The night sky this month

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

The night sky in April 2018

posted 30 Mar 2018, 12:40 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Mar 2018, 15:24 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:    1st    06.42           30th     05.36
Sunset:     1st    19.44           30th     20.36

Astronomical Darkness
1st:    21.50  to  04.34      30th    23.21  to  02.49

New Moon:  16th at 02.57
Full Moon:   30th at 01.58

This full Moon is known as the Pink Moon because many flowers of this colour bloom in April. No Lunar eclipse this month, so it won't appear pink. In Old English/Anglo Saxon it was known as the Egg Moon.

Highlights - and lowlights

No more HPAG meetings until late September, fewer and fewer hours of darkness, and as for true astronomical darkness only 6hrs 44m on 1st and a measly 3hrs 28m on 30th.  And let's not forget the proverbial April showers which mar many a night's observing.
On the plus side Venus and Jupiter are both shining brightly, their positions still improving as the month goes on.  We have the Lyrid meteor shower peaking on 22nd, the likelihood of bright fireballs and, though there won't be anything to see, Uranus makes a rare move. There are bright mid evening passes of the ISS every evening from 1st to 6th.

On 1st we have Easter Sunday, which could be considered to be an astronomical event because of the way it's calculated - it's the first Sunday after the first full Moon on or after the Vernal equinox. For anyone who may be interested, the earliest possible date for Easter Sunday is March 22nd. This happens only very rarely, the last time was in 1818, the next will be 2038.  The latest is April 23rd, not nearly so uncommon:  last in1943, next time in 2038.  The most common date is April 19th.  And, though the sequence of dates may appear to be completely random, it isn't - it starts to repeat itself after 5,700,000 years.

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  Pisces, mag 5.8. At inferior conjunction on 1st and is not visible, rising only 18 minutes before the Sun. It hardly improves during the month, on 30th it rises at 05.07, only 29 minutes before sunrise.  It will have brightened to mag 0.3 by 30th  but is hardly visible as it is still below the horizon as the sky brightens. 

Venus: in Aries, mag -3.9. An evening object, its position improving throughout April but still to reach its best.  On 1st it sets at 21.11, almost 2 hours after Sunset, and is  12 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens. It moves into Taurus on 20th and from 22nd to 26th passes south of the Pleiades.  By month end it has moved to the north of the Hyades, is 17 degrees above the horizon at 9pm and sets 2 and a half hours after the Sun.

Mars:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.3. Still quite low in the sky.  On 1st it rises at 03.24 and reaches an altitude of 11 degrees above the horizon before the sky starts to brighten.  It appears close to Saturn, separated by less than 2 degrees on 2nd, when they are both north of the Teapot asterism.  Mars then moves away following a path eastwards between the Teapot and the less obvious Teaspoon asterism.  By month end it will have brightened to mag -0.3, rising half an hour after midnight but still not culminating in darkness.  The distance between Mars and Earth is now decreasing so the planet appears larger when seen through a scope.

Jupiter
:  in Libra, mag -2.4. Dominating the sky for most of the night during April.  On 1st it rises at 23.22, culminating at 03.51, when it will be 19 degrees above the southern horizon.  It is close to the gibbous Moon on 3rd/4th.  It  brightens slightly during the month, mag -2.5 on 30th, when it rises at 21.11 and culminates at 01.46.

Saturn
:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.5. Rises at  03.18 on 1st and reaches an elevation of 12 degrees by the time the sky brightens.  Best seen between 05.0 and 06.00.  On 30th it rises at 01.24 and culminates half an hour before sunrise, reaching an altitude of 13 degrees before the sky brightens.  It will  be slightly brighter at mag 0.4.

Uranus: in Pisces, mag 5.9. Not easy to see this month, even at the beginning - on 1st it sets about 90 minutes after the Sun, a couple of hours before astronomical darkness begins.  Conjunction is on 18th, when the planet appears only 3 degrees from the Sun, so can't be seen.  It then becomes a morning object but still not visible - on 30th it rises only 15 minutes before Sunrise.  However, Uranus does undergo a rare change in April.  Because it takes 84 years to orbit the Sun it remains in each Zodiac sign for an average of 7 years,  On April 28th it moves into Aries, where it will remain until March 2025.

Neptune
: not visible

Minor planets


Ceres
, in Cancer, mag 7.9. Should be visible in good binoculars and small telescopes, especially in early April, but only as a point of light as it is so small. On 1st it culminates at 21.12 and is 67 degrees above the southern horizon. By month end it will have faded to mag 8.4, setting at  04.57.

Haumea
, in Bootes, mag 17.3. Reaches opposition on 14th but is out of reach of most amateur scopes.  However it is a possible photographic target as it moves slowly eastwards below Arcturus.

Makemake, in Coma Betrenices, mag 17.

For more information on planetary positions, see
https://in-the-sky.org/ephemeris.php
Minor planets come under the heading 'Asteroids'.

Meteors

One fairly major shower this month.

Lyrids, active 14th - 30th, peak 22nd,  ZHR 18 - 20. This is the earliest known shower, recorded in 687BC by Chinese astronomers who said that meteors 'fell like rain'.  Not nearly so prolific now but occasionally puts on a spectacular show, the last time in 1982 when a ZHR of 90 was recorded. These are medium paced meteors, average mag around 2.  Their parent comet is C/1801G Thatcher, which we will never see.  It last came close to the Sun in 1861 and won't return until 2276.  The shower is best seen, this year, on the morning of 22nd after the 48.5% lit Moon has set at 02.34.

A few minor showers are mentioned on various sites, however these are not in the International Meteor Organisation calendar,  and sources don't always agree on dates - or anything else.

