The night sky this month

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

The night sky in August 2021

posted 28 Jul 2021, 14:04 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise     1st:   05.24           31st:   06.16

Sunset      1st:   21.04           31st:   20.00


Astronomical Darkness

1st:   00.35  to  01.55             31st:  22.13  to  04.04


Day Length:  

1st:  15.39.37                 31st:  13.43.57


New Moon:  8th at 14.51, when the Moon passes 4 degrees 40’ north of the Sun.


Full Moon:  22nd at 13.01.  Angular diameter 31’ 29”


Lunar perigee:  17th at 10.15. (distance 369126 Km,  angular diameter 32’ 21”,  74% waxing)


Lunar apogee:   2nd at  08.35   (distance 404410 Km, angular diameter 29’ 31”, 29% waning)

                         30th at  03.22   (distance 404098 Km, angular diameter 29’ 33”,  47% waning) 


The August full Moon is a Blue Moon using the original definition of the third full Moon in a season which has 4.  This is much less common than the more widely used definition of the second full Moon in a calendar month, the next one won’t be until August 2024.

Because August has only one full Moon, the other names for it also apply.

The most common name is the Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Sturgeon Moon, so called because the fish were said to be caught easily at this time.  Other names are the Colonial American Dog Days Moon, the Medieval English Corn Moon and the Neo Pagan Lightning or Lightening Moon (mis-spelling or different meaning?).  The Chinese have their Harvest Moon at this time and the Inuit call it the Swan Flying Moon. It’s the Celtic and Medieval English Dispute Moon - did the warm weather make them more argumentative?  

Among the dozens of Indigenous American names given in various sources are the Hopi Joyful Moon, the Choctaw Women’s Moon, the Cherokee Fruit Moon or Drying Moon, the Sioux Black Cherries Moon, the Ojibwa Rice Making Moon and the Dakota Sioux Moon When all Things Ripen.


Highlights


Jupiter is very bright, reaching opposition on 20th, about 9 degrees higher than last year.  The full Moon passes close by on the morning of 22nd.  In early August Saturn is at opposition, much fainter and a few degrees lower but well worth observing through a scope as the rings are much brighter around this time. For those with a very dark sky site and good binoculars the distant ice giants are a good target, especially towards the end of the month.  We have one of the best meteor showers of the year, moonlight free, and another, usually minor, shower may produce an outburst right at the end of the month.  For a change, this month’s showers favour northern observers.

And, astronomical darkness is increasing - 80 minutes on 1st, up to almost 6 hours on the night of 31st/Sept 1st.


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 Cancer, mag -2.1

Very bright at the start of the month but, unfortunately, not visible as it is at superior conjunction on 1st, when it passes 1 degree 41’ north of the Sun at 15.14.  It then becomes an evening object but remains very low.  It moves into Leo on 6th, when it sets at 21.17 and appears only 5 degrees from the Sun.  On 19th, now down to mag -0.5, it is only 4’ south of Mars at 04.00, however on the evenings of 18th and 19th it is on the horizon at dusk, setting around 21.00. It reaches its (very low) highest point in the evening sky on 21st, still only 4 degrees above the horizon at sunset, but one degree below by the time the sky darkens.  It is in Virgo from 27th and on 31st sets at 20.32, only half an hour after the Sun. 

 

Venus:  in Leo, mag -3.9

Also very low in the evening sky, setting not long after Mercury - about an hour on 1st, down to 30 minutes by month end - but much easier to see as it is so bright. On 1st it is 4 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 22.12, visible for a short time to observers with a low, clear western horizon. On 11th, when it moves into Virgo, the Moon passes 4 degrees 19’ north at 07.59.  They are separated by about 9 degrees after sunset on 10th,when the Moon is 5% lit, and 6 degrees on 11th, with the Moon now 11%. On 31st Venus is still 4 degrees above the horizon in twilight and sets at 21.02. 


Mars:  in Leo, mag 1.8

Not visible this month as it is so low in the evening sky, setting in twilight. On 1st it sets at 21.53 and is 5 degrees below the horizon by the time the sky darkens. On 19th it is just 4’ north of Mercury at 5am, a few degrees apart on the evenings on 18th and 19th, but much too low to be seen in the evening twilight and too close to the Sun for safe binocular viewing. On 31st Mars sets at 20.25, only 40 minutes after the Sun, apparent separation 12 degrees. 


Jupiter:  in Aquarius, mag -2.8

Bright enough to be seen before midnight, despite being quite low in the sky.  On 1st it rises at 21.47 and reaches 7 degrees in the SE by 23.00, culminating, 23 degrees in the south, at 02.40 and remaining visible until dawn.  On 19th, when it crosses into Capricorn, its moons Io and Ganymede are only 2” apart as the planet is lost to the morning twilight.  If looking at these through a scope or binoculars take great care to stop before sunrise. The following day it is at opposition, visible from dusk till dawn and reaching its highest point, 22 degrees in the south, at 01.14.   On the morning of 22nd the full Moon passes just under 4 degrees to the south at 05.56, a few arcseconds closer at 08.11. The separation is around 6 degrees at midnight of the 21st/22nd.  On the evening of 22nd Ganymede, Europa and their shadows cross the planet as it is rising for UK observers. On 31st it rises at 19.42 and gets to 8 degrees in the SE by 9pm, culminating at 00.27 and visible until around 5am, as dawn breaks.


Saturn: in Capricorn, mag 0.2

Much fainter than Jupiter and quite low in the sky but well worth observing through a scope. On 1st it rises at 21.05 and is at 10 degrees by 22.45, culminating, 18 degrees in the south, at 01.23.  It will remain visible until the end of astro darkness at 4am, when it is down to 10 degrees in the SW.   It is at opposition on 2nd, culminating at 01.18.   For a few days around this time the rings appear noticeably brighter, this is known as the Seeliger effect - see July’s notes for an explanation. On 20th the 98% Moon is 3 degrees 42’ south of the planet at 23.15, about 45 minutes before it culminates at 17 degrees in the south.  The two are marginally closer at 00.39.  On 31st Saturn rises at 18.56, and gets to 10 degrees above the SE horizon around 20.45.  It culminates, 7 degrees higher, at 23.10 and sinks to 10 degrees in the SW by 2am.


Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.8

Its position improves during the month, on 1st it rises a few minutes before midnight and should be visible from 02.30, with the 35% Moon 2 degrees 30’ to the south, until dawn, when it reaches 31 degrees.  On 20th it begins retrograde motion, appearing to move from east to west across the sky. On this day it is visible from 1am and gets to 47 degrees by dawn.  On 28th, the Moon, now at 60%, again passes close by - 5 degrees to the SW at 2am.  On 31st, now very slightly brighter at mag 5.7, Uranus rises at 21.48 and is high enough for observing soon after midnight, getting to 47 degrees by 04.15, when the sky begins to brighten.   It could possibly be seen with the naked eye from a very dark sky site, especially in the later part of the month when it gets quite high in darkness.  It should be an easy binocular target but a scope is needed to show the small blue/green disc. 


Neptune: in Aquarius, mag 7.9

Also improving its position during August, though it doesn’t get as high as Uranus.  On 1st it rises at 22.24 and should be observable soon after 1am, reaching 31 degrees before it gets lost in the brightening sky around 03.30.  After the first week in the month it culminates in darkness - on 7th it becomes visible before 1am and reaches its highest point, 33 degrees, at 03.42, a couple of minutes before fading from view as the sky brightens. On 24th the waning gibbous Moon passes 4 degrees to the south at 3am, half an hour before the planet culminates.  On 31st Neptune rises at 20.25,  observable soon after 23.00, when it is at 23 degrees in the SE.  Highest point, 32 degrees, is at 02.05 down to 22 degrees in the SW by dawn.  If conditions and eyesight are good enough to see Uranus without optical aid, it should also be possible to observe Neptune using binoculars, but the rich blue coloured disc can only be seen through a scope.  



Dwarf Planets


Ceres:  in Taurus, mag 9.2

The closest dwarf planet, the only one orbiting in the (relatively) nearby Asteroid Belt, is not at its best this month.  On 1st it rises at 01.03 and is still only 19 degrees by dawn - not quite high enough for telescopic observing.   After the first few days it is briefly high before fading from view as the sky brightens, on 4th it reaches 22 degrees at 03.30.  On 31st, now at mag 8.9  it rises at 22.20 and is observable from soon after 2am, reaching 23 degrees in darkness.



Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 14.9

Still too low for imaging, maximum 13 degrees above the horizon.  Anyone wanting to have a try at imaging it any time in the next few years will have to travel much further south.



Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.4

Now too low in the west after sunset for successful imaging.


Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.3

Slightly higher, but only for a very short time in the first few days in August.


Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8

The most distant, and faintest, of the five officially designated dwarf planets is a difficult target for even the very best astrophotographers.  It is high enough for a short time at the start of the month,  half an hour on 1st, up to about 4 hours by 31st. 


Asteroids at opposition


43 Ariadne: in Aquarius, mag 9.6

Opposition on 19th at 20.10.  Observable from 22.37 when it reaches 21 degrees in the SE.  It culminates at 01.10, when it is at 30 degrees in the south, and is down to 21 degrees in the SW by 03.45.


89 Julia:  in Aquarius, mag 9.0

Opposition on 24th at 15.22.  Observable from 10pm, when it is at 23 degrees in the SE, reaching 36 degrees in the south at 01.07.  By 04.30 it has sunk to 21 degrees in the SW.


Comets


67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko:  in Pisces, mag 11.1


Still very faint but reaching a reasonable altitude by dawn.  On 1st it rises at 23.34 and should be high enough for imaging from 2am, reaching 31 degrees in the SE before the sky gets too bright around 03.30.  It moves into Cetus on 11th, now at mag 10.7,  observable from 01.36 and reaching 39 degrees in the SE by dawn.  It is in Aries from 23rd, when it is at 44 degrees in the SE before fading from view and on 31st, now at mag 10, rises at 22.15, becoming observable just before 1am and reaching 48 degrees in the SE in darkness.

It is predicted to peak at mag 8.3 in early November, when it will be visible for most of the night, culminating at 63 degrees.


15P/Finlay:  in Taurus, mag 9.0

Very low in the pre dawn sky in early August.  On 1st it only reaches 18 degrees by the time the sky brightens.  A week later it gets to 22 degrees a few minutes before dawn. It is in Gemini from 17th, now at mag 9.6 and high enough for imaging for about half an hour, getting to 26 degrees in the east before fading from view.  On 31st it is observable from 03.30 and reaches 34 degrees in the east in darkness but has faded to mag 10.2.



Meteor Showers


We have one of the best showers of the year this month - and it won’t be spoiled by moonlight.  Fingers crossed for clear skies!


Perseids:  active 17th July to 24th August, peak on the night of 12th/13th, ZHR could be as high as 150 - though some sources say around 110 or even as low as 50 to 70.  We could see almost peak rates from the darkest areas around Manchester.  Rates are said to be quite low for most of the period of activity but quite high for a day or so either side of the peak. 

The radiant is circumpolar, highest at 07.00, so the shower is best seen in the hours before dawn. However the peak time is given as 20.00 on 12th, so it’s also worth looking after dusk on that day, though the radiant at that time is low in the north.  

Perseids are fast moving meteors, around 60 Km/sec, often leaving trails.  Many are extremely bright so visible even from light polluted areas. There may also be some fireballs.  The peak is close to the new Moon, so there won’t be any interference. Parent comet is 109P/Swift-Tuttle.


Kappa Cygnids:  active 3rd to 25th August, peak on the night of 17th/18th, ZHR 3 (2 from Manchester).

The radiant, in Draco, is circumpolar, highest around 22.00.  This shower is said to be unpredictable because the dust cloud responsible is very diffuse.  The exact time of the peak is often regarded as uncertain, though one source does give it as 01.00 on 18th, not long after the Moon has set. The shower showed higher activity in 2007 and 2014 but nothing is forecast for this year.   

These are very slow moving meteors, 25 Km/sec, parent body not known for sure, could be minor planet 2008 ED9.


Aurigids:  active 28th August to 5th September, peak on the night of 31st/1st, ZHR usually around 6 but occasionally 50 or more.  An outburst in 2007 had a ZHR of 130 - but only for 20 minutes.  There could be good activity this year around 22.30 on 31st.  The bad news is that, at this time, the radiant is only 10 degrees above the NE horizon.  The best time to see this shower is usually in the pre dawn hours, when the radiant is high, however the gibbous Moon rises soon after 11pm on 31st so will interfere at this time. They are fast moving meteors, 66 Km/sec, parent comet C/1911/Kiess.


