The night sky this month

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

The night sky in May 2017

posted 28 Apr 2017, 16:03 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:       1st    05.34         31st     04.47
Sunset:        1st    20.39         31st     21.26 

Astronomical darkness:    1st   23.27  to  02.43        31st   none

Full Moon  10th       New Moon  25th


Once again it's a problem finding any - there's more light than high.   On 1st of May we have 3 and a quarter hours of astronomical darkness but this rapidly diminishes and from 14th there is none at all until the end of July.  We have one reasonably good meteor shower (as always, weather permitting) and a trio of comets.  The end of the month sees the start of the season for noctilucent clouds.  These are very fine, wispy blue tinged clouds. so high in the atmosphere that they catch the sunlight before sunrise and after sunset.  They could be seen low in the NW, 90 mins to 2 hrs after sunset, and in the NE before sunrise. The ISS is back in the late evening sky from 23May and into June.


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.


Still not a good time for planetary observing with only Jupiter particularly prominent this month.

Mercury:  in Pisces, mag 2.4. A morning object throughout May but difficult to see as it remains very low in the sky.  At the start of the month it rises only 20 minutes before the sun.  It reaches Greatest Western Elongation on 17th but is still too low to be seen in the bright dawn sky.  By month end it rises 40 minutes before sunrise, and will have brightened to mag -0.2 but is still not an easy target.

Venus:  in Pisces, mag -4.5. Another one which is very low in the morning sky, so not easy to spot despite its brightness.  It rises just over an hour before the Sun on 1st May, and about 90  minutes before by the end, when it will have dimmed slightly to -4.3 but should be visible in the brightening dawn sky

Mars:  in Taurus, mag 1.6. Sets around 23.00 throughout May but because of the lengthening days the gap reduces during the month, from two and a half hours to 90 minutes after sunset.   Best seen early in the month when it will be to the north of the V shaped Hyades asterism very low in the west, soon after sunset.

Jupiter:  in Virgo,  mag -2.2. Still the only planet putting on a good show, especially in early May, when it is visible for most of the night, setting about 20 minutes before sunrise.   On 7th the 22% lit moon passes to the north of the planet.  By month end it reaches its highest point in the sky only an hour after sunset and sets around 3am. 

There are several transits of the Galilean moons and their shadows, including two brief shadow transits.  On the morning of 12th the shadows of Europa and Io are both on the face of the planet between 02.58 and 03.04 -  a whole six minutes! On 25th we have the shadows of Ganymede and Io for slightly longer, 23 minutes from 01.16 to 01.39. 

Saturn:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.3. Starts the month to the north of the teapot asterism, rising around half an hour after midnight.  On 14th it is 2.3 degrees from the 91% lit Moon, rising about 20 minutes before midnight.   It is currently moving westwards against the background stars (retrograde) and crosses back into Ophiuchus on 19th.
At the end of May it rises at 22.17 and will have brightened slightly to mag 0.1. It remains very low in the sky - max 15 degrees - throughout May but is still worth viewing through a scope as the angle of the rings makes it a beautiful sight.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.9. Rises 20 minutes before the Sun at the start of May and only 90 minutes before on 31st,  so not visible in the dawn sky.

Neptune:  in Aquarius,  mag 7.9. Not visible in early May, rising a few minutes after 4am, only 90 minutes after the Sun.  By month end it rises soon after 2am and may be seen through a telescope as a small blue disc in the dawn sky.

Meteor Showers

One fairly major shower this month, the Eta Aquarids, dust particles from Halley's Comet, are active between April 19th and May 28th.  The peak is expected on the night of 5th/6th but enhanced activity is probable for a few days either side of this.  ZHR could be anywhere between 10 and 50, depending on which source of information is believed, but is likely to be closer to the lower figure from our latitudes as the radiant is very low and the shower is best seen from the Southern Hemisphere.
These are fast moving meteors, often leaving persistent trails, and may include some Earthgrazers:  bright, long lasting meteors moving horizontally across the sky just before dawn.  This is the best time to view the shower, especially this year when the 85% lit moon doesn't set until 04.14 on the morning of 6th.

Minor Showers

Eta Lyrids:  active 3rd to 12th, peak 9th/10th  ZHR 7.  These originate from comet C/1983 H1 (IRAS Araki-Alcock) and are best seen between 2am and dawn.

The antihelion source, meteors with a radiant on the ecliptic, directly opposite the position of the sun, are active in early May and again towards the end of the month.  ZHR 3-4.

And, in the latter half of May there are a couple of daytime showers -  which isn't much use unless you happen to have radio or radar detectors.


C2015/V2 Johnson starts May in Hercules, at mag 7.4, then moves into Bootes on 3rd, spending the rest of the month moving down the eastern edge of the kite asterism.  By month end it should have reached its maximum brightness of mag 6.7.   Best seen in the second half of the month when the Moon is out of the way. 

41P Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak *** is close to Vega in Lyra at the start of May, then moves southwards down the border of Lyra and Hercules during the month.  Starts May at around mag 9 and fades to 10.9 by the end.

71P Clark  starts May in Ophiuchus before moving into Scorpio, finishing the month 2 degrees east of Antares.  Magnitude around 12, making it a telescopic rather than binocular target.

***  Aplologies, last month I referred to this as Tuttle-Giacobini-Knesal.  Obviously can't read my own writing in my notes.  Did anybody spot this? (the mistake, not the comet)

For more more detailed positions of planets and comets see

The night sky in April 2017

posted 1 Apr 2017, 08:30 by Pete Collins   [ updated 3 Apr 2017, 12:37 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:  1st    06.42         30th    05.36
Sunset    1st    19.44         31st    20.37

Astronomical darkness 
1st:     21.50  to  04.33        30th:   23.33  to  02.50

Full Moon   11th       New Moon   26th


'Light' is the key word here - we're approaching the time of year when there's far too much of it for astronomers' liking.

We have one bright planet, a couple of binocular comets, an ancient meteor shower, and a chance of some fireballs.