Gamma Virginids: active 5th - 21st, peak 14/15th  (some sites say there is no definite peak)  ZHR 5

Delta Draconids:  active March 28th to April 12th.  ZHR 5. Very slow moving meteors, leaving trails.  Best seen around midnight.
Some sources give 2 separate showers - Delta Draconids,  March 13 to April 17th, peak March 31st to April 2nd,  and Tau Draconids, March 28th to April 12th, peak April 1st.

Alpha Bootids:  April14th to May 13th, peak April 28th.  Very slow moving leaving fine trails.  This shower could include fireballs.

April fireballs:  Active from 14th -20th,  Meteors of mag -3 or brighter with no specific radiant.  They appear to come from the SE area of the sky.

And the Antihelion source is active in the first half of the month and again near the end.   These are meteors not belonging to any particular shower, having a radiant on the ecliptic, oposite the position of the Sun.


Comets

Again, there are several very faint comets around, none brighter than mag 10.5. One worth mentioning is C2016R2 (panSTARRS)  mag 11.0. moving from Perseus into Auriga,towards Capella.  Notable  for its bright blue tail. For more information, see www.cometwatch.co.uk/current-observable-comets/

The night sky in March 2018

posted 28 Feb 2018, 01:52 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise        1st:   06.57       31st:    06.45  (BST)
Sunset         1st:   17.46       31st:    19.42    "

Astronomical darkness 
 1st:   19.12 -  04.58      31st:  21.47 - 04.37  "  

British Summer time begins on Sunday 25th at 01.00, when the clocks go forward one hour.
The Vernal Equinox. when the centre of the Sun's disc crosses the plane of the celestial equator, is on 20th at 16.15.  Despite the name, day and night are not equal then - the day is 12hrs 10 mins 19 seconds long.   The closest day to 12 hours is 18th at 12h.01m.46s. 

Full Moon:    2nd at 00.51  and  31st at 13.36
New Moon:   17th at 13.11

The full Moon on 2nd is known as the Worm Moon because it is when the ground begins to soften after the Winter frosts and worms reappear.  (but maybe not this year).  It is sometimes known as the Lenten Moon - for obvious reasons.
The second one is, of course, another Blue Moon - but just a regular one this time.

Highlights

Again, not a lot in the way of things to look forward to.  Planetary positions are improving slightly, with Jupiter rising earlier and Venus setting later, but neither has yet reached its best for the year.  The Moon passes through the Hyades on 22nd, occulting several of the stars.  It passes in front of Aldebaran soon after 23.30 but they will be very low in the sky by this time.
What we really need to do this month is to appreciate the things we'll soon have  to say goodbye to until next Autumn, so enjoy them while you can.   Orion, the most beautiful constellation in the sky is setting soon after 11pm by the end of March, we have less astronomical darkness: fewer than 7 hours at month end,  BST is imposed on us from 25th and, worst of all, our last meeting of the season is on 29th.

Constellations

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

Not the best time for planetary observation, all the naked eye planets are very low in the sky, even at their highest point.

Mercury:  in Aquarius, mag  -1.3. Not visible in the first few days of the month,  on 1st it sets about 80 minutes after the Sun but is only 6 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens.  On 3rd it moves into Pisces and a few days later may be glimpsed briefly soon after Sunset.  On 6th it will be at an altitude of 8 degrees at 18.00.  The following couple of weeks is the best time this year to see it, it will be higher in the sky as darkness falls - 12 degrees on 13th - but will have faded to mag -0.7.  It reaches Greatest Eastern Elongation on 15th, when it sets 1hr 45 minutes after the Sun, but is down to mag -0.4.  It fades rapidly during the rest of the month, mag 0.3 on 19th and 1.1 on 22nd, when it will be very low in the West at dusk.  It won't be visible by month end as it appears only 4 degrees from the Sun and will have faded to mag 5.3.

Venus:  in Aquarius, mag 3.9. Appears close to Mercury in the early evening sky for much of March.  On 1st it sets at 18.46 about an hour after the Sun but will be only 6 degrees above the horizon at dusk.  It moves into Pisces on 3rd, when it appears only one degree left of the much fainter planet, neither easy to see as they are very low in the darkening sky.  Venus sets 3 or 4 minutes later each night and, after the first few days of March, should be more easily visible, low in the West at dusk. It spends a couple of days (13 & 14th) in the non Zodiac constellation of Cetus the whale before moving back into Pisces for the rest of the month.  On 18th, Venus, Mercury and the 1% lit Moon will appear in a straight line about 30 minutes after Sunset, with Venus in the middle at an altitude of 10%, Mercury slightly higher and the Moon very low.  By the last week of the month Venus is still getting higher in the evening sky, leaving Mercury behind. On 31st it is 12 degrees above the horizon at dusk and sets at 21.28.

Mars:  in Ophiuchus, mag 0.8. On 1st it rises at 03.03 and reaches its highest point at 06.49.  Because of its relatively fast Eastward movement it rises less than a minute earlier each day.  Moves into Sagittarius on 12th.  It is now getting closer to Earth so during the month will brighten, and the disc will appear to be increasing in size when seen through a scope.  However, the downside is that it remains very low in the sky, no higher than 11 degrees throughout March.  On 31st, when it will be at mag 0.3, it rises at 03.26 and culminates after Sunrise.

