The night sky this month

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

The night sky in July 2020

posted 29 Jun 2020, 14:56 by Pete Collins   [ updated 30 Jun 2020, 09:47 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise      1st:   04.44       31st:   05.23
Sunset       1st:   21.40       31st:   21.05

Astronomical darkness
1st:  none       31st:  00.43  to  01.47
None until the morning of 30th, when we have 32 minutes.

Day  length     1st:  16.55.35       31st:  15.42.11

Earth is at aphelion on 4th at 12.34, when it will be 1.02 AU from the Sun.

Full Moon:  5th at 05.44      New Moon:  20th at 18.32

Lunar apogee:   12th at 20.28   (404,200km)
Lunar perigee:   25th at 05.55   (368,366km)

The July full Moon is known as the Buck Moon, because this is the time that male deer start to grow new antlers.  Other names are the Thunder Moon, the Old English / Anglo Saxon Hay Moon and the medieval English Mead Moon. The Chinese name is the Hungry Ghost Moon, because of the Hungry Ghost Festival which was held at this time - when the veil between this world and the next was said to be thin, so spirits could move freely between the two.

Highlights

At last we have the return of astro darkness, but only right at the end of the month.  On 5th there's another penumbral lunar eclipse, this time as the Moon is setting so, with a very clear sky and a low SW horizon, it might be possible to see a slight darkening at the top of the Moon's disc in the half hour before it sets at 04.42. 
Jupiter and Saturn both reach opposition this month, low in the southern sky, with Jupiter much brighter.  However Saturn's rings are at their best at this time. Mars is improving in both brightness and position, from mid month it is in the northern celestial hemisphere. Venus is also getting higher in the pre-dawn sky. 
There are a couple of minor meteor showers at the end of the month but both are better seen from further south.  However we could have some fireballs and there may be an outburst of the (usually almost non existent) July Draconids.  Once again we have a comet which may (or may not) be a naked eye object when it gets high enough in our Manchester sky to be visible. Unfortunately it fades rapidly as it gets higher in the sky.
And we still have the chance of seeing some noctilucent clouds. There have already been some good displays this year; they have been seen in Oregon, USA, which is about 10 degrees further south than Manchester. 

Planets

Mercury:  in Gemini, mag 5.7
Not visible until late July, and even then it remains very low.  On 1st it is at inferior conjunction and is only 4 degrees 26' from the Sun.  The 2% Moon passes close to the planet around sunrise on 19th but Mercury will be on the horizon as the sky brightens so is unlikely to be seen.  On 22nd it reaches greatest western elongation at 20 degrees separation from the Sun but, because of the shallow angle of the ecliptic, is still very low rising at 03.40 and only 3 degrees above the horizon at dawn.  It will, however, be much brighter at mag 0.3.  On 31st, now at mag -0.8, it rises at 03.47 and gets to 6 degrees before the sky is too bright for it to be seen.

Venus:  in Taurus, mag -4.5
Improving its position in the morning sky and, because it is so much brighter, much easier to see than Mercury even when very low.  On 1st it rises at 03.05  and reaches 8 degrees by dawn.  From 6th it passes through the V shaped Hyades cluster and on 8th is at its greatest brightness, only marginally brighter than at the start of the month.  On this day it rises at 03.05 and should be easily visible an hour later, as the sky begins to brighten. It is at aphelion (furthest from the Sun) on 10th, when its distance is 0.73 AU.  However, because its orbit