The night sky this month

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

The night sky in April 2020

posted 30 Mar 2020, 06:03 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

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

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

Day length   1st:  13.03.35       30th:  15.02.04

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

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

Highlights

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

Constellations

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

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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


And for comet news


Meteor Showers

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

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

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

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



The night sky in March 2020

posted 28 Feb 2020, 07:45 by Pete Collins

by Anne Hot

Sunrise     1st:  06.55      31st:  06.43
Sunset      1st:  17.47      31st:  19.43

Astronomical Darkness   1st:  19.43  to  04.57     31st:  21.48  to  04.36

Day length   1st:  10hrs 51' 43"       31st:  12hrs 59' 20" 

The vernal (spring) equinox, when the Sun crosses the celestial equator as it moves northwards, is on Friday 20th at 03.29.  However, despite the name meaning equal night, this day is 12hrs 12' 31" long.  It is the time between the centre of the Sun rising and setting which is 12 hrs, whereas sunrise and sunset are the times when the top edge of the Sun appears and disappears.

BST begins on Sunday 29th at 1am.

Full Moon:  9th at 17.47     New Moon:   24th at 09.28

Lunar perigee:   10th at 06.34   (357,122 km)
Lunar apogee:   24th at 15.24   (406,689 km) 

This full moon occurs less than 13 hours before lunar perigee and the Earth Moon distance is 357,122 km, which makes it a Supermoon.  It is only slightly closer that February's full Moon, so won't appear all that much bigger.

March full Moon is known as the Worm Moon because the frozen ground is said to thaw at this time, allowing worms to burrow out.  Other names are the Lenten Moon,  Chaste Moon, Sap Moon and Crow Moon.

Highlights

The main highlight is Venus, which is shining brightly, high in the early evening sky throughout March.  The rest of the naked eye planets are morning objects but very low in the pre dawn sky as seen from our latitude.  There is still quite a bit of astronomical darkness in the early part of the month - 9hrs 14 minutes on the night of 1st/2nd but down to 6hrs 48 mins at month end, when it doesn't begin until a few minutes before 10pm.  There are no bright comets and no meteor showers.
And, worst of all, from the end of the month we all have to do everything an hour earlier as BST is forced on us for the next 7 months.

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 Aquarius, mag 3.7
Now a morning object but barely visible as it is so low in the sky throughout March.  On 1st it rises at 06.20 and is still below the horizon at dawn. It moves into Capricorn on 8th and back into Aquarius on 11th.  On 21st the 8% Moon passes about 8 degrees from the planet but the pair are only 1 degree above the horizon as the sky brightens.  By this time it has brightened to mag 0.2.  It reaches greatest eastern elongation, 27.8 degrees from the Sun, on 23rd when it rises at 05.28 but, because of the shallow angle of the ecliptic, is still too low to be seen.  On 31st it rises at 06.17, is at mag 0.0 but 2 degrees below the horizon at dawn.

Venus:  in Pisces,  mag -4.2
Unmissable in the SW sky on cloudless evenings, even from light polluted areas. Observers with a clear horizon should be able to view it in astronomical darkness for about an hour.  On 1st it should be seen soon after 18.00, when it is 33 degrees above the horizon, setting at 22.05. It moves into Aries on 5th and from 7th to 9th passes north of Uranus, closest on 9th at 14.36 when they are separated by only 2 degrees 24'  They should be visible from around 20.00.  Venus is at perihelion on 20th, when it is at a distance of 0.72 AU from the Sun. On 24th, when it has brightened to mag -4.4, it reaches its highest point in the evening sky - 40 degrees in the SW at sunset. On this day it is also at greatest eastern elongation with an apparent separation from the Sun of 46 degrees. On 28th the crescent Moon passes south of the planet, closest in daylight at 10.37.  The pair will be visible in twilight from around 18.50.  The Pleiades are also close by.  On 31st Venus moves into Taurus, it will be 36 degrees above the western horizon at 20.00, visible till around 23.15 and setting at 00.31. 

The other 3 naked eye planets are close together in the pre dawn sky but very low when seen from our latitude. 

Mars: in Sagittarius, mag 1.1
On 1st it rises at 04.30 and reaches 8 degrees in the SE by dawn. On this day it is about 10 degrees west of Jupiter.  It is movig eastwards closing in on the gas giant, on 18th the crescent Moon passes to the right of the pair. On 20th Mars is only 42 arcminutes south of Jupiter at 10.35.  They may be seen, about 10 degrees above the SE horizon as the sky begins to brighten.  On 23rd Mars passes only 2 arcminutes SW of Pluto between 04.30 and 05.30.  The two, especially Pluto, will be very difficult to image, even for expert astrophotographers, as they are so low. By the end of the month Mars has moved close to Saturn, separated by less than one degree at 18.25 but only 8 degrees above the horizon as the sky begins to brighten.  On this day Mars rises at 04.43, is at mag 0.8 and has crossed the border into Capricorn.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius,  mag -2.0
Rises on 1st at 05.02 and may be visible for a short time around 06.30 when it is at 8 degrees in the SE.  Starts the month midway between Mars and Saturn, easily the brightest of the three. On 18th, Mars and the crescent Moon are close to Jupiter, rising around 04.00.  On 31st it rises at 04.19 (BST), brighter at mag -2.2 and reaches 11 degrees in the SE by dawn.

Saturn: in Sagittarius, mag 0.7
Again, very low in the morning sky, not as easy to see as Jupiter because it is quite a bit fainter.   On 1st it rises at 05.28 and is only 4 degrees above the horizon by dawn. On the morning of 19th the 22% Moon passes 4 degrees SE of the planet.  It moves into Capricorn on 22nd when it rises at 04.11 and gets to 7 degrees by dawn.  On 31st it rises at  04.37 and reaches 8 degrees as the sky brightens.  On this day it is very close to the slightly fainter, much redder Mars.


Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9
Visible through binoculars in the early evening during the first half of  the month.  On 1st it is 31 degrees in the SW as the sky darkens around 19.00 and should be visible until 20.15.  On 7th, 8th and 9th it is in the same binocular field of view as Venus.  By 14th it is only 21 degrees in the west at dusk, setting at 22.00.  By 31st it is too low to see easily - only 7 degrees at dusk, and sets at 21.58.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 8.0
Appears too close too the Sun to be seen this month.  It is in conjunction with the Sun on 8th, separated by only one degree.  By month end it rises at 06.19 but is only 21 degrees from the Sun, too close for telescopic observation.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Capricorn, mag 9.3
Another one which is too low in the morning sky to be visible.  On 1st it rises only 10 minutes before the Sun,  Not much better on 31st, only 35 minutes before sunrise.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.1
Still much too low for telescopic observing or imaging.  On 1st it rises at 05.24, on 23rd & 24th it is less than 1 degree from Mars but only reaching 7 degrees above the horizon by dawn.  On 31st it rises at 04.28.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.3
High enough for imaging for most of the night during March. On 1st it rises at 20.16, reaches 21 degrees in the east by 23.00 and is at its highest point,  52 degrees in the south, at 03.56.  On 31st it rises at 19.15, is at 22 degrees in the east at 21.53 and culminates at 21.53.  Throughout March it is still high in the sky as dawn breaks.
 

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2
Also well placed in March. On 1st it rises at 18.10 and is high enough for imaging from around 21.00.  It is at its highest point, 60 degrees, at 02.43. 
It is at opposition on 26th, when it culminates at 01.03.  on 31st it is at 30 degrees in the east as the sky darkens, 60 degrees in the south at 01.43 and 40 degrees in the west at dawn.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.6
Too low for imaging this month.

Asteroid 27 Euterpe, in Virgo, is at opposition on 18th.  Starts the month at mag 9.7, rising at 19.05 and culminating, 39 degrees in the south, at 01.32.  On 18th it culminates at 00.09, a couple of degrees higher and slightly brighter at mag 9.4.  It moves into Leo on 26th and on 31st, back at mag 9.7, reaches its highest point at 00.06, now at 42 degrees in the south.


Comets

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Cassiopeia, mag 9.3
Circumpolar, moving north westwards along the side of the W asterism. On 1st it is highest at dusk, 61 degrees in the NW at 19.05 and 27 degrees in the north by dawn.  On 31st it is close to Polaris, so reasonably high throughot the night.  It is predicted that it will have brightened slightly.

C/2018 N2 (ASSASSN) in Andromeda is also circumpolar but much fainter around mag 12.7 and fading.

C/2019 Y1 (ATLAS) in Pegsus, mag 11.3.  Too low for imaging until the end of March, it moves into Andromeda on 18th and becomes circumpolar on 23rd. On 31st it reaches 24 degrees in the NE just before dawn.

For more information and exact positions of all solar system objects see:

and, for comet news  www.cometwatch.co.uk


Meteor Showers

March is a very poor month for meteor watchers in the northern hemisphere.  Observers south of the equator might see a few Gamma Normids, active Feb 25th to March 28th, peak 14th, ZHR 6.  For those of us further north there are no showers, even sporadic activity is usually low at this time.  We might be able to see the occasional meteor from the Antihelion Source - these are meteors not belonging to any recognised shower, which have their radiant on the ecliptic, opposite the position of the Sun.  In March the radiant moves through southern Virgo and has a ZHR of 3.



The night sky in February 2020

posted 3 Feb 2020, 07:42 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise.       1st:     07.54          29th:     06.58
Sunset.        1st:     16.50          29th:     17.45

Astronomical darkness:   1st:  18.51  to  05.52       29th:  19.41  to  04.59
Day length,  1st:  08. 55. 41         29th:  10.47.30

Full Moon:  9th at 07.33      New Moon:  23rd at 15.32

Lunar perigee:   10th at 20.22  (360463 km)
Lunar apogee:   26th at 11.36  (406276 km) 

This month's full Moon is the 4th largest of the year but it may or may not be a Supermoon, depending on which definition you use. Some say that any full Moon near the Lunar perigee, which this one is, qualifies.  Other definitions are any full Moon occurring at a distance of 360,000 km or less, or  those which are 90% or more of the Moon's maximum size, (a distance of 361,885 km or less).  February's full Moon, at a distance of 362,472 km, doesn't meet either of these criteria.

The February full Moon is known as the Snow Moon.  Other names are the Hunger Moon, the Medieval English Storm Moon and the Chinese Budding Moon.

Highlights  (and lows)

Venus is shining brightly, a magnificent sight in the evening sky, Mercury has its best evening showing of the year in the second week of the month, but the rest of the naked eye planets are very low in the pre-dawn sky.  Two newly discovered comets are predicted to get no brighter than mag 10 and 15, and we have no meteor showers visible from the Northern Hemisphere.  We do still have a reasonable amount of astronomical darkness - 11 hours at the start of February and about 9 and a quarter at month end.  However, by the end of the month it doesn't begin until 19.41, well after the start of HPAG meetings.
And, if clouds don't spoil our view of the night sky, the ever increasing number of Starlink satellites will probably manage to do the job.

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 9 at month end. In the early part of the evening the Plough is low in the North East standing on its 'handle', and Cassiopeia high in the North West as darkness falls. By month end, the Summer Triangle will have risen soon after 3am - summer already?  Someone better tell the weather.

