 687 AD Chinese astronomers reported seeing meteors falling like rain.

They are medium speed meteors which don’t usually leave trails, but the shower could include a few fireballs. Parent comet C/1861 (Thatcher).


Alpha Virginids: active March 10th to May 6th, peak April 7th (or maybe not - one source says 18th), ZHR 5-10. The radiant is close to Spica, very low from our latitude so likely numbers much lower. They are very slow moving, parent body is asteroid 1998 SH2.

This shower isn’t mentioned in this year’s IMO calendar, which indicates that studies of the associated dust cloud show that Earth won’t pass through it this time round.  


Pi Puppids: the radiant of this is so low that we won’t see any activity from the northern hemisphere.  For anyone south of the equator, the shower is active from 15th to 28th, peak on 23rd, ZHR variable. They are very slow moving meteors, parent comet 26P/Grigg-Skjellerup.


There may be some daytime activity from the April Piscids on 22nd, around 17.00.  Detectable only using radio or radar equipment.

This shower isn’t recognised by the IAU.


The ANT is active in April, the radiant is in SE Virgo at the start of the month, moving eastwards into LIbra.


Credits

Most of the solar system information given here is from:
More information, exact co-ordinates and finder charts of all solar system objects can be found on this site.

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

Other information is from various internet sources, including NASA, Britannica, Space Facts, Universe Today and, when all else fails,Wikipedia.















The night sky in March 2021

posted 26 Feb 2021, 07:56 by Pete Collins   [ updated 27 Feb 2021, 07:25 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise     1st:   06.56          31st:   06.44
Sunset      1st:   17.47          31st:   18.42

Astronomical darkness
1st:         19.42  to  04.58     31st:  21.48  to  04.36

Day Length  1st:  10 hrs  50'  40"      31st:  12 hrs  58'  18"

The Vernal (spring) Equinox is on 20th at 09.37.  This is the time when the Sun is at the point where the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator.  Despite the name, which means equal night, this day is 12 hrs 11'  30" long. This is because it is the centre of the Sun's disc which is above the horizon for 12 hours, whereas sunrise and sunset are the times when the upper edge appears and disappears.  Also, the Sun can be seen for a few minutes before it rises and after it sets because of refraction of its rays by our atmosphere. The closest day to 12 hours is 17th at 11 hrs  58' 41"

Clocks go forward at 01.00 on 28th.

New Moon:       13th at 10.21
Full Moon:        28th at 19.48 (angular diameter 32' 58")

Lunar perigee:  2nd at 05.20  (365421 Km,  angular diameter 32' 41")
                       30th at 06.13 (360310 Km,  angular diameter  33' 08")
Lunar apogee:  18th at 05.05 (405252 Km,  angular diameter 29' 28")

The full Moon is close to Lunar perigee, so it will appear slightly larger and brighter than average, but not quite enough to be classed as a Supermoon.

The March full Moon is known as the Worm Moon, because this is the time when earthworms appear, now the ground is no longer frozen. It could also refer to insect larvae, which appear from the bark of trees at this time. Other names are the Colonial American Fish Moon, the Celtic Winds or Seed Moon, the Neo Pagan Death Moon and the Chinese Sleepy Moon. There are very many different Indigenous American names, among them the Arapaho Buffalo Dropping their Calves Moon, the Omaha Moon when the Geese Come Home, the similar Haida Noisy Goose Moon and the Algonquin Sap Moon. For the Choctaw it's the Big Famine Moon and the Dakota Sioux called it The Moon when Eyes are Sore from Bright Snow.
It is also the first full Moon in Spring - on or after the Vernal Equinox (counted as March 21st even when, as this year, it's actually on 20th). This makes it the Paschal Moon - the one which is used to calculate the date of Easter Day, which falls on the first Sunday following the full Moon.

Highlights

What highlights? The only thing of note is that there will be some bright mid-evening passes of the International Space Station from the 21st until the end of the month.