There could be some activity on 12th at 05.22, unfortunately only 20 minutes before sunrise, from the dust trail of comet C/1852 (Chacornac),   The radiant is in Cetus, much lower than that of the Perseids which also peak around this time, so they should be easily distinguishable.


There could be one or two meteors from the Antihelion Source, but it isn't at its best in August. 


Credits

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

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

https://www.imo.net/resources/calendar/


https://www.timeanddate.com


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

The night sky in July 2021

posted 28 Jun 2021, 12:42 by Pete Collins   [ updated 29 Jun 2021, 12:13 ]

by Anne Holt

  

Sunrise       1st:  04.44           31st:   05.23

Sunset        1st:  21.40           31st:   21.06  


Astronomical darkness.    None till 30th:   01.06 to 01.24      31st:  00.46 to 01.44

Astronomical twilight.       1st:  00.04 to 02.21


Day length  1st:   16.55.52     31st:   15.43.07


Earth is at aphelion at 23.27 on 5th, when it will be 1.02 AU from the Sun, which will have an angular diameter of 31’ 27”


New Moon:    10th at 02.16   (passes 3 degrees 10’ north of the Sun)

Full Moon:     24th at 03.36  (angular diameter 32’ 20”)


Lunar apogee:    5th at 14.49   (405341Km,  angular diameter 29’ 27”)

Lunar perigee:   21st at 10.31  (364519Km,  angular diameter 32’ 45”)


July’s full Moon is most commonly known as the Buck Moon, because this is the time when deer are growing new antlers. Other names given in the Old Farmers Almanac are the Wort Moon, the Salmon Moon and the Thunder Moon.

It was the Colonial American Summer Moon, the Medieval English Mead Moon, the old English/Anglo Saxon Hay Moon and the Celtic Corn Moon or Claiming Moon - tried Googling that one to find out what they were claiming at this time, but all I could find was ‘Who owns the Moon?’ articles, the fact that 20% of Americans still claim that the Moon landings were faked - and a Scottish butcher who was over the Moon when his sausages claimed first prize in a competition.

The Neo Pagan name is the Rose Moon and for the Chinese it’s the Hungry Ghost Moon (not the Hungary Moon, as given in one site).  The Inuit called it the Dry Moon - it doesn’t say whether this refers to the weather or their alcohol consumption.  

Among the many Indigenous American names are the Cherokee Ripe Corn Moon, the Cree’s Feather Moulting Moon and the Algonquin and Ojibwa‘s Raspberry Moon.

The Dakota name is The Moon when the Chokecherries are ripe.  These are a species native to N America, so called because the fruit, though edible, is very sour.   


Highlights


We have some astronomical darkness at the end of July - 18 minutes on the night of 30th/31st and nearly an hour on the following night. The days are getting shorter, good news for astronomers as, of course, that means the nights are getting longer.   Jupiter and Saturn are reasonably high in the morning sky,  Jupiter very bright, Saturn much less so.  However, at the end of July Saturn’s rings will appear much brighter as it approaches opposition in early August.  Uranus and Neptune start the month very low in the pre dawn sky but both reach around 30 degrees in darkness by month end.   

The one reasonably active meteor shower will, unfortunately, be marred by moonlight and the fact that the radiant is very low when seen from the Manchester area. There are some bright late evening passes of the International Space Station from 15th to 25th.

But, if any experienced astrophotographers want to have a go at imaging a comet which was in the news not so long ago, it might be worth trying at the end of July, when 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko should be around mag 11 and reaching 30 degrees by dawn.

And 12th is the 60th anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s day in Manchester - the only place outside London which he visited on his trip to the UK.


Constellations

The Summer Triangle asterism (made up of Vega in the constellation of 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 Taurus, mag 0.8

Very low in the pre dawn sky, so difficult to spot throughout July.  On 1st it is still a couple of degrees below the horizon as the sky begins to brighten, rising almost an hour before the Sun, at 03.56.  On 5th it is at greatest western elongation, 21 degrees 35’ from the Sun but, because of the very shallow angle of the ecliptic at this time, still failing to clear the horizon by dawn, and only reaching 10 degrees by sunrise.  On 8th the very thin crescent Moon passes 3 degrees 45’ north of the planet at 05.39 but they are only 20 degrees from the Sun, with Mercury 2 degrees above the horizon at dawn.  It is briefly in Orion on 11th and 12th, when it is at its highest point in the morning sky - still only getting to 4 degrees in relative darkness.  It moves into Gemini on 13th, now at mag -0.5, and is at perihelion, 31AU from the Sun, on 24th brighter at mag -1.4 but down to 3 degrees as the sky brightens.  When it moves into Cancer on 28th it appears only 5 degrees from the Sun, down to 2 degrees on 31st.  It’s a pity we won’t be able to see it as it will be at its brightest - mag -2.1.  


Venus:  in Cancer, mag -3.9

Very low in the evening sky but, because of its brightness, should be visible from a site with a clear western horizon. On 1st it is 6 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 23.06.  On 12th, now in Leo, the 8% Moon passes 3 degrees 15’ north of the planet at 10.09.  At dusk the pair are separated by about 5 degrees.  Mars is also close by, just over half a degree from Venus, but hardly visible as it is so much fainter.  The 2 planets are a few arcminutes closer on the evening of 13th, with the Moon now further to the east.  On 21st Venus passes just over one degree north of Regulus, Alpha Leonis, at 21.30 and on 31st is still only 5 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 22.14.

 

Mars:  in Cancer, mag 1.8

Close to Venus in the first half of the month, 6 degrees separation on 1st but, because it is so much fainter, much more difficult to spot in the still bright sky. By the time it is dark enough Mars has sunk below the horizon. It sets at 23.21 on 1st and on 11th, when it moves into Leo, is 2 degrees below the horizon at dusk.  It is closest to Venus, less than half a degree apart, on 13th.

If you do decide to try to find it through binoculars, REMEMBER - make sure that the Sun has completely set before looking in that direction.  You don’t want Mars to be the last thing that you ever see.

 It is also at aphelion on this day, at a distance of 1.67AU from the Sun.  By 31st it is 5 degrees below the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 21.57.


