The night sky this month

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

The night sky in October 2019

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

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constellations

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

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

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

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

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of asteroids are at opposition in October:

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meteor Showers

One major shower this month.

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

Fair to middling shower:

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

There are several minor showers:

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

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

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

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

The night sky in September 2019

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

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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

Constellations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of asteroids are at opposition in September:

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

Much fainter comets around are:

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

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

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

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


Meteor Showers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The night sky in August 2019

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

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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


Constellations

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

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

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

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

Planets

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


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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meteor Showers

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

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

Minor showers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The night sky in July 2019

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

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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

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

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

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

Constellations

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

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

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



Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and for currently visible comets

Meteor Showers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The night sky in June 2019

posted 31 May 2019, 12:39 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise       1st::  04.47        30th:   04.43
Sunset        1st:   21.27        30th:   21.41

Astronomical darkness:  none, as the Sun never gets more than 18 degrees below the horizon in June.  We only have a couple of hours of astronomical twilight each night, the Sun is between 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon from around midnight to 2am throughout the month.  The Summer Solstice is on 21st at 16.54.  This is when the Sun reaches its most northerly point in the sky and is overhead at local noon along the tropic of Cancer. This day is 9 hours 33 minutes longer than the Winter Solstice - with the night correspondingly shorter, of course.  The earliest sunrise is on 17th and 18th (04.39), the latest sunset on 25th (21.42).

New Moon: 3rd at 11.01     Full Moon:  17th at 09.30
The June full Moon is known as the Strawberry Moon, as this is the time the fruit ripens.  Other names are the Hot Moon, Mead Moon and Rose Moon.

Lunar Perigee:     8th at  00.23  (368506km)
Lunar apogee:     23rd at  08.52  (404548km)

The moon is at perihelion on 1st at 21.57, when it will be 1.0115 AU from the Sun,  slightly closer than the Earth, which is at 1.0141AU.

Highlights

The amount of light is still far too high for astronomers' liking, we have no astro darkness and only a couple of hours of astro twilight each night.  The naked eye planets are all very low in the sky, only Jupiter is bright enough to be seen easily - and even that only reaches an altitude of 14 degrees. We don't have much in the way of meteor showers, and solar observers don't fare much better either, despite the long days.  We are currently at Solar minimum so there are very few sunspots around. 

The best thing that the sky can offer is more a meteorological phenomenon than an astronomical one - noctilucent clouds which may be visible in twilight, low in the NE, 2 hours to 90 minutes before sunrise and low in the NW, 90 mins to 2 hours after sunset. These colourless or pale blue wispy clouds are too faint to be seen in daylight, they are thought to be formed when water vapour freezes on dust molecules in the very thin atmosphere about 50 miles up. At this altitude they are still illuminated by the Sun, even though it has set for observers on the ground. The first confirmed sighting was as recent as 1885, though there may have been a few around prior to that.  Displays are now becoming brighter and more frequent, thought to be a result of climate change.

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 -1.1
An evening object, very low in the sky throughout June.  On 1st it sets at 22.37, about 70 minutes after the Sun but is only 4 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens.  On the evening of 4th the thin crescent  Moon passes 3 degrees 39 minutes south of the planet during daylight. It might be possible to see them about  30 minutes after sunset, now separated by almost 5 degrees. It moves into Gemini on 6th, setting at  23..04 and slightly higher, 6 degrees at dusk, but fainter at mag -0.7. On 16th it reaches its highest point in the evening sky, about 13 degrees above the horizon at sunset, though much lower by the time the sky is dark enough for it to be seen.  Over the next few nights it appears close to Mars, soon after sunset on 18th they are only 13 arcminutes apart,  with Mars about 3 times fainter than Mercury.  It reaches greatest eastern elongation on the night of 23rd/24th when it appears about 25 degrees from the Sun.  However the angle of the ecliptic against the eastern evening horizon is so small at this time that the planet is now lower in the twilight sky.  It moves into Cancer on 25th and by month end will have faded to mag 0.9, setting at 22.47 and on the horizon at dusk.

Venus:  in Aries, mag -3.9
Still a morning object but very low in the sky.  On 1st it rises at 04.03 and barely gets above the horizon by dawn.  On 1st the thin waning Moon may be seen, about 9 degrees SW of the planet just before sunrise.  They are at their closest, 3 degrees 14', in daylight at 19.15.  It moves into Taurus on 4th.  During the month its apparent distance from the Sun is decreasing but, because the angle of the ecliptic is increasing in the morning sky, it rises about 45 minutes before the Sun throughout June, still just on the horizon by dawn. 

Mars:  in Gemini, mag 1.8
Now very low in the WNW as the sky darkens, on 1st it sets at 23.48 and is only 5 degrees above the horizon at dusk.  On 5th the thin crescent Moon passes one and a half degrees to the left of the planet at 16.06.  The pair, now 4 degrees apart, may be seen in the same binocular field of view as the sky darkens around 22.00. After the first couple of weeks in June it will be very difficult to see as it will have dropped below the horizon before the sky darkens. On 30th it sets at 22.53 and is 3 degrees below the horizon at dusk.

Jupiter:  in Ophiuchus, mag -2.6.
Currently the brightest and best positioned of the naked eye planets, visible for most of the night during June.  On 1st it reaches its highest point at 01.50.  The bad news is that its highest point is only 14 degrees.  However, from a site with a clear southern horizon it is quite unmissable, much brighter than the red giant Antares, a little to the west.  It is at opposition on 10th, when it culminates at 01.10, still no higher in the southern sky but, because of its elliptical orbit, is at its closest to us a couple of days later when it is at a distance of 641 million km. The almost full Moon passes just over 2 degrees from the planet on 16th.  On 30th it should be visible from around 22.00 when it is at an altitude of 11 degrees in the south, culminating  3 degrees higher at 23.37.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.3
Now rising before midnight but,  like big brother Jupiter, very low in the sky. On 1st it rises at 23.56 and culminates just before dawn, at 14 degrees in the south.  On 19th the just past full Moon passes 1.5 degrees SW of the planet at around 3am.  On 30th it rises at 21.57 reaching 10 degrees in the SE by midnight and 14 degrees at 01.54.  It will have brightened slightly to mag 0.1.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9
Not visible in June. On 1st it rises at 03.25 but is still 9 degrees below the horizon by dawn. On 30th it rises at 01.34 and is just on the horizon as the sky brightens.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9
A telescopic  object not easily seen at the moment because of its low altitude.  On 1st it is on the horizon at dawn but it does improve slightly during the month.  On 24th the gibbous Moon passes 4.5 degrees south of the planet at around 3am.  By 30th it rises at 00.22 and reaches 10 degrees before the sky brightens.

Dwarf Planets

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 14.7
Still very low, so difficult to view through a scope.  On 1st it rises at 00.15 and reaches 14 degrees at 04.09.  On 30th it rises at 22.12 and culminates 4 hours later, still at 14.