The nights are getting shorter by just over 4 minutes each day. By month end we are down to just under 7 hours of astro darkness, not beginning until almost 10pm after the dreaded BST begins on 28th. We're even beginning to lose the beautiful Winter Hexagon - Rigel sets around midnight on 1st, 11pm (BST) on 31st. There are no bright comets, no meteor showers, and the naked eye planets are not well positioned. The brightest asteroid, 4 Vesta, is at opposition on 4th but, unfortunately, it isn't a particularly favourable one only reaching mag 6.2 - out of naked eye range but an easy binocular target.

Things are better for the most experienced astrophotographers, dwarf planets Haumea and Makemake are high in the sky and we have a couple of very faint circumpolar comets.

For the rest of us, we haven't even got HPAG's end of season party to look forward to this year. 

Constellations

We are now losing the winter highlights of Orion, Sirius and Taurus soon after midnight, though they are still prominent 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 Capricorn, mag 0.2
A morning object, but very low in the pre dawn sky.  On 1st it rises at 05.04, nearly an hour before the Sun, but is still on the horizon as the sky begins to brighten. On the morning of 5th it is only 19' north of Jupiter but while the gas giant might be bright enough to be seen in the twilight, Mercury is too faint.
The usual important warning:  DO NOT attempt to see the pair through binoculars, even catching the first few rays of the rising Sun can result in permanent blindness.  You might see Mercury but it could be the last thing that you ever do see.
Even on 6th when it is at greatest western elongation, 27 degrees 18' from the Sun, Mercury is no higher at dawn because of the very shallow angle of the ecliptic in the morning sky at this time of year.  It moves into Aquarius on 14th, on this day it is at aphelion, 0.47 AU from the Sun, but now 1 degree below the horizon at dawn.  On 31st it rises at 06.34, only 10 minutes before sunrise.

Venus:  in Aquarius, mag -3.9
Not visible this month. On 1st it rises about the same time as the Sun, appearing only 6 degrees from it.  It gets even closer during the month, on 18th, when it goes into Pisces, they are separated by 2 degrees. It is at superior conjunction on 26th, passing 1 degree 21' to the south of the Sun.  It then becomes a morning object but still much too close to be visible, on 31st the separation is still not much over 1 degree.

Mars:  in Taurus, mag 0.9
Now only visible before midnight and fading quite rapidly.  On 1st it culminates in daylight, becoming visible around 18.30 as the sky darkens,  54 degrees in the SW, a little to the south of the Pleiades. It remains close to the cluster for the next few nights, on 3rd and 4th it is about 2 degrees 40' from the centre. On 19th the 32% waxing Moon passes between Mars and the similarly hued Aldebaran - the eye of the bull, with the Moon 2 degrees 20' south of Mars at 20.15.  On 31st it will be visible from 20.30, when it will be 45 degrees above the SW horizon, now down to mag 1.3 and setting at 02.07.

Jupiter:  in Capricorn, mag -2.0
Now a morning object but too low to be easily visible for most of the month. On 1st it rises at 06.18 but only gets to 1 degree above the horizon in darkness. On 10th the 7% Moon passes 4 degrees 02' to the south of the planet but Jupiter is only 2 degrees above the horizon at dawn.  By the time the Moon rises, around 6am, the sky will be quite bright.  Jupiter might be visible towards the end of March, to observers with a low, clear SE horizon, on 31st it rises at 05.33 and gets to 5 degrees before the sky brightens.

Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.7
Also very low in the pre-dawn sky - too low and too faint to be seen in the morning twilight, just over 8 degrees to the west of Jupiter.  On 1st it rises at 05.59 but hasn't cleared the horizon by dawn.  It is also close to the Moon on the morning of 10th,  still very low in the SE as the sky brightens.  On 31st it rises at 05.08 and is 5 degrees above the horizon as dawn breaks, almost 12 degrees west of Jupiter.