On 28th the 8% lit moon occults Aldeberan - the eye of the bull - in Taurus, between 19.08 and 20.00.   This is, as you have probably realised, is in daylight but should be visible in scopes.

There are some bright early evening passes of the International Space Station from 1 - 9 April.


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 beautiful area round the Winter Hexagon, so rich in bright stars, is sinking slowly in the West.

Winter Hexagon

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.


One planet puts on a really good show this month - and this time it isn't Venus!

Mercury:  in Aries, mag -0.1. Best seen in the first week of April.  At greatest Eastern elongation on 1st,  when it sets at 21.35.  It is still very low in the Western sky and should be visible between 20.00 and 20.30.  During the rest of the month it won't be easy to see - it fades rapidly as it approaches inferior conjunction on 20th.   It then becomes a morning object, moving into Pisces on 22nd and rising only 20 minutes before the sun at month end.

Venus:  in Pisces, mag -4.0. Another one which isn't easily seen during April.  It rises about an hour before the sun throughout the month but is very low in the dawn sky, so, despite its brilliance, it is nowhere near as prominent as it has been in the evening sky during the last few months.

Mars:  in Aries,  mag 1.5. Best seen in the early part of the month.  It sets at around 23.00 throughout April but by the end of the month, when the sun isn't setting until after 20.00, is quite low in the West as the sky darkens.   Moves into Taurus on 13th, and on 20th is slightly less than 4 degrees South of the Pleiades

Jupiter:  in Virgo, mag -2.4. The star of the April sky, shining brightly for most of the night throughout the month,  rising soon after sunset at the start of April.  It is at opposition on 7th and by month end is quite high in the sky as it gets dark, culminating half an hour before midnight.    In the early hours of 11th the full Moon passes just 1.5 degrees north of the planet. On the morning of 4th both Io and Ganymede pass into Jupiter's shadow,  Io at 01.40 and Ganymede at 05.38.  Io reappears from behind the planet's disc at 03.57.  On the night of 14th/15th Ganymede and its shadow cross the face of Jupiter,  Ganymede from to 22.57  to  01.01, the shadow following about an hour later.  Ganymede also transits on 22nd between 02.12 and 05.49.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius,  mag 0.4. Rises around 02.30 in early April and a couple of hours earlier at the end of the month.  Still very low in the sky - only 15 degrees above the horizon at its highest point.   However the rings are still wide open so it is well worth viewing through a telescope if you have a clear southern horizon.

Uranus:  in Pisces,  mag 5.9. Sets about an hour after the Sun so is barely visible this month.

Neptune:  not visible.

Meteor Showers

One fairly strong shower this month.

The Lyrids, active 16th to 25th, peak on the night of 22nd/23rd but should also be quite good on the nights before and after.   ZHR 20,  occasionally much higher but the enhanced rates are not predicted for this year.   As with most showers, the best time to observe is between midnight and dawn.  The Moon will not interfere.
These meteors originate from Comet C/1801G1 Thatcher,  it is the oldest known shower, recorded by Chinese astronomers in 687BC.  It is also the strongest shower from a long period comet.

Minor Showers

Librids:  active 15th to 30th with several short peaks.

Delta Draconids:  active March 28th to April 17th with no definite peak.  These are very slow meteors which leave conspicuous trails.  they were first recorded in 1971.

Spring antihelion source, meteors appearing to come from the area of the ecliptic directly opposite the position of the sun, are active early to mid April and again near the end of the month.  ZHR 3 - 4.

And finally, we may have some fireballs - meteors of magnitude minus 3 or brighter. 

The April fireballs are active 14th to 20th.  These have no specific radiant, but appear to emanate from the South Eastern part of the sky.  They sometimes reach the ground as meteorites.

Alpha Bootids, peak on 28th.   This shower could also include fireballs - slow moving and leaving smoky trails.


41P / Tuttle-Giacobini-Knesal starts April in Draco, just above the bowl of the Plough - close to the location of the Hubble Deep Field.  During the month it moves eastwards and is SW of Vega on 30th.  Its magnitude is expected to reach a peak of 6.6 between 5th and 11th,  then fade to 7.6 by month end.

C/2015 V2 Johnson moves much more slowly through Hercules during April.  It should brighten slowly from 8.3 to 7.4

Both should be visible in binoculars.

For more detailed info on planet and comet positions see

International Space Station passes

Times are correct for North Manchester. See for more information and to set your observing location.

The night sky in March 2017

posted 28 Feb 2017, 07:24 by Pete Collins   [ updated 28 Feb 2017, 07:30 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:   1st    06.56      31st    06.44
Sunset     1st    17.47      31st    19.42

Astronomical darkness:  
                 1st:  19.43   to   04.58
               31st   21.48   to   04.36

Full Moon  12th      New Moon  28th


As in previous years, it's a struggle to find any real highlights in March.  Venus is losing its place as the bright evening 'star' but Jupiter is rising earlier and is beginning to dominate the late evening sky. We also have two binocular comets. There are plenty of visible ISS passes this month, but they are in the hours before dawn.

However at this time of year the skies tend to be cloudy rather than bright and starry and darkness falls later and later throughout the month.  By month end the Sun sets before 20.00 - though that is partly because of the compulsory 'do everything an hour earlier'  aka British Summer Time which is imposed on us from Sunday 26th. 
The Vernal (Spring) Equinox, defined as the moment when the plane of the Earth's equator passes through the centre of the Sun's disc, is at 10.29 on March 20th.  Despitre the name day and night are not quite equal then - the day is actually 12 hr: 11 min : 20 secs long.  The closest to 12 hours is March 17th, which is just 88 seconds short.


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.


Mercury:  in Aquarius  mag -1.4. Not visible early in the month as it approaches inferior conjunction on 7th,   on 1st it rises only 5 minutes after the Sun.  By mid March it may be seen in the evening setting 40 minutes after the Sun on 14th and at 21.35, almost 2 hours after Sunset, on 31st.  By this time it will be around mag -0.4 and best seen around 20.00. Around these dates is probably the best time this year to track down this elusive planet - it's bright, but not easy to see so close to the horizon.