Ceres: in Scorpio, mag 7.0
The only dwarf planet orbiting in the asteroid belt, so by far the brightest, is now also in the southern part of the sky.  On 1st it culminates at 00.53, at 18 degrees, slightly higher than Pluto. It fades during the month, down to mag 7.7 by 30th, when it culminates 17 degrees above the southern horizon at 22.32,  setting at 02.52.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
Below the horizon during the hours of darkness throughout June.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.3
Much higher in the sky,  one for experienced astrophotographers to attempt after midnight, especially in the early part of the month. On 1st it culminates at 22.41, before the sky is dark enough but is still at 51 degrees in the SW at midnight.  By the end of the month it is much lower but still at a respectable altitude for a short time -  32 degrees above the western horizon at 00.41, setting nearly 4 hours later.

Makemake: in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1
Not as well positioned as Haumea but not too bad in the early part of June.  On 1st it culminates at sunset but is still at 50 degrees in the SW just before midnight,, setting at 02.15.  On 30th it sets at 04.14 but should be high enough for imaging for about 40 minutes from 00.40, when it is at 27 degrees in the west.

Comets

Another bad month!  46P/Wirtanen and 38P/Stephan-Oterma  are both still in the region of Leo and Leo Minor but both now very low and very faint.  Wirtanen  sets at 03.31 on 1st and 01.41 on 30th, Stephan-Oterma following about 40 minutes later. Magnitudes at the end of June predicted to be around 17 and 14.5 respectively.

There are a few comets, currently very faint but brightening, which might possibly be good photographic targets later in the year.

C2017/T2 (PANSTARRS) currently in Taurus, mag 11.5

C2018/N2 (ASSASSN) now in Cetus, mag 12.4. Predicted peak 10.3 in late October

168P/Hergenrotter, also in Cetus, mag 12.9.  Predicted to reach 11.5 in late August

260P/McNaught in Aquarius, mag 14.5, predicted peak 11.0 in late September.

For more information and exact positions of all solar system objects, at any time see
And, for currently visible comets

Meteor Showers

Still nothing major, just a few very minor, maybe even no longer existing ones.

Ophiuchids:  19th May to sometime in July, peaks given as 10th and 20th, ZHR 5.  A very weak shower especially for northern observers, as the radiant is very low - only 12 degrees above the horizon at midnight.  Often considered to be part of the antihelion source, rather than a separate shower.

June Lyrids:  peak 15th/16th. Not much activity in recent years, though ZHR of 8 to 10 has been recorded in the past.

June Bootids: June 22nd to July 2nd, peak June 27th, ZHR variable.  Not much activity predicted for this year.  Could be a few meteors on 24th.

The antihelion source is active in early and late June, but is better seen from further south, as the radiant is very low. in Sagittarius.

Daytime Arietids.  The radiant of these is only 30 degrees west of the Sun but a few have been seen just before dawn around the peak on June 7th.  ZHR of up to 30 has been recorded by radio and radar observers.






The night sky in May 2019

posted 29 Apr 2019, 12:44 by Pete Collins   [ updated 29 Apr 2019, 13:33 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise      1st:  05.35        31st:  04.48
Sunset       1st:  20.38        31st:  21.25

Astronomical darkness   1st:  23.25  to  02.46     31st:  none

New Moon:  4th at 23.54       Full Moon:  18th at 22.11

Lunar perigee:  13th at 21.54  (369015km)
Lunar apogee:  26th at 13.28  (404133km)

This full Moon is a Blue Moon, if we use the original definition of the third full Moon in a season having 4.  The other definition, the second full Moon in a calendar month,  was actually an error in a 1946 article in Sky and Telescope magazine. The wrong definition is now more widely used - probably because it's so much more obvious.
May full Moon is known as the Flower Moon, because of all the blossoms around at this time.  Other names are the Corn Planting Moon and the Old English/Anglo Saxon Milk Moon.

Highlights

Still struggling to find any, unfortunately we have more light than highs - just 3 hrs 21 minutes of astro darkness on the night of the 1st, diminishing rapidly until mid month then we have none at all until the end of July.  The only reasonable meteor shower has a radiant so low that it favours observers in the southern hemisphere and all the planets are either very low in the sky or appear close to the Sun.  And, even though April is known for its showers, in Manchester, May averages slightly more rainfall.

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 Pisces,  mag -0.4.
Not easy to see this month.  On 1st it rises only 20 minutes before the Sun and is still 3 degrees below the horizon as the sky brightens.  It is only 7.5 degrees to the east of Venus but, unlike Venus, Mercury is too faint to spot in the dawn sky.  It moves into Aries on 9th, when it will have brightened to mag -0.8, and Taurus on 19th when it is at mag -2.0 but not visible as its apparent separation from the Sun is only 3 degrees.  It reaches superior conjunction on 21st then becomes an evening object.  On the 31st it is at mag -1.2 and sets at 22.31, over an hour after Sunset but only 4 degrees above the horizon as the sky begins to darken.

Venus:  in Pisces, mag -3.9.
Still a morning object but very low.  On 1st it rises at 04.58, only 37 minutes before the Sun and is on the horizon as the sky brightens.  It might be visible from a site with a very flat, unobstructed eastern horizon.  On 2nd the 6% Moon passes just over 3.5 degrees south of the planet in daylight at 12.41. They remain quite close for much of the day and might be visible to the naked eye - if you know where to look.
As always DO NOT try using binoculars or a telescope to find them, they appear much too close to the Sun for this to be done without risking permanent blindness.
It moves into Aries on 17th and on 31st rises at 04.04, still below the horizon as the sky begins to brighten.

Mars:  in Taurus, mag 1.6.
On 1st it is 19 degrees above the western horizon as the sky darkens around 21.45, setting at 00.26.   On 7th it appears almost midway between the 2 stars marking the horns of the bull and, on the following night, the 9% Moon passes south of the planet, closest at 01.21 when they are separated by less than 4 degrees.  It moves into Gemini on 16th, when it will have faded slighty to mag 1.7.  After several months of setting at around the same time, because its eastern motion counteracted the apparent movement of the celestial sphere westwards, it is now setting earlier - 00.13 on this night - and is much lower in the sky as it gets dark, only 12 degrees in the west. On 31st it is even lower and fainter - mag 1.8 and 6 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 23.51. 

Jupiter:  in Ophiuchus, mag -2.5.
Still a morning object, very bright but very low.  Rises soon after midnight on 1st, reaching 7 degrees in the SE by 02.00 and 13 degrees in the south by 04.05.  On 20th the 94% Moon is just under 4 degrees east of the planet in the early hours.  By 31st it rises at 22.03, is at 7 degrees in the SE by 23.30 and culminates at 01.55, still only 13 degrees above the southern horizon.  It will then be at mag -2.6.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.5.
Another low morning object.  Rises on 1st at 02.05 and only gets to 12 degrees in the south as the sky brightens.  On the night of 22nd/23rd the 82% Moon passes the planet. They are closest while they are still below the horizon but should be visible in the pre-dawn sky, when they are separated by about 2 degrees.  On 31st it rises a few minutes after midnight and reaches 14 degrees in the south by dawn.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9.
Not visible this month. On 1st it rises only 10 minutes before the Sun and appears separated from it by 7 degrees.  By 31st it rises over an hour before Sunrise but is still well below the horizon when the sky begins to brighten.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9.
Its position is improving slightly but not yet enough to make it observable.  On 1st it rises at 04.17 but is 5 degrees below the horizon as dawn breaks. By 31st it rises at 02.19 but still doesn't quite clear the horizon before the sky brightens.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres: in Ophiuchus, mag 7.6.
The nearest and brightest of the dwarf planets is the only one which orbits in the Asteroid Belt, rather than the much more distant Kuiper Belt.  However it is very low throughout May but might possibly be visible through a small scope from a site with a low southern horizon.  On 1st it rises at 22.53 and culminates, 19 degrees in the south, at 03.21.  It reaches opposition on the morning of 29th when it culminates at 01.08, slightly lower at 18 degrees but brighter at mag 7.0.  It moves into Scorpio on 30th and ends the month rising at 20.33 and culminating at 00.58, still no higher than 18 degrees.