Planets

Mercury:  in Capricorn, mag -1.0
Starts the month as an evening object, best seen in the second week.  On 1st it is only 6 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 18.03.  It moves into Aquarius on 2nd and by 4th it is at 8 degrees in the SW at 17.15, setting just over an hour later.   Over the next week or so it gets higher in the early evening sky and also brightens.  From 8th to 12th it is at 10 degrees when the sky begins to darken around 17.30.  It reaches greatest eastern elongation on 10th, when it appears 18 degrees from the Sun and is at mag -0.7.  Two days later it is at its highest point, 14 degrees, at sunset, though still down to 10 degrees by the time the sky begins to darken.  It will then be at mag -0.4 and should be visible soon after sunset, to the east of Venus and at about one third the altitude.  Mercury's position then deteriorates rapidly, by 17th it is down to mag 0.8 and only 6 degrees above the horizon at dusk.  It reaches inferior solar conjunction on 26th and then becomes a morning object, but too close to the Sun to be visible. On 29th it rises half an hour before the Sun but appears separated from it by only 7 degrees.   .

Venus:  in Aquarius, mag -4.1
Unmissable in the evening sky - weather permitting.  On 1st it should be easily visible soon after 17.00, when it is at 25 degrees in the SW.  It moves into Pisces on 3rd and by mid February is 30 degrees above the horizon at around 17.30.  On 27th the 14% Moon passes 6 degrees south of the planet, they are still quite close on the following evening, when the now 21% lit Moon is 12.3 degrees to the SE.   On 29th Venus is easily visible for at least 3 hours.  It's at 33 degrees in the south at 18.03 in astronomical darkness, setting just after 22.00.  A telescope will show the planet's gibbous phase - 62% lit at month end.

Mars: in Ophiuchus, mag 1.4
A morning object but still very low and not getting much higher in the dawn sky during the month because of its relatively fast eastward motion.  It rises on 1st at 04.53 and only reaches 10 degrees by dawn.  It moves into Sagittarius on 12th when it is slightly higher - 11 degrees as the sky brightens.  On 18th the waning crescent Moon passes 3.2 degrees from the planet just before dawn.  They will be in the same binocular field of view but, as always, TAKE CARE, the Sun rises at 07.20 on this day.   Saturn and Jupiter are also close by around this time.  On 29th Mars rises at 04.31 and reaches 12 degrees by dawn, slightly brighter at mag 1.1.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.6
Very low in the morning sky.  On 1st it rises at 06.36 but only reaches 4 degrees above the horizon by dawn. On 19th the 17% Moon passes 6 degrees west of the planet soon after it rises at 05.39.  The pair are closest, in daylight, at 19.40.  Because it is so bright it might be possible to spot it in the last few days of the month, from a site with a low, clear SE horizon.  On 29th it rises at 05.06 and reaches 8 degrees by 06.30.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.6
Another morning object, lower and fainter than Jupiter, so very difficult to see this month. On 1st it is still below the horizon when the sky begins to brighten, rising only 40 minutes before the Sun. The thin crescent Moon is close to the planet on the morning of 20th, but the pair are only just above the horizon at dawn. On 29th it rises at 05.32, on this day it forms a line with Mars and Jupiter, very low in the SE just before dawn.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.8
Much better positioned than the 2 gas giants, but even this is now past its best, culminating before the sky is fully dark.  On 1st  it is at 47 degrees in the south as the sky darkens soon after 18.00 and should be high enough for observing until around 22.00, setting at 00.40.  On this evening the Moon passes 7 degrees ESE of the planet at 19.00.  On 28th, at this time, the Moon is 4 degrees to the SE.  It is 32 degrees above the SW horizon,, setting at 22.51.  Uranus should easily be visible in binoculars, maybe even with the naked eye from a dark sky site.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.8
Now too low in the evening sky for telescopic observation. On 1st it is only 14 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 20.08.  By 29th it appears 8 degrees from the Sun, setting only 40 minutes after it.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Capricorn, mag 9
Too close to the Sun to be visible this month,  following January's solar conjunction.  On 1st it rises a few minutes after the Sun, by month end it rises only 10 minutes before it.

The remaining dwarf planets are very distant, orbiting way out in the Kuiper belt, so their apparent motion against the background stars is extremely slow.  Pluto, the closest of these, moves on average 1.45 degrees per year, Eris, the furthest, only 0.65 degrees, so don't expect to see any difference in images taken only a few days apart.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.1
Again, not visible after last month's conjunction.  On 1st it rises 40 minutes before the Sun and 90 minutes after it on 29th.  However it remains much too low for telescopic observing or imaging.

Haumea;  in Bootes, mag 17.4
Reasonably high in the sky for a good part of the night,  On 1st it is at 21 degrees around 1am, culminating, 52 degrees in the south, at 05.50. On 29th it reaches 21 degrees at 23.00 and culminates at 4am, again at 52 degrees.  It is still high, 48 degrees in the SW,  as the sky begins to brighten.

Makemake: in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2
Slightly higher than Haumea.  On 1st it is at 21 degrees - high enough for imaging - by 23.00, culminating at 04.35 when it reaches 59 degrees.  On 29th it gets to 21 degrees in the east at 21.06 and culminates, a little higher at 60 degrees, at 02.24.  It is still high as dawn breaks, 46 degrees in the SW at 05.35.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
Extremely distant, faint, and slow moving against the background stars. On 1st it culminates only a few minutes after sunset and is at 32 degrees in the south soon after 18.00.  By month end it is only 17 degrees above the horizon at dusk - too low for imaging.

Comets

According to in-the-sky  'comets are intrinsically unpredictable and magnitude estimates must always be taken with a pinch of salt.'

C/2017 T2 (PanSTARRS) in Perseus, mag 9.2 (or perhaps 10)
Circumpolar.  On 1st it is at its highest point, 83 degrees in the NW, at dusk and is down to 21 degrees in the north by dawn.  It moves into Cassiopeia on 13th, when it is 73 degrees in the NW at dusk and 23 degrees in the north at dawn. It moves along the side of the W asterism,  on 21st it passes between 2 open clusters, Stock 2, (the Muscleman) and NGC 743.  By 29th it should have brightened slightly, maybe to around mag 8.9, and be at 62 degrees NW at dusk, and round to 26 degrees in the north by dawn.

C/2018 N2 (ASSASSN) in Andromeda, mag somewhere around 11 or 12.
Also circumpolar.  On 1st it is at 56 degrees in the west at 18.14, shortly before the start of astro darkness, and down to 21 degrees in the north by 22.30.  By month end it is at 38 degrees in the NW at dusk, down to 22 degrees by 21.34.  It is then too low for imaging until 05.30, when it reaches 21 degrees in the NE shortly before dawn.

We have a couple of newly discovered comets, however neither is predicted to reach anything near naked eye brightness. Still, you never know.

C/2019 Y1 (ATLAS) in Aquarius, mag 11.5.
Currently very low in the evening sky, a little SE of Venus. Moves into Pisces on 4th and could reach mag 10 in late Feb / early March.

C/2020 A2 (Iwamoto) in Hercules,
Very faint morning object moving northwards, crosses into Lyra on 3rd and into Draco by the end of the month.  Not expected to get brighter than mag 15.
A chart of this one's position can be found at https://britastro.org/node/20410

For more information and exact positions of all solar system objects:

and, for comets:

Meteor showers

A very poor month for meteor watching.  The only shower, the alpha Centaurids, peaks on Feb 8th with a ZHR of 6. Unfortunately this one is only visible from the southern hemisphere - and the almost full Moon will spoil the view.   Even the Antihelion Source gives a ZHR of less than 2 this month.

The night sky in January 2020

posted 31 Dec 2019, 07:45 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise   1st:   08.24        31st:  07.56
Sunset    1st:  15.59         31st:  16.48

Astronomical darkness   1st:  18.10  to  06.14      31st:  18.50  to  05.53

Earth is at perihelion on Jan 5th, when it is 147,091,144  km  (0.98 AU) from the Sun.

Full Moon:  10th at 19.21
New Moon:  24th at 21.42

Lunar apogee:   2nd at 01.31   (404,578 km)
Lunar perigee:  13th at 20.22   (365,963 km)
Lunar apogee:  29th at 21.29   (405,389 km)

The time between 2 successive Lunar perigees or apogees is known as an anomalistic month, therefore we have a complete one in January.

January's full Moon is known as the Wolf Moon, because this is the time when these animals are said to howl most.  Other names are the self explanatory Moon after Yule, the Old Moon, the Ice Moon, the Spirit Moon and the Chinese Holiday Moon.

Highlights

There still isn't much to write about, we have plenty of astronomical darkness - a few minutes over 12 hours on 1st and an hour less by 31st.  Venus is shining brightly in the early evening but the rest of the naked eye planets are very poorly placed, either low in the morning sky or not visible at all for most of the month.  The outer, fainter, ice giants are much better positioned in the evening sky, especially in early January.  There are a few circumpolar comets around but probably nothing approaching naked eye, or even binocular, brightness.
The one major meteor shower won't be affected by moonlight but it has only a very short peak, around dawn.
There is a partial Lunar eclipse on 10th, but the Moon only passes through the outer part, the penumbra, of the Earth's shadow so the darkening will be barely noticeable, especially if the sky is hazy.  From Manchester the eclipse begins at 17.07, when the Moon is only 8.6 degrees above the horizon.  Maximum cover, 86%, is at 19.10 at an altitude of 25.3 degrees and it finishes at 21.12, when the Moon has risen to 42.5 degrees.


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 -0.9
Not visible for much of the month. On 1st it appears only 4 degrees from the Sun and moves even closer as it approaches superior solar conjunction on 10th. It then becomes an evening object, moving away from the Sun but still too close to be visible. When it moves into Capricorn on 17th the separation is still only 4 degrees.  By 23rd it is on the horizon as the sky darkens and on 25th  the thin crescent Moon is 2.5 degrees below the planet in the still bright sky. On 31st it is 5 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 17.57, about 70 minutes after the Sun.

Venus:  in Capricorn,  mag -4.0
Now even more prominent in the evening twilight. On 1st it should be visible in the still bright sky, 14 degrees above the horizon around 16.00.  Its position improves even more during the month as it moves away from the Sun, and also because the angle of the ecliptic to the horizon is increasing.  On 12th, when it moves into Aquarius, the planet is at 18 degrees in the SW when it becomes visible soon after sunset.  On 27th it is only 5 arcminutes south of Neptune at around 17.00.  The pair should be visible in the same field of view of a telescope.
IMPORTANT:  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO LOOK AT THEM THROUGH A SCOPE UNTIL AFTER THE SUN HAS FULLY SET AT AROUND 16.40.
A few minutes after 17.00 the pair will be 24 degrees above the SW horizon.  On 27th and 28th the thin crescent Moon is also close by.  On 31st Venus is 25 degrees above the SW horizon at 17.00, setting at 20.34.

Mars:  in Libra, mag 1.6
A morning object, still low in the sky.  On 1st it rises at 05.00 and only reaches  12 degrees above the horizon by dawn.  It moves into Scorpio on 8th, still at the same altitude, and Ophiuchus on 16th, when it is slightly lower at 11 degrees.  On 20th the crescent Moon passes close to the planet, nearest while they are still below the horizon but still separated by only 6 degrees just before dawn.  Red supergiant Antares, the rival of Mars, is also close to the pair.  On 31st Mars rises at 04.43 and is slightly brighter at mag 1.3, but even lower - only getting to 10 degrees before the sky brightens.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius, mag -1.8
Very low in the morning sky following solar conjunction at the end of December.  On 1st it isn't visible as it appears only 3 degrees from the Sun.  On 23rd the very thin crescent Moon is just over 3 degrees SE of the planet at dawn, very low in the SE.  On 31st Jupiter rises at 06.39 and is only 4 degrees above the horizon when the sky begins to brighten.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.5
Not visible this month. On 1st it is on the horizon at dusk, setting at 16.53. It is at solar conjunction on 13th, then becomes a morning object.  By month end it rises at 07.17, 40 minutes before the Sun, but is still just below the horizon as dawn breaks.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.8
Still the best placed of the outer planets, well placed in the early part of the night for binocular and telescopic observation and imaging. On 1st it culminates, 48 degrees above the southern horizon, at 19.28.  By midnight it has sunk to 21 degrees in the SW.  On 4th, at around 18.00, the just past 1st quarter Moon passes 5 degrees south of the planet.  On 31st it culminates at 17.30, while the sky is still fairly bright, and is at 47 degrees in the SE as astro darkness begins, setting at 00.44.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9
Reasonably high in the early evening sky at the beginning of January.  On 1st it is at 29 degrees in the south at 17.32 and should be high enough for telescopic viewing or imaging until around 19.00.  By 21st it is only 21 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 20.49 and on 31st it is only 15 degrees in the SW at dusk, and sets at 20.12.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Sagittarius, mag 9.0
Not visible this month as it is at solar conjunction on the night of 13th/14th.  It moves into Capricorn on 29th and on 31st is still only 11 degrees from the Sun.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.1
Another one which appears very close to the Sun this month, at solar conjunction on 13th.