Venus:  in Pisces  mag -4.4. Still very bright in the evening sky at the start of March but rapidly losing height above the western horizon as the month progresses.  Reaches inferior conjunction (the closest point in its orbit to the Earth) on 23rd, when, because of the inclination of its orbit, it will appear to be directly above the sun and may be seen in both the morning and evening twilight for a couple of days.   By month end it is a morning object, rising about an hour before the sun and showing a 2% lit crescent.

Mars  in Pisces, moving into Aries on 9th, mag 1.3. On 1st it sets at 21.50, 4 hours after the sun, and will be only 2 degrees above Uranus - a good binocular target, weather permitting.  By month end it will be setting at 23.00 (now BST, so actually around the same time throughout the month)  but slightly dimmer, at mag 1.5.

Jupiter:  in Virgo  mag -2.3. Now becoming prominent in the late evening sky. At the start of March it rises at 21.27 and by month end will be above the horizon soon after 20.00, culminating (reaching its highest point in the sky) at 10.42.  There are several transits this month, as the Galilean moons and their shadows pass between us and the planet.
These include:
2nd/3rd   Ganymede's shadow  22.30  to  01.10
               Ganymede                02.06  to  04.02

10th        Ganymede's shadow  02.37  to  05.06
               Ganymede                05.30  to  07.26

19th/20th  Io's shadow             23.44  to  01.55 
                 Io                           00.11  to  02.21

So, between 00.11 and 01.56, both Io and its shadow will be seen against the face of the planet - a good photo opportunity, perhaps.

Saturn:  in Sagittarius  mag 0.5. Not particularly prominent this month.  It's a morning object throughout, rising just before 03.30 on 1st.  By month end, when it rises at 02.30, it culminates at 06.19 just under half an hour before Sunrise.  It will still be very low in the sky, reaching an altitude of only 22 and a half degrees but worth seeing as the rings are still favourably positioned, angled at around 26 degrees.

Uranus:  in Pisces  mag 5.9. Appears close to Mars in early March but is only 17 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 21.39.  By month end it sets just over an hour after the sun and won't be visible in the twilit sky.

Neptune: Not visible this month.


C/2015V2 Johnson is still around, spending March moving through Hercules. It is expected to brighten during the month, from mag 9.1 to mag 8.1. It isexpected to reach mag 6 by May (but comets are notoriously unpredictable!)

41PTuttle-Giacobini-Knesak starts the month at mag 10, positioned to the north of Leo's Sickle asterism, then moves towards Ursa Major ending the month just above the bowl of the Plough.   It will be much brighter at mag 6.9,  unfortunately still below the limit of naked eye visibility - even for those lucky enough to live in an area where the skies are really dark.

For more details of positions of planets, comets etc see:


No major showers this month, and not much in the way of minor ones either.

The Gamma Normids, which peak on March 16th, are only visible from the Southern Hemisphere, and the Camelopardids, peaking on 22nd, have a ZHR of only 1. Their main (only!) claim to fame is that they are the slowest known meteors, moving at only 7km/sec. 

The best chance of seeing a few meteors is probably the Spring Antihelion Source, radiant on the ecliptic directly opposite the position of the sun,  ZHR 3 to 4.

The night sky in February 2017

posted 31 Jan 2017, 15:45 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise:  1st    07.54        28th     06.59
Sunset:   1st    16.32        28th     17.54

Astronomical darkness
1st:   18.53  to   05.57      28th:   19.41  to  05.00

Full Moon  11th      New Moon   26th

Struggling to find any real highlights this month.  Venus and Jupiter are still bright and well placed,  we have a couple of comets described as 'binocular' - though probably only visible through scopes in our polluted skies. 

There's a penumbral Lunar eclipse on 26th/27th, when the Moon passes through the outer, fainter, part of the Earth's shadow.  If the sky is clear a slight darkening may be seen between 22.34 and 02.53.

On 26th, there is an annular Solar eclipse.  the Moon is at its furthest from Earth, so the disc appears too small to cover the sun,  leaving a ring of light.  The bad news is that it is only visible from certain parts of S America, the South Atlantic and S W Africa.  

There are some bright early evening passes of the International Space Station from 1st to 12th of the month. See ISS visible passes


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 prominemt, 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 start 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.


Mercury:   in Sagittarius until 7th, then moves through Capricorn and into Aquarius on 25th.  Not easily seen this month, on 1st it rises less than an hour before the Sun and a few minutes after it on 28th.   On the first few days of February it might just be possible to spot it, very low in the SE about 20 minutes before sunrise.

Venus:  in Pisces, mag - 4.5. Now at its brightest, shining like a beacon in the SW evening sky, setting around 21.15 throughout February.  During the month, observers using a scope or good binoculars will be able to see the crescent become thinner and the diameter increase as the planet is now moving towards us.

Mars:  in Pisces, mag 0.9. Remains quite close to Venus throughout February - slightly higher and to the left of the much brighter planet.  Sets at 21.38 on 1st, when it will appear midway between Venus and the 24% lit waxing Moon. By month end it will have faded slightly to mag 1.1 and set a few minutes later at 21.49.

Jupiter:  in Virgo, mag -2.1. Rises at 23.22 on 1st and 21.32 at month end, shining brightly in the later part of the night.  It culminates (reaches its highest point in the sky) during astronomical darkness throughout the month. From 6th it is retrograde - appearing to move Westwards against the background stars.

Saturn:  in Ophiuchus, mag 0.6. Still not well placed, though its position is improving slightly.  It rises a few minutes after 5am on 1st and at 03.30 by month end - when it will have finally moved out of Ophiuchus into Sagittarius.  The waxing crescent moon passes a few degrees above it on the night of 20th/21st.  

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.9. Best seen in early Feb, when it sets a little before 11.30.  On 26th it is just over half a degree SE of Mars and both should be visible through good binoculars.  Best seen around 18.30 when they will be 28 degrees above the SW horizon.  Both planets set at 21.50.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 8.0. Appears very close to the Sun this month.  On 1st it sets at 19.27, about 2 1/2 hours after the Sun and just before it by 28th.