The other dwarf planets are much too faint and too distant to be anything other than photographic targets - and that only for very experienced  astrophotographers.

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 14.7.
Still too low to be successfully imaged, reaching a maximum altitude of 14 degrees in the south.

Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.8.
The cause of Pluto's demotion (sorry, that should say reclassification), appropriately named after the goddess of discord, is below the horizon during the hours of darkness this month.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.3.
On 1st it is at an altitude of 43 degrees in the SE as the sky darkens, culminating at 00.50.  By 31st it should be visible a few minutes before midnight, at an altitude of 51 degrees in the SW,  and remains well positioned for a couple of hours after midnight.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1.
On 1st it should be a good photographic target from about 22.15 when it is 43 degrees above the SE horizon, reaching its highest point just over an hour later. On 31st it culminates soon after sunset, and is at 53 degrees in the south west around midnight.

A few small asteroids reach opposition in May, all in Libra.  They are all between mag 9 and 10 so should be visible in amateur scopes.

11th;   8 Flora,  mag 9.7, reaches 26 degrees in the south at 01.19

14th:  11 Parthenope,  mag 9.5, reaches 25 degrees at 01.15

20th;  20 Massalia, mag 9.7, reaches 17 degrees at 00.46

For exact positions of these, and all Solar System objects at any time see
And, for information on major planets

Meteor Showers

The main shower this month, the eta Aquarids, is much better seen from the southern hemisphere.  It is active between April 19th and May 28th, peak on the night of 5th/6th, ZHR 40 but far fewer from our latitude as the radiant is so low in the sky - it doesn't get above the horizon until just before dawn on that day.  The shower is said to show enhanced activity for about a week either side of the peak and the IMO says that there could be a couple of lesser peaks this year, one on 4th from 04.00 to 10.00 and the other on 6th between 12.00 and 20.00 - neither of which are likely to be much use to us.  These are swift moving meteors, parent comet the most famous of all - Halley.  The good news is that there is no Moon interference this year so, if you have clear skies,an unobstructed eastern horizon and a reliable alarm clock,, it might be worth looking between 01.30 and 03.30 on the morning of 6th.

Eta Lyrids:  active May 3rd to 14th, peak May 9th,  ZHR 3  (though some sources say it could be as high as 7).  These meteors, originating from debris left by comet C/1983H1 IRAS-Araki-Alcock, are best seen between 2am and dawn.

Alpha Scorpiids, active 20th April to19th May, peak 13th (or maybe 15th) ZHR 5.  Another one better seen from further south as the radiant is very low in our sky.  These are faint meteors, derived from asteroid 2004 BZ74.

The antihelion source may produce a few meteors in May, particularly towards the end of the month  The radiant moves through the northern part of Scorpio into southern Ophiuchus during May.  ZHR 2 - 4.

And there are a few daytime showers this month.  these can only be detected using radio or radar.  If anyone here does happen to have the right equipment for this,  full details can be found on the International Meteor Organisation website:

Comets

46P/Wirtanen and 38P/Stephan-Oterma are both still around and both still above the horizon for most of the night. They are in roughly the same area of the sky, moving between Leo and Leo Minor, however they are now very faint.  Wirtanen is expected to end the month around mag 16, Stephan-Oterma at 14.  

And finally
The big news last month was the first photograph of a black hole - or to be more accurate the first photo of the radiation surrounding a black hole.  Now is a good time to ty to spot its host galaxy, M87, a large elliptical located in Virgo.  It is situated between Virgo and Leo (lies on the line between between epsilon Virginis and beta Leonis, aka Denebola). It has an apparent magnitude of around 8 (sources vary as usual) and is classified as E1, meaning it isn't far off circular.  It is about 53.5 million light years from Earth and contains trillions of stars.  Of course, no scope can see the black hole, amateur scopes won't even be able to pick out the huge jets which emanate from it,  but the galaxy itself should be easy to find. 

The night sky in April 2019

posted 30 Mar 2019, 15:23 by Pete Collins   [ updated 31 Mar 2019, 05:02 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise   1st:    06.43       30th:   05.37
Sunset    1st:    19.43       30th:   20.36

Astronomical darkness
1st:  21.49   to  04.35        30th:  23.21  to  02.50 

New Moon:    5th at  09.50
Full Moon:    19th at 12.12

Lunar apogee:     1st at  00.15  (405576 km)   28th at 18.21  (404576 km)
Lunar perigee:   16th at  22.06  (364208 km)
Because we have 2 Lunar apogee in April it means that the month includes a complete anomalistic month - the name given to the period between 2 successive perigee or apogee.

April full Moon is known as the Pink Moon, because of the pink flowers which bloom in the spring  (tra la  - for any fans of G&S). Other names are the Sprouting Grass Moon, Hare Moon and Fish Moon. The Old English/Anglo Saxon names are Egg Moon and Paschal Moon, because this is the one used to calculate the date of Easter.

Highlights

What highlights?  It's almost the end of our 2018/19 season and now the clocks have changed it's too light to do any observing before 9pm, even when the sky is clear.  At the start of April we have 6 hours 46 minutes of astronomical darkness, but only half as long by the end of the month. The only planet putting on a good show is Jupiter, shining brightly in the morning sky at mag -2.3.  The downside is that it remains very low.  The first reasonable meteor shower in months will be washed out by the glare of the just past full Moon and we'll probably have a lot of rain - April is known for its showers.

Looking away from the sky, we do have Easter to look forward to, towards the end of the month.  It has an astronomical connection in the way it is calculated, Easter Sunday is the Sunday after the first full Moon on or after the Vernal Equinox, the date of which is always taken as March 21st even when, as in the last few years, it actually occurs on 20th.  The earliest possible date for Easter Sunday, March 22nd, is extremely rare, the last time was in 1818 and the next won't be until 2285. The latest date, April 23rd, is much more frequent, some of us may have been around the last time in 1943, others may still be here for the next in 2038.   The sequence of dates isn't quite as random as it may appear - it will start to repeat itself after 5,700,000 years.  Which got me thinking:  is this why mathematicians keep on calculating pi to more and more decimal places?  Do they hope to eventually find a pattern?  The latest attempt, by a Google employee, has got it to 31,415,926,535,897 decimal places.  I did wonder why they stopped there, rather than adding a few more to make a nice round number   - till I realised that this is the first 14 digits of pi.

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 0.8
A morning object this month but very low in the sky throughout. On 1st it rises at 06.07 but is still 3 degrees below the horizon at dawn.  It is at aphelion (furthest point in its orbit from the Sun) on 10th at 08.40 and the following day reaches greatest western elongation at 27.7 degrees west of the Sun but, because of the angle of the ecliptic, is still very low.  On 13th it reaches its highest point in the morning sky, rising at 05.46 but still not managing to clear the horizon before the sky begins to brighten.  On 16th it moves into Pisces and from 23rd spends a few days over the border in Cetus, before returning to Pisces on 27th, brighter at mag -0.2 but still too low to be seen easily.  By month end it rises at 05.17, only 20 minutes before the Sun.