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4
Quite well placed for astrophotography in the early hours. On 1st it rises at 00.19 and will be high enough from around 3am,  reaching 49 degrees in the SE by dawn.  By 31st it rises at 22.17 and culminates at the end of astro darkness, 52 degrees above the southern horizon.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.3
Reasonably high around midnight this month.  On 1st it rises at 22.11 and gets to 21 degrees in the east by 01.00, reaching its highest point, 59 degrees, at 06.40.  On 31st it rises at 20.11, is at 21 degrees by 23.00 and culminates at 04.42.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
The faintest and most distant of the currently recognised dwarf planets moves very slowly against the background stars.  It takes 558 years to make one orbit of the Sun so since the announcement of its discovery, 15 years ago, has only completed approximately 2.6% of one orbit.  It hasn't even moved to another constellation and won't do so for another 15 years.  It was at aphelion in 1977 and is now getting closer to the Sun, however it won't reach perihelion for another 236 years.  On Jan 1st it reaches its highest point, 34 degrees, in the south at 19.09.  By 31st it culminates before the sky is fully dark and is at 33 degrees as the sky darkens around 18.15.

A couple of asteroids reach opposition in January.  These are a much better target for imaging, not only are they much brighter than the distant Kuiper Belt objects, they also seem to move much more quickly around the sky, so appear to have moved more in pics taken a few days apart.

511 Davida,  starts the month in Cancer, at mag 10.00.  On 1st it culminates, 58 degrees in the south, at 01.30.  It moves into Gemini on 3rd and is at opposition on 13th when it is at mag 9.6 and at 60 degrees by 00.23.  By 31st it will  have faded to mag 10.1 and culminate at 23.03, slightly higher at 62  degrees.

5 Astraea;  in Cancer, mag 9.6.  The fifth asteroid to be discovered, 38 years after 4 Vesta, is slightly lower - maximum altitude 51 degrees on 1st.  It is at opposition on 21st, when it culminates, 52 degrees in the south, at 00.20, slightly brighter at mag 9.0.  On 31st it will have faded to mag 9.2 and culminate at 23.28, a couple of degrees higher in the south.

Comets

Still a few around, circumpolar so above the horizon all night, but faint - only suitable for imaging.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS)  in Perseus,  could possibly be as bright as mag 8.3 but more likely around mag 10 - as always, various sources fail to agree.
On 1st it is at 61 degrees in the NE as the sky gets dark, reaching its highest point, 88 degrees in the north, at 20.52. It strays into Camelopardalis on 2nd and 3rd, then back into Perseus on 4th.  It continues its eastward motion and during the last few days of the month passes north of the double cluster.  By this time it should have brightened slightly (but may have faded), will be at 84 degrees in the NE at dusk and down to 21 degrees in the north as the sky brightens around 06.30.

Also circumpolar, but much fainter.

C/2018 N2 (ASSASSIN)  in Andromeda, mag around 12. Again quite high, 75 degrees in the SW at dusk on 1st and 57 degrees in the west as the sky darkens on 31st.

260P/McNaught: in Perseus, mag around 14.  On 1st it reaches 80 degrees in the south at 20.13.  On 31st, probably fainter at around mag 15.5,  is 76 degrees in the south at 19.00.

Recommended websites for more information and exact positions of all solar
system objects


and for news about comets

Meteor Showers

One promising shower and a couple of very minor ones.

Quadrantids:  active December 28th to Jan 12th, peak in the early hours of 4th, ZHR estimates vary, could be as low as 25 or as high as 200.  This shower has a very short peak of 4 to 6 hours, centred on 8am, so is best seen just before dawn. They are medium paced, medium bright meteors often leaving trails, the shower often includes some fireballs. The parent body is asteroid 2003 EH1, thought to be a former comet.
The name Quadrantids comes from the former constellation Quadrans Muralis, the wall mounted quadrant, which was not included when the IAU published its official list of constellations in 1922.  The location of the shower radiant now lies in Bootes.
On the morning of 4th the Moon sets around 1am, so will not interfere with pre dawn observing.

Minor showers:

Gamma Ursa Minorids, active 10th to 22nd, peak 19th/20th ZHR 3.  Slow moving meteors, again best seen just before dawn when the radiant is high.

Kappa Cancrids:  peak 10th.  Some activity reported in 2015 and 2016 but nothing since.  It might be worth looking this year.  The radiant is very close to that of the Antihelion Source but the Cancrids are much faster moving.

The ANT is active in January, the radiant moves through SE Gemini and then across Cancer.  ZHR 2-3.

The night sky in December 2019

posted 27 Nov 2019, 10:12 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise        1st:   08.01          31st:   08.25
Sunset         1st:   15.54          31st:   15.58

Astronomical darkness  1st:  18.02  to  05.54       31st:  18.09  to  06.14

The Winter Solstice is on 22nd at 04.19.  This is the day when the Sun reaches its lowest point in the sky in the northern hemisphere.  On this day it is overhead at noon along the Tropic of Capricorn, the furthest south that this can happen.
 
This is also the shortest day at 7hrs 28 minutes and 48 seconds.

The latest sunrise is on 30th at 08.25, earliest sunset on 14th at 15.49.

Full Moon:  12th at 05.12       New Moon:  26th at 05.13

Lunar perigee:  18th at 20.31  (370258km) 
Lunar apogee:   5th at 04.10   (404445km)

December's full Moon is known as the Cold Moon, for obvious reasons. Other names are the Oak Moon, the Long Night Moon, the Moon Before Yule (Anglo Saxon) and the Bitter Moon (Chinese).

Highlights

As always in December, one of the main highlights is the lack of light, we have around 12 hours of astronomical darkness throughout the month.
There's an annular solar eclipse on 26th. This happens when the Moon is near its furthest point from Earth and doesn't appear quite large enough to cover the Sun's disc. The path of this eclipse goes over parts of Saudi Arabia, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
We're losing the gas giants as evening stars, they both appear very close to the Sun this month, but Venus is getting higher in the evening sky and should soon be an unmissable sight - weather and tall buildings permitting. 
And one of the best meteor showers of the year, the Geminids, will be seriously marred this year by the presence of the just past full Moon close to the radiant.  We might have more luck spotting a few Ursids, much lower ZHR but the Moon will be out of the way.

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 -0.6.
Should be visible for the first week in December.  On 1st it rises a few minutes before 6am and reaches 10 degrees in the SE by 07.15. It moves into Scorpio on 12th, when it rises at 06.44 and is only 5 degrees above the horizon by dawn, so hardly visible.  It goes into Ophiuchus on 15th and Sagittarius on 27th, when it appears only 7 degrees from the Sun.  It's at aphelion (furthest point in its orbit from the Sun) on 30th.

Venus: in Sagittarius, mag -3.9.
Its position in the evening sky improves during the month. On 1st it is 6 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 17.25.  On 11th it is less than 2 degrees south of Saturn, 9 degrees above the SW horizon at  at around 16.15. Venus moves into Capricorn on 20th, slightly brighter at mag -4.0.  On 29th the 3 day Moon passes close to the planet, separated by just under 7 degrees at dusk. On 31st it will be 14 degrees above the SW horizon at dusk, setting at 18.49.

Mars:  in Virgo, mag 1.7.
Rises around 5am throughout December and reaches 12 or 13 degrees in the SE before the sky brightens.  It moves into Libra on 2nd and on 23rd the 9% Moon passes east of the planet, about 3.5 degrees separation at 07.00.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius, mag  -1.8.
Not visible this month.  On 1st it is only 4 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 17.08.  It is at solar conjunction, on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth, on 27th and on 31st  it appears separated from the Sun by only 2 degrees.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.6.
Very low in the evening twilight. On 1st it is only 10 degrees above the horizon at dusk and sets at 18.36.  On 27th the one day old crescent Moon passes 1 degree 12 minutes south of the planet, in daylight.  The pair, slightly further apart, are only 4 degrees above the horizon at dusk.  By month end it is on the horizon as the sky begins to darken.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.7.
Best positioned of the major planets, reasonably high in the sky for most of the night, especially in the earlier part of the month.  On 1st it culminates at 21.31 at 48 degrees above the southern horizon, down to 21 degrees in the west by 02.15 and setting at 04.46. On 8th at around 6pm the Moon passes 5.5 degrees to the SE.  By month end it culminates at 19.30, still at 48 degrees, setting at 02.44.  It should be easily visible in binoculars, maybe even with the naked eye under ideal conditions.

Neptune:  in Aquarius mag 7.9.
An early evening object which should be visible in a reasonable sized amateur scope, maybe even in binoculars from a dark sky site.  On 1st it culminates at 18.36 at 29 degrees in the south. It should be high enough for telescopic observing or imaging until around 21.00, setting at 00.28.  By 31st it culminates in astro twilight and will be at 29 degrees in the south as the sky darkens, reasonably high for a couple of hours and setting at 22.08.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Sagittarius, mag 9.
The closest of the dwarf planets, orbiting in the asteroid belt beyond Mars, is not currently at its best. It's almost at its furthest from us and appears close to the Sun.  On 1st it is only 9 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 17.08.  It appears to move closer to the Sun during the month, by 31st the two are separated by only 9 degrees.

The others are very faint, targets for only very experienced astrophotographers with really good equipment, using the 'spot the difference' - sorry that should say Blink Comparator - method used by Clyde Tombaugh to find Pluto.


Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 14.8
The brightest of the distant Kuiper Belt objects has a very eccentric orbit, perihelion distance is 29.7AU aphelion 49.3AU, (one AU, or astronomical unit is the mean distance between the Earth and Sun)  It  is sometimes closer to the Sun than Neptune.  The last time this happened was from Feb 7th 1979 to Feb 11th 1999. It is currently too low in the sky to be successfully imaged and, because it moves so slowly around the sky, taking 248 years to complete one orbit, it will be several decades before there's any improvement.