Jupiter:  in Libra, mag -2.2. Rises at 00.32 on 1st, and reaches its highest point, 19 degrees above the S horizon, just before 5am - as astronomical darkness ends.  It rises 3 or 4 minutes earlier each day,  before midnight after the first week of the month.  Like Mars it appears to increase in size during March, and also brightens slightly.  It ends the month at mag -2.4, rising at 23.36 and culminating at 03.56.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.6. Visible low in the pre dawn SE sky, a little to the North of the teapot asterism.  Rises at 04.14 on 1st but is best seen after 11th, when it will be 11 degrees above above the horizon as dawn breaks.  On this day it is just 2 degrees from the 34% lit Moon.  At month end it rises at 03.22 and will be at mag 0.5.  During the month the slightly brighter and much more reddish hued Mars appears to be moving towards Saturn, on 31 st they will be separated by only 1.5 degrees.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.3. On 1st it is 24 degrees above the Western horizon as the sky darkens, setting a few minutes after 22.00.  Sets a few minutes earlier each day and is soon lost in the evening twilight.  On 28th it is only a quarter of a degree from Venus but too faint to be seen with the unaided eye.  Might be visible in binoculars but DO NOT point binoculars or a scope at Venus until the Sun is fully below the horizon.

Dwarf Planets
Makemake is at opposition on 24th but at a mag of only 17 won't be visible in most amateur scopes.  Could be a possible photographic target as it passes through Coma Berenices in a NW direction.
At mag 7.6 Ceres, in Cancer, is a much better bet for telescopic observation.  On 1st it culminates at 22.23, about 68 degrees above the S horizon.  On 31st it culminates at 21.16.  

For more information on the position of planets, dwarf planets and other Solar system objects see  https://in-the-sky.org/ephemeris.php  or https://theskylive.com

Meteors

Another bad month for meteor spotters in the Northern hemisphere.  If you do happen to be South of the equator there is the Gamma Normids which peak on 16th with a ZHR of 6.
From our latitudes the best we can expect is several small showers with radiants in Virgo - the pi Virginids (peak between 3rd & 9th), eta Virginids (peak 18th) and the theta Virginids (peak 20th), all with a ZHR of 3 or less.  The International Meteor Organisation now classes these as part of the antihelion source as the radiants are very close and the showers almost impossible to separate.

Comets

There are still several faint comets around but none are brighter than mag 10.5.  For anyone who wants to try their hand at photographing these, more details can be found in www.cometwatch.co.uk/current-observable-comets/

The night sky in February 2018

posted 31 Jan 2018, 15:01 by Pete Collins   [ updated 1 Feb 2018, 07:41 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:   1st    07.54         28th    06.59
Sunset:    1st    16.51         28th    17.44

Astronomical darkness: 
1st:   18.52  -  05.51         28th:  19.40  -  05.01

Highlights

Not much to highlight this month.  Jupiter is shining brightly in the morning sky and, towards month end, Venus re-appears as an evening 'star'.

The Sun is rising a couple of minutes earlier and setting a couple of minutes later each day now, but we still have quite a long period of astronomical darkness - 11 hours on 1st and a little over 9 hours on 28th.  However, by month end, astronomical twilight doesn't end until 19.40 - almost half way through our meeting time.

On 15th there is a partial Solar eclipse, but it's only visible much further South - in parts of S America, the Southern Pacific & Atlantic oceans and Antarctica.

There are some bright early evening passes of the ISS in the first half of the month. See www.heavens-above.com for details.

One of the most interesting things this month is something that doesn't happen.  We have what is referred to as a Black Moon, meaning a calendar month with no full Moon.  This can only happen in February and is quite rare,  the last time was in 1999 and the next won't be until 2037.  Black Moon isn't a recognised astronomical term and is also used to describe the second new Moon in a month or the third new Moon in a season with 4.  Both of these seem to make more sense, referring to something which does happen, rather than something which doesn't.

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 -0.6. At the start of February it rises only 14 minutes before the Sun and won't be visible in the bright pre dawn sky.  On 17th it moves into Aquarius on the same day as it reaches superior conjunction, the furthest point in its orbit from Earth, on the opposite side of the Sun.  It then becomes an evening object but still not easily seen.  By the end of Feb it sets at 18.27,  only 45 minutes after the Sun, and will have brightened to mag -1.4.

Venus:  in Capricorn,  mag -3.9. An evening object.  At the start of February it sets only 18 minutes after the Sun, so won't be visible despite its brightness.  It moves into Aquarius on 9th and by mid month might be seen very low in the West, soon after Sunset.  On 28th it sets at 18.42, almost an hour after the Sun, and will appear very close to the ten times fainter Mercury.

Mars:  in Scorpio, mag 1.2. A morning object, rising soon after 3am throughout February.  On 1st this is about 3 and a half hours before sunrise.  On 9th it moves into Ophiuchus.  It spends most of February quite close to the 'rival of Mars', red supergiant Antares, at their closest - about 5 degrees apart - on the morning of 12th.  because Mars is still relatively distant from Earth, it is still quite faint and will appear similar in brightness to the star, as well as in colour.   At around 4.30 on the morning of 9th, the 35% lit Moon joins them to form a straight line. 

Jupiter;  in Libra, mag -2.0. Shining brightly in the morning sky.  On 1st it rises at 02.12 and culminates at 06.39, just as the sky begins to brighten.  By month end it will be slightly brighter at mag -2.2, rising just an hour after midnight and culminating while the sky is still at its darkest.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.6. Rises a couple of hours before the Sun at the start of February, but is very low in the SE brightening sky.  On the morning of 11th the 18% lit Moon will be just 4 degrees NW of the planet.  By the end of the month it rises at 04.25, 2 and a half hours before the Sun, while the sky is still dark.  It will still be very low - only about 8 degrees - and difficult to see.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.8. The only planet which is currently in the northern celestial hemisphere is now past its best for observing.  On 1st it sets just before midnight, having reached its highest point in the sky as the Sun sets.  By the end of the month it will have faded slightly to mag 5.9 and be setting a few minutes after 10pm.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 8.0. At the start of February it sets only 2 hours after the Sun and, by month end, at 18.00 - only 16 minutes after Sunset, so not visible.