Venus:  in Aquarius, mag -4.0
Also very low in the morning sky this month but, because it is so much brighter than Mercury, might be seen in the morning twilight.  On 1st it rises at 05.55, just under an hour before Sunrise, reaching 2 degrees in the ESE by dawn.   On 2nd the crescent Moon passes south of the planet, closest  (2.5 degrees) at 08.11,  about 90 minutes after Sunrise.  Mercury is also quite close to the pair but much harder to see in the dawn sky.  Venus is at aphelion on 18th, then follows the smaller planet into Pisces on 17th, then into Cetus from 27th to 29th. On 30th, when it is back in Pisces, it rises at 05.00 as civil twilight begins.

Mars: in Taurus, mag 1.4
Visible in the evening sky, as it begins to darken, still setting around 00.30 each day. On 1st it is about 32 degrees altitude in the west at 20.30.  During the first few days of the month it moves N eastwards between the Pleiades and the Hyades (the V shaped head of the bull asterism).  On 1st it is 3.5 degrees SSW of the small cluster and on 8th and 9th the Moon joins the party,  at 21.00 on 9th the Moon will be 7 degrees to the SE.  On 31st Mars is 20 degrees above the western horizon as the sky darkens around 21.30, setting 3 hours later. 

Jupiter:  in Ophiuchus, mag -2.3
Very bright in the morning sky but still low. On 1st it rises at 02.17 and culminates, 13 degrees above the southern horizon, at 06.05, just over half an hour before sunrise.  It rises earlier as the month progresses but will remain low for a long time yet.  On the morning of 23rd the 84% Moon passes 6 degrees west of the planet at around 4am.  They are at their closest, less than 2 degrees apart,  around 13.00, in daylight.  On 30th it rises at 00.21 and reaches 13 degrees in the south at 04.09, while the sky is still quite dark but not astronomically so.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.6
Another morning object in the southern part of the Zodiac, so remaining very low in the sky.  On 1st it rises at 04.00 and reaches an altitude of 10 degrees by dawn.  On the morning of 25th, the 67% Moon passes about 6 degrees west of the planet, the following day it is 6.7 degrees to the east.  They are at their closest, only 22 arcminutes, during the day of 25th - if you happen to be in Australia or New Zealand on that day (night on that side of the world) you might see the Moon occult the planet.  On 30th it rises at 02.09 and reaches 13 degrees before the sky gets too bright.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9
Not visible this month as it approaches Solar conjunction, when it is on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth.  On 23rd it sets an hour and a half after the Sun but is separated from it by only 20 degrees.  At the end of the month it is a morning object but even closer - on 30th it appears only 6 degrees from the Sun, rising just 9 minutes before it.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 8
Still not visible after last month's Solar conjunction.  On 1st it rises 30 minutes before the Sun but is still 9 degrees below the horizon at dawn.  By 30th it rises at 04.29 but still doesn't reach the horizon before the sky brightens. 

Dwarf Planets and Asteroids

Ceres, in the asteroid belt, is the only dwarf planet which is close enough and bright enough to be seen through a small scope.  In April it is in Ophiuchus at mag 8.2.  On 1st it rises at 00.55 and culminates, 19 degrees in the south, 75 minutes before Sunrise.  It brightens slightly during the month, reaching mag 7.6 by 30th, when it rises at 22.55 and culminates, still at 19 degrees, at 03.25.

The rest, which orbit beyond Neptune, in the Kuiper Belt, are too distant and too faint to be seen even in the best amateur scopes. When well positioned they could possibly be targets for good amateur astrophotographers

Pluto; in Sagittarius, mag 18.8
Too low in the sky to be a reasonable photographic target, never gets higher than 14 degrees above the horizon.

Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.8
Reaches Solar conjunction on 13th, so not visible this month as it appears too close to the Sun.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.3
A much better bet for any keen astrophotographers who fancy a game of Spot the Difference with images taken a few days apart. On 1st it reaches 53 degrees above the southern horizon at 02.49.  It is at opposition (directly opposite the Sun in the sky) on 16th, and on 30th culminates at 00.54 at around the same altitude.

Makemake:  in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1
Also well positioned for photography.  On 1st it is at 32 degrees in the east at 21.04, just before the start of astro darkness, and 40 degrees in the west by dawn.  On 30th it is at 57 degrees in the SE at 22.15 and 35 degrees west at dawn.

A couple of asteroids reach opposition in April.  They are closer and brighter than the distant dwarf planets, even though they are much smaller, and might be seen in amateur scopes - even in good binoculars from a very dark sky site.  Again the comparison method is best, as they will never appear as anything other than a point of light.

Pallas:  in Bootes, mag 7.9
The second asteroid to be discovered culminates at 02.35 on the 1st, at an altitude of 51 degrees in the south, 5 degrees SW of Arcturus. It moves northwards through Bootes, reaching opposition on 6th.  By 30th it will have faded to mag 8.2, culminating at 00.19, still reaching 51 degrees.

Iris: in Corvus, mag 9.4
The 4th brightest object in the asteroid belt is much lower in the sky.  On 1st it culminates at 01.20, reaching 22 degrees in the south. It is at opposition on 5th, when it gets to 23 degrees at 01.01.  On 17th it moves into Virgo and ends the month at mag 9.9 but slightly higher, culminating 26 degrees above the southern horizon at 22.54.

As always, recommended sites for exact positions and more information on Solar System objects

Meteor Showers

One fairly major shower in April.

The Lyrids, active April 16th to 28th, peak on the night of 22nd/23rd.  ZHR 18.
These medium paced meteors are the earliest recorded shower, in 687 BC Chinese astronomers noted that meteors fell like rain. Nothing like that now but there are occasional outbursts, the last in 1982 when a ZHR of 90 was recorded at the peak.  The parent comet is C/1801G Thatcher, which no one alive now will have seen or ever will see - its last visit was in 1861 and it won't return until 2276. 
The bad news is that this year's shower will be a washout, even if it isn't raining all but the brightest meteors will be washed out by the glare from the just past full Moon.

Minor Showers
A few of these are given in various sites, however none are included in the International Meteor Organisations calendar.

Gamma Virginids, active 5th to 21st, peak 14th.  These could well be considered by the IMO to be part of the Antihelion Source, which has a radiant moving through Virgo in April.

Some sources mention a couple of weak showers with radiants in Draco, active in the first half of the month,  Delta Draconids, peak 31st March to 2nd April and the Tau Draconids, peak April 1st.  Might be worth keeping an eye on the general direction of Draco at the start of the month.

Alpha Bootids:  active April 4th to May 13th, peak 28th. very slow moving meteors leaving trails.  The shower could include fireballs.


Comets 

A couple are still quite high in the sky but have faded considerably, and continue to do so.

46P/Wirtanen:  in Leo Minor, mag 13.3.  On 1st it is 60 degrees above the SE horizon at 21.04, culminating slightly higher, at 22.30.  It moves into Leo on 29th ending the month at mag 15.2, about 60 degrees in the west at 22.14.