Uranus: in Aries, mag 5.8
Now low in the early evening sky.  On 1st it should be visible from around 19.00, when it is 34 degrees in the SW, remaining high enough for observing for about 90 minutes and setting at 23.12.  Much more difficult to find from mid month, on 18th it is 21 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 22.09. By 31st, slightly fainter at mag 5.9 it is only 10 degrees as the sky darkens, setting at 22.22.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 8.0
Too low to be observable this month.  On 1st it sets only 45 minutes after the Sun and appears separated from it by 9 degrees. It is at solar conjunction on 11th, when it passes 1 degree 04' to the south.  It is then a morning object, in conjunction with Mercury on 29th, with Neptune 1 degree 23' to the north at 20.10, but both still too close to the Sun to be observed safely. On 31st it rises only 20 minutes before the Sun, separation 19 degrees.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Pisces, mag 9.3
Not visible this month as it approaches solar conjunction in early April, on 1st it is only 2 degrees above the horizon at dusk.  It moves into Cetus on 4th and by the end of the month appears 8 degrees from the Sun, setting at 19.37.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.1
After the orbit of the then planet was calculated it was realised, by re-examining  earlier photographs, that it had been imaged on at least 16 previous occasions.  The earliest of these were in August and November 1909, only 4 years after Lowell began his search, by E E Barnard at the Yerkes Observatory in Illinois. Lowell himself had unknowningly imaged it twice in 1915, but died the following year without realising - presumably because it was then in Orion, where he wouldn't have expected to find it. 
This precovery of later found objects is quite common.  It is now known that Uranus was seen in 1690 by John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, who thought it was a star and catalogued it as 34 Tauri.  Even further back, Galileo saw Neptune in 1612.
However, at the moment we can't see Pluto.  On 1st it rises at 05.34, on 31st at 04.38 but is much too low for telescopic observing or imaging.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.4
The good news is that it's high in the sky for most of the night.  The bad news is that it's so faint that it's only accessible to the very best, most experienced astrophotographers.  On 1st it rises at 20.33 and reaches 21 degrees in the east by 23.00.  Its highest point, 52 degrees south, is at 04.00 and it is down to 48 degrees in the SW as dawn breaks.  On 31st it rises at 19.22 and gets to 21 degrees in the east by about 22.00, culminating at 03.01, still reaching 52 degrees. Remains high until dawn when it is 43 degrees in the SW.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1
Also very high but very faint.  On 1st it rises at 18.18 and is high enough for imaging soon after 21.00, when it reaches 21 degrees in the east. It culminates, 59 degrees above the southern horizon, at 02.47 and is down to 46 degrees in the SW by dawn.  It is at opposition on 27th, when it is at its highest point, 59 degrees in the south, at 01.03.  On 31st it is 30 degrees in the east as the sky darkens around 21.00, and 59 degrees south at 01.57.  It remains reasonably high until dawn, when it is 40 degrees in the west.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
Eris was first seen on 23rd October 2003 and confirmed in January 2005. It was given the nickname Xena by the discovery team of Mike Brown, Chad Trujillo and David Rabonowitz - the name began with X, which was considered appropriate for what was initially thought to be the 10th planet.  It was later given the name Eris, after the goddess of discord, and was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006, when the new category was introduced.  It has a very eccentric orbit, at its closest, 37.9 AU from the Sun, it is within the orbit of Neptune and closer than Pluto's aphelion. However, at its furthest, 97.65 AU, it is beyond the main Kuiper Belt in the region known as the Scattered Disc. It takes 559 years to go round the Sun so, since its discovery, has completed only about one thirtieth of an orbit - in time.  In distance probably less as it is currently close to aphelion when it moves more slowly.  It is still only about 5 degrees from from where it was first seen.
It is too low for imaging this month, on 1st it is 17 degrees above the horizon at dusk and by the last week in March is on the horizon as the sky darkens.  On 31st it appears only 17 degrees from the Sun.