Dwarf Planets  

Ceres, in Cancer, is still very well placed for amateur observation, especially in the early part of Feb, when it is just past opposition and is at mag 6.9.  On 1st it culminates at 00.41, by month end it reaches its highest point at 22.23 and will have faded to mag 7.3.  Because it is so small, it will only ever show as a point of light in amateur scopes so is probably best as a photographic target.
Eris in Cetus,  Haumea in Bootes and Makemake in Coma Berenices are all well placed this month, but at magnitudes of around 17 to 18 are out of range of amateur scopes.
If you really want to try imaging them, exact positions can be found on
This site also gives positions of major planets, asteroids etc.

Meteor Showers

Unless you happen to be in the southern hemisphere, when the alpha Centaurids can be seen between Jan 31st and  Feb 20th,  this month is very poor for meteors.  
Some sites mention the delta Leonids,  active Feb 5th to March 19th, peak 22nd, ZHR 3.    These are said not to be associated with any particular comet but to be caused when the Earth passes through a dust cloud across its orbit.
However, the International Meteor Organisation no longer includes this in their listings, so maybe it was more temporary than first thought.

Comets

There are still several faint comets around but none brighter than mag 10.5.  If you do want to try your luck photographing one of these, details can be found on
The next reasonably bright comet expected in our skies is 46P/Wirtanen, which is predicted to reach mag 3 in December.
But we all know what comets are like, so don't hold your breath!

The night sky in January 2018

posted 31 Dec 2017, 07:36 by Pete Collins   [ updated 31 Dec 2017, 07:40 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:   1st   08.24          31st    07.55
Sunset:    1st   16.00          31st    16.49

Astronomical darkness
1st:   18.10  to  06.14       31st:   18.51  to  05.53

Full Moon:  2nd at 02.24    and  31st at 13.26
New Moon  17th at 02.18

The Earth reaches perihelion (closest point in its orbit to the Sun) on Jan 3rd at 05.35, when it will be at a distance of 147,097,000 km.

Highlights

This month we have 2 Supermoons, more correctly known as perigee-syzygy Moons:  perigee meaning closest point to Earth, syzygy meaning 3 celestial bodies in a straight line.  We have a reasonable meteor shower, ruined this year by bright Moonight (or, more likely, clouds), a dwarf planet at opposition, and the ISS is back in the evening sky from 26th.  We still have a good amount of astronomical darkness, a few minutes short of 12 hours at the start of the month and nearly 11 hours at the end - long enough to enjoy the beautiful rich winter skies.    We hope!

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.


The Winter Hexagon
Planets

Mercury
:  in Ophiuchus, mag -0.3. Reaches Greatest Western Elongation on 1st but is still very low in the sky despite rising nearly 2 hours before the Sun. It might just be visible from a site with an unobstructed SE horizon.  It moves into Sagittarius on 9th and between 12th and 15th it appears very close to Saturn.  On 13th they are separated by a little over half a degree, both rising about an hour before the Sun.  It won't be visible at all in the later part of January, on 31st it rises only 15 minutes before the Sun.

Venus
:  in Sagittarius, mag -3.9. Not visible for most of January, on 1st it rises only 3 minutes before the Sun.  It reaches superior conjunction on 9th and moves into Capricorn on 18th.  By month end it will be an evening 'star' but still not easily seen as it sets only 17 minutes after Sunset.

Mars:  in Libra, mag 1.5. Another morning object, visible in the pre-dawn sky.  On 1st it rises at 03.34 almost 5 hours before sunrise.  During the first week of January it appears to move towards Jupiter, closest on the morning of 7th, when they are separated by only about a quarter of a degree.  By month end, when it rises 4.5 hours before the Sun, it will have brightened slightly to mag 1.3 and be close to Antares - the red supergiant in Scorpio.

Jupiter:  in Libra, mag -1.8. Increasingly conspicuous in the morning sky, on 1st it rises at 03.49 and culminates at 08.23, as the sun is rising.  By month end, when it will have brightened to mag -2, it rises at 02.15 and culminates only 45 minutes after the end of astronomical darkness.

Saturn
:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.5. Now a morning object but not visible for most of the month.  On 1st it rises only 43 minutes before the Sun.  By month end that is increased to 2 hours, so it might possibly be seen from somewhere with a low, clear SW horizon.

Uranus: in Pisces, mag 5.8. Only visible in the earlier part of the night this month. On 1st it is high in the sky, about 46 degrees, soon after the start of astronomical darkness and sets around 2am.  On 31st it sets just before midnight. Not really a naked eye object, except in ideal conditions.  Should be visible in decent binoculars. 

Neptune
:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9. Not easy to see after the first week in January.  On 1st it sets at 21.37, on 31st at 19.44 during astronomical twilight.

Recommended websites for more info on positions of planets and other Solar System objects
 https://in-the-sky.org         https://theskylive.com

The Moon

The Moon warrants its own section this month. We have 2 full Moons, the first on 2nd at 02.24. is known as the Wolf Moon - so called by Native Americans as this is the time when hungry wolves are likely to be howling.  On 31st at 13.36 we have the Snow Moon.  This is a Blue Moon, if we use the newer definition of the second full Moon in a calendar month. Both these full moons can be called Supermoons, as their apparent size is 90% or more of the maximum possible. The first of these is the largest of 2018,  slightly bigger than the one in December. It occurs only 4 and a half hours after perigee.

On 31st, there is a total lunar eclipse. unfortunately only visible on the opposite side of the Earth - parts of NE Europe, Asia, Australia, NZ and the Pacific Ocean. If you do happen to be in the right area at the time of totality, you will, weather permitting, be treated to the sight of a blood red blue Supermoon.  Or should that be a blood red Super blue Moon?