38P/ Stephan-Oterma:  in Lynx, mag 12.5.  Also fading but not as fast as Wirtanen.  It's still circumpolar, on 1st it reaches 78 degrees in the south at 21.23. It moves into Leo Minor on 25th and ends the month at mag 13.3, reaching 61 degrees in the SW at 22.14.

Unfortunately the website which I usually recommend for details of current comets, seems to have vanished.
Maybe it will return in time for next month's sky notes. 

The night sky in March 2019

posted 28 Feb 2019, 04:37 by Pete Collins   [ updated 28 Feb 2019, 05:28 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise    1st:   06.57           31st :  06.45  (BST)
Sunset     1st:   17.46           31st:   19.41     "

Astronomical darkness    1st:  19.42 to 04.59    31st:   21.46 to 04.38

The Vernal (Spring) equinox, when the centre of the Sun's disc crosses the celestial equator, is on 20th at 20.58. However, with a day length of 12hr 09m 18secs, there isn't equal day and night, the nearest is the 18th, when the day is just 46 seconds over 12 hours.

New Moon:  6th at 16.03     Full Moon:  21st at 01.42
This is the third, and final Supermoon of 2019 - though this one isn't quite as super as the others.

Lunar apogee:   4th at 11.27  (406390km)
Lunar perigee: 19th at 19.48  (359380km)
Lunar perihelion  (closest point to the Sun) 3rd at 23.08

March's full Moon is known as the Worm Moon, because this is when temperatures were said to rise and worm trails were seen on the newly thawed ground. Other names are the Crow Moon, the Sap Moon, the Sugar Moon and the Chaste Moon. The old Anglo Saxon name is the Lenten Moon, for obvious reasons.
British Summer Time, when we are all forced to do everything an hour early, begins at 1am on 31st.  According to a poll, 80% of people would prefer to keep BST all year round; I expect that most astronomers were in the other 20%.

Highlights

What highlights? Not many this month, unfortunately.  Maybe the fabled March winds will blow the clouds away and give us lots of lovely clear nights while we still have a reasonable amount of proper darkness.  Astronomical darkness is getting less - 9 hours 17mins on 1st, down to 6hs 52 mins on 31st. We have another so called Supermoon, but this is the least spectacular of the three this year, being neither eclipsed like January's nor an extra big super Supermoon like last month's.  Only Jupiter, among the naked eye planets, is bright and quite prominent, though it is very low in the morning sky. Venus, while still very bright, is now low and getting lower. In the last few days of the month Mars passes to the south of the Pleiades and, as already mentioned, from 31st we have to get up an hour earlier every day.And there are some high, bright early evening passes of the International Space Station during the last week of the month.

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 Pisces, mag -0.2
Visible low in the morning sky for the first few days of the month.  On 1st it is 10 degrees above the western horizon at 18.15, setting around an hour later. During the first half of March its apparent separation from the Sun decreases rapidly, as does the magnitude. By 15th it is down to mag 5.6, on this day it reaches inferior conjunction, meaning it is between the Earth and the Sun. Because of the inclination of Mercury's orbit, this rarely results in a transit, the planet usually passes above or below the Sun's disc. It then becomes a morning object but will be too close to the Sun to be seen. On 22nd it is close to Neptune but both are barely visible, being separated from the Sun by only 14 degrees. It moves into Aquarius on 25th, when it has brightened to mag 2.2 but is still 5 degrees below the horizon at dawn. By 31st it rises only 30 minutes before the Sun but still doesn't get above the horizon before the sky brightens.

Venus:  in Sagittarius, mag minus 4.1
Still very bright but now much lower in the morning sky.  On 1st it rises at 05.27 but is only 6 degrees above the horizon as the sky brightens.  It gets even lower during the course of the month. It moves into Capricorn on 2nd, and on that day is just over 1 degree north of the 16% Moon. However both are very low in the brightening sky.  On 31st it rises a few minutes before 6am but only gets to 2 degrees by dawn.

Mars:  in Aries, mag 1.2
On 1st it should be visible, 41 degrees above the SW horizon, at around 18.30, setting at 23.31. On 11th the Moon passes 6 degrees south of the planet at 19.00.  On 24th, when it has faded to mag 1.4, it will be at 35 degrees in the west as the sky darkens.  Between 28th March and 3rd April it passes south of the Pleiades, closest on 30th when it is 3 degrees from the cluster. On 31st it is 32 degrees above the western horizon at 20.30 setting at 00.32 - which is still almost 23.30 if you forgot to change your clock.

Jupiter:  in Ophiuchus, mag -2.1
The gas giant's position is improving but unfortunately it remains quite low in the sky - and won't get much better for about 3 years.  On 1st it rises at 03.09, reaching 13 degrees in the south by dawn.  The Moon passes 2 degrees north of the planet at 3am on 27th, but quite low, still only 13 degrees above the horizon.   On 31st it rises at 02.22 (BST - just) reaching 13 degrees in the south soon after 06.00.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.6
Also very low in the morning sky, on 1st it rises at 04.56 but only reaches 6 degrees above the horizon by dawn. On this day the Moon passes quite close to the planet just before the sky begins to brighten.  On the morning of 29th the pair are even closer, separated by just under 1 degree as astro darkness ends at 5am, at an altitude of about 10 degrees. A clear, low horizon will be needed to see the pair on both of these days.  On 31st the planet rises at 04.05 (which is really only 03.05) and reaches 10 degrees by dawn.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9
Visible, through binoculars or a small scope, in the early evening sky in the first part of March. On 1st it will be 29 degrees above the SW horizon around 19.00, as the sky darkens, setting at 22.27. On 10th the Moon passes 7 degrees east of the planet.  It isn't visible in the later part of the month, on 31st it appears only 21 degrees from the Sun and sets before the sky is completely dark.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 8.0
Not visible this month as it will be too close to the Sun. On 1st it sets only 20 minutes after sunset and will be just 5 degrees from the Sun.  Reaches solar conjunction on 7th, when it is on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth. After this date it is a morning object but too close to the Sun to be seen. On 31st it rises only half an hour before the Sun and is still well below the horizon when the sky brightens.

Dwarf Planets

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 14.7
Doesn't get high enough in the sky to be a good photographic target this month.  In fact it appears to move so slowly across the sky, taking 248 years to complete one orbit, that it won't reach a reasonable altitude for about 50 years.

Ceres: in Ophiuchus, mag 8.6
An early evening object, in the same region of the sky as Jupiter.  On 1st it rises at 01.34 and reaches 20 degrees by dawn. On 31st it is slightly brighter at mag 8.2, and rises at 00.55 and reaches 19 degrees before the sky brightens.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
Not a good photographic target, on 1st it is only 17 degrees above the horizon at dusk and by month end sets only half an hour after the Sun, with an apparent separation of only 17 degrees.

The other two dwarf planets are much higher in the sky and are a much better bet for experienced astrophotographers.

Haumea:  in Bootes, mag 17.3
Rises at 20.11 on 1st and reaches 21 degrees in the east shortly before 23.00. It culminates, 52 degrees above the southern horizon at 03.53. On 31st it does the same  almost exactly 2 hours earlier - though, because of the dreaded BST, the times are only one hour earlier.