Haumea:  in Bootes mag 17.4.
Also has a very eccentric (elliptical) orbit, it's distance from the Sun ranging between 35AU and 51.6AU.  Also, it's inclined to the plane of the major planets by 28 degrees, so its path round the sky doesn't follow the ecliptic and the zodiac constellations.  It's currently a morning object, quite well placed for imaging in the early hours. On 1st it rises at 02.18 and reaches 34 degrees in the east by 06.30, as the sky begins to brighten. On 31st it rises at 00.22 and gets to 49 degrees in the SE by dawn.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2.
Also has an eccentric orbit (38.6AU to 52.8AU), inclined to the ecliptic.  Currently a morning object. On 1st it rises at 00.16 and reaches 49 degrees in the SE by dawn. On 31st it rises at 22.14 and culminates, 59 degrees above the southern horizon, at 06.43, just before the sky brightens.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8.
The most massive (but only second largest) of the known dwarf planets is also the most distant, 38AU at perihelion and 98AU at aphelion.  It orbits, at an inclination of 44 degrees to the ecliptic, in the outer edges of the Kuiper Belt, a region known as the Scattered Disc. It is currently an early evening target, but only for the best astrophotographers. On 1st it culminates at 21.11, at 34 degrees in the south, setting at 03.08. On 31st it is at 30 degrees in the SE at 17.30, just before the start of astro darkness, and culminates at 19.12, still at 34 degrees, and sets at 01.09.

Comets

Only one which may, or may not, be at a reasonable magnitude for viewing through amateur scopes.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Auriga, mag 8.5 (or maybe 10 - or somewhere in between)
Circumpolar throughout December, and reasonably high for most of the night.  At the start of the month it is only 4 degrees west of the bright star Capella, about 28 degrees above the NE horizon at 17.20 and 35 degrees in the NW when astro darkness ends. It moves into Perseus on 4th, Camelopardalis on 21st and back into Perseus on 31st, when it should be slightly brighter and still quite high for most of the night, almost overhead at 21.00.

C/2018 N2 (ASSASSN) in Andromeda, mag 11.7
Again circumpolar but much fainter so only a target for the more experienced. On 1st it will be 65 degrees in the SE as the sky darkens, higher at 75 degrees in the south by 19.18 and down to 21 degrees in the NW at 02.30.  By 31st it is expected to have faded to mag 12.1 and be slightly lower in the sky - 75 degrees in the south at 17.30 and 21 degrees in the NW soon after midnight.

A couple more faint comets are still around:
260P/McNaught in Andromeda, moving into Perseus towards the end of the month. Very faint at mag 12.8 fading to 13.9 - though one site says that it will brighten during December.  Still fairly high in the sky for most of the night, on 1st it reaches 85 degrees in the south around 10pm, on 31st it is at 80 degrees at 20.15.

289P/Blanpain in Aquarius, mag around 11.
Too low for imaging in early December.  Moves into Pisces on 23rd and Pegasus on 28th.  By 31st it reaches 52 degrees in the south by 16.30, down to 17 degrees soon after 11pm, maybe a little brighter.

For detailed positions and more info on all solar system objects


Meteor Showers

One major shower in December

Geminids:  active 4th to 17th, peak 14th. ZHR given as 120 -150, but this is under ideal conditions, far fewer can be seen in the light polluted Manchester sky.  The radiant is high from 22.00, so some may be seen then, but the shower is best around 2am.  They are bright, often colourful, medium paced meteors, not usually leaving trails.  Unusually, they do not originate from debris left by a comet but an asteroid - 3200 Phaeton.
The bad news is that at the peak the 96% Moon will be shining brightly in Gemini, close to the radiant.  However, some of these meteors are so bright that quite a few should still be visible in the glare.

Minor Showers

Monocerotids:  active Dec 5th to 20th, peak 9th, ZHR 3 - though this is said to be variable, so there could be more. Or fewer. They are medium paced meteors best seen around 2am.  This shower will also be adversely affected by moonlight, the Moon is only 3 days from full and doesn't set until 04.37.

Alpha Hydrids:  active 3rd to 15th, peak 12th, ZHR 3.  Best seen around 3am but the Moon is full on this night.

Coma Berenecids: active 12th to 23rd, peak 16th, ZHR 3. Best seen before dawn and again after 22.15 on this day.   These meteors used to be regarded as part of the Geminids but is now considered as a separate shower.  Again there will be Moon interference, 82% full, rising at 20.40.

December Leonis Minorids:  active Dec 5th to Feb 4th, peak Dec 20th, ZHR 5. A weak, long lasting shower, a few meteors might be seen at any time between 19.30 and dawn around the peak.  The crescent Moon rises at 00.49 on 20th and 02.11 on 21st.

Ursids: active 17th to 26th, peak 23rd, ZHR 10. These are medium paced meteors, parent comet 8P/Tuttle.  Best seen around 3am on 23rd.  the 20% Moon rises at 04.56 on this day.  Some sources say that they have detected a dust filament which could result in a very short outburst on 22nd at around 21.40, maybe as many as 30 per hour.







The night sky in November 2019

posted 30 Oct 2019, 09:39 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Oct 2019, 12:54 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise     1st:  07.07        30th:   07.59
Sunset      1st:  16.37        30th:   15.54

Astronomical Darkness    1st:   18.35  to  05.10       30th:  18.02  to  05.53

Full Moon:  12th at 13.34      New Moon:  28th at 19.26

Lunar apogee:     7th at 08.38   (405059km)
Lunar perigee:   23rd at 07.66   (366720km)

November's full Moon is known as the Beaver Moon because beavers are active at this time preparing for winter.  An alternative explanation is that it is the time when beavers are hunted.  It's probably both.  Another name is the Frosty Moon.

Highlights

We have plenty of astro darkness, ten and a half hours on 1st and nearly 12 hours on 30th.  And it begins at a reasonable time - soon after 6pm - now we're back on proper time.
 
It isn't a brilliant month for planetary observation, all the naked eye planets are either low in the west after sunset or in the east before sunrise. Jupiter  is getting lower in the evening twilight as Venus gets higher and the two are close together for a few days towards the end of the month.
We have one middling meteor shower, marred this month by the presence of the gibbous Moon.
And, of course, we have one major highlight on the afternoon of 11th, when the planet Mercury passes directly between Earth and the Sun and will be visible, weather permitting, as a very small black dot moving across the face of our star. Mercury comes between the Earth and the Sun every 116 days but, because its orbit is inclined to the ecliptic by 7 degrees, usually passes above or below it, so it rarely results in a transit; it only happens when both planets are at the position where the planes of their orbits cross.  This is in May and November so transits can only happen in those months.
On 11th, Mercury will first appear on the face of the Sun at 12.35 when it is 18.6 degrees above the horizon.  The mid point is at 15.19, much lower at only 6.5 degrees, so you will need a clear SW horizon to see it.   Sunset is at 16.16, while the transit is still ongoing.  
The forecast for that afternoon is currently showing broken cloud, a couple of days ago it said sunshine so who knows?  However, since 2000 this day has been cloudy 81% of the time.
Mercury is too small to be seen with the naked eye (it's only visible in the morning or evening sky because of sunlight reflected off it) so PLEASE DON'T try looking at the Sun during this time.
THE ONLY WAY TO SEE THE TRANSIT SAFELY IS THROUGH A SPECIAL SOLAR, OR SOLAR ADAPTED, SCOPE, OR BY PROJECTING THE IMAGE ON TO A CARD. 
I'm sure all the papers will have instructions on how to do this, so no need to go into it here.

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 Libra, mag 0.7
Starts the month as an evening object but so low that it is unlikely to be seen.  On 1st it sets at 16.55 and is 3 degrees below the horizon by the time the sky darkens. It is at inferior conjunction on 11th, when it passes between the Earth and the Sun - see Highlights.  It then becomes a morning object, very low in the sky, but might be seen just before sunrise towards the end of the month.  On 24th it rises at 05.47 and reaches 9 degrees in the SE around 7.20 as the sky begins to brighten, now at mag -0.3.  On 25th it reaches its highest point in the morning sky, 14 degrees above the horizon, at sunrise but no higher than 9 degrees while the sky is still reasonably dark.  It reaches greatest western elongation on 28th, when it appears separated by 20 degrees from the Sun. On 30th it rises at 05.54 and should be visible for a short while after 7am, when it will be 9 degrees above the SE horizon, brighter at mag -0.6.

Venus:  in Libra, mag -3.9
An evening object, still very low but its position is improving.  On 1st it sets at 17.18, only 40 minutes after the Sun and is just 1 degree above the horizon at dusk. It moves into Scorpio on 2nd, Ophiuchus on 9th and Sagittarius on 24th, when it is at 4 degrees as the sky darkens.  On this day Venus passes only 1 degree 24' from Jupiter  at 12.26 when they are both below the horizon. . The two are fairly close on the evenings of 23rd to 25th, with the thin crescent Moon also nearby soon after sunset on 24th. On 30th Venus is 5 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 17.25.

Mars:  in Virgo, mag 1.8
Its position in the morning sky improves during the month, on 1st it rises at 05.03 and reaches 7 degrees in the SSE before the sky brightens.  On 24th at 6am the crescent Moon passes 4.3 degrees north of the planet, the pair should be visible around 7.20, just before dawn.  On 30th it rises at 05.01 and reaches 12 degrees above the horizon in reasonable darkness, marginally brighter at mag 1.7.

Jupiter:  in Ophiuchus, mag -1.8.
Still bright but now very low in the evening sky.  On 1st it is only 9 degrees above the southern horizon as the sky darkens around 17.00, setting at 18.41.  It moves into Sagittarius on 17th, when it is only 7 degrees at dusk.  On 28th, in daylight, just before 11am the 2 day Moon passes only 43' from Jupiter.  One magazine shows this as an occultation - maybe there is one if you're looking from a different location.  On 30th the planet is only 5 degrees above the horizon in twilight, setting at 17.11.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.6.
Also low in the evening sky, and getting lower, so best seen in the early part of November.  On 1st it is at 13 degrees in the south as the sky darkens.  It should be visible for about an hour before it gets too low, setting at 20.01.  On 2nd the 5 day Moon passes close to the planet, only half a degree apart at 07.22, while they are below the horizon from our latitude, but still only 5.5 degrees to the east at 17.00, as the sky darkens.  On 29th the 2 are again close, with the Moon  just over 3 degrees SW of Venus.  On 30th it is only 10 degrees above the horizon at dusk and sets at 18.39.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.7.
Very well placed for binocular and telescopic observation, even for naked eye viewing under ideal conditions. On 1st it should be visible from around 19.00 when it is at 20 degrees in the east.  It culminates, 48 degrees above the southern horizon, at 23.33 and sets at 06.50.  On 30th it should be seen, 25 degrees in the east at 17.25, culminating at 21.35 and setting at 04.50.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.8.
Well placed in the early part of the month. On 1st it should be high enough to be seen through a scope soon after 6pm, when it is at 21 degrees in the SE.  It culminates, 29 degrees in the south, at 20.35.  By 30th it culminates at 18.40 and sets at 00.12.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Ophiuchus, mag 9.2.
Not at its brightest or best position at the moment.  On 1st it is no more than 10 degrees above the horizon in darkness, setting at 18.21. By 30th it is down to 9 degrees and 17.10.

The rest orbit way out in the Kuiper belt, beyond Neptune, are very faint and, because they take so long - hundreds of years - to orbit the Sun, appear to move very slowly against the background stars..  They are only suitable imaging targets for the most experienced astrophotographers.

Pluto:  In Sagittarius, mag 14 5.
Too low to be easily imaged from our latitude, as it will be for many years yet. 
Sets at 20.46 on 1st and 18.55 on 30th.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices,  mag 17.2.
Morning object.  Rises on 1st at 02.11 and reaches 26 degrees by dawn. On 30th rises at 00.20 and gets to 49 degrees in the SE as the sky begins to brighten, soon after 6am.

Haumea; in Bootes, mag 17.4
On 1st it rises at 04.13 and only gets to 10 degrees above the horizon by dawn. Its position is improving, on 30th it rises at 02.22 and reaches 33 degrees before the sky brightens.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
The faintest and most distant of the dwarf planets takes 558 years to make one orbit of the Sun.  It's also the best positioned, should be high enough for imaging between 20.00 and 02.30, reaching its highest point, 34 degrees, at 23.10.  By the end of the month timings are 2 hours earlier.