Asteroids

4 Vesta:  in Leo, mag 6.2
The second largest member of the asteroid belt contains about 9% of its mass. It was discovered in March 1802 by Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers (of Paradox fame) and named after the Roman goddess of home and the hearth.  It's the only asteroid known to have a core, mantle and crust similar to the rocky terrestrial planets but is thought to have formed before them.  It would probably have become a planet if it wasn't for the gravitational influence of Jupiter.  It is the source of about 6% of meteorites which land on Earth.
It's the brightest of the asteroids, magnitude ranges between 5.1 and 8.48.   Unfortunately it isn't at its brightest at the moment but should be an easy binocular target. On 1st it rises at 17.22 and reaches 21 degrees in the east by 20.00, culminating at 00.58, when it is 58 degrees above the southern horizon. By dawn it will be down to 24 degrees in the west.  On 4th, when it is at opposition, it will be high enough for observing from 19.45 until dawn, culminating at 00.43, at 52 degrees in the south.  On 31st, down slightly to mag 6.6, it culminates at 23.30, now at 54 degrees, and is visible until the end of astro darkness when it is 22 degrees above the western horizon.

Comets

Still nothing exciting to report, there are a few around but they are very low or very faint.
 
C/2021 A2 (NEOWISE) is circumpolar, in Monoceros.  Starts the month at mag 12.8, fading to 15.1 by 31st, now in Auriga and 'visible' for most of the night.

C/2021 A1 (Leonard)  The one to watch - but not yet! Again circumpolar, in Ursa Major, high in the sky for most of the night but still very faint - around mag 18.

C/2020 R4 (ATLAS): in Aquarius, mag 7.3
Very low in the morning sky.  On 1st it rises at 05.13 and is only 1 degree above the horizon by dawn.  It moves into Capricorn on 4th, when it is slightly higher, 3 degrees, before the sky brightens. It is at peak brightness on 13th, at an estimated mag of 6.6, and reaches 8 degrees in reasonable darkness, having risen at 03.59.  It is in Aquila from 15th and on 31st rises at 02.36 and gets to 21 degrees by dawn, only slightly fainter at mag 6.8.

Meteor Showers

March is another very poor month, especially for those of us in the northern hemisphere.  The only shower active at this time, the Gamma Normids, has a radiant so far south, 50 degrees, that we won't see any activity fron Manchester. Even for observers in the south it isn't a particularly good shower, active Feb 25th to March 28th, peak 14th, ZHR 6 - though meteors from this are said to be often indistinguishable from background sporadic ones.

The radiant of the ANT, moving across southern Virgo is low, ZHR no more han 2 or 3, though there could possibly be a few more around 17th.

Credits

Most of the solar system information given here is from:
More information, exact co-ordinates and finder charts of all solar system objects can be found on this site.

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

Other information is from various internet sources, including NASA, Britannica, Space Facts, Universe Today and, when all else fails,Wikipedia.









 

The night sky in February 2021

posted 29 Jan 2021, 05:55 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Jan 2021, 06:06 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise       1st:  07.53          28th:   06.58
Sunset        1st:  16.52          28th:   17.45

Day length  1st:  8hr 58' 25"   28th:  10hr 46' 27"
 
New Moon:  11th at 19.08       Full Moon:  27th at 08.20  (angular diameter 32' 13")

Lunar perigee:  3rd at 19.34  (370126km)
The furthest perigee of the year.  On this night the Moon will be 60% waning and have an angular diameter of 32' 16".

Lunar apogee:  18th at 10.23   (404465km)
37% waxing, angular diameter 29' 31"

The most common name for February's full Moon is the Snow Moon but, to those who used that name in January, it's the Hunger Moon.  Other names are the Celtic Ice Moon, the Chinese Budding Moon, the Medieval English Storm Moon and the Pagan Quickening Moon.
There are many Indigenous American names, one site lists 25 different ones used by various tribes.  Among these are the Arapho Frost Sparkling in the Sun Moon, the Cherokee Bone (or Bony) Moon, the Choctaw Moon of Winds, the Hopi Moon of Purification & Renewal and the Wishram Shoulder to Shoulder around the Fire Moon.  The Sioux called it the Dark Red Calves Moon, though whether this referred to young animals or cold legs isn't specified.
It's also the Lenten Moon. This is defined as either the last full Moon of the winter season or the third full Moon in winter.  As this winter has 3 full Moons it qualifies either way.