Makemake: in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1
Best placed of all the dwarf planets.  On 1st it rises at 18.03, only about 20 minutes after sunset, but will reach 21 degrees above the eastern horizon by 21.00.  It culminates at 02.41, when it will be at 60 degrees in the South. It reaches opposition, when it is directly opposite the Sun in the sky, on 25th at 19.59, and culminates around midnight. By 31st it rises well before Sunset, reaches a reasonable altitude by 21.00 and culminates at 00.41, still at 60 degrees.

Meteor Showers

Another bad month for meteor spotters in the northern hemisphere.  For those south of the equator we have the Gamma Normids, active for most of March with a peak on 15th/16th of ZHR 6.  The best that we in the north can hope for are a few minor showers with radiants in Virgo.  Because these radiants are so close it is almost impossible to distinguish between the showers, so the IMO now class them all as part of the antihelion source.  The ZHR throughout March is 3 or fewer.

Comets

Again, not much this month unless something new and exciting appears.

46P/Wirtanen is still around, still circumpolar, still fading.  Starts the month in Ursa Major, probably around mag 11.5.  It moves into Leo Minor on 15th when it will probably be at mag 12.8. It continues to fade, ending the month at mag 14.8.

C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) was only discovered in Dec 2018.  It is now past its best but is brighter than Wirtanen.  It starts the month in Auriga at mag 7.4.  On 1st it culminates at 18.57 before the sky is completely dark but should be visible, in good binoculars or a small scope, not long after that, at 71 degrees above the southern horizon.  It is also fading quite quickly and is predicted to be down to mag 9.4 when it moves into Perseus on 16th.  It should still be visible in the early part of the night - 58 degrees in the SW at 19.30.  By 31st it will have faded to mag 11.2 and be at 42 degrees in the west at 21.05, shortly before the beginning of astro darkness, and high enough for possible photography until just before midnight, 

For more details and exact positions of any solar system objects, see
for information on major planets
and for comets
www.nakedeyecomets.co.uk

The night sky in February 2019

posted 25 Jan 2019, 10:11 by Pete Collins   [ updated 25 Jan 2019, 14:23 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise       1st:   07. 54       28th:  06.59
Sunset        1st:   16.51         28th:  17.44

Astronomical darkness  1st: 18.52 to 08.52      28th:  19.40 to 05.01

New Moon:   4th at 21.05     Full Moon:  19th at 05.07

Lunar apogee:    5th at 09.28    (406555km)
Lunar perigee:   19th at 05.07   (356761km)
This is the closest perigee of the year and, as it is less than 4 hours before the full Moon, we have a Supermoon.  There won't be another one as good for almost 10 years.
February's full Moon is known as the Snow Moon for obvious reasons.  Other names are the Hunger Moon, because hunting was not easy, or very successful, at this time, and the Storm Moon.

The Moon is at perihelion on 3rd at 09.24

There are some bright early evening passes of the International Space Station for the first week of the month, then the ISS returns to the pre-dawn sky near the end of the month.

Highlights

Struggling to find any highlights this month.  We have no meteor showers, no bright comets, though there is one which, if it lives up to expectations, might be a target for astrophotographers.  Apart from that the best we can look forward to is the bright Supermoon, Venus still prominent in the morning sky, but getting much lower,  the later part of the month will be the best time this year to spot Mercury and we still have lots of astro darkness - 11 hours on 1st and 9 hrs 21 minutes on 28th.
The bad news is that it will probably be wet or cloudy on most of these nights.  As the old rhyme says ' February brings the rain, thaws the frozen lakes again.'

Constellations

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

Planets

Mercury:  in Capricorn, mag -1.5
Now an evening object but not visible early in the month.  On 1st its apparent separation from the Sun is only 2 degrees.  Its position improves during the month, on the  9th, when it moves into Aquarius, it is 7 degrees from the Sun, setting 30 minutes after it but still not easily seen.  By the 18th it may be visible for a short time in the evening sky, about 8 degrees above the South Western horizon shortly before 18.00.  On the following day there is a conjunction of Mercury and Neptune, with Mercury passing less than one degree North of the ice giant in the dusk sky. It moves into Pisces on 23rd, when it will have faded to mag 0.9 but should be visible 10 degrees above the Western horizon as the sky darkens. The later part of the month should be the best time this year to see the planet.  It reaches greatest Eastern elongation on 27th at 01.00, long after it has set,  but should be visible after Sunset, 18 degrees from the Sun and 11 degrees above the Western horizon.  It will be fainter at mag -0.4 but well positioned.  On 28th it sets at 19.28, over an hour and a half after the Sun.

Venus:  in Sagittarius, mag -4.3
Still very bright in the morning sky but now much lower at dawn. On 1st it rises at 05.08 and reaches 12 degrees in the South East before the sky brightens. It rises less than a minute later each day but Sunrise is getting earlier as the month progresses. By the last week in February it will be quite difficult to see, on 23rd it rises at 05.27 but is only 7 degrees above the horizon at dawn. On this day it passes 1.5 degrees North of dwarf planet Pluto in daylight at 08.31. They will be quite close together just before dawn, very low in the sky.  However DON'T use a telescope to try to spot them.  You should NEVER use any optical instruments on anything close to the Eastern or South Eastern horizon before Sunrise.  It's very easy to lose track of time, catching even the first few rays of the rising Sun is enough to cause permanent blindness. By 28th Venus rises 90 minutes before the Sun but only reaches 6 degrees as the sky brightens.  It might still be visible for a short while from a site with a very clear South Eastern horizon.

Mars:  in Pisces, mag 0.9
Still setting around 23.30 but becoming visible later as the days lengthen.  On 1st it will be at 43 degrees in the South as the sky darkens around 18.00.  On 10th the 6 day Moon passes 6 degrees South of the planet, the pair are closest at 16.20 while it is still light but will still be fairly close as the sky darkens.  From 10th to 15th Mars is within 2 degrees of Uranus, closest on 13th when they should be visible in the same binocular field of view, about 42 degrees above the South Western horizon at 18.00, with Mars to the North. At 20.07 the separation is just over 1 degree. It moves into Aries on 14th and by month end will have faded to mag 1.2, reaching 42 degrees at around 18.30 as daylight fades.

Jupiter: in Ophiuchus, mag -1.9
Its position in the morning sky continues to improve during February.  On 1st it rises at 04.39 and should be bright enough to be easily seen around 06.00.  It reaches 12 degrees in the South before the sky brightens. On 27th the 67% Moon passes 2 degrees 19 minutes North of the planet, in daylight at 14.19. They should be visible around 06.00 that day, separated by 5 degrees, with the Moon to the South East of Jupiter.  By 28th it will have brightened to mag -2.1, rising at 03.13 and reaching 13 degrees in the South by daybreak.

Saturn: in Sagittarius, mag 0.6
Very low in the morning sky so hardly visible this month. On 1st it is 2 degrees above the horizon as day breaks. It gets a little higher in the pre-dawn sky as the month goes on but still only gets to 6 degrees before the sky brightens at the end of February.