Jupiter:  in Aquarius, mag -2.7

Shining brightly in the morning sky.  On 1st it rises at 23.52 and should be high enough to be easily seen by 1am.  It reaches 24 degrees in the south as the sky brightens soon after 4am. After the first week in July it culminates in relative darkness, on 9th it reaches 7 degrees in the  SE by 00.22 and culminates at 04.15, a few minutes before dawn.  On this day the two smaller Galilean moons, Io and Europa, are only 3” apart at 02.43, a little to the west of the planet.  On the morning of 26th the 92% Moon passes 4 degrees 10’ to the south at 02.21, slightly closer, 3 degrees 55’, at 04.49 as Jupiter fades from view in the brightening sky.  On 31st it culminates at 02.41, slightly lower at 23 degrees, and should be easily visible until dawn breaks at around 5am, now down to 18 degrees in the SW.


Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.4

Now around 20 degrees west of Jupiter.  On 1st it rises at 23.10 and reaches 10 degrees in the SE by 1am, culminating at 03.31, when it is 18 degrees above the southern horizon, and remaining visible for a short while longer.  On 24th the full Moon passes 3 degrees 48’ to the south at 17.38.  When Saturn becomes visible around 11pm, the separation is just over 5 degrees, with the Moon to the SE.  On 31st, now slightly brighter at mag 0.2, it is 10 degrees in the east at 11pm, culminates at 01.27 and is down to 10 degrees by dawn.   By this time Saturn is just a couple of days from opposition so the rings will appear noticeably brighter as the Sun shines directly on to them, reflecting almost all of the light back towards us, also the shadows of the small bodies which compose the rings are directly behind them at this time, rather than to the side, causing a dimming effect.  The rings are tilted towards Earth by 18 degrees, making them a beautiful sight in even a fairly small telescope.


Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.8

Not visible until late July. On the morning of 5th the crescent Moon is 5 degrees 30’ to the west at 3am, but the planet will be very low, having risen at 01.27 and reaching only 3 degrees by dawn.  On 19th, when it rises at 00.34 and gets to 18 degrees by dawn, mag 11.6 (maybe) comet 4P/Faye is just 1 degree north of the planet in the pre dawn sky.  On 31st Uranus rises at 23.48 and becomes visible around 02.20, reaching 30 degrees before becoming lost in the brightening sky at 03.30. 


Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9

Another morning object, high enough for observing or imaging from mid month.  On 1st it rises at 00.26 but only reaches 11 degrees in darkness. On 13th it rises at 23.38 and should be high enough for a short while just before 02.30, when it reaches 22 degrees in the SE. On 28th the gibbous Moon passes 5 degrees SE of the planet at 1am, both quite low in the sky.  On 31st it rises at 22.28 and is high enough for imaging or telescopic observation from 01.15 until dawn, when it will be at 31 degrees in the south.


Dwarf Planets


Ceres:  in Aries, mag 9.3

Very low in the morning sky, on 1st it is still 7 degrees below the horizon at dawn and on 7th, when it moves into Taurus, it is 2 degrees below.  It gets higher during the month, on 31st it rises at 01.07 but only gets to 19 degrees before the sky brightens.


Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 14.9

Is at opposition on 18th but is still too low for successful imaging or telescopic observing.  It culminates at 01.16 but is only 13 degrees above the southern horizon.


Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.4

Well placed for imaging for a couple of hours in early July.  On 1st it is at 32 degrees in the west as the sky gets dark soon after midnight, sinking to 22 degrees as it begins to brighten again. By 31st it is only well placed for less than an hour from around 11pm, when it is at 28 degrees in the west.



Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, Mag 17.2

Slightly lower than Haumea, on 1st it is at 27 degrees in the west as the sky gets dark enough at around 00.35, remaining high for only 30 minutes and setting at 04.04.  By 31st this is down to only 15 minutes from 23.00, setting at 02.06.


Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8

Very faint, but within the reach of the best amateur astrophotographers at the end of July.  On 1st it is still 5 degrees below the horizon at dawn, but by 31st it should be high enough for imaging for about 20 minutes after 03.00, when it reaches 24 degrees in the SE.


Asteroids at Opposition


6 Hebe:  in Aquila, mag 8.4

At opposition on 19th, when it is 1.27AU from Earth.  Visible from 23.43, when it is at 23 degrees in the south, culminating a couple of degrees higher at 01.43 and down to 22 degrees in the SW by dawn.


12 Victoria:  In Aquila, mag 8.8

Opposition on 30th at 0.834AU from Earth.  It will be visible throughout the hour of darkness.  It is at 30 degrees in the SE as the sky darkens soon after 11pm,  culminating, 35 degrees in the south, at 01.02, sinking to 25 degrees in the SW by dawn.


Comets

Still nothing spectacular predicted but, at the end of July, good astrophotographers will have their first chance of imaging a comet, well known since it was visited by a spacecraft in 2014.  


67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko:  in Cetus, mag 12.2

Predicted to reach mag 8.8 in November, when it will be high in the sky, but is very faint and very low at the moment.  On 1st it rises at 01.05 but is only 5 degrees above the horizon by dawn.   Towards the end of the month it will be reasonably high in the morning sky for a short time. On 20th, now in Pisces, it rises at 00.05 and is at 22 degrees in the SE for a few minutes from 02.47 until the sky brightens.  By 31st, now at mag 11.2, it rises at 23.39 and will be high enough for imaging from 02.15, reaching 31 degrees in the SE by dawn, a little over an hour later.


C/2020 T2 (Palomar):  in Bootes, mag 10

Only high enough for imaging during the first few days in July.   On 1st it should be observable for a few minutes, soon after 00.30, when it will be at 23 degrees in the west, setting at 03.23.  By 7th, when it moves into Virgo, it is only 21 degrees at dusk, setting at 02.50.  It is at perihelion, 2.05 AU from the Sun, on 10th but is only 18 degrees at dusk.  By 31st, down to mag 10.4, it is 13 degrees in the west as the sky darkens, setting at 00.45.


15P/Finlay:  in Aries, mag 8.7

Its position is improving but not enough yet for successful imaging. At the start of July it is still below the horizon at dawn.  It goes into Taurus on 10th and is at perihelion on 14th at a distance of 1 AU from the Sun, but still only 7 degrees at dawn.  On 31st, now slightly fainter at mag 9, it rises at 00.58 and gets to 18 degrees in reasonable darkness.