A few asteroids reach opposition in November, including 2 of the big 4.

Vesta:  in Taurus, mag 6.5.
At opposition on 12th, when it should be visible in binoculars, if you know exactly where to look, from around 8pm till 4am.  Culminates at 00.04 at 44 degrees in the south.  The best way of spotting it, as with all faint objects, is probably to take images a few days apart and look for something that has moved.  Because it only takes  3.63 years to orbit the Sun, its movement, in an east to west direction (retrograde) should be noticeable.

And a trio of fainter ones:

136 Philomela:  in Cetus, mag 10.9
Opposition on 2nd, culminates at 23.58 when it is 45 degrees above the southern horizon. By month end it will have faded to mag 11.4 and culminate at 21.47.

10 Hygiea:  in Taurus, mag 10.3.
In the news recently as new high resolution images show it to have a spherical shape, so it now fulfills all the criteria for a dwarf planet and may be reclassified by the IAU.  At less than half the diameter of Ceres, it would be by far the smallest in this class.  Is at opposition on 26th, when it reaches 60 degrees in the south at 23.51.

88 Thisbe:  in Taurus, mag 10.9. 
At opposition on 28th culminating , 61 degrees above the southern horizon, at 23.53.

Comets

One which may, or may not, reach a reasonable brightness, depending on which source of information is correct.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Auriga, mag estimates vary between 8.7 and 11.0.
On 1st it is at 21 degrees in the NE at 20.18, culminating, 71 degrees in the south at 03.06.  It is circumpolar from 3rd.  By month end it should have brightened, maybe to mag 7.8, and be at 27 degrees in the NE at 17.30 moving round to 36 degrees in the NW by 06.30.

68P/Klemola: in Sagittarius, mag 12.4.
Low in the evening sky. On 1st it is only 20 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 21.32.  It moves into Capricorn on 15th, when it sets at 21.13. On 30th it is predicted to be at mag 12.7, maximum altitude 21 degrees, setting at 20.59.  However, some sources say that it might become much brighter, so might be worth keeping a look out for this one.

C/2018 N2 (ASSASSSN): in Andromeda, mag 11.4
Circumpolar throughout November, on 1st it is at 45 degrees in the east at 18.00, highest point 74 degrees south at 22.09 and 22 degrees NW at 05.13.  On 30th it should be suitable for imaging between 17.25, when it is at 65 degrees in the east and 02.33, when it sinks to 21 degrees in the NW. Highest point 75 degrees S is at 19.22.

168P/Hergenrother: in Lynx, mag 12.
Interesting mainly because it ends the month very close to the northern celestial pole, though it will have faded slightly, probably around mag 12.7.

Recommended websites for more information and exact positions at any time of all Solar System objects:
And, for news about comets

Meteor showers

One reasonably active shower this month

Leonids: active Nov 6th to 30th, peak on the night of 16th/17th, ZHR 15.
These are bright, swift moving meteors often leaving persistent trails. Parent comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle.  Best seen after midnight when the radiant reaches a reasonable altitude.  However, the gibbous Moon rises at 19.12 on 16th, so will seriously interfere.

Minor showers:
Northern Taurids: active Oct 20th to Dec 10th, peak 11th/12th but the shower often shows enhanced activity for about 10 days in early to mid October. ZHR 5 but could show more, as the associated Southern Taurid shower is also active until 20th. The radiant is quite high at the peak time, 23.00, but the almost full moon will interfere.  Both Taurid showers often include bright fireballs but these appear to have a 7 year cycle.  The last time there was a higher number than usual was in 2015, so we have another 3 years to wait. Parent comet of both Taurid showers is a precursor of 2P/Encke.

Alpha Monocerotids:  active Nov 15th to 25th, peak at 6am on 22nd, ZHR <5. Only a weak showing is predicted for this one in 2019.  The Moon rising at 01.40 on 22nd will interfere.

November Orionids:  active Nov 14th to Dec 6th, peak  28th, ZHR 3.  Fast moving meteors whose radiant is very close to that of the N Taurids.  Meteors should be easily distinguishable as the Nov Orionids are much faster moving.  No Moon interference.

The night sky in October 2019

posted 2 Oct 2019, 05:23 by Pete Collins   [ updated 2 Oct 2019, 09:30 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise     1st:    07.09          31st:   07.05
Sunset      1st:   18.46           31st:   16.39

Astronomical darkness
1st:    20.45  to  05.14       31st:  18.37  to  05.08

British Summer Time ends on Sunday 27th at 02.00, and for the next 5 months we have proper time, with the Sun at its highest point in the sky at 12 noon.

Full Moon;     13th at 22.07
New Moon:    28th at 03.38

October's full Moon is known as the Hunters' Moon, because this was the time for hunting animals then preserving the meat to last over the winter.  Other names are the Dying Grass Moon and the sometimes confusing Blood Moon or Sanguine Moon.

Lunar apogee:   10th at 18.30    (405901km)
Lunar perigee:   26th at 10.42    (361314km)
 
 
Highlights

Still not much to shout about despite the longer nights. On 1st we have eight and a half hours of astro darkness increasing to ten and a half hours on 31st, when it begins at 18.37 (GMT).  The naked eye planets are all very low and the one major meteor shower will be adversely affected by moonlight.  However we have several minor showers and a chance of bright fireballs.  And, by month end, the best constellation of all, Orion, is above the horizon by midnight.

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 -0.2
An evening object but hardly visible this month. On 1st it sets at 19.07, only 20 minutes after the Sun.  It's at aphelion (furthest point in its orbit from the Sun) on 3rd, when it is at a distance of 0.47AU.  It moves into Libra on 10th and reaches greatest eastern elongation on 20th, when the angular separation is 24.6 degrees but, because of the very shallow angle of the ecliptic at this time, it is still very low, barely on the horizon as the sky darkens. On 31st it sets at 16.58, has faded to mag 0.4 and is 2 degrees below the horizon at dusk.

Venus:  in Virgo, mag -3.9
Another evening object very low in the sky but, because it is so bright, might be visible in the evening twilight. On 1st it is on the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 19.10.  It appears to move away from the Sun during the month but remains very low.  It moves into Libra on 16th and on 23rd the thin crescent Moon is just under 3 degrees below the planet.  On 30th Mercury and Venus are very close with Venus 2.6 degrees to the north, but very difficult to see as they are so low.  On 31st it is 2 degrees above the horizon at dusk and sets at 17.19.
 
Mars:  in Virgo, mag 1.8
Now a morning object, starting the month very close to the Sun.  On 1st it rises an hour before the Sun but appears only 9 degrees from it.  The separation increases during the month, on 13th it is 2 degrees above the horizon at dawn.  On 31st  it rises 2 hours before the Sun and gets to 7 degrees in the east before the sky begins to brighten.

Jupiter:  in Ophiuchus, mag -2.1
Now very low as the sky darkens.  On 1st it should be visible for a short time soon after 7pm when it will be 11 degrees above the southern horizon.  On 3rd the 30% Moon passes about 1.8 degrees NW of the planet.  They are also close on 31st, separated by just over one degree in daylight and visible, slightly further apart, at around 18.00 at 9 degrees above the SW horizon.  On this day Jupiter sets at  18.44 and will have faded to mag -1.9.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.5
Best seen in early October, on 1st it should be visible, 13 degrees above the southern horizon at around 19.30, setting at 23.16.  On 5th the planet and the first quarter Moon are only one degree apart at 22.30, but very low.  Saturn sets at 23.01 on this day.  On 31st it is at 13 degrees in the south as the sky darkens around 17.30, setting at 20.24.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag  5.7
The best positioned of the planets.  On 1st it rises at 19.24 and should be visible from 10pm, when it is 21 degrees above the eastern horizon, culminating at 02.44 when it reaches 49 degrees in the south.  On 15th at 1am the Moon passes 5 degrees south of the planet.  It is at opposition on 28th when it is at its highest point at 23.49.  On 31st it reaches 48 degrees in the south at 23.37, setting at 06.54 a few minutes before sunrise. While it is theoretically a naked eye object it isn't easy,  a very dark sky site and good eyesight are needed.  For all others, binoculars are necessary, or a scope to show the small blue/green disc.

Neptune:  in Aquarius,  mag 7.8
Still quite high for most of the night, especially in early October.  On 1st it culminates, 30 degrees in the south, at 23.39, setting soon after 5am.  On 10th, around midnight, the Moon passes about 4.5 degrees to the south.  On 31st it culminates at 20.39, slightly lower at 29 degrees, setting at 02.11. It might be possible to spot it through binoculars if you're at a dark sky site and know exactly where to look. A reasonable sized amateur scope should show the small blue disc. 

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Ophiuchus, mag 9.1.
The only one of the 5 which orbits in the (relatively) nearby asteroid belt is not well placed at the moment.  On 1st it is only 11 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 20.51.  On 31st it is at 10 degrees at dusk and sets at 18.24.

The rest are far away in the Kuiper Belt, therefore very faint and only suitable targets for the most experienced astrophotographers.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 14.7. 
Too low for imaging reaching a maximum altitude of 14 degrees.  Because it appears to move so slowly round the ecliptic - it takes 248 years to orbit the Sun - it will be about 20 years before its position begins to improve, and a further 20 before it gets high enough to be succesfully imaged from our latitude.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1.
Still very low, on 1st it rises less than 3 hours before the Sun and sets almost 4 hours after it.  However it is very low in both the dawn and dusk sky for most of the month.  On 31st it rises at 02.15 and reaches 26 degrees above the eastern horizon before the sky brightens.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.4
On 1st it is 18 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 22.18.  It is at Solar conjunction, on the opposite side of the Sun to the Earth, on 20th.  Like Makemake last month, because its orbit is highly inclined to the ecliptic, it passes about 29 degrees above the Sun.  On 31st it rises at 04.17 and sets at 19.21 but doesn't get higher than 10 degrees above the horizon.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
The most distant dwarf planet, way out in the Kuiper belt, takes nearly 558 years to orbit the Sun.  It's also by far the faintest, so very difficult to image even by the best amateurs, even though it is currently reasonably high.  On 1st it culminates at 02.17, at 34 degrees, it reaches opposition on 17th, when it culminates at 01.13, and on 31st reaches that altitude at 23.14.

A couple of asteroids are at opposition in October:

13th:  29 Amphitrite, in Pisces, mag 8.7. This passes only 1.41AU from Earth and reaches 48 degrees in the south at 00.50.  It should be visible in a moderate sized scope. The bad news is that the full Moon is also in Pisces on this day.  

26th;  9 Metis (not to be confused with the innermost moon of Jupiter, which has the same name) in Cetus, mag 8.6, slightly closer at 1.16AU. and culminates at 01.00, at 42 degrees in the south.

You may have heard about an asteroid which will pass 'very close' to Earth on Thursday 3rd.   It's about 19 metres across but don't worry - 2019 SP3 will pass us at a distance of 231,690 miles, which is 97% of the Earth - Moon distance. I think we're quite safe. 

Comets

There are quite a few around, several circumpolar or almost so, which are above the horizon for most of the night. However there is nothing very bright, or likely to be even within range of binoculars (Probably. Estimates of magnitude vary considerably).  However comets are very unpredictable so you never know.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Taurus, mag around 8 or 9.  Visible in the late evening.  On 1st it rises at 20.59 and reaches its highest point of 63 degrees just before dawn.  It moves northwards during the month, crossing the border into Auriga on 7th.  On the nights of 27th to 30th it passes about 1 degree to the east of open cluster M36.  On 31st it culminates at 03.05, higher at 71 degrees.