No major showers this month - unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere on 7th/8th when the alpha Centaurids peak.    For those of us further North the best we can manage is the delta Leonids, active between Feb 9th and March 12th, peak 26th,  ZHR up to 5.  These are slow moving, not particularly bright meteors often leaving trains.  First  recorded in 1911, they are not associated with any particular comet and are thought to be a temporary stream caused when the Earth passes through a dust cloud lying across its orbit.     The later part of the month might see some activity from the antihelion source - meteors, not belonging to a specific shower,  which appear to emanate from the point on the ecliptic directly opposite the position of the sun.


A couple of theoretically binocular comets are visible in our skies this month. 

45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova is just past perihelion and will be very low in the East just before sunrise at the start of the month, when it is predicted to have a magnitude of around 7.  As it moves rapidly Northwards it becomes visible earlier - towards the end of the month it passes above Leo and will be visible from 21.00, though it is expected to have faded to mag 11.   It is at its closest to Earth on 11th - the night of the full Moon.

C/2015 V2 (Johnson).  the orbit of this comet is thought to be a hyberbola, an open curve, so when it has passed round the Sun it will travel to the outer reaches of the Solar System, or beyond, never to return.   It starts February in Bootes, moving Westwards across the sky into Hercules by mid month. It has yet to reach its predicted maximum brightness.

For more details of these,  see  and

The night sky in January 2017

posted 30 Dec 2016, 05:29 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunrise.      1st:   08.25       31st:   07.55
Sunset         1st;  16.01       31st;   16.50

Astronomical darkness:
1st:    18.11  to  06.15
31st   18.52  to  05.54

Full moon 12th      New moon  28th


The nights have now started to get shorter but we still have plenty of dark hours for astronomers to enjoy - even if they do tend to be somewhat chilly.
The Earth reaches perihelion, the closest point in its orbit to the sun, on Jan 4th at 14.18, when it will be at a distance of 147,100,997 km, or 0.9833 AU.  (one AU being the average distance).
We have one major and two minor meteor showers, a comet which should be visible in binoculars, and a chance to see the brightest and faintest of the major planets in the same binocular field of view.


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 Leo is above the south eastern horizon by 9pm.


Mercury - mag 0.5,  in Sagittarius. A morning object, rising around 7.30 at the start of January.  On 8th it is 7 degrees East of Saturn, rising at 06.46.  It reaches greatest Western elongation on 19th, when it rises 90 minutes before the sun and will have brightened to mag -0.1. However it is still very low - only 3.7 degrees above the SE horizon.   By month end it rises at around 7am.

Venus - mag  -4.4,  in Aquarius, moving into Pisces on 24th. Totally unmissable (clouds and tall buildings permitting) in the early evening sky.  Sets soon after 20.00 in early January. On Jan 1st it is 8 degrees East of the 11% waxing moon. On 12th, when it is at greatest Eastern elongation, it is only 22 arcminutes (two thirds of a full moon width) NW of Neptune.  At about 18.20 it should be possible to see both planets in the same field of view in binoculars or a small telescope. At the end of the month it sets about 4 and a half hours after the sun.

Mars - mag 0.5,  in Aquarius, moving into Pisces on 20th. Should be visible as an orange red 'star' in the early evening SW sky, setting around 21.30 throughout the month.. On 1st it is only 20 arcminutes East of Neptune - again, a good binocular target.

Jupiter - mag -1.9   in Virgo. At the start of January it rises soon after 1am, and by 23.30 at month end, when it will be slightly brighter at mag -2.2, and will reach its highest point in the sky just before 5am, in astronomical darkness.  It is just a few degrees from bright star Spica throughout the month.

Saturn - mag 0.4,  in Ophiuchus. A morning object, visible as a yellow 'star', low in the SE sky just before dawn. Rises only 90 minutes before the sun on Jan 1st, increasing to almost 3 hours by the end of the month.

Uranus - mag 5.9, in Pisces.  Best seen in early January when it reaches its highest point (45 degrees) at around 18.30, when the sky is getting really dark, and sets around 01.30.   By the end of the month it sets a few minutes before 11.30. Still at the limits of naked eye visibility - but not from anywhere near Manchester, unfortunately.   A telescope is needed to show its blue/green disc.

Neptune - mag 7.9, in Aquarius. On 1st it is just 20 arcminutes from Mars and, on 20th, 22'  SE of Venus.  By month end it sets less than two and a half hours after the sun, soon after the start of astronomical darkness.  It might be spotted in decent binoculars under ideal conditions but best viewed through a telescope, when its beautiful blue colour can be seen.

Minor planet Vesta, the second largest known object in the asteroid belt, reaches opposition, in Cancer, on Jan 18th.   At mag 6.2 it is outside naked eye visibility but should be a fairly easy binocular target, or a good photo opportunity if the skies are clear for a few days around that date - take a series of images and play 'spot the difference'. For its exact position on any night see . https://theskylive/vesta-tracker

We also have a binocular comet, 45P/Honda-Mrkos/Pajdusakova.  It is in Capricorn, visible low in the South during the first half of January.   It is expected to reach mag 7.1. See https://theskylive/45P-tracker

Meteor Showers

One major shower this month, the Quadrantids - named after the former constellation Quadrans Muralis, now part of Bootes after it was left out of the IAU's official list of constellations published in 1922. Active between late December and January 10th.  It has a very short peak on Jan 3rd, centred on 14.00. ZHR 80 - 120.These meteors don't usually leave trains but the shower could include some fireballs. These are usually best seen after midnight when the radiant is high in the sky.  Try looking between 4am and dawn on 3rd, just before the peak, which is in daylight. This shower probably originates from asteroid .2003 EH1 - thought to be the remains of the nucleus of defunct comet C1490/X1.