Meteor Showers

One fairly strong shower in January.

The Quadrantids, active 1st -10th, peak on the night of 3rd/4th,  Estimates of ZHR varies according to source used,  25,  40 or even more. This shower has a very short peak, only about 6 hours.  They are medium paced meteors not usually leaving trails.  The shower often includes bright fireballs.  It is named after the former constellation Quadrans Muralis, now part of Bootes, and is thought to originate from dust left by asteroid 2003 EH1, probably the remains of extinct comet C1490X1. This year only the very brightest meteors will be visible because of the proximity of the very bright just-past-full Moon.

Minor Showers

Ursa Minorids:  active 10th - 22nd,  peak 18th,  ZHR 3. Not much information about this one.  However conditions will be favourable, no Moon interference.

The Antihelion Source - meteors not belonging to any particular shower,  having their radiant on the ecliptic, opposite the position of the Sun - is active in early January.  ZHR around 3.

Kappa Cancrids: Again, not much information.  Possible activity around 21.00 on 9th.  The radiant of these is very close to the Antihelion Source but the meteors should be distinguishable as these are faster moving.

Comets

There are still several faint comets around,  none naked eye or even binocular
Well positioned are:
Pan STARRS (2016P2) mag somewhere between 10.5 and 13.2 (as always, sources fail to agree).   Moving in a NW direction through Taurus, in the first week of the month it passes below the bottom star of the Hyades, the V shaped group of stars in Taurus.  it's at its closest on 5th & 6th.  It ends the month a few degrees east of the Pleiades.

Heinze (2017T1) Currently mag 13 but expected to brighten during January, maybe to around mag 9.  Moving eastwards through Lynx, Camelopardis, Cassiopeia and finishing the month in Pegasus.

For details of all visible comets, see

Finally

Dwarf planet Ceres, in Cancer,  reaches opposition on 31st, at a distance from Earth of 1.6AU.  Best seen around midnight when it will will be at its highest point, about 42 degrees.  It will be at mag 6.8, so an easy target for amateur scopes and photographers.  However, even though it is by far the largest object in the Asteroid Belt, accounting for about 25% of the total mass, it is too small to appear as anything other than star like.
For exact position at any time, see
https://in-the-sky.org/news.php?id=20180131_13_100

The night sky in December 2017

posted 30 Nov 2017, 01:48 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise      1st:  08.01           31st:  08.25
Sunset       1st:  15.53           31st:  15.59

Astronomical darkness
1st:  18.01  to  05.54         31st:  18.09  to  06.14

The Winter Solstice is Thursday 21st at 16.27,  the shortest day at 7 hours 28 minutes 39 seconds. It is also the day of the HPAG Christmas party.

Latest Sunrise:   29th & 30th,  08.25
Earliest Sunset:  13th,   15.49

Full Moon:  3rd Dec at 15.46, known as The Cold Moon for obvious reasons.
New Moon: 18th Dec at 06.30

Highlights

This month we have one major meteor shower and a few minor ones, around 12 hours of astronomical darkness each night, we have the shortest day and, more importantly for astronomers, the longest night.

On the night of 30th/31st the Moon passes the Hyades - the V shaped Head of the Bull asterism in Taurus.  Aldebaran, the Eye of the Bull, is occulted in the early hours of 31st, disappearing a few minutes after 1am and reappearing about 15 minutes before 2am. 
We also have a perigee-syzygy Moon.  OK, call it a Supermoon if you really must. It will be the biggest and brightest full Moon of the year - though the next one, in early Jan, will be even better.


Constellations

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

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

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


Planets

Mercury:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.2.  Not easy to see this month, it starts December as an evening object, very low in the SW after sunset.  On 1st it sets at 16.47, just over an hour after the Sun.  On 6th, when it has faded to mag 1.5, it is only 1.5 degrees from Saturn - the pair may be visible, from a site with an unobstructed SW horizon, about 25 minutes after sunset.  On 10th it moves into Ophiuchus and 2 days later reaches inferior conjunction.  It then becomes a morning object.  On 15th it is 2 degrees from Venus, but both are very low in the SE and very difficult to see. On 17th it is at mag 2.4 and lies 1 degree South of the very thin crescent Moon. By 31st it rises almost 2 hours before the Sun and will have brightened to mag -0.2. 

Venus:  in Libra, mag -3.9.  Another planet which appears very close to the Sun this month.  On 1st it rises about an hour before it, then a few minutes later each day.  It may be seen for a short while before Sunrise in the first week of December.  Moves into Scorpio on 4th, Ophiuchus on 8th and Sagittarius on 23rd.  On 31st it rises only 5 minutes before the Sun.

Mars:  in Virgo, mag 1.7.  Because of its relatively fast eastward motion against the background stars it rises around the same time throughout December,  03.42 on 1st, then about quarter of a minute earlier each day.  it also brightens very slightly during the month as its position improves. On the morning of 25th it rises at 03.36 and should be visible for a while before the sky brightens.  However it is hardly a Christmas star in the East, at a mag of only 1.5.  On the morning of 31st it rises almost 5 hours before the Sun and is 3 degrees from the much brighter Jupiter.

Jupiter:  in Libra, mag -1.7.  Another improving morning object.  On 1st it rises at 05.17, then 2 or 3 minutes later each day during the month.  On 25th it rises at 04.10 and, at mag -1.8, is a much better candidate for the Christmas star. On 31st it rises at 03.52 and culminates at 08.26, just as the Sun is rising. 