4P/Faye:  in Aries, mag around 12

Only worth mentioning because it is close to Uranus, about 1 degree to the north, on 19th. However on this night they are both too low for imaging, Faye rises at 00.29 and reaches 19 degrees by dawn. By 31st, when it reaches 22 degrees by 3am, the separation is 8 degrees.


Meteor Showers


Three showers have their peak at the end of July but all have low radiants and are better seen from further south.


Piscis Austrinids

Active July 3rd to August 15th, peak 28/29th, ZHR 5  (from Manchester, maybe 1 - if you’re lucky)

These are fairly slow moving, quite bright, meteors, best chance of seeing one or two is before dawn on 29th.


Alpha Capricornids

Active July 3rd to August 15th, peak 29/30th,  ZHR 5 (from Manchester maybe 2)

The radiant is highest at 1am so the shower is best seen before dawn on 30th.  They are slow moving meteors, worth looking out for because the shower often includes bright fireballs. Parent comet 169P/NEAT.


Southern Delta Aquarids

Active July 13th to August 12th,  peak on the night of 29/30th but often shows good rates for about a week centred on that date,   ZHR 25  (from the darker areas of Manchester, around 8). The radiant rises at 22.44 and culminates at 03.00, so this is another shower best seen just before dawn.   These are faint, medium paced meteors with no trails.  Parent comet P/2008 Y12 (SOHO)


All these showers, especially the faint S Delta Aquarids, will be affected by the gibbous Moon, which rises before midnight on 28th and 29th.


The Antihelion Source (ANT)


Meteors not attributed to any specific shower, having a radiant close to the ecliptic directly opposite the position of the Sun. 

It is active in July ZHR 2-3.  The radiant is close to that of the Capricornids but the meteors are easily distinguishable as the Capricornids are much slower moving.  


Credits

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

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

https://www.imo.net/resources/calendar/


https://www.timeanddate.com


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

   


     

The night sky in June 2021

posted 29 May 2021, 12:48 by Pete Collins   [ updated 29 May 2021, 15:09 ]

by Anne Holt


Sunrise          1st:   04.46       30th:  04.44

Sunset           1st:   21.27       30th:  21.41


Earliest sunrise:     17th at 04.39

Latest sunset:        24th at 21.42


Day length       1st:    16.40.54         30th:   16.56.58

Longest day:  21st:    17.01.52


21st is the Summer Solstice, when the Sun reaches its most northerly point in the sky and is overhead at local noon along the Tropic of Cancer. It is also the first day of astronomical summer, forecasters are predicting a heatwave around this time - fingers crossed they are right, if we have to have such short nights, at least let us have some warm days. 


Partial solar eclipse visible from Manchester:  10th between 10.06 and 12.26.  Maximum, 25%, at 11.15. See Highlights for more details. 


Astronomical darkness:  none


Astro twilight     1st:  23.39 to 02.36     30th: 00.05 to 02.19

                        21st:  00.10 to 02.10


New Moon:     10th at 11.52       

Full Moon:       24th at 19.39  (angular diameter 33’ 01”)


Lunar Apogee:       8th at 03.28  (406228 Km, angular diameter 29’ 24”)

Lunar Perigee:     23rd at 10.59  (359959 Km, angular diameter 33’ 10”)


The June Full Moon is most commonly called the Strawberry Moon, as this is the time when the ripening fruit is gathered.  This name was also used by the Algonquin and Ojibwa tribes of N America.  Other names given in the Old Farmers Almanac are the Birth Moon, the Blooming Moon, the Egg Laying Moon, the Hatching Moon, the Hot Moon and the Hoer Moon - this one because now is the time when newly sprouting plants need lots of attention.

Celtic names are the Horses Moon and the Mead Moon, it’s the Chinese Lotus Moon, the Neo Pagan’s Planting Moon, the Medieval English Dyan Moon and the Inuit’s Hunting Moon.  It was the Colonial American Rose Moon and among the many names used by Indigenous American people were the Cherokee Green Moon, the Choctaw Windy Moon and the Dakota Sioux Moon When the June Berries are Ripe.



Highlights


Astronomers are currently suffering from an excess of light - no astronomical darkness throughout June, and not even a great deal of astro twilight.  It begins around midnight and only lasts 3 hours at the start of the month, down to 2 hours around the time of the solstice on 21st.

The upside to this is that there is a chance of seeing some noctilucent clouds, when the Sun is between 6 and 16 degrees below the horizon, 60 to 90 minutes after sunset and before sunrise.  As the sky is not completely dark, these wispy silver or blue coloured clouds are best seen away from light polluted towns and cities. The most likely time for spotting some is said to be in the morning nautical twilight, ideally when the Sun is 10 degrees below the horizon.

Jupiter is now higher in the morning sky, reaching 24 degrees by dawn at month end, Saturn is much fainter and a little lower but should also be visible.  Venus is an evening object, very low, but very bright, in the twilight sky. 

And, if anyone does have radio or radar equipment, June is the best time for daytime meteor showers. 

The real highlight this month is the annular solar eclipse on 10th, visible from parts of E Canada, Greenland, Siberia and the North Pole. Because the Moon will be close to apogee at this time, it will appear smaller than average, not big enough to completely cover the Sun’s disc, so a thin ring - known as the Ring of Fire - remains visible round the Moon.

Because it is so far north, the path of annularity crosses many inaccessible, sparsely populated areas with only a 50% chance of cloud free sky.  Add to that the current restrictions on travel and it is estimated that no more than 20,000 people will actually witness it. 

In the UK we will (weather permitting) see a partial eclipse.  From Manchester the Sun will be 25% obscured at the maximum, from London only 20%. Observers up in the Shetland Isles fare better, from there the Moon will cover nearly 40% of the Sun.  

Warning:  Do not look directly at the Sun, even when it is partly eclipsed.  Special eclipse glasses, which cut out most of the light, are available and will enable you to see it safely.

Sunglasses are not dark enough, your eyes could still be damaged. 


Constellations

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

Planets


Mercury:  in Taurus, mag 3.0

Very difficult to see this month as it appears so close to the Sun. On 1st they both set around the same time and appear separated by 13 degrees.  Mercury is at aphelion on 10th, 0.47AU from the Sun, separated by only 3 degrees and down to mag 6.1. The following day it reaches inferior conjunction, passing south of the Sun. On 30th, now at mag 1.0, it is still below the horizon as the sky brightens, rising at 03.47, about an hour before sunrise.