C/2018 W2 (Africano)  in Pisces, mag around 8.  On 1st it culminates, 39 degrees above the southern horizon, at 23.56.  Moving southwards, into Aquarius on 4th then getting too low to be visible.  Goes into Piscis Austrinis on 15th and by month end is in the southern constellation of Grus, the crane and is below the horizon at all times.

C/2018 N2 (ASSASSN) in Triangulum, mag 11.  High in the sky during the hours of darkness throughout October. Culminates on 1st at 02.25 at 68 degrees in the south.  It moves into Andromeda on 13th and is circumpolar from 17th, when it reaches 72 degrees above the southern horizon at 00.47.  On 31st it gets to 74 degrees at 22.15.

260P/McNaught in Perseus, mag 11.6.  Circumpolar so also above the horizon all night. On 1st it reaches 74 degrees in the south at 03.20 and is still 62 degrees above the horizon at dawn.  On 31st, faded to around mag 12, it is almost overhead at midnight.

168P/Hergenrother, in Auriga, mag 11.8.  Another faint but well positioned comet, circumpolar throughout October.  On 1st it reaches 77 degrees in the east just before dawn.  It moves into Lynx on 6th, when it will be a couple of degrees higher as the sky brightens.  On 31st its highest point will be at 05.03, 87 degrees above the northern horizon - or, if you prefer, 93 degrees in the south.

Wouldn't normally mention this as it is so faint but there has been quite a bit of publicity about it.
C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) in Leo, mag 18.  The newly discovered comet is the first to be shown to originate outside our Solar System. Too faint to be within range of even the best amateur astrophotographers.  On 1st it rises at 01.42, on 31st at 02.06.

Recommended websites for more information and exact positions of all Solar System objects.
And for comets

Meteor Showers

One major shower this month.

Orionids, active oct 2nd to Nov 7th, peak on the night of 21st/22nd, ZHR 20 - in ideal conditions.  From our light polluted skies and with the radiant being quite low, we'll be lucky to see more than a quarter of that number.   This shower often has smaller peaks on the nights before and after the maximum.   These fast moving meteors, often leaving trails, are caused when the Earth passes through dust clouds left by comet 1P/Halley.  The radiant rises at 10pm and the shower is usually said to be best seen about 5am.  However this year the Moon rises at 23.28 on 21st so will interfere.

Fair to middling shower:

Draconids, active 6th to 10th, peak on the night of 9th/10th ZHR 10.  Very slow moving meteors, parent comet 21P/Giacobini- Zinner.  On the morning of 10th the 92% Moon sets just before 03.15.

There are several minor showers:

Camelopardalids:  Very short lived shower, active 5th to 6th, peak on the morning of 6th, ZHR could be as high as 5, more likely to be 1 or even none.  However, this shower has been known to produce very short outbursts. The Moon sets just before 11pm on 5th.

Southern Taurids:  active Sept 10th to Nov 20th, peak 10th, ZHR 5.  This shower also sometimes produces minor peaks at other times. They are very bright, slow moving meteors making them ideal photographic subjects.  These and the associated Northern Taurids are thought to have originally been a single shower which split into 2 separate streams several thousand years ago.   Parent comet is a precursor of 2P/Encke.  The Taurid showers are often rich in fireballs, so the later part of October, when both are active, is a good time to see these.

Delta Aurigids:  active 10th to 18th, peak around 22.00 BST on 11th, ZHR 2. Best seen around 2am but the almost full Moon will interfere, not setting until 04.21.

Epsilon Geminids:  active 14th to 27th, peak around midnight on the night of 18th/19th, ZHR 3, best seen just before dawn.  Again there will be interference from the Moon, rising at 20.38 on 18th.

The night sky in September 2019

posted 30 Aug 2019, 05:46 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Aug 2019, 07:57 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise     1st:    06.17      30th:   07.08
Sunset      1st:   19.59       30th:   18.48

Astronomical darkness
1st:   22.12  to  04.06       31st:  20.46  to  05.12

Full Moon:  14th at 05.32     New Moon;  28th at 19.26

Lunar apogee:   13th at 13.33  (406377km)
Lunar perigee:   28th at 02.28  (357802km)

September's full Moon is the Harvest Moon as it is the closest to the Autumnal Equinox.  Other names are the Corn Moon,  the Full Corn Moon and the Barley Moon.

The equinox, when the centre of the Sun is at the point where the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator, is on 23rd at 08.50.  This day is actually 12 hours 10 minutes and 14 seconds long.  This is because sunrise is the moment when the top of the Sun's disc appears above the horizon and sunset is when the top of the disc disappears below the horizon. The extra 10 minutes and 14 seconds is the time between the top and the centre of the Sun appearing at sunrise and disappearing at sunset.  The days closest to 12 hours are 25th at 12 hrs 01' 49"  and 26th at  11hrs 57' 37".

Highlights

We now have a reasonable amount of astronomical darkness - nearly 6 hours at the start of the month and 8 and a half at the end.  It begins at a reasonable time too, soon after 10pm on 1st.  We have a couple of comets which might become bright enough to be seen in binoculars, though comets are very unpredictable and current estimates of their magnitudes vary.  Jupiter is still hanging on in the early evening sky, bright but very low and setting before midnight.  Saturn is also low, much fainter but setting a couple of hours later.  The distant ice giants are well placed for binocular and telescopic observation and we have several minor meteor showers with the possibility of bright fireballs.

Constellations

The Milky Way in 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 -1.8
Appears very close to the Sun throughout September therefore very difficult to see. On 1st it rises at 05.50, less than half an hour before the Sun, and is only separated from it by 3 degrees.  It reaches superior conjunction, when it is on the opposite side of the Sun to the Earth, on 4th. On this day it passes only 1 degree above the Sun. It then starts to move away, becoming an evening object but still very low. On 11th it moves into Virgo and on 25th reaches its highest point in the evening sky but, because of the very shallow angle of the ecliptic, is only 3 degrees above the horizon at sunset.  On 30th it sets 20 minutes after  the Sun, at 19.10, but has sunk below the horizon by the time the sky darkens.

Venus:  in Leo, mag -3.9
Another planet which is very low in the evening sky, therefore difficult to spot despite its brightness.  On 1st it sets soon after sunset, at 21.14, and appears only 5 degrees from the Sun.  It moves into Virgo on 10th.  On 29th the very thin crescent Moon passes 3.2 degrees above the planet around sunset, with Mercury 6 degrees to the left of Venus.
Remember:  DO NOT attempt to view these through binoculars until the Sun has fully set. Catching even a couple of the final rays will cause instant irreversible damage to the eyes.
On 30th Venus is on the horizon at dusk but might be visible for a short time in the bright twilight sky before setting at 19.12.

Mars:  in Leo, mag 1.7
Again appears too close to the Sun to be seen for most of the month, as it is at Solar conjunction on 2nd.  It then becomes a morning object, still very close to the Sun. On 25th, when it moves into Virgo, they are separated by 7 degrees. On 30th it has increased to 9 degrees, the planet rising at 06.05, and maybe visible from a site with a clear dark eastern horizon. 

Jupiter:  in Ophiuchus, mag -2.2
Visible low in the early evening sky this month.  On 1st it is 13 degrees above the southern horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 23.11. The Moon passes on 5th & 6th, closest, 2 degrees 15', at 08.40 on 6th.  The pair should be visible on the evening of 5th, with the Moon to the west, and on 6th when the Jupiter is to the west. On 30th it sets at 21.27 and is only visible for a short time from around 19.00, when it is only 11 degrees above the horizon.

Saturn: in Sagittarius, mag 0.3
A very low evening object throughout September.  On 1st it should be visible from about 20.40, when it is 13 degrees above the southern horizon, culminating one degree higher at 21.26.  On 8th at about 8pm the 76% Moon should be seen 3 degrees ESE of the planet.  They are closest in daylight, only 2 arcminutes apart, at 14.42.  By 30th it should be visible for a while from around 19.30, again at 13 degrees, setting at 23.30.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.7
Still very well placed, unlike the naked eye planets. On 1st it rises at 21.23 and should be visible in a small scope or binoculars from around midnight, reaching 49 degrees in the south by dawn.  On 17th at around 21.00 the Moon passes 5 degrees south of the planet.  By mid  month it should be high enough to be a good target, maybe even for the naked eye from a good dark sky site, from 23.00. On 30th it rises at 19.25, reaches 21 degrees in the east by 22.00 and culminates, 49 degrees in the south, at 02.48.  It's still around 36 degrees in the SW at dawn. 

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.8
On 1st it rises at 20.09 and is at 21 degrees in the SE at 23.00.  Reaches its highest point, 30 degrees in the south, at  01.44. Reaches opposition on 10th and on 13th the Moon passes 4.2 degrees to the south at around 22.00.  On 30th it is at 21 degrees in the SE by 22.00 and culminates at 23.43.  Could be visible in good binoculars from a dark sky site - if you know exactly where to look. Much easier to find it using a telescope with GoTo. 

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Scorpio, mag 8.8
The closest and brightest of the 5 officially designated dwarf planets is now very low in the evening twilight, reaching a maximum altitude of 13 degrees, setting on 1st at 22.31.  It moves into Ophiuchus on 9th and on 30th, when it has faded to mag 9.1, sets at 20.54.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 14.7
Still very low,  too faint to be seen in all but the very best amateur scopes and too low for astrophotography - max 14 degrees.  On 1st it culminates at 21.56. on 30th at 20.01.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.4
Only high enough for imaging in the first few days of September. On 1st it is at 23 degrees in the west at around 23.30, setting at 00.20.  By 30th it is 18 degrees at above the horizon at dusk and sets at 22.32.

Makemake:   in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2
Also very low.  On 1st it is 18 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting a few minutes before midnight.  It reaches solar conjunction on 29th but, because of the angle of its orbit to the ecliptic, passes 27 degrees north of the Sun. On 30th it sets at 22.04 but is down to 14 degrees as the sky darkens.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
Very distant, very faint but a possible target for very good, experienced astrophotographers. On 1st it reaches 21 degrees in the SE at around 1am and culminates, 34 degrees in the south, at 04.15.  On 30th it's at 21 degrees in the SE soon after 23.00 and reaches its highest point, still 34 degrees, at 02.20.

A couple of asteroids are at opposition in September:

6th:  135 Hertha: in Aquarius, mag 9.6.  Culminates at 01.08 at an altitude of 29 degrees in the south.

28th.  21 Lutetia: in Cetus, mag 9.4.  Culminates at 01.08, at 33 degrees in the south.

And: You may have heard about a large near earth object passing Earth on Sept 16th.  Don't panic!  The definition of an NEO is any object, usually an asteroid but occasionally a comet, which comes within 149 million km (1.3 AU) of us.  This one, C2000 QW7, won't get closer than 5.3 million km - that's almost 14 times the distance to the Moon, so we aren't in any danger.

Comets

We have a couple of (possibly) fairly bright comets, and some fainter ones, this month.  However, comets are very unpredictable and estimates of their brightness do vary - sources can't seem to agree on their current brightness, never mind what it will be in the next month.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Taurus, mag 7.4 (or maybe 9)
Could be a binocular target especially towards the end of September. On 1st it rises at 23.22 and reaches 42 degrees in the east by dawn. predicted to reach mag 6.2 by 30th, when it rises at 21.05 and is at 63 degrees in the south as dawn breaks.