Uranus: in Pisces, mag 5.8
Still well placed, on 1st it is 45 degrees above the Southern horizon around 18.00 as the sky darkens, setting at 00.16.  On 6th it moves back into Aries, this time it stays there until March 14th 2025 - more than 6 years to cross such a small constellation. On 10th the Moon passes 6 degrees South of the planet, while it is close to Mars, in the early evening.  By 28th Uranus is much lower, only 30 degrees in the South West as the sky darkens, setting just before midnight. Still a good target for HPAG scopes,especially in the early part of the month - if only the clouds would stay away on a Thursday evening.

Neptune: in Aquarius, mag 8.0
Not easily seen throughout February. On 1st it is only 13 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 19.54.  On 7th the Moon passes 5.5 degrees to the North East at around 18.00.  By 28th it will set at 18.13, only half an hour after the Sun and with an apparent separation of only 6 degrees.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres: in Scorpio, mag 8.8
The closest and brightest of the dwarf planets is quite low in the morning sky in February.  On 1st it rises at 02.45, reaching 20 degrees by dawn. It moves into Ophiuchus on 17th, when it rises at 02.07.  By 28th it will be marginally brighter at mag 8.6, rising at 01.07 but still only 20 degrees by dawn, as dawn is now so much earlier.

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 14.7
Too low in the morning sky to be a photographic target this month, as it never gets higher than 14 degrees above the horizon.

The rest of the dwarf planets are far out in the Kuiper Belt and are too faint to be seen even with the best amateur scopes, but may be targets for experienced astrophotographers with good equipment.

Eris: In Cetus, mag 18.8
A possible target in early February, on 1st it is 32 degrees in the South as the sky darkens and should be high enough in the sky for a couple of hours, setting at 22.56.  On 28th it is only 18 degrees at dusk, setting soon after 21.00.

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4,
High in the sky after midnight.  On 1st it is 21 degrees above the Eastern horizon as the sky darkens, reaching 52 degrees in the South at 05.44. On 28th it reaches this altitude just before 5am.

Makemake: in Coma Berenices, Mag 17.1
Culminates at 04,32 on 1st, at 60 degrees in the South. On 28th it reaches the same altitude almost 2 hours earlier at 02.45.

For more details and exact positions of all Solar System bodies at any time, see
and for information on the major planets

Meteor Showers

Not a good month for meteor observers, in fact it's a very bad month unless you happen to be in the Southern Hemisphere where the alpha Centaurids peak on 8th, with a ZHR somewhere between 6 and 25.  For those of us in the more Northerly latitudes not only are there no major showers, there aren't any minor ones either.  The best we can expect is one or two from the Antihelion Source which this month has its radiant in the Southern part of Leo.
  

Comets

Again, nothing to get excited about - and there are no bright comets predicted for the whole of 2019.  But, with comets, you never know what will turn up so keep your fingers crossed.

46P/Wirtanen is still circumpolar, visible for most of the night, moving through Ursa Major but fading by about 0.1 magnitude each day.  On 1st it is at mag 9 but down to 11.7 by month end.

38P/Stephan-Oterma in Lynx, mag 10.7.  Also circumpolar and also fading - but not as rapidly as Wirtanen.  By month end it should be the brighter, albeit not by much, at mag 11.5.

C/2018Y1 (Iwamoto) looks like the best bet this month. It starts the month in Virgo, at mag 9, culminating 22 degrees above the Southern horizon at 04.32.  Moves into Leo on 9th, when it will be at mag 8 and higher - 39 degrees in the South at 02.25.  It should brighten further, it is predicted to be at mag 7.7 from 11th to 14th before starting to fade again. It moves into Cancer on 15th, when it culminates at 23.32 much higher at 61 degrees. For the rest of the month it continues to move North Westwards and to fade.  It's at mag 8.3 on 18th when it crosses into Gemini and 8.8 on 22nd when it goes into Auriga,  On 28th it will be down to mag 9.6, reaching 71 degrees in the South at 19,08, half an hour before astro darkness begins.

More info on comets of mag 14 or higher can be found on www.cometwatch.co.uk
And exact positions of the brighter ones are on the site mentioned previously
https://in-the-sky.org

The night sky in January 2019

posted 31 Dec 2018, 06:06 by Pete Collins   [ updated 31 Dec 2018, 12:01 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise     1st:    08.24          31st:    07.56
 Sunset     1st:    16.00          31st:    16.49

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

Earth is at perihelion (closest point to the Sun) on 3rd at 05.19, when it will be at a distance of 147,100 km.

New Moon:   6th at 01.28      Full Moon:  21st at 05.16

The January full Moon is known as the Wolf Moon because they were said to be particularly vocal at this time.  Other names are the Moon after Yule, the Old Moon, the Ice Moon and the Snow Moon.

On the morning of 21st we have a total lunar eclipse, visible from all the UK - at least from all the parts where the weather co-operates and keeps the sky cloud free.  The Moon will appear relatively large as it is only 14 hours and 43 minutes before perigee.

Highlights

We still have long periods of astronomical darkness in which to observe the beautiful winter skies, or, more likely, the horrible winter clouds. Venus and, to a lesser degree, Jupiter are bright in the pre-dawn sky and comet 46P Wirtanen is still around, higher but fainter, and we have a promising meteor shower not affected by moonlight.   The main events this month are the total lunar eclipse on 21st (early morning so set your alarm) and New Horizons' long awaited close encounter with a Kuiper Belt object on New Year's Day.

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

The best time for seeing naked eye planets this month is in the early morning, especially near the beginning and end of the month, when they are joined by the crescent Moon.

Mercury:  in Ophiuchus, mag -0.4.  Very low in the morning sky, so not easily seen in January.  On 1st it rises at 07.14 and is only 2 degrees above the horizon at dawn. Its position deteriorates further as the month progresses. It moves into Sagittarius on 3rd and on 13th is separated from Saturn by only 1.8 degrees, about 20 minutes before Sunrise, but both are barely above the horizon and extremely difficult to see.  As always DON'T try looking for them through a scope or binoculars - it really will be unlucky 13th for you if you mistime it and catch the first rays of the rising Sun.   The planet reaches superior conjunction on 30th and can't be seen at all in the later part of the month.

Venus:  in Libra, mag -4.5.  Still shining brilliantly in the pre-dawn sky.  On 1st it rises at 04.15 and should be unmissable from around 5.30.  It reaches 19 degrees above the horizon by sunrise.  On the mornings of 1st and 2nd it is close to the waning crescent Moon.  It reaches greatest Western elongation on 6th, when it is 47 degrees from the Sun and 20 degrees above the horizon as the sky brightens. It moves into Ophiuchus on 15th, when it will be slightly lower, 16 degrees in the SE at dawn.   On the morning of 22nd it will be only 2.5 degrees from the 10 times fainter (but still very bright) Jupiter just before Sunrise. On 31st  it rises at 05.06, reaching only 12 degrees as the sky brightens.  

Mars:  in Pisces, mag 0.5.  An evening object, culminating in astronomical twilight and setting around 23.30 throughout January. On 1st it reaches its highest point, 35 degrees, at 17.24.  It continues to climb higher in the sky, crossing the celestial equator in early January.  On 12th the 35% Moon passes just over 6 degrees south of the planet at 18.00.  By 31st it is at 43 degrees in the south at 17.30, but fainter at mag 0.9.