A couple of very minor showers

Delta Cancrids - active Dec 14th to Feb 14th, peak 16/17th,  ZHR 1-4.
Coma Berenecids - active Dec 8th to Jan 23rd,  peak 18th, ZHR 1-2 but occasionally produces a much higher rate, including bright fireballs, so might be worth looking out for.  These are among the fastest meteors recorded, reaching a speed of 65 km/sec.  Could originate from an unconfirmed comet observed in 1912 by astronomer B Lowe.  

The night sky in December 2016

posted 30 Nov 2016, 11:23 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Nov 2016, 12:18 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise  1st:   08.02       31st:   08.25
Sunset   1st:   15.54       31st:   16.00

Astronomical darkness begins at around 18.00 throughout the month. 

Full moon:   14th     new moon:   29th 

Not much change in sunrise and sunset times this month, as we approach the Winter Solstice on 21st.   That day lasts 7 hours 28 minutes and 25 seconds  -  about 9 and a half hours shorter than the longest day, in June.
The earliest sunset is at 15.49 on 12th to 14th,  latest sunrise 08.25 on 25th to Jan 2nd.


The Geminid meteor shower peaking on the night of 12th/13th (see below).

We have two bright Christmas 'stars' on view this month:  Venus is extremely bright, magnitude  -4.2, but in the Western evening sky, and Jupiter is shining in the East before dawn,  although much less bright than Venus at a magnitude of 'only' -1.7.

On 12th, the Moon passes through the Hyades, the V shaped asterism in Taurus, occulting several of its stars and, in the early hours of 13th, occults Aldebaran, the orange-red giant star which marks the eye of the bull.  This will be between 05.22 and 05.50 when seen from the centre of the UK.

We also have a comet,  45p/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova.  However, it isn't well placed at present, being very low in the SW sky after sunset.  It is also faint - mag 12.2 in early December, though it is expected to brighten to about 7 by the end of the month.  Its position will improve during January.


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 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.


Mercury:  in Sagittarius. Again  not easy to see this month. On 1st it sets at 16.35, only 40 minutes after the sun.  On this day it is 8 degrees below the waxing crescent moon very low in the West.   It reaches greatest Eastern elongation on 11th, when it sets about an hour after sunset.  Towards month end it will appear to move much closer to the sun, setting a few minutes before it on 31st.

Venus: mag -4.2,  in Sagittarius moving into Capricorn on 8th. Unmissable in the evening sky, despite its fairly low altitude at sunset in early December.   On 1st it sets soon after 18.30 but can easily be seen in the twilit sky.  By month end it sets a few minutes after 20.00 and will have brightened slightly to - 4.4,  though the difference will be more pronounced as it will be much higher in the now darker sky. On 3rd it is 5.5 degrees SW of the 15% lit moon, low in the SSW at around 16.30.   Photographs anyone?

Mars:  mag 0.7 in Capricorn, moving into Aquarius on 16th. Because it is moving Eastwards against the background stars it sets at around the same time throughout.December:  21.00 on 1st and only 20 minutes later on 31st, when it will have faded slightly to mag 0.9.
Jupiter  mag -1.8 in Virgo. Shining brightly in the morning sky.  It rises at 02.18 on Dec 1st and about an hour earlier by month end, when it reaches its highest point while the sky is still dark. On 22nd/23rd it is quite close to the waning crescent moon. For those of you who want a Christmas 'star' in the East, on the morning of 25th it rises at about 01.40 and will be quite prominent from just before 3am until the sky brightens at dawn.

Saturn:  mag 0.5 in Ophiuchus. Hardly visible in December.  An evening star at the start of the month, setting about 30 minutes after the sun.  After conjunction on 10th it becomes a morning object.  On 31st it rises at 7am, about 90 minutes before the Sun, so might be spotted low in the pre dawn sky.

Uranus:  mag 5.9  in Pisces. Sets at 3.30 at the start of December, and a couple of hours earlier by 31st. Reaches its highest point in darkness throughout.   At 20.30 on 9th it is 3.5 degrees North of the 76% lit moon. Still at the limits of naked eye visibility (has anyone here ever seen it without optical aid?) it should be an easy binocular target but a scope is needed to show its blue green disc.

Neptune:  mag 7.9,  in Aquarius. Sets just before 23.30 in early December, when it is quite high in the sky as darkness falls.  By month end it is fairly low in the SW as the sky darkens, setting around 21.30.   On 31st it is separated from Mars by only 20 arcminutes (two thirds of a full moon width).  It should be visible in binoculars - if you know where to look - but you need to look through a telescope if you want to see its rich blue colour.

For exact positions on any day see  or


One major shower this month.

Geminids, active 4th to 16th, peak on the night of 12th/13th,  ZHR could be as high as 120. They are very bright, often multicoloured , fairly slow moving meteors.  This is the only major shower to originate from an asteroid- 3200 Phaeton - rather than a comet.  It is usually worth looking for these meteors from about 10pm, when the radiant is high in the sky. Unfortunately, this year all but the brightest will be washed out because of the proximity of the almost full moon throughout the night.

Minor showers

Ursids:  active 17th to 23rd, peak  21st/22nd.  ZHR usually 5 -10 but occasionally as many as 25.   These are medium speed meteors, associated with comet SP/Tuttle.  They will not have as much moon interference as the Gemenids - the 38% lit moon rises at 1am.

Puppa Velids,  peak 9th ZHR 15
The radiant is well below the horizon from our latitude but a few meteors may be seen shooting upwards in the SW.

Coma Berenecids,  active 12th to 23rd,  peak 18th  ZHR 3.  These were once regarded as part of the Leo Minorids but now thought to be a separate shower.

Leo Minorids:  active Dec 5th to Feb 4th,  peak 20th,  ZHR 5.  Should be distinuishable from the Coma Berenecids as they are slightly faster and stronger.

The night sky in November 2016

posted 31 Oct 2016, 02:47 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunset:  1 Nov  16.36     30 Nov  15.54

Astronomical darkness on 1st begins at 18.34, on 30th at 18.02 so all our November meetings will be held during the hours of darkness - all we need are the clear skies.