C/2018 W2 (Africano) in Perseus, mag 8.1 (or maybe 10.5)
Circumpolar for the first 3 weeks of September. On 1st it is at 28 degrees in the NE at around 21.30 and reaches 80 degrees in the east before dawn breaks. It moves south westwards during the month, going into Andromeda on 9th, crossing into Perseus on 13th then back into Andromeda on 14th.  On 20th it sets for a couple of hours and culminates at 02.12, reaching 71 degrees above the southern horizon. On 21st it briefly visits Pisces before returning to Andromeda. It is predicted to be at its brightest, mag 6.6 according to some sources, from 25th to 28th.  From 26th to 29th it is in Pegasus then ends the month in Pisces. On 30th it is at 22 degrees in the east as the sky darkens, culminating at 01.11, much lower at only 42 degrees, and slightly fainter at mag 6.7. 

Much fainter comets around are:

C/2018 N2 (ASSASSN) in Aries, mag 11.0 (or 12)
On 1st it rises at 20.30, half an hour after sunset, and reaches 39 degrees in the south by dawn.   Moves into Triangulum on 16th and on 30th reaches 22 degrees soon after 20.00, culminating at 02.31, higher at 68 degrees.  Should be slightly brighter at mag 10.6.

168P/Hergenrother:  in Auriga, mag 11.7
Circumpolar.  On 1st it is best seen for a few hours after midnight, reaching 58 degrees by dawn.  On 30th, when it will probably have faded slightly, it reaches 76 degrees in the east before the sky brightens.

260P/McNaught:  in Aries, mag 11.6
On 1st it culminates soon after astro darkness ends, and is at 57 degrees in the south as the sky begins to brighten. It moves into Triangulum on 18th, Perseus on 23rd and is circumpolar from 26th.  On 30th it is at 27 degrees in the  SE as the sky darkens, reaching 75 degrees in the south at 03.24, sinking to 62 degrees in the west by dawn.

Recommended websites for more information and exact positions of all solar system objects.


Meteor Showers

No major showers this month but we have a few minor ones and September is said to be good for sporadic activity.

Alpha Aurigids:  active August 28th to Sept 5th, peak on the night of August 31st/Sept 1st, ZHR 6 or fewer. This shower does produce occasional spectacular outbursts but there are none predicted for this year. They are very bright meteors, parent comet probably C1911/Kiess.  No Moon interference on the peak night this year.

Epsilon Perseids: active 5th to 21st, peak 9th, ZHR 5.  Very faint meteors, again no increased activity predicted for this year.

Southern Taurids: active Sept 10th to November 19th.  the peak isn't till October but it's worth looking from mid September as the shower often includes very bright fireballs. These slow moving meteors originate from dust left by comet 2P/Encke.

There are also a couple of showers given in some sources but not included in the International Meteor Organisation's list.

Chi Cygnids:  Not much known about this shower which was only recognised by the IAU in 2015. They are very slow moving with low activity throughout September and a weak maximum on 14th/15th.  ZHR 2 - 3.

Piscids:  plenty of information available about this one but, unfortunately it doesn't always agree. Some sources say that there  are 2 separate streams - the northern and southern Piscids.  Some of the confusion could arise because 'this shower is poorly observed due to lack of observation'. There is possible low activity throughout Sept, maybe with a diffuse peak of ZHR 5 from 9th to 21st, or maybe a peak on 9th and a lesser one on 21st.  These slow, long lasting meteors are sometimes regarded as part of the Antihelion Source but, according to the IMO, this isn't active in September. One site gives the parent comet as possibly 46P/Wirtanen.  If this is the case 2019 could show enhanced activity, as Earth is predicted to pass through a large dust cloud left by this comet. 

The night sky in August 2019

posted 31 Jul 2019, 09:02 by Pete Collins   [ updated 31 Jul 2019, 12:02 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise    1st:  05.24       31st:  06.15
Sunset     1st:  21.05       31st:  20.01

Astro darkness
1st:  00.40 to 01.50        31st:  22.15 to 04.03

New Moon:    1st at 04.13     30th at 11.37
Full Moon:     15th at 13.29

Lunar perigee:    2nd at 07.10  (359397km)   30th at 15.59  (357175km)
Lunar apogee:   17th at 10.51  (406243km)

August full Moon is known as the Sturgeon Moon, named after the large numbers of these in the lakes where the Algonquin tribe fished.  Other names are the Green Corn Moon, Barley Moon, Fruit Moon and the Anglo Saxon Grain Moon.

Highlights

At last we have some astronomical darkness, especially towards month end - there's only 70 minutes on the night of 1st/2nd but almost 6 hours by 31st/Sept 1st.  There's a Super Black Moon on 30th, when the new Moon is only a few hours after Lunar perigee - the second closest of the year.  It's also the second new Moon in the calendar month, hence the name 'Black'.  However, as always at new Moon, you won't actually see anything.
Not much else of note, one of the best meteor showers of the year will be seriously marred by bright moonlight and the naked eye planets are all very low in the sky, some aren't visible at all in the latter part of the month. The two ice giants are well placed for binocular and telescopic observation.
Experienced astrophotographers fare much better, a couple of the dwarf planets are quite high in the sky for part of August, 3 asteroids reach opposition at magnitudes of around 8 or 9,  and there are 4 comets brighter than mag 12.
And the nights should be reasonably mild - observers should be able to manage without wearing all their thermals.


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 2
Should be visible in the morning sky after the first few days in August from a site with a good unobstructed eastern horizon.  On 1st it rises at 04.22 but is still 4 degrees below the horizon when the sky starts to brighten.  It moves into Cancer on 10th and also on this day reaches greatest western elongation, separated from the Sun by 19 degrees.  It reaches its highest point on 12th when it is 8 degrees above the horizon by dawn, brighter at mag -0.3. It moves into Leo on 24th, now at mag -1.3 but lower in the sky, only 5 degrees, in reasonable darkness.  By 31st it won't be visible, despite now being at mag -1.7, as it is only 4 degrees from the Sun.


Venus:  in Cancer, mag -3.9
Not visible in August.  It starts the month at 3 degrees from the Sun and moves in even closer during the next couple of weeks.  It moves into Leo on 12th, when the separation is only 1 degree.  After superior conjunction on 14th, it does start to move away but the two are only 4 degrees apart by month end.
 
Mars:  in Leo, mag 1.8
On 1st it sets at 21.33 and might be seen for a short while, low in the west soon after sunset.  On this evening it is less than 1 degree SSW of the very thin crescent Moon.   Not visible after the first few days of the month as the apparent separation from the Sun decreases.  By month end they are only 1 degree apart.

Jupiter:  in Ophiuchus, mag -2.4
An early evening object, now past its best.  On 1st it is at 14 degrees in the south at 21.30 and should be visible until around midnight, setting at 01.16.  On 9th the 72% Moon passes 1.5 degrees to the north of the planet.  In early August it appears to move from east to west against the background stars, known as retrograde motion.  It resumes prograde motion (west to east) on 11th.  Of course it doesn't actually change direction, it's a similar effect to being in a car which overtakes another vehicle.  For a short time the slower one appears to be going backwards.  By 31st the planet will be 13 degrees above the western horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 23.15.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.2
On 1st it should be visible from a few minutes before 22.00 as the sky darkens, at 10 degrees in the south east.  It reaches its highest point, 14 degrees, in the south at 23.34 and sets at 03.29.  On 11th and 12th the gibbous Moon passes close to the planet, to the west on 11th and to the east on 12th.  On 31st it culminates at 21.30 in astro twilight, setting at 01.23.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.8
Much better positioned than the brighter planets.  On 1st it rises at 23.25, becoming visible around 2am and reaching 32 degrees by 03.32 when the sky starts to brighten.  It is retrograde from 12th, though it moves so slowly against the background stars that the change is unlikely to be noticed.  On 21st and 22nd it is close to the waning gibbous Moon and on 31st it reaches 49 degrees in the south by dawn, culminating at 04.48 when the sky has started to brighten. It is a naked eye object given the usual caveat of needing a good dark sky site and good eyesight.  For everyone else binoculars are needed, or a scope to show the small blue-green disc.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.8
The second distant ice giant's position is also improving.  On 1st it rises at 22.11 and reaches 30 degrees in the south by dawn.  On 31st it rises at 20.12 and is at 21 degrees in the east by 23.00. It culminates, 30 degrees above the southern horizon, in darkness at 01.45.  It is much fainter than Uranus and needs the aforementioned good site and good sight to be seen with binoculars.  A decent amateur scope is necessary if you want to see its rich blue colour - and maybe even large moon, Triton.

Dwarf planets

Ceres: in Scorpio, mag 8.4
Despite being the closest and by far the brightest of the dwarf planets, it isn't easy to see this month, being very low in the sky.  On 1st it is only 16 degrees above the SW horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 00.23.  By month end it is slightly fainter at mag 8.8 and at an altitude of only 14 degrees in darkness, setting at 22.34.

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 14.6
Still too low for telescopic viewing or imaging, reaching a maximum of 14 degrees in the south, at 00.05 on 1st and 22.00 on 31st.

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4
An early evening target for good astrophotographers.  On 1st it is at 28 degrees in the west at 23.00, setting at 02.24.  By month end it is much lower, 23 degrees at 21.30 and setting at 00.24.

Makemake: in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2
Might be possible to image on 1st, when it is 23 degrees above the western horizon at around 23.00, setting 3 hours later.  By 31st it is at only 19 degrees at dusk. and sets soon after midnight.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
The most distant of the dwarf planets is a morning object, again only suited to imaging.  On 1st it is at 23 degrees in the SE at 3am.  Its position improves during the month, on 31st it reaches its highest point, 34 degrees, in the south at 04.19.

Three asteroids reach opposition in August, and will be a better target than the dwarf planets as they are much brighter.

16 Psyche:  in Capricorn. Opposition is on 7th, when it is at mag 9.3 and reaches 21 degrees in the south at 01.14.

15 Eunomia: in Aquarius.  At opposition on 13th at mag 8.3.  Culminates at 01.13 at an altitude of 30 degrees in the south.

39 Laetitia: starts the month in Aquarius and moves into Capricorn on 8th. Reaches opposition on 17th at mag 9.1, when it is at 26 degrees in the south at 01.08.

Comets

There are 4 comets around which should be high enough and bright enough to be possible imaging targets.  Though comets are notoriously unpredictable as regards magnitude, so any one of them could become much brighter - or fade into total insignificance.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Taurus, mag 10.0
Quite low in the morning sky at the start of August, but its position does improve as the month progresses.  On 1st it rises at 01.29 and only reaches 14 degrees by dawn.  On 31st it rises at 23.36 and is at 42 degrees when the sky gets too bright for it to be visible.  Magnitude at this time is predicted to be around 9.1.

C/2018 N2 (ASSASSN) in Aries, mag 11.3
On 1st it rises at 23.29 and gets to 30 degrees in the east by dawn. On 31st it will be brighter at mag 10.8 and reach 59 degrees in the south before the sky brightens.

168P/Hergenrother:  in Aries, mag 11.8
Rises at 23.16 on 1st and is at 32 degrees in the east when the sky begins to brighten.It moves into Taurus on 6th and Perseus on 17th.  Becomes circumpolar on 27th and crosses the border into Auriga on 31st, when it should be marginally brighter at mag 11.7 and reach 58 degrees by dawn.

260P/McNaught : in Pisces,mag 12.1
On 1st it rises at 23.25 and gets to 31 degrees just before 03.30 as dawn breaks.  It moves into Aries on 15th.  By month end it rises at 20.39, reaching 56 degrees in the south while the sky is still reasonably dark. This one is also brightening and should end the month at around mag 11.4.

Recommended websites for more info and detailed positions of any solar system object:

Meteor Showers

There is one major shower in August, often the best shower of the year.