Venus:  in Taurus, mag -3.9

An evening object but very low in the sky after sunset. Despite its low altitude, because it is so bright, it should be visible to observers with a low, clear NW horizon. On 1st it is at 5 degrees as the sky darkens, setting at 00.53. It moves into Gemini on 3rd and on 12th at 06.30 the very thin crescent Moon is only 42’ from the planet.  The pair are separated by 5 degrees after sunset on 11th but the Moon is lower than Venus and only 1% lit so is unlikely to be visible. On 12th the Moon, now at 4%, is higher and to the left, separated by about 6 degrees.  Venus sets at 23.10, the Moon at 23.50.  It is at perihelion on this day, at a distance of 0.72AU.  It moves into Cancer on 26th, still only 6 degrees at dusk, and is no higher on 30th when it sets at 23.10. 


Mars: in Gemini, mag 1.7

Now low in the WNW at dusk. On 1st it is only 10 degrees as the sky darkens, setting at 00.35.  It moves into Cancer on 9th, when it is only 6 degrees in the twilight. On 13th the 13% Moon passes 2 degrees 48’ directly north at 20.52.  They are slightly closer, 2 degrees 46’, at 22.11 in civil twilight, when Mars will be 14 degrees above the horizon but too faint to be seen in the still bright sky.  It will be down to 5 degrees when the sky darkens, setting at 00.06.  From 22nd to 24th it passes through the Beehive Cluster very low in the WNW soon after sunset.  On 30th, now at mag 1.8, it is on the horizon at dusk, setting at 23.21.


Jupiter:  in Aquarius, mag - 2.5

Now becoming very prominent in the morning sky.  On 1st the 54% Moon passes 4 degrees 21’ to the south at 12.56.  The pair should be visible, separated by 7 degrees, at 03.00, down to 7 degrees by dawn when the planet will have reached 17 degrees.  It begins retrograde motion (appearing to move from east to west) on 20th, when it rises soon after midnight and reaches 22 degrees in the SE by dawn.  On 28th it is again close to the Moon, which is now at 76% and passes 4 degrees 27’ to the south at 19.41, on the morning of 29th they are separated by 5 degrees.  On 30th Jupiter rises at 23.56, becomes visible around 1am and reaches 24 degrees in the SE by dawn. 


Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.6

Slightly lower and much fainter than Jupiter but should be visible in the morning sky.  On 1st it rises at 02.12, high enough to be seen by 3am and reaching 15 degrees in the SE as the sky brightens a little before 4am.  On 27th the 87% Moon passes 4 degrees 01’ to the south at 10.26. On this day the planet should be visible from 01.00, when the Moon is 8 degrees to the SW, until dawn breaks at around 4am, with Saturn at 18 degrees in the SW.  On 30th it rises at 23.14 and is high from 01.00, and visible until the sky gets too light at around 03.45.  The planet’s north pole is currently tilted towards us by 18.3 degrees, so the rings show well when viewed through a scope.  


Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9

Not visible this month.  On 1st it is still 11 degrees below the horizon as the sky begins to brighten, rising at 03.38, just over an hour before the Sun.  On 30th it rises at 01.46 in astro twilight but is still very low when dawn breaks.


Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9

On 1st it is still just below the horizon at dawn, rising at 02.21.  It begins retrograde motion on 25th, when it reaches 5 degrees in a fairly dark sky.  On 30th it rises at 00.30 and only gets to 10 degrees before the sky brightens.


Dwarf Planets


Ceres:  in Cetus, mag 9.3
The closest of the dwarf planets, and the only one which is really accessible to the average amateur astronomer, is not visible this month as it is still below the horizon at dawn.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15

Still too low for imaging, despite rising at 00.38 on 1st and 22.43 on 30th.  It is currently quite far south and, because it takes so long to orbit the Sun, it moves very slowly around the sky and, for Manchester observers, won’t get up to 20 degrees for another 40 years.


Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.4

Best placed for imaging in early June.  On 1st it is at 50 degrees in the west as the sky darkens around midnight, remaining high throughout astro twilight.  By 30th it is only at 32 degrees as the sky fades before 1am, down to 23 degrees by dawn.


Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2

On 1st it is at 49 degrees in the SW as the sky fades around midnight, remaining reasonably high until dawn.  On 30th it is at 27 degrees in the west at 00.40 and only high enough for imaging for about half an hour.


Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8

Still below the horizon at dawn throughout June.


Asteroids


3 Juno: in Ophiuchus, mag 10.1

Reaches opposition on 6th, when it rises at 19.42 and culminates, 32 degrees in the south, at 01.22.  High enough for imaging from 00.17 until dawn.


30 Urania: also in Ophiuchus, mag 11.1 

Opposition on 14th.  Much lower than Juno, despite being in the same constellation.  Culminates at 01.17 but only reaches 10 degrees in the south.



Comets


Still nothing spectacular - or even fairly reasonable.


18P/Finlay is at perihelion on 18th, predicted mag 8.7, but is below the horizon during the hours of darkness for UK observers.


C/2020 T2 (Palomar) in Bootes, mag 10.1

Fainter but better positioned. On 1st it is high in the sky from midnight, reaching 52 degrees in the SW before the sky brightens. By the end of June it is only high for a very short time, 23 degrees in the west from 00.40 to 00.54.


Meteor Showers


Nothing spectacular this month, we have a few showers which may (or may not) provide a few meteors.


June Bootids:  active June 22nd to July 2nd, peak June 27th.

ZHR given as variable - could be anything from zero to 30, very occasionally more - in 1998 a peak of around 100 was observed. Peak activity predicted for 11am on 27th. The radiant is circumpolar, highest at 22.00 so the shower is best seen after midnight when the sky is reasonably dark.  They are very slow moving, long lasting meteors, parent comet 7P/Pons-Winnecke.  The gibbous Moon will interfere, rising just before midnight on 27th.


June Lyrids:  active 10th to 21st, peak 15th/16th ZHR 8.

This shower was first detected in 1966 and was active for a few years but hasn’t shown much activity recently.  They were medium paced, mainly faint, blue coloured meteors with a few brighter ones which left trails.  This shower isn’t mentioned in this year’s IMO calendar.