Full Moon 14th    New Moon 29th


We're back to Greenwich Mean time at last, which means that for the next 5 months (is that all?) my watch will be right.
We have one fairly major, and a couple of minor, meteor showers and naked eye planet positions are beginning to improve - slightly.
The full moon on 14th will be the closest to us this year, meaning that it will appear slightly larger than average.  This is often referred to as a supermoon, though the correct astronomical term is a perigee-syzygy moon.  (perigee meaning the closest point in the moon's orbit to Earth and syzygy meaning at opposition or conjunction - in this case the Earth, Moon and Sun are in a line:  ie full or new Moon)


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.


Mercury starts the month in Libra, then moves through Scorpio and into Ophiuchus on 18th. It appears very close to the Sun throughout November, setting not long after it. On 23rd it is only 3.5 derees from Saturn but, as Mercury sets only 23 minutes after sunset and Saturn half an hour later,  they won't be easy to spot very low in the Western sky.

Venus:  in Ophiuchus, moving into Sagittarius on 10th. Starts the month at mag 4.0 and sets about 80 minutes after the Sun.  By the end of November it will have brightened slightly to mag -4.2 and be above the horizon until just over two and a half hours after sunset. It will still be very low in the Western sky, because of the angle of the ecliptic, but is so bright that it should be easily visible from anywhere with a clear Western horizon.
Mars:  in Sagittarius  mag 0.4. Should be visible in the South as the sky darkens.  As it is moving Eastwards against the background stars, it sets around the same time, 21.00, throughout November.  By month end it will have moved into Capricorn and faded slightly to mag 0.6. as its distance from Earth increases.

Jupiter  in Virgo  mag -1.6. A morning object, easily visible in the pre-dawn skies.  At the start of November it rises almost 3 hours before the Sun, increasing to 5 hours by the end, when it will reach an altitude of 23 degrees during astronomical darkness.  On 25th it is just over one and a half degrees from the waning 15% Moon as they appear over the horizon a few minutes after 3am.

Saturn:   in Ophiuchus  mag 0.5. Sets at 18.00 at the start of the month and at 16.30, only half an hour after the Sun, at month end, when it will be very difficult to spot in the twilight.  On 1st it is just 4 degrees N of Venus and the following day lies beween the much brighter planet and the 7% lit moon.

Both of the distant ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, could be be good telescopic targets during HPAG meetings in November  - weather permitting, of course.

Uranus:  in Pisces mag 5.7. Favourable throughout November, at the start it reaches its highest point in the sky a little before 23.00. By month end it is at its highest at 20.45 and sets around 3.45.  It is still at the limits of naked eye visibility  so, if you are lucky enough to be viewing from a very dark sky site, have excellent eyesight - and know where to look - why not have a go? will give you its exact position. An amateur scope will show its greenish coloured disc
Neptune:   in Aquarius  mag 7.9. Not visible to the naked eye but a good amateur scope will show it as a small blue disc.  It is still quite well placed this month, at the start it reaches its highest point soon after 20.00 and sets at 1.25.  On 30th it culminates at 18.08 and sets a little before 23.30.

Meteor Showers

One major shower in November.

Leonids:  active between Nov 5th and Dec 3rd, peak Nov 17th.  ZHR could be as high as 20 but the presence of the bright gibbous moon will interfere and only the brightest will be seen.  These are very fast moving meteors often leaving persistent trains.

Minor showers

Southern Taurids:  still active but have now passed their peak.

The associated Northern Taurids are active between 20th October and 10h December.  Peak 12th November. ZHR 5. These are very bright, slow moving meteors ideal for imaging but this year will be badly affected by the presence of the almost full Moon.  Both Taurid streams are associated with a comet which broke up many thousands of years ago, one of the fragments becoming comet 2P/Encke

November Orionids: Active Nov 14th to Dec 6th.  Peak Nov 28th. ZHR 3. These have a lower rate than the other November showers but this year have the advantage of not being adversely afftected by moonlight, so might be a better bet if you want to spot a few meteors.  The parent comet is thought to be C/1917F1 (Mellish).
The November Orionids and Northern Taurids are both active in late November/early December and have radiants which are quite close together.  However, it should be fairly easy to distinguish between the two as the Orioniids are much faster moving.

The night sky in October 2016

posted 30 Sep 2016, 07:14 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Sep 2016, 07:34 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunset:   1st   18.48,       31st   16.38

Full Moon  16th,     New Moon 1st and 30th.


One major meteor shower, though it will be advesely affected by the presence of the gibbous moon.

On the night of 18th/19th the Moon will pass through the Hyades - the V shaped asterism in Taurus - several naked eye stars will be occulted.

There are some nice early evening passes of the ISS in the first half of the month - find them on, or for smartphone download ISS Detector for Android or ISS Spotter for iPhone.

Astronomical darkness, at the start of the month, begins shortly before 9pm,  and soon after 6.30 by month end.

And, in the early hours of 30th, we can go back to using Greenwich Mean Time - midnight will be at 00.00 hrs, where it belongs.


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.


A slight improvement on September's positions, but still not ideal for observing naked eye planets.

Mercury: may be visible in the first half of October,  on 1st it rises at 05.22 just under 2 hours before the Sun.  On 11th it is 0.8 degrees North of Jupiter, just before dawn. Reaches superior conjunction on 27th and is not visible during the second half of the month.

Venus:  in Ophiuchus,  mag -3.9. At the start of October it sets about an hour after the Sun, but is still very low in the sky because of the low angle of the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun around the Earth, on which most of the planets lie) -
 However, because it is so bright, it may be visible in the twilight.  On 3rd it is 5 degrees South of the crescent Moon. On 28th it passes between Antares and Saturn and on 30th is 3 degrees South of the planet.

Mars:  in Sagittarius, mag 0.1. Again, very low in the evening sky, setting at around 10pm in early October and just before 9 at the end, though, because of it's movement Eastward against the background stars, there isn't much actual change - the time difference is because of the clocks going back.