Highlights

Nothing which really deserves the name this month.  The beautiful dark clear skies of winter are likely to be covered in cloud and those of us who live in very light polluted towns and cities can't go further afield to observe them, even if they aren't.  However, if you can get away from street lights, the area of the Winter Hexagon can be spectacular when seen through binoculars.

Mars is still visible, high in the evening sky, despite being much fainter now.

We still have plenty of astro darkness - a couple of minutes short of 11 hours on 1st, 9hrs 19 minutes on 28th.  For anyone who doesn't know, astronomical darkness is when the Sun is more than 18 degrees below the horizon.  Astro twilight is when it's between 12 and 18 degrees, nautical twilight is 6 to 12 degrees and civil twilight is the period just after sunset, when it is less than 6 degrees below.

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 prominent, 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 star Arcturus is rising soon after 11, and around 9pm 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 Capricorn, mag 1.1
Appears very close to the Sun in early February.  On 1st it is only 4 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 18.18, just under 90 minutes after sunset.  It fades rapidly as its apparent separation from the Sun decreases, on 8th when it moves into Aquarius, it is at inferior solar conjunction, down to mag 5.1 and passing 3 degrees 37' north of the Sun.  It begins to brighten again as it moves away and more of the illuminated side faces us. On 18th it goes back into Capricorn and the following day, now at mag 0.9, reaches its highest point in the morning sky - but still only on the horizon as dawn breaks, reaching 6 degrees in the SE by sunrise.  On 28th, brighter at mag 0.2, it rises at 06.05 but only gets to 1 degree by dawn.  On this day it appears only 3 degrees from Jupiter, which rises at 06.21.
WARNING:  Do not attempt to spot the planets through binoculars on this day, the Sun rises at 06.58 and it is all too easy to lose track of time and accidentally catch the first rays.

Venus: in Sagittarius, mag -3.9
Appears very close to the Sun this month, so hardly visible.  It might possibly be spotted on 1st, by observers with a flat, clear SE horizon, it rises at 07.27, less than half an hour before sunrise, and only gets to half a degree above the horizon before the Sun rises about 10 minutes later.
Again, DO NOT attempt to  find it using binoculars. 
It is at aphelion, the furthest point in its orbit from the Sun, on 20th, when it is at a distance of 0.73AU, but rises only a few minutes before it. On 24th, when it moves into Aquarius, the separation is only 7 degrees, down to 6 degrees on 28th, when they both rise at 06.58.

Mars:  in Aries, mag 0.4
Now well past its best but still obviously pink in the evening sky. On 1st it culminates at 17.59 in nautical twilight,  but should be visible 58 degrees above the southern horizon.  Soon after midnight it will have sunk to 10 degrees in the west, setting at 01.43.  On the night of 18th/19th the waxing 41% Moon is 3 degrees 41' south of the planet at 22.45.  They move together over the next couple of hours but are very low in the sky and at their closest after the Moon has set.  Mars moves into Taurus on 24th, slightly fainter at mag 0.8 and visible from around 18.20, an hour after culminating but still high, 55 degrees in the south.  During the month it has been moving towards the Pleiades, on 27th it is 3 degrees 48' SE of the centre of the cluster, 3 degrees 25' to the south on 28th, when it becomes visible around 18.30, at 54 degrees in the SW and remaining reasonably high until midnight, setting at 01.27.

Jupiter:  in Capricorn, mag -1.9
Appears too close to the Sun to be seen for most of February.   On 1st, it rises at the same time as the Sun, apparent separation only 2 degrees. Its position only improves very slightly during the month, on 28th, slightly brighter at -2.0, it rises at 06.21 but is only 1 degree above the horizon as the sky begins to brighten.

Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.6
Close to Mercury and Jupiter in the morning sky but, like the other two, too low to be visible.  On 1st it rises at 07.41 and appears only 7 degrees from the Sun. On 28th, at mag 0.7, it rises at 06.03, just under an hour before sunrise but still fails to clear the horizon by dawn.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.8
Still high in the evening sky.  On 1st it is at 49 degrees in the south when it becomes visible soon after 18.00, and remains reasonably high until 22.30, setting at 01.01. On 17th the 31% Moon is 3 degrees 12' south of the planet, as it becomes visible around 18.45 - another good chance to locate it using binoculars - weather permitting!  On 28th it is 35 degrees in the SW as the sky darkens soon after 19.00, high until around 20.45 and setting at 23.15.   As always, a really dark sky and really good eyesight are necessary for it to be seen without optical aid but it should be easily visible in 10 x 50 binoculars, though a telescope is needed in order to see its greenish blue disc.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9
Now too low in the evening sky for telescopic observation.  On 1st it is only 16 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 20.18.  By mid month it is down to 6 degrees at dusk and on 28th is only 10 degrees from the Sun, setting at 18.37.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Aquarius, mag 9.4
The smallest of the 5 currently designated dwarf planets is the closest to the Sun, orbiting in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter.  It was first seen on Jan 1st 1801, the first object in that region to be found and was thought to be a planet, albeit a very small one - about one fifth the size of Mercury.   It was reclassified as an asteroid in 1805, when the new category was introduced after the discovery of many more objects in that region.  It's the largest body in the Asteroid Belt, having 25% of its total mass, and the only one with enough gravity to have pulled itself into a rounded shape.  Because of this it satisfied the criteria for the new category of dwarf planet, introduced in 2006, and was reclassified as such.
It orbits the Sun in 4.8 years so appears to move around the sky quite quickly, however it isn't at its best this month, very low in the sky at dusk.  On 1st it is only 14 degrees above the horizon, setting at 20.12.  It moves into Cetus on 10th, when it is only at 10 degrees when the sky darkens.  It is in Pisces the last couple of days in February, on 28th it is down to 3 degrees at dusk, setting at 19.27.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.0
Found on Feb 18th 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, studying photographs taken in January of that year, when it was high in the sky, in the constellation Gemini.  Like Ceres it was first classified as a planet and remained as such until 2006, when the category dwarf planet was introduced, following the discovery of many more small bodies orbiting beyond Neptune.  It takes around 250 years to go round the Sun, so has only completed a little over one third of an orbit since it was first seen.  It is currently very low in the sky, too low for succesful imaging, and won't be high enough from our northern latitude until August 2071, when it will reach 22 degrees in the south for a short time.  This month it appears very close to the Sun, following conjunction in January.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.4
The third largest object in the Kuiper Belt but, along with Makemake, not found until after many of the much fainter trans Neptunian bodies, because its orbit is highly inclined to the ecliptic (28 degrees) so it was outside the area where searches were concentrated.  There is some controversy about its discovery, Mike Brown's Caltech team at Mount Palomar found it in 2004, but a Spanish team later said that they had seen it in March 2003.  However, they were known to have had access to the Caltech team's data and it has been suggested that they may have gone back to their earlier images when they knew where to look.
Haumea spins very rapidly on its axis, a 'day' lasts just under 4 hours, thought to be the result of a collision early in its history.  This fast spin has caused it to flatten so much at the poles that it is an ellipsoidal shape - its equatorial diameter is about twice the polar diameter.
This month it is high enough in the post midnight sky for experienced astrophotographers to have a go at imaging it, though it will never appear as anything other than a faint dot which moves very slightly over the course of a few days.  On 1st it reaches 21 degrees in the east by 1am and culminates, 55 degrees in the south, at 05.51, and isn't much lower when the sky begins to brighten half an hour later.  By 28th it is at 21 degrees soon after 23.00, culminating, 52 degrees in the south, around 4am and down to 48 degrees in the SW by dawn.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2
The second brightest KBO was found in March 2005, this time an undisputed discovery by Mike Brown and his team.  Like Haumea its orbit is highly inclined to the plane of the solar system so it wasn't found until the search was widened away from the ecliptic.
It is also currently high in the sky in the latter part of the night, on 1st it gets to 21 degrees in the east by 23.00 and culminates at 04.38 when it reaches 59 degrees in the south.  It is still high, 53 degrees, when the sky begins to brighten shortly before 06.30.  On 28th it is at 21 degrees in the east soon after 21.00 and culminates at 02.51, still at 59 degrees, then sinking to 46 degrees in the SW by dawn.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
The faintest and furthest of the 5 currently designated dwarf planets, discovered on Jan 5th, 2005, again by Mike Brown and his team, from images taken in October 2003.  It is slightly smaller, but 25% more massive, than Pluto.  It takes 557 years to orbit the Sun - it was in Cetus when it was found and will remain within its boundaries until April 2035 when it moves into Pisces.  It has a very elliptical orbit, 38 AU from the Sun at its closest and 97.5 AU at its furthest, so it is considered to be not a KBO but part of the Scattered Disc - a region beyond the Kuiper Belt, which extends further above and below the plane of the Solar System.
This month it is quite high in the sky in the early part of the night, on 1st it is 32 degrees in the south at 18.15, not long before the start of astro darkness, having culminated soon after sunset.  It remains reasonably high for a couple of hours and sets at 23.00.  On 28th it is only 23 degrees in the SW as the sky darkens, and is high enough for imaging for a very short time, setting at 21.46.