Beta Taurids:  active June 5th to July 18th, peak June 28th, ZHR weak.

Again, not in the IMO calendar.   This shower is notable only because the 1908 Tunguska meteor is thought to be associated with it.


Antihelion Source  (ANT) active in early and late June, however the radiant, in Sagittarius, is very low.   ZHR 2 to 4.


There is still some daytime activity - meteors detectable with radio or radar equipment.


Daytime Arietids:  active May 14th to June 24th, peak June 7th, ZHR 30

The radiant of these is only 30 degrees west of the Sun, however a few meteors might be spotted visually in the morning twilight of 7th.  Better seen from further south, where the sky is a little darker.


Zeta Perseids: active May 20th to July 5th, peak 9th or 13th (?) 

This shower was first detected in 1947 by radio astronomers working at Jodrell Bank.  Parent comet 2P/Encke


Credits

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

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

https://www.imo.net/resources/calendar/


https://www.timeanddate.com


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







The night sky in May 2021

posted 29 Apr 2021, 02:04 by Pete Collins   [ updated 29 Apr 2021, 05:41 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise        1st:   05.34          31st:   04.47

Sunset         1st:   20.39          31st:   21.26


Astronomical darkness

1st:   23.27 to 02.43    31st:   none


Astro darkness ends at 01.25 on 13th and that’s it until 30th July.  Even astronomical twilight is getting shorter, by month end it only lasts from 23.38 to 02.36.


Day length   1st:   15:04:57     31st:   16:38:48


New Moon:  11th at 19.59       

Full Moon:    26th at 12.15  (angular diameter 33’ 24”)


Lunar apogee:    11th at 22.55   (406511 Km,   angular diameter 29’ 22”)

Lunar perigee:    26th at 02.53   (357309 Km,  angular diameter 33’ 25”)  


There will be a total lunar eclipse on 26th, visible from Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, parts of New Guinea and most of the Pacific Ocean.  Observers in Eastern Asia and Western Canada & USA will be able to see part of it.


This month’s full Moon occurs 9 hours 24’ after perigee so will appear slightly larger and brighter than average - a Supermoon. 

The Old Farmers Almanac name for the May full Moon is the Flower Moon - for obvious reasons.  Other names are the Corn Planting Moon, the Frog Moon and the Moon of Shedding Ponies. The Colonial American name was the Milk Moon and it was the Celtic Bright Moon or  Dyan Moon (though some sources give that one for June).  For the Chinese it was the Dragon Moon, to the Medieval English, the Hare Moon and the Neo Pagan name was the Grass Moon.  Among the Indigenous American names are the Cherokee’s Planting Moon, the Choctaw’s Panther Moon and the Ojibwa tribe’s Budding Moon. The Dakota Sioux called it the Moon when Leaves are Green - quite mundane compared with some of their other names!


Highlights


Still nothing spectacular predicted. Jupiter and Saturn’s positions in the morning sky are improving but, as they are in the most southerly part of the ecliptic, remain quite low.  We’re losing Mars, by the end of May it is only 12 degrees above the horizon at dusk.  Venus is also very low in the evening sky, Mercury is higher for most of the month, early to mid May is the best time this year to see it in the evening.  The downside is that as it gets higher, it also gets fainter.  There is one reasonable meteor shower but the radiant is so low that it is better seen from further south.  However a few may be visible just before dawn.

From mid month we lose astronomical darkness but, as the Sun doesn’t get more than 18 degrees below the horizon, we may see some Noctilucent Clouds.  These wispy silvery or bluish white clouds are formed when the Sun shines on ice crystals in the mesosphere, about 50 miles above the Earth, so high that they are still in daylight when the Sun has set for observers on the ground.  They are most likely to be seen at latitudes between 50 and 70 degrees north.  They also occur in the southern hemisphere but are not reported as often because there isn’t much land mass at the right latitudes.


Constellations

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

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

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

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


Planets


Mercury:  in Aries, mag -1.1

Early to mid May is the best time this year to see it in the evening twilight.  On 1st it is 6 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 22.02.  It moves into Taurus on 2nd and the following day should be visible for a few minutes, soon after 9pm, when it is 8 degrees in the NW.  On 13th the thin crescent Moon passes 2 degrees 08’ to the south at 18.58, the pair are separated by 2 degrees 40’ at 21.40 when Mercury is 9 degrees above the horizon.  It reaches its highest point in the evening sky on 15th, when it will be at 15 degrees at sunset but down to 9 degrees by the time the sky darkens, and considerably fainter at mag 0.1.  It is at greatest eastern elongation on 17th, when it appears 22 degrees from the Sun but still only 9 degrees above the horizon at dusk.  On 29th, now faded to mag 2.3, it is just 25’ south of Venus at 06.34.  The pair are quite close on the evenings of 28th, about 30’, and 29th, about 1 degree.  However they will be very difficult to spot, almost on the horizon in twilight.  On 31st Mercury appears only 14 degrees from the Sun, setting at 22.35.



Venus:  in Aries, mag -3.9

Not visible at the start of May.  On 1st it is only 2 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 21.25.  It moves into Taurus on 4th and on 12th the very thin, relatively small (29’ 24” - only a day past apogee) crescent Moon passes 42’ to the south at 23.03.  The separation at 21.00 is about 2 degrees but Venus is only 3 degrees above the NW horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 22.04, ten minutes after the Moon.  On 28th Venus is close to Mercury and might be visible, 5 degrees above the horizon, in twilight.  Mercury, much fainter, is unlikely to be seen. 

REMEMBER:  if trying to see the pair using binoculars, wait until the Sun has fully set.  

On 31st Venus is still only 5 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 22.52.


Mars:  in Gemini, mag 1.6

An early evening object in the first part of the month.  On 1st it should become visible around 21.45, when it is 29 degrees above the western horizon. By midnight it will be too low to be seen easily, setting at 01.31.  On the nights of 15th and 16th the crescent Moon passes north of the planet, closest at 05.15 on 16th.  As the sky darkens on 15th, the separation is around 5 degrees, slightly more the following day when the Moon is to the east.  By the end of May, Mars will be difficult to spot, on 31st it is only 11 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 00.35.