Perseids: active July 17th to August 26th, peak on the night of 12th/13th, ZHR could be as many as 75 to 100 from a dark sky site, probably 10 or fewer from light polluted towns.  These are swift moving meteors originating from debris left by comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.
And now the bad news:  This year there will be serious Moon interference from the 94% Moon which doesn't set until just after 3am.  This means that the best time to see the shower will be in the hour or so before dawn.

Minor showers

Kappa Cygnids:  active 3rd to 25th, peak 18th,  ZHR 5 but sometimes much higher.  This shower, which sometimes includes fireballs, is said to be very unpredictable, not only in numbers but also in dates - there could be a second peak near the end of its period of activity.

Aurigids:  active August 28th to Sept 5th.  Peak on the night of August 31st/Sept 1st so could be said to be in August - just!    ZHR 6.  This shower of bright, slow moving meteors occasionally produces very brief strong outbursts.  Parent comet C/1911 Kiess.

And there are a couple of showers which had their peak right at the end of July, so might still show some activity.

Alpha Capricornids:  said to have a plateau like peak centred on the night of 30th/31st July.  ZHR usually fewer than 5, but could include very bright, coloured meteors.  Parent comet 169P/NEAT.  Studies of the dust clouds left by this comet have led to predictions that this shower could become very prominent between the years 2200 and 2400. 

Southern Delta Aquarids are active until 23rd but are less likely to show much activity in August as the radiant is very low and the meteors usually quite faint.

Sporadic activity is said to be reasonably high in August, and the antihelion source is also active, with a radiant in Capricorn, but the meteors from this should be easily distinguishable from Capricornids, the former being much faster.

The night sky in July 2019

posted 30 Jun 2019, 13:30 by Pete Collins   [ updated 1 Jul 2019, 05:31 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise      1st:   04.44          31st:   05.22
Sunset       1st:   21.40          31st:   21.07

Astronomical darkness:  none until 31st, then  00.54  to 01.36 
Astronomical twilight   1st:  00.05 to 02.20 increasing by a few minutes each day to 3.5 hours on 30th.

New Moon:    2nd July at  20.16
Full Moon:    16th July at  22.38

The July full Moon is known as the Buck Moon, because this is the time when new antlers start to grow on the head of the deer.  Other names are the Thunder Moon and the Anglo Saxon Hay Moon or Wort Moon. 

Lunar Perigee:     5th  at  04.56    (363727 km)
Lunar Apogee:   21st  at  00.02    (405478 km)

Earth is at aphelion on 4th at 03.11, when it will be 152 million km (1.02 AU) from the Sun.

Highlights

We have a partial Lunar eclipse on 16th.  However, like nearly everything else at the moment, it will be very low in the sky. When the Moon rises at 21.25 it will already be partly in shadow. The maximum of 65% is at 22.30, when the Moon will still be only 5.9 degrees above the horizon.  The umbra leaves the face of the Moon at 23.59, when it is at an altitude of 12 degrees.  As if that wasn't bad enough, statistically this evening has an 82% chance of being cloudy.

There's a total Solar eclipse on 2nd.  This one starts over British territory,  unfortunately it's not somewhere close to here - it's Oeno Island in the South Pacific. The path of totality then moves over the ocean to La Serena in Chile, over the Andes and into Argentina, ending to the south of Buenos Aires.  
Closer to home, Jupiter is still shining brightly, unmissable despite being so low in the sky,  Saturn reaches opposition so the rings will appear extra bright for a few days, but again very low.  For binocular and telescopic observing the positions of Uranus and Neptune are both improving.  They are much higher than the naked eye planets.

We are still in the noctilucent cloud season.  These normally occur a couple of hours before sunrise in the NE and after sunset in the NW, but recent displays have been more widespread.

And, of course, we have the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission  - the Giant Leap for Mankind.  The Eagle landed at 21.18 BST on July 20th 1969.   The Moon doesn't rise until 23.17 on this day, so we can't look up at it at the exact moment.  Neil Armstrong first stepped on to the Moon's surface on 21st at 03.56, followed at 04.15 by Buzz Aldrin.  The waning gibbous Moon sets at 09.44 on this morning, so will be above the horizon at the exact time of the anniversary. 

Constellations

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

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

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



Planets

Mercury:  in Cancer,  mag 1.0
Not easy to see this month. On 1st it sets at 22.43, about an hour after the Sun, but is just below the horizon by the time the sky begins to darken.  On 3rd it is only 3.8 degrees from Mars with the thin crescent Moon also close.  The Moon sets 45 minutes after the Sun, with the planets following soon after. On 7th it is at aphelion, the furthest point in its orbit from the Sun, at a distance of 0.47AU (about 70 million km). On 21st it reaches inferior conjunction, passing between the Earth and the Sun, but because of the inclination of its orbit to the ecliptic this rarely results in a transit.  This time the planet passes about 5 degrees south of the Sun.  Mercury moves into Gemini on 23rd but is still too near the Sun to be visible.   On 31st it rises at 04.29 nearly an hour before the Sun but is separated from it by only 14 degrees.  On this day the 1% Moon passes 4 degrees to the north but they are only 2 degrees above the horizon when the sky brightens.

Venus:  in Taurus, mag -3.9
On 1st it rises at 03.49 but only reaches 1 degree above the horizon by dawn. It moves into Gemini on 4th and into Cancer on 27th.  By 31st it rises 30 minutes before the Sun and appears separated from it by only 4 degrees.

Mars:  in Cancer, mag 1.8
Still an evening object but now very difficult to see as it sets before the sky gets really dark.  On 1st it sets at 22.52, about 70 minutes after sunset and has sunk below the horizon by dusk.  It moves into Leo on 31st, when it sets only a few minutes after the Sun and appears only 10 degrees from it.

Jupiter:  in Ophiuchus, mag -2.6
Still very bright in the southern sky. On 1st it culminates at 23.33, at 14 degrees above the southern horizon.  On 13th the 90% lit Moon passes less than 3 degrees north of the planet.  The pair should be visible, 13 degrees above the horizon, at around 22.00.  On 31st it culminates at 21.25, as the sky darkens, setting at 01.20 and will have faded slightly to mag -2.4.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.1
Now at its best for the year but still very low and, unlike Jupiter,  not bright enough to really stand out at that altitude.  On 1st it culminates at 01.50, only 14 degrees above the southern horizon, setting at 05.42.  It's at opposition on 9th, when it reaches its highest point, still only 14 degrees, at 01.16.  For a few days around this time the rings appear much brighter than usual because of the sunlight falling directly on them at this time.  Firstly, the shadows of the particles comprising the rings  fall directly behind and can't be seen, rather than being visible to the side and having a dimming effect.  Also sunlight is reflected directly back, which again makes the rings appear brighter.   The full Moon passes only 13 arcminutes from the planet on 16th at 08.16, in daylight.  It will appear to the west of the planet on the night of 15/16th and to the east on 16/17th.  On 31st Saturn culminates at 23.38, now marginally fainter at mag 0.2, setting at 03.32.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.8
Not easy to see in early July.  On 1st it rises at 01.30 but is barely above the horizon by the time the sky starts to brighten.  Its position improves during the month and in the second half it should be high enough in the still dark sky to be a reasonable binocular target, maybe even a naked eye object from a dark sky site.  On 15th it reaches 15 degrees in the east while the sky is still reasonably dark and on 22nd will be at 22 degrees by dawn. On 25th the third quarter Moon passes about 6 degrees south of the planet.  By 31st it rises at 23.29 and is at 31 degrees in the SE when the sky begins to brighten.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, 7.8
Another morning object, quite low in the first half of July but then should be high enough in the early hours to be seen in amateur scopes. On 1st it rises at 00.18 and reaches 10 degrees by dawn.  Like Uranus its position improves during the month, by 15th it is at 22 degrees in the SE when the sky begins to brighten.  On 21st the waning gibbous Moon passes about 6 degrees south of the planet at 2am.  On 31st it rises at 22.16 and gets to 30 degrees in the south in darkness.

Dwarf Planets
Of the 5 officially designated dwarf planets only Ceres, orbiting in the Asteroid Belt, is close enough and bright enough to be within range of amateur scopes - and even that is so small that, despite having a magnitude similar to Neptune, it will never appear as anything other than a point of light. The others, orbiting way out in the Kuiper Belt are very faint but can sometimes be possible targets for experienced astrophotographers using the comparison method, similar to the way Pluto was found by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930.

Ceres: in Libra, mag 7.8
On 1st it culminates at 22.28 at 17 degrees in the south, setting at 02.07. By month end it will have faded to mag 8.4,  culminating before the sky gets dark and setting at 00.36.

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 14.6
Still too low to be successfully imaged this month despite reaching opposition on 14th, when it will be 14 degrees above the southern horizon at 01.16.

Haumea in Bootes, mag 17.4, and Makemake in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2 are both reasonably high in the sky in early July but losing altitude during the month.  Haumea reaches 31 degrees in the west by dawn on 1st and 28 degrees on 31st.  Haumea is slightly lower at 26 degrees and 23 degrees.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
The most distant of the dwarf planets has a very eccentric orbit, almost twice as far from the Sun as Pluto at aphelion, taking 558 years to complete one orbit.  It is very low in the sky for most of July but by month end it might be a reasonable photographic target at around 03.15, when it will reach 22 degrees before the sky begins to brighten.

Comets

46P/Wirtanen amd 38P/Stephan-Oterma are now too faint and too low to be seen.

However, there are 4 which are quite promising, all still below the horizon at dawn in early July but improving position and brightening as the month progresses.

C/2017T2 (PANSTARRS) in Taurus, mag 10.8
Should be high enough to be seen in a decent scope by the end of the month.  On 31st it should be at mag 10.1, rising at 01.32 and reaching 13 degrees before the sky brightens.

C/2018N2 (ASSASSN) in Cetus, mag 11.8
Moves into Aries on 12th, when it is still only 6 degrees above the eastern horizon by dawn.  By 31st it should have brightened to mag 11.4 and will reach 29 degrees before the sky gets too light for it to be seen.

168P1/Hergenrother in Pisces,  mag 12.2
Briefly visits Cetus on 9th, then moves into Aries on 10th, when it will be only 8 degrees in the east by dawn.  By 31st it should have brightened to mag 11.8 and be at 31 degrees in the east in reasonable darkness.

260P/McNaught in Cetus, mag 13.2
Should reach 12 degrees by daybreak on 12th, when it is predicted to be at mag 12.8.  By 31st it should have brightened to mag 12.1 and get to 29 degrees in the SE before the sky begins to brighten at around 03.15.

For more information and exact positions of all Solar System objects see;

and for currently visible comets

Meteor Showers

We have a few minor showers, especially towards the end of the month

Alpha Capricornids:  active July 3rd to August 15th have a plateau-like peak centred on 30th,  ZHR 5 but with a strong possibility of several bright fireballs.  Parent comet 169P/NEAT.

Southern Delta Aquarids:  July 12th to August 23rd, peak 29/30th, ZHR 16 - from the southern hemisphere, far fewer here.  These medium paced meteors are debris from comet 96P/Machholz.

Piscids Austrinids: July 15th to August 10th peak 28th,  ZHR 5.  Again the radiant is very low from our latitude, the shower is much better seen from further south.

The antihelion source, meteors not belonging to any particular shower, having a radiant on the ecliptic opposite the position of the Sun, is active in July, ZHR 2 to 3. Meteors from this should be distinguishable from the named showers above, despite the radiants being quite close together, as those from the ANT are much faster moving.

And, of course, towards the end of July we might see some early Perseids.

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