Jupiter:  in Ophiuchus, mag -1.8.  A morning object whose position improves during the month.  On 1st it rises at 06.11 but only reaches 9 degrees in the south east before the sky brightens. On this day it forms a line with Venus, Mercury and the crescent Moon - though only Jupiter, Venus and the Moon are likely to be easily visible.  On 3rd the 6% Moon passes 2.3 degrees north of the planet. On 31st, when it is marginally brighter at mag -1.9, it rises at 04.42 and is at an altitude of 12 degrees as dawn breaks.  On this day the crescent Moon is midway between Venus and Jupiter.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.5. At Solar conjunction on 3rd so not visible as it is only 1 degree from the Sun.  The apparent separation does increase during the month but it is below the horizon at dawn until 19th.  On 31st it is still only at an altitude of 2 degrees as the sky begins to brighten.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.8.  An evening object, well placed for binocular observation before midnight in the first part of January.  On 1st it culminates at 19.10,  in astronomical darkness, 46 degrees above the southern horizon.  At the start of the month it appears to be moving westwards against the background stars (retrograde) but on 7th it resumes prograde motion.  By mid month it is culminating during astronomical twilight but is still high in the sky for about 4 hours. On 31st it reaches 45 degrees in the south at 18.00, as the sky darkens, setting soon after midnight.  It should be easily visible in binoculars, especially from a dark sky site, but a scope is needed to show the small blue/green disc.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9.  Visible through a scope, in the SE, as darkness falls in early January.  On 1st it is at 27 degrees in the south at 17.30, setting at 21.50.  On 18th it is 21 degrees above the horizon at dusk and by month end isn't easy to see, as it is at only 14 degrees as the sky darkens.  A decent amateur scope should show the planet as a small blue disc.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Libra, mag 8.9.  Should be a good photographic target, or maybe visible in large binoculars or a small scope, in the morning sky.  On 1st it rises at 03.48 and reaches 19 degrees by dawn. It moves into Scorpio on 31st, when it rises at 02.47 and gets to an altitude of 20 degrees before the sky brightens.  Because it is so small it will only appear as a point of light, even in a large scope.

The others are out of reach of even the largest amateur scopes but could be targets for experienced astrophotographers using good equipment and the 'spot the difference' technique used to discover Pluto.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 14.7.  Not visible this month as it is very close to the Sun.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8.  Much fainter but better placed for imaging. especially in the early part of January.  On 1st it reaches 34 degrees in the south at 19.06, an hour before the start of astro darkness, and sets at 01.01. On 31st it is at 32 degrees in the south as the sky darkens soon after 18.00, setting around 23.00.

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4. On 1st it rises at 00.10 and reaches 50 degrees in the SE before the sky brightens.  From mid January it culminates in astro darkness - 52 degrees at 05.47 on 31st.

Makemake: in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1.  Rises at 22.00 on 1st, and culminates, at 60 degrees, a few minutes after astro darkness ends. On 31st it reaches this altitude at 04.36 while the sky is still fully dark.

Recommended websites for more info and full details of planetary positions:

Meteor Showers

One major shower in January.
Quadrantids, active Dec 28th to Jan 12th, peak on the night of 3rd/4th, ZHr 25 to 40, more according to some sources.  They all agree that this shower has a very short peak, about 6 hours, centred this year on 02.20, and is best seen between midnight and 4am, when the radiant is high in the sky.  They are medium paced, not especialy bright meteors not usually leaving trails, but sometimes including fireballs. They occur when the Earth passes through debris in the orbit of asteroid 2003EH1, thought to be a remnant of defunct comet C1490X1. The name is derived from the former constellation Quadrans Muralis, the mural (or wall mounted) quadrant, which disappeared when it was omitted from the IAU's list of officially recognised constellations in 1922. The location of the shower radiant is now part of Bootes. 

The antihelion source (ANT) is active in January.  These are meteors, not belonging to any specific shower, which have a radiant on the ecliptic, opposite the position of the Sun.  ZHR is given as around 3.

There are also 2 very minor showers for which not much information is available.

Kappa Cancrids peak on the night of 9th/10th. The radiant is very close to that of the ANT but meteors from the shower should be easily distinguishable as they are much faster moving.

Gamma Ursa Minorids, active 10th to 22nd, peak 18th, ZHR 3.  Slow moving meteors.


Comets

46P Wirtanen is past its best, recently discovered C2018V2 (Machholz- Fujikawa- Iwamoto) has disappeared behind the Sun and there are 2 much fainter ones which may be good photographic targets.

46P Wirtanen starts the month in Lynx at around mag 5.3.  It is circumpolar but best seen soon after midnight, when it reaches an altitude of 84 degrees in the north. On 2nd it moves into Camelopardalis and on 9th into Ursa Major.  Not easily seen in the latter part of the month, despite being almost overhead at 01.00 on 31st - it is expected to have faded to mag 8.3 by this time.

C2018L2(Atlas)  Starts the month in Hercules at mag 9.4 and may be visible in a small scope 22 degrees above the western horizon at around 17.30.  It moves into Sagitta on 2nd and Vulpecula on 9th.  Between 12th and 18th it should be above the horizon at both dawn and dusk, then it ends the month as a morning object slightly fainter at mag 9.8. On 31st it will be 26 degrees above the eastern horizon at dawn.

38P Stephan-Oterma. In Lynx, mag 9.9.  Circumpolar and visible (through a scope) for most of the night throughout January.   Starts the month a little to the west of Wirtanen, 77 degrees above the southern horizon at 2am, but the faster moving Wirtanen soon leaves it behind.  On 31st it is at 37 degrees in the NE at dusk and 33 degrees in the NW at dawn.

Comet co-ordinates and position charts can be found in the websites mentioned earlier, and also in www.cometwatch.co.uk

Special Events

We have a Total Lunar Eclipse on the morning of 21st. The partial phase begin at 03.33 with totality starting at 04.41 when the Moon will be 29.9 degrees above the horizon.  Totality ends an hour later at 05.43, still in astro darkness, when the Moon is about 9 degrees lower in the sky.  The last of the shadow leaves the Moon at 06.50.  The face of the Moon can be seen during totality, usually having a reddish or brown hue, even though it is completely in shadow.  This is because some of the Sun's light is refracted by the Earth's atmosphere, the blue end of the spectrum is more widely scattered leaving the red light to illuminate the Moon.  The actual colour depends on atmospheric conditions at the time of the eclipse.

And finally .....

Only a few hours into the New Year, at 05.33 on January 1st, after a journey of almost 13 years New Horizons will pass a Kuiper Belt Object at a distance of only 3,500 km - almost 4 times closer than it was to Pluto.  The KBO's designation is (486958) 2014MU69, but it has been given the unofficial (ie not recognised by the all powerful IAU) name of Ultima Thule - a name meaning beyond the borders of the known world, or a distant unknown region at the limit of travel and discovery.  It is about 6 billion miles from Earth and so small that it can't be seen as anything but a speck until New Horizons is almost at its closest.  The probe cannot receive and transmit data at the same time, so it will not begin sending any information back to Earth until about 4 hours after its closest encounter.  It will then take another 6 hours to reach us so, if all goes well, we might begin to learn about this tiny, distant icy world in the late afternoon of New Year's Day.   It will take about 2 years for all the data collected during the flyby to be sent back to Earth.
And New Horizons still has some fuel left, so that might not be the end of its story.

1-10 of 32