Jupiter:  in Virgo, mag 1.5. At the start of October is very low in the Eastern pre dawn sky, rising just half an hour before the sun.  By the end it will rise around 4.30 and be more easily visible before the sky begins to brighten.

Saturn:  in Ophiuchus, mag 0.5. Visible in early October, very low in the South West soon after sunset.  By the end of the month it sets about 90 minutes after the sun.

As last month the distant ice giants are much better placed for observation than the naked eye planets.

Uranus:  in Pisces, mag 5.7. Reaches opposition on 15th and is visible throughout the night this month, it is reasonably high in the sky an hour or so either side of midnight. On 16th it is 3 degrees North of the full Moon. It is easily seen in binoculars - if you know wherre to look - but a telescope is needed to show the planet's disc and blue green colour.

Neptune:  in Aquarius,  mag 7.8. Still quite well placed, especially during the first half of October. By the end it sets around 1am and is best seen before midnight. Much too faint to be seen with the naked eye, but could be visible through good binoculars from a dark sky site.  Through a telescope it's blue colour can be seen.

For exact positions of these two, see
This site can also be used if you want to try to spot dwarf planet Ceres, which is at opposition, in Cetus, on 21st and is at mag 7.8.
Another useful site for locating faint objects is
This one gives co-ordinates rather than position charts.


One major shower in October.

Orionids Active from early October until early November, peak early morning of 21st, ZHR 20.  Bright, fast moving meteors, some leaving trails.  This shower could include some fireballs.  The shower is caused when the Earth passes through a stream of dust left by Halley's Comet. Best seen between midnight and dawn but this year the gibbous moon will interfere.

Several minor showers in October - some more minor than others.

Camelopardids Peak 5th/6th, ZHR 1.  Occasionally puts on a much better show but often the shower isn't seen at all.

Draconids Peak 8th/9th, ZHR 2. This shower often includes many more meteors, but most are so faint that they can only be detected using radar.  It is unusual in that it is best seen before midnight,  when the radiant is high in the sky.  It is caused by dust particles from Comet Giacobini-Zinner.

Delta Aquarids Active, though again not very, mid September to mid October. Peak 11th, ZHR 2.  Best seen in the early hours.

Southern Taurids. Sept 10th to Nov 20th.  Peak October 10th, ZHR 5. Bright, slow moving meteors, could be some fireballs.  This shower is best seen around midnight. It is associated with the Northern Taurids, which start in late October but do not peak until November.  It's thought that thousands of years ago they were a single shower, but it has been split into 2 streams by the gravitational influence of Jupiter. They are associated with a large, long defunct comet, which broke up over 20,000 years ago, one of the fragments becoming Comet Encke.

Epsilon Geminids. Peak 18th/19th,  ZHR  3. Fast moving meteors.  Parent comet not known for sure, probably Nishikawa-Takamizawa-Tago.

Leonids Minorids. Peak 22nd/23rd, ZHR 2. Fast moving meteors, dust particles from Comet C/1739K1.

The night sky in September 2016

posted 31 Aug 2016, 02:00 by Pete Collins   [ updated 31 Aug 2016, 02:04 ]

by Anne Holt

​Sunset   1st:  19.58    30th:  18.47

New Moon  1st    Full Moon  (Harvest Moon)  16th  


The main events for us this month aren't in the sky, they are down here on Earth - our Open day on Sunday Sept 25th and the start of our new season the following Thursday, 29th.  On this day the sun sets at 18.50 and astronomical darkness begins at 20.47 - a whole 13 minutes before we have to pack up and go home.

The Autumnal Equinox, when the sun crosses the celestial equator, is at 15.21 on 22nd.  However, in Manchester the day and night are not of equal length on this, or any other, date.  The nearest it gets is Sept 25th, with a day length of 11hrs 58 minutes and 47 seconds.

There is a Lunar occultation of Neptune on 15th - see 'Planets' for details -  and the following day a penumbral Lunar eclipse.  The moon only passes through the outer part of the Earth's shadow meaning it will be only slightly less bright than ususl.  It starts at 17.54, while the moon is still below the horizon, and ends at 21.54.   You probably won't notice any difference.


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.


Another poor month for seeing naked eye planets, however the two outer ice giants are very well placed for telescopic observation.

Mercury In Virgo, moving into Leo on 8th. Not easily seen for most of the month.  It is at inferior conjunction on 13th, after which it becomes a morning object. It reaches greatest Western elongation on 28th but remains very low in the sky before sunrise. Just before dawn on 29th it is 2 degrees from the 2% lit waxing moon, moving even closer as it gets light - only 1 degree apart at 10am.

Venus In Virgo mag -3.9. Another planet which is hardly visible during September.  Despite its brightness and the fact that it sets at least an hour after the sun, the angle of the ecliptic at this time of year means that it remains too close to the horizon to be easily seen. On 3rd it is 3 degrees from the 5% lit moon.

Mars In Scorpio moving into Ophiuchus on 3rd,  mag -0.3. At the start of the month it sets around 22.30. Because it is currently retrograde - moving westwards against the background stars - it sets in the west only half an hour earlier at month end. By this time it will have moved into Sagittarius and be slightly dimmer at mag 0.1.

Jupiter In Virgo,  mag -1.7. May just be visible, very low in the West, soon after sunset at the start of September.  By  the end it won't be visible as it sets around the same time as the sun.

Saturn In Ophiuchus, mag 0.5. Another one which is difficult to spot in September. At the start of the month it sets around 11pm and may be visible low in the South West after sunset.  On 1st it forms an equilateral triangle with Mars and Antares and on 8th is 3 degrees South of the 43% lit moon, very low in the South West, at around 21.45.  By month end it sets at 21.00 and is too low to be seen by the time the sky begins to darken.

Uranus In Pisces,  mag 5.7. Well placed again in September, rising at 21.00 at the beginning of the month, a couple of hours earlier by the end.  Still theoretically visible with the naked eye but best seen through a telescope.  Even a small one will show the greenish blue disc.