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.5.  Appears very close to the Sun throughout December.  On 1st it sets at 17.04 and might be seen very close to the SW horizon soon after Sunset.  Unlikely to be visible after the first few days of the month as it approaches conjunction on 21st.  By month end it is a morning object, rising just over an hour before the Sun on 31st.
  
Uranus: in Pisces, mag 5.7.  Once again this is the best positioned planet for observing - it's a pity that it isn't a bright naked eye object.  On 1st it reaches it's highest point in the sky at 20.58 and sets at 03.55, 2 hours before astronomical darkness ends.  By 31st it is culminating 2 hours earlier and sets around 2am.  During the month it fades slightly, to mag 5.8,  still theoretically a naked eye object - if both the conditions and the eye in question are perfect.  Binoculars or, better still a telescope, should show the small blue green disc.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9.  Past its best now, visible only in the early part of the night.  On 1st it culminates at 18.18. soon after astronomical darkness begins, and sets 20 minutes before midnight. By month end it culminates just after Sunset and sets at 21.41. It may be visible in good binoculars under ideal conditions but is best seen in a telescope in order to see its rich blue colour.


Meteor Showers

One major shower, the Geminids: active Dec 4th to 19th, peak in the early hours of 14th.  ZHR could be as high as 120 but is likely to be far fewer. These bright, medium speed meteors are the only major shower which originate from an asteroid - 3200 Phaethon - rather than a comet.  This shower often has near maximum rates for several hours either side of the peak.  The 13.5% lit Moon rises at 03.53 on 14th, so won't cause too much interference.

Minor showers

Ursids, active Dec 17th to 26th, peak 22nd,  ZHR usually 5 -10 but can be as many as 25. Occasional outbursts of 50 per hour have been observed - last seen in 1945 and 1986.  These are medium paced meteors, parent comet 8P/Tuttle.  The Moon sets at 20.09 on 22nd so no interference.

Leo Minorids, active Dec 5th to Feb 4th, peak 20th, ZHR 5.  A weak but long lasting shower.

Coma Berenicids, active 12th to 23rd, peak 16th, ZHR 3.  Another weak shower best seen around 1am when the radiant is high in the sky.   Again, no Moon interference. These were once thought to be part of the Leo Minorids but are now regarded as a separate shower.

Minor planets and Asteroids

Two days after the peak of the Geminids, its parent object, asteroid 3200 Phaethon passes Earth at a distance of only 10.3 million Km/6.4 million miles. At maximum mag 10.9 it isn't visible to the naked eye but might be of interest to astrophotographers.
For exact position on any day see https://in-the-sky.org/data/object.php?id=25877  (or id=a3200 which appears to be exactly the same)

Ceres in Leo and Makemake in Coma Berenieces are both well placed for imaging.
For more info on these, and all planets, minor planets and asteroids see:-

Comets

No comets brighter than mag 10 this month, however for astrophotographers, we have several between mag 11 & 17.
or  https://in-the-sky.org/data/comets.php

The night sky in November 2017

posted 31 Oct 2017, 13:53 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise   1st:   07.08       30th:  08.00
Sunset    1st:  16.36        30th   15.54

Astronomical darkness
1st:  18.34  -  05.11       31st   18.02  -  05.53

Full Moon      05.22 on Nov 4th
New Moon     11.42 on Nov 18th

Highlights

Not much in the way of highlights this month, the main one being that we have lots of astronomical darkness - about ten and a half hours on 1st and and almost 12 hours at the end of the month.  And it starts at a reasonable time now we've gone back to proper time.   The planets are still not great for naked eye observers,  Venus and Saturn are past their best, Mars and Jupiter start November badly placed but their positions improve over the month.  We have a reasonable meteor shower in the Leonids, a few minor meteor showers and several very faint comets, most of which are only visible in fair sized scopes.

Constellations

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

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


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

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

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


Planets

Mercury: in Libra, mag -0.4. At the start of November it sets only a few minutes after the Sun and is not visible.  Moves into Scorpio on 6th then spends most of the month along the border of that and Ophiuchus before crossing into Sagittarius on 29th.  Reaches greatest Eastern elongation around midnight on 23rd/24th.  On 30th it sets at 16.48, almost an hour after the Sun and will have dimmed slightly to mag -0.2.  On this day it is 3 degrees South of Saturn, very low in the SW just after Sunset and still not easy to spot.

Venus: in Virgo,  mag -3.9. On 1st it rises at 05.22, less than 2 hours before Sunrise, and may be visible for a short time before the sky gets too bright.  On the morning of 13th it is only 16 arcminutes from Jupiter, low in the SE. It moves into Libra on 14th.  At the end of the month it rises only 70 minutes before the Sun and is not easy to see, despite its brightness.
 
Mars:  in Virgo, mag 1.8. A morning object, appearing low in the sky before Sunrise.  On 1st it rises at 03.50 and might be spotted before the sky begins to brighten.  On the morning of 15th it is 3 degrees from the 9% lit Moon.   Its position improves during the month, by 31st it  rises about 4 hours before the Sun. Because of its apparent Eastward motion against the background stars, the planet rises around 4am throughout November but the Sun is rising a little later each day so the difference is increasing.  It is still on the far side of its orbit, relative to Earth, so is not particularly bright and shows only a small disc when seen through a scope.

Jupiter:  in Virgo, mag -1.7. Another morning object whose position is improving during November.  On 1st it rises only half an hour before Sunrise. It moves into Libra on 15th, and rises at 6am.  The following morning Jupiter, Venus and the 1% lit Moon form a triangle which may be seen very low in the ESE at about 06.30 - if you are viewing from a site with a very low, unobstructed horizon.  On 30th  it rises just over 2 and a half hours before the Sun - about 30 mins before astronomical darkness ends.