Asteroids

A couple of asteroids, which should be visible through amateur scopes, are at opposition this month.

18 Melpomene:  in Cancer, mag 9.4
At opposition on 2nd, when it is higher than 21 degrees for most of the night, culminating at 00.24, when it is 48 degrees above the southern horizon.  By 28th it will have faded to mag 10.1 and culminates at 22.11, slightly higher at 51 degrees.

29 Amphitrite:  in Leo, mag 9.7
Again, high for most of the night.  On 1st it culminates at 02.12, when it is at 42 degrees in the south.  It reaches opposition on 22nd, at mag 9.2, culminating at 00.31, now at 50 degrees.  On 28th it will be at mag 9.3 and get to 50 degrees at 23.57.

Comets

You may have heard about a newly discovered comet, C/2021 A1 (Leonard) which is predicted to reach naked eye visibilty, maybe even become quite bright, at its closest to Earth in mid December.  It was found on Jan 3rd by Greg Leonard at the Mount Lemmon observatory in Arizona. It is thought to have a hyperbolic (open ended) orbit, ejected from the Oort Cloud about 3,500 years ago and travelling towards the Sun since then. After perihelion it will begin the long journey back, never to return - unless it's disturbed again. 
At the moment it is circumpolar, in Bootes and highest in the sky just before dawn, but very faint - around mag 18.7.

The other comets around at the moment are also faint.
C/2020 M3 (ATLAS) is in Auriga, circumpolar and high for most of the night, but only at mag 13, fading to 14.7 by the end of Feb.

141P/Machholz is also quite high.  Starts the month in Cetus at mag 11.8, passes through Eridanus and Taurus and ends the month in Orion, down to mag 14.7

C/2020 S3 (Erasmus) and 88P/Howell are not only faint but also too low in our sky for observation or imaging.

Most of the information here comes from the website https://in-the-sky.org
It has coordinates for all solar system objects on any day, finder charts and lots of other information.
Also useful is https://theskylive.com   though I don't find that one quite so user friendly.
www.cometwatch.co.uk again hasn't been updated this month.

Meteor Showers

February is a very poor month for meteors. The only active shower has a radiant so far south that it's very unlikely that anything will be seen from our northern latitude.

Alpha Centaurids:  active Jan 21st to Feb 20th, peak FEb 8th, ZHR 6 but occasionally as many as 25.

The radiant of the Antihelion Source passes through southern Leo during February, but has a ZHR of only 2 or 3.































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.






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