Jupiter:  in Aquarius, mag -2.2

Now becoming more prominent in the pre-dawn sky. On 1st it rises at 03.41 and reaches 10 degrees in the SE by 04.45.  On the morning of 5th the 35% Moon is just under 6 degrees SSE of the planet in the morning twilight.  They are closest, 4 degrees 21’, at 00.55 while still below the horizon.  Jupiter now reaches 11 degrees before the sky brightens. It gets higher as the month progresses, on 31st it is visible from 3am and reaches 17 degrees in the SE by dawn.


Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.7

Another pre dawn object but much fainter and harder to see than big brother Jupiter. On 1st it rises soon after 3am and reaches 9 degrees by dawn.  On 3rd the 45% Moon passes 4 degrees 09’ to the south at 17.58.  On the morning of 3rd they are separated by 8 degrees at 5am, with Saturn reaching 10 degrees in relative darkness. The pair are slightly closer, 6 degrees, on the morning of 4th with Jupiter about 15 degrees to the left, so the three form a triangle.   On 23rd Saturn appears to stand still for a short while before changing direction and moving from east to west against the background stars - retrograde motion.  On 31st it rises at 01.16 and is again close to the Moon, which passes 4 degrees 10’ south at 02.18 while the planet is still too low to be seen, becoming visible around 3am, when it will be 15 degrees in the east.  They are closest, 4 degrees 03’, soon after 4am as the sky begins to brighten.  


Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9

Not visible this month following solar conjunction at the end of April.  On 1st it is only 1 degree from the Sun.  By month end it is still 10 degrees below the horizon by dawn, rising about an hour before the Sun.


Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9

Also not visible in May.  It is below the horizon at dawn throughout the month. 


Dwarf Planets


Ceres:  in PIsces, mag 9.2

Another one which appears very close to the Sun this month.  On 1st the separation is 15 degrees.  It moves into Cetus on 13th and on 31st is still below the horizon at dawn, rising only half an hour before the Sun.


Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.4

Still much too low in the morning sky for imaging or telescopic observation.


Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.3.  Makemake:  in Corona Borealis, mag 17.2.

Both high in the sky for most of the night.  If any experienced astrophotographers fancy having a try at imaging these, exact positions can be found in in-the-sky - details at the end of these notes.


 

Eris:  in Cetus, mg 18.3

It is too close to the Sun for imaging, following April’s solar conjunction.



Comets


No bright comets again this month.


C/2020 R4 (ATLAS) in Canes Venatici

Predicted to end April at around mag 8.4, but failed to live up to expectations.  Now expected to start May at around mag 10, but is still above the horizon for most of the night.  On 1st it reaches its highest point, 69 degrees, at 00.35.  It fades quite rapidly and gets lower in the sky as the month progresses, on 7th, down to mag 10.9, it moves into Coma Berenices and culminates at 22.48, soon after the sky darkens enough for it to be seen.  It spends 12th & 13th in Ursa Major then goes into Leo for the rest of May.  On 31st, predicted mag now 13.8, it is at 32 degrees in the west at dusk, high for just over an hour and setting soon after qam.



Meteor Showers


Eta Aquarids:  active April 19th to May 28th, peak around 3am on 6th, but with good rates for about a week centred on this date. ZHR is given as 50 but the radiant is so low that the shower is much better seen from the southern hemisphere.  From the Manchester area the best that we can expect is about 10.  They are fast moving meteors, often leaving persistent trails, and are best seen between 02.30 and dawn.  The waxing crescent Moon doesn’t rise until 04.25 on 6th, so won’t interfere.  It is one of 2 showers associated with Comet 1P/Halley.



Eta Lyrids:  active May 3rd to 14th, peak 8th, ZHR 3

These are medium speed meteors, parent comet C/1983 H1 (IRAS-Araki-Alcock) 


The Antihelion Source (ANT) has a ZHR of 2 - 4 in May. The radiant moves through northern Scorpio and into Ophiuchus during the month.


May, especially the later part of the month, is good for daytime showers, which have a radiant so close to the Sun that they can’t be observed visually.  They are detectable only with radio or radar equipment.


Epsilon Arietids:  active April 24th to May 7th, peak May 9th.   Rates given as low (numbers not given for any of these)


May Arietids:  May 4th to June 6th, peak May 16th.  Again rates are low.


Omicron Cetids:  active May 5th to June 2nd, peak May 20th.  This one is slightly better - rates given as medium.


More active are the daytime Arietids, beginning May 14th but not peaking until mid June.  Rates for this shower are expected to be high.


Credits

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

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

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







The night sky in April 2021

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

by Anne Holt

Sunrise     1st:   06.42       30th:   05.36

Sunset      1st:   19.44       30th:   20.37


Astronomical Darkness

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


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


New Moon:  12th at 03.33

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


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

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


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


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

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


Highlights


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

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

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

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


There are also a couple of events with astronomical connections.

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

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

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

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

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


Constellations

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

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

Planets


Mercury:  in Aquarius, mag -0.4

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

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

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


Venus:  in Pisces, mag -3.9

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


Mars:  in Taurus, mag 1.3

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


Jupiter: in Capricorn, mag -2.1

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


Saturn: in Capricorn, mag 0.8

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


Uranus: in Aries, mag 5.9

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


Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 8.0

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


Dwarf Planets


Ceres: in Cetus, mag 9

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


Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.1

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

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

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


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


Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.3

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


Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1

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


Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8

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



Asteroid 9 Metis

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

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

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



Comets


C/2021 A1 (Leonard) in Ursa Major.

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

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


C/2020 R4 (ATLAS)

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

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



Meteor Showers


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

This shower isn’t recognised by the IAU.


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


Credits

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

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

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















The night sky in March 2021

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

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

Clocks go forward at 01.00 on 28th.

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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

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

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

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

Constellations

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

Asteroids

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

Comets

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

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

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

Meteor Showers

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

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

Credits

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

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

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









 

The night sky in February 2021

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

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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

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

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

Constellations

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

Asteroids

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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

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

Meteor Showers

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

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

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































The night sky in January 2021

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

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Highlights

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

Constellations

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comets

Nothing spectacular predicted for January.

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

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

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

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

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

Meteor Showers

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

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

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

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

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





The night sky in December 2020

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

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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

Constellations

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

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

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meteor Showers

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

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

Minor showers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






The night sky in November 2020

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

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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

Constellations

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

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

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

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

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

Asteroids

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

Again, nothing likely to be spectacular.  

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

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

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

Meteor Showers

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

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

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

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

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






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