Saturn:  in Ophiuchus, mag 0.5. Unlike Jupiter, Saturn's position deteriorates during November.   On 1st it sets 2hrs 14 minutes after the Sun, 15 minutes after the sky gets fully dark.  On 20th it moves into Sagittarius and is less than 5 degrees East of the 4% lit Moon, very low in the West, setting at 7.42pm.  At the end of the month it sets only 75 minutes after the Sun and is not bright enough to be seen in the twilit sky.

For those with telescopes, the 2 ice giants are a much better prospect.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.7. Still a good binocular target.  It's the only planet currently above the celestial equator.  On 1st it reaches is highest point in the sky (46 degrees) just before 11pm and sets at 6am, about an hour before Sunrise.  On 30th it culminates at 9pm and sets at 4am.   For those with perfect eyesight, who are lucky enough to be visiting (or live in) a dark sky site, now is a good time to try to spot it with the naked eye.  If you have average sight and live in the Manchester area you will need good binoculars.  A telescope will show the small blue/green disc.  If we get some clear nights over the next few weeks we should be able to see it through the scopes at HPAG meetings.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9. Best seen in the early part of the night this month. On 1st it culminates at 20.15 and sets soon after 1.30,  by 30th it culminates at 18.22, a few minutes before astronomical darkness begins, and sets 20 minutes before midnight.  Could possibly be seen in very good binoculars, under ideal conditions, but its blue coloured disc can only be seen through a telescope.

Recommended websites for exact positions of all planets, minor planets and asteroids are:

Meteor Showers

No major showers this month, but we have one reasonable one.

Leonids:  active November 6th to 30th, peak 18th midnight till dawn,  ZHR 10. These are very fast moving (44 miles/second) bright meteors, often leaving trails. The parent comet is 65P Tempel-Tuttle.  The Moon won't interfere, as it doesn't rise until 6am on 17th.  However, the weather probably will interfere!

Minor Showers

Northern Taurids: active Oct 20th - Dec 10th.  Peak 11/12th  ZHR 5. Bright, slow moving meteors, associated with the Southern Taurids, they are thought to have originated as one shower, which later broke into 2 separate streams.  Parent comet for both is the predecessor of Comet Encke - a large comet which broke up, one piece becoming the comet., another generating the meteors. This year the shower is probably best seen before the Moon rises at midnight. In late October and early November, when both the S & N Taurids are active, there is sometimes a big increase in the number of fireballs seen.  Maybe not this year but still worth looking.

November Orionids:  active Nov 14th to Dec 6th,  peak 28th.  ZHR 3. The Moon sets just before 2am on 28th, so the best time to see them is between then and around 6am, when the sky begins to brighten. They are debris from comet C1917F1(Mellish). The radiant of these is only a few degrees East of that of  the N Taurids but it should be easy to distinguish between meteors from the 2 showers as the Orionids are much faster moving.

Alpha Monocerids:  active Nov 13th to Dec 2nd,  peak 21st, ZHR 3 -5. This shower is mainly known for its occasional very short spectacular outbursts - the last, in 1995, saw about 35 meteors in 5 minutes.  The radiant is very low from our latitude, so the actual number seen is likely to be fewer than 3.

And finally - on the night of 30th Nov/1st Dec we could have a shower that doesn't even have a name.  The Earth is expected to pass through debris from Comet 46P/Wirtanen, producing some fairly slow moving meteors.  The radiant is in Pisces - and that's all I could find out about that one.

Comets

There are still a few faint fuzzy blobs around, none naked eye, unfortunately.

2017/01 (ASSASN) moves through Camelopardalis and Cepheus towards Polaris. Best seen in the middle of the month, when it will be about 10 degrees above Polaris at midnight. 
24P Schaumasse and 62P/Tsuchinan are both in Leo, moving into Virgo, following very similar paths,  with 62P about 2 weeks behind.
On 3rd, 24P/Schaumasse passes just south of the Triplet Galaxy cluster but the Moon will interfere.  24P/Tsuchinan passes between M96 and M105 on the morning of 11th.
A very good site for details of all visible comets, including magnitude and exact position on any night, is
https://in-the-sky.org/data/comets.php

The night sky in October 2017

posted 30 Sep 2017, 15:49 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise    1st:  07.10             31st: 07.06
Sunset     1st:  18.45             31st: 16.38

Astronomical darkness
!st:  20.42 to 05.18       31st: 18.36 to 05.09

Full Moon:  Oct 5th at 19.40     New Moon:  Oct 19th at 21-12

British Summer Time ends Sunday 29th at 02.00

Highlights

This month we have lots of astronomical darkness,  one major and several (very) minor meteor showers, a few very faint comets and another near Earth asteroid - but don't panic,  despite what you my have seen on some not very scientific internet sites, it isn't Nibiru and it isn't going to destroy the Earth. There are also some bright early evening passes of the ISS during the first half of the month. See Heavens Above for times.
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

Again, not the best time for planetary observation, the position of Mars does improve during the month but Venus and Saturn are both becoming less prominent.  However, it's better news for telescopic observations, the distant ice giants are both quite well placed.

Mercury:  in Virgo, mag -1.4. Hardly visible at all this month.  On 1st it rises only 44 minutes before the Sun and sets at sunset.  Brightens slightly over the next few days but rises closer and closer to sunrise.  Reaches superior conjunction on 8th but is not visible in the evening twilight for the remainder of the month.  Moves into Libra on 23rd.  By month end it will have faded to mag -0.4 and sets at 16.53 - only 15 minutes after the Sun.

Venus:  in Leo,  mag -3.9. Still very bright in the dawn sky but is visible for a minute or two less each day.  On 1st it rises at 04.41, almost two and a half hours before the Sun,  on 5th and 6th it is very close to the much fainter Mars - 22 arcminutes at its closest. It is now moving away from us so the disc appears quite small when seen through a telescope.  It moves into Virgo on 10th and by month end is rising less than 2 hours before the Sun.