Neptune In Aquarius,  mag 7.8. Easily visible throughout September - if you are looking through a reasonable size telescope. Reaches opposition on 7th and is above the horizon all  night, rising at sunset on 1st and while the sky is still light at month end. On 15th it is occulted by the almost full Moon. It  passes behind the Moon in daylight but it will be reasonably dark when it reappears at 20.55.

For full details of planetary positions on any day see

Meteor Showers

No major showers this month but September is the peak time for sporadic activity.

Minor showers

Alpha Aurigids.
Active until 10th. Most sources give the peak as Aug 31st but some say Sept 1st.   ZHR 5. (ZHR is zenithal hourly rate - the maximum number of meteors you could expect to see per hour under ideal conditions. In practice, from a suburban location and less than ideal conditions, you can expect to see less than half this number).

September Perseids: 
Active 5th -21st  Peak 9th.  ZHR 5-9
Usually a very faint shower but it occasionally puts on a much better show - though this is not predicted to happen again until 2040.

Beta Cassiopeids. Peak Sept 1st - 6th. That's all I could find out about this one.

Piscids.  Active August 12th to October 2nd.  Some sources say that this shower has a plateau, from Sept 9th to 21st, rather than a peak. Others think it may be 2 separate showers, one peaking at the start of this period, the other at the end.

Southern Taurids. Active in late September, though the peak is not until early October.   This shower often produces some very bright fireballs.

The Piscids and SouthernTaurids are now usually classed as part of the Autumn Antihelion Source.  This consists of several weak showers witn radiants on the ecliptic, opposite the position of the Sun.


The night sky in August 2016

posted 28 Jul 2016, 08:59 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

Sunset   1st:   21.04     31st:    20.00

New moon   2nd     Full moon  18th


The Perseid meteor shower, peaking on the night of 11th/12th (see below) and a lengthening period of astronomical darkness - an hour and a half at the start of the month and almost 6 hours at month end.


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.


Still not a very good time for planetary observation, as the naked eye planets are all very close to, or even below, the horizon during the hours of darkness.

Mercury:  In Leo, moving into Virgo on 21st. Not easily seen this month as, because of the angle of the ecliptic, it remains close to the horizon.  Even when it is at greatest Eastern elongation on 16th, it sets only half an hour after the sun.

Venus:  in Leo, moving into Virgo on 25th. Again, not easily seen despite having a magnitude of -3.9, as it sets around 40 minutes after the sun throughout August.

Mars:   mag 0.8, in Libra, moving into Scorpio on 3rd. At the start of the month Mar is 11 degrees above the southern horizon as the sky darkens, setting at around midnight.  By month end, when it will be on the border of Scorpio and Ophiuchus,  it will have dimmed to -0.3 and be setting soon after 10.30.
On 24th it will pass between Saturn and Antares, about 2 degrees north of the red supergiant.

Jupiter: mag -1.8,   in Leo, moving into Virgo on 10th. Best seen in early August, when it is 7 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting just before 10.30.  By month end it will be only 1 degree above the horizon at dusk and setting half an hour after the sun. On 27th it will be just 8 arcminutes (one quarter of the moon's diameter) from Venus.  The pair might just be visible, very low on the Western horizon, about 20 minutes after sunset.
Apparently this will be a spectacular sight - if you should happen to be viewing it from Brazil!

Saturn:  mag 0.4,  in Ophiuchus. Setting soon after 1am at the start of August, when it is best seen between 10 & 11pm.   By month end it will be setting just after 11pm.

Uranus:  mag 5.8, in Pisces. Quite well placed this month, rising around 11pm in early August and soon after 9pm at the end of the month, when it will reach its highest point (45 degrees) at around 4am.  It will also be slightly brighter at mag 5.7 so, if you have a very dark, clear sky, it might be worth testing your eyesight by trying to spot it without optical aid.   A chart of its position can be found at

Neptune:  mag 7.8,  in Aquarius. Too faint to be seen with the naked eye but worth viewing through a scope this month.   Rises at 10pm at the start and by 8pm in late August.   Reaches its highest point (28 degrees) at 3.20am on 1st, and soon after 1.15 on 31st.   Exact position on any day can be found on

Pallas, the third largest asteroid, and the second to be discovered - in 1802 - is at opposition on 22nd.   At mag 9.2, it should be visible in amateur scopes. Probably best viewed on 13th, when it will be slightly more than 1 degree SE of globular cluster M15, in Pegasus.

Meteor Showers

August is dominated by the Perseids.  These are bright, fast moving meteors often leaving persistent trails, caused when the Earth passes through debris from comet Swift-Tuttle.   They are active between 17th July and 24th August but with fairly low activity for most of that time, although it's always worth looking out for them a few days either side of the peak. The peak is on the night of 11/12th when ZHR is usually said to be around 80.  However, this year is predicted to be particularly good, with a peak which could be as high as 160, as the Earth travels through a large cloud of debris which it encounters every 12 years. There could also be a lesser peak, of faint meteors, at around 10.30 on 11th, as we pass through a cloud of smaller dust particles. Best viewed between Moonset, at 00.30, and dawn.

Minor Showers

Kappa Cygnids
Peak 18th,  ZHR 1 - 5  Slow moving but very bright meteors with occasional brilliant fireballs.  This year, the shower will be adversely affected by the full moon on that day.

Alpha Aurigids
Peak 31st,  ZHR 5.  A minor shower which sometimes produces a good display.  No moon interference this year.

There are also several minor showers having their radiants on the ecliptic, low in the sky so better seen from further South.    Because they are low activity and similar in appearance, with radiants close together,  it can be difficult to separate them so most are referred to together, as the Summer Antihelion Source.

Alpha Capricornids: 
Peak August 1st,  ZHR 4 - 5.  Bright, slow moving yellow coloured meteors leaving long trails.  Some fireballs.

Southern Delta Aquarids:
Peak 6th,  ZHR  between 1 and 8.  Faint, medium speed.

Northern Delta Aquarids:  peak 13th, ZHR 1 - 2.  Faint, medium paced.

Northern Iota Aquarids:   peak 25th/26th.  ZHR 1-5.  Again faint, medium speed.

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