Mars:  in Leo, mag 1.8. Not easy to see at the start of October.  On 1st it rises at 04.58,  just over 2 hours before the Sun, but is too faint to be seen in the dawn glow as it is now on the far side of its orbit, relative to Earth.  It moves into Virgo on 13th and on 17th is about 3 degrees below the 6% lit Moon.  By the end of October it rises more than 3 hours before the Sun and should be visible for a short while before the sky begins to brighten.

Jupiter:  not visible this month.

Saturn:in Ophiuchus, mag 0.5. On 1st it sets at 21.43 and should be visible very low in the SSW as the sky darkens.  It isn't easily seen after the first week of October,  on 24th it is 3.5 degrees SW of the 21% lit Moon but both are very low in the sky.  By month end it sets aboutt 2 hours after the Sun but isn't bright enough to be seen in the twilight.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.7. Still very well placed, it reaches opposition on 19th and is visible for most of the night throughout October.  On 1st it rises half an hour after sunset and reaches its highest point, about 45 degrees, at 02.10. On 31st it rises just before sunset and culminates (i.e. at its highest in the sky, due south) soon after 23.00.   Still bright - for Uranus - possibly visible to the naked eye from a very dark sky site, and a reasonable binocular target.  An amateur telescope should show a small greenish blue disc.

Neptune:  in Aquarius,  mag 7.8. The other distant ice world is also reasonably placed in October. On 1st it rises 45 minutes before Sunset and culminates at 23.00, about 29 degrees above the S horizon.  By month end it culminates at 20.20 and sets at 01.43, so can be seen during the earlier part of the evening.  It is much too faint to be seen with the naked eye or maybe even binoculars, but its blue colour should show in a reasonable sized scope.

For more details on planetary positions see

Meteor Showers

This month we have one major and a few minor showers - some so minor that they may well be non existent.

Orionids:  active late Sept to mid (or maybe late, depending on which source you believe) October.  Max Oct 21st/22nd  ZHR 20.  Enhanced activity probable for a few days either side of the peak.   These are fast moving meteors often leaving trails,  possibly including some fireballs.   This shower is caused when the Earth passes through dust clouds left by Comet 1P/Halley.  This year the Moon will be just past new on the date of maximum activity so will not interfere.

Minor Showers

Camelopardids:  peak 5th/6th   ZHR 1.   Not much activity in the last few years.

Draconids (AKA Giacobinids)  max 8th/9th  ZHR 2.  Usually includes many more meteors which are so faint that they can only be detected using radio or radar.   This shower occasionally shows more activity but is not predicted for this year.  2018 may be better.   parent comet 21P/ Giacobini-Zinner.

Delta Aurigids:  active mid Sept to mid October,  peak 11th ZHR 2.   Best seen in the early hours.

Southern Taurids:  active late September to Nov 19th,  peak 10th,  ZHR 5.  There are also several minor peaks in October and November.  These are bright, slow moving meteors often with coloured fireballs.  This shower is best seen around midnight. It is thought that the Southern and Northern Taurids were originally just one shower which was split into 2 by a close encounter with Jupiter many thousands of years ago.  The parent comet is long defunct - it broke into pieces, one of which is now Comet Encke.

Epsilon Geminids:  active 19th - 27th,  peak 18th/19th,  ZHR 2  fast moving meteors, probably debris from Comet Nishikawa-Takamizawa-Tago.

Leonids Minorids:  peak 24th,  ZHR 2.  parent comet C/1739K1.


Comets 

We have a few faint fuzzies this month.

2016B2 PanSTARRS passes through Orion's Belt.  It starts the month to the South of Alnilam, then between 10th and 14th passes only 10 arcminutes East of the star,  It then moves NE finishing October about half a degree North of Mintaka.  Magnitude at brightest expected to be around 10.

2017/01(ASSASN) passes through Perseus and Camelopardis, heading towards Polaris.  It s thought that this one could possibly brighten to mag 8, or even 7.

24P/Schaumasse travels Southwards through Leo's sickle asterism during October.   Starts the month at mag.12.1, expected to brighten to 10.7 by month end.

Moving in a parallel path to this, about 3 degrees South and a few days behind is the fainter 62P/Tsuchinshan, mag 13 brightening slightly to 12.4 by late October.

For exact positions of these at any time see www.cometwatch.co.uk or either of the websites given for planetary positions.

And finally ...

On Oct 12th, we have another close encounter with an asteroid.  At 10 - 30 metres long 2012 TC4 is smaller than last month's Florence, but will get much closer to us.  At 07.00 BST it will pass Earth at a distance of around 50,000 km.  Because it is so close, it will appear to move quite quickly against the background stars,  about half a degree per minute through Capricornus.  It will be very faint- mag 13 or 14 at maximum.

The night sky in September 2017

posted 29 Aug 2017, 13:37 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

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

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


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

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

Highlights

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

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

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

Constellations

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

Milky Way & Summer Triangle from Derbyshire

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

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

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

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

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


Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more details on planetary positons see

Meteor Showers

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

Minor showers are:

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

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

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

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

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

And finally ...

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

The night sky in August 2017

posted 28 Jul 2017, 11:46 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

Highlights

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

Constellations

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

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

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

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minor Showers

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

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

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

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

Comets

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

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


Eclipses

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

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

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

The night sky in July 2017

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

by Anne Holt

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

Astronomical darkness:   1st    none    31st    00.47 to 01.44

Full Moon   9th       New Moon   23rd

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

Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constellations

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

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

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

Planets


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meteors

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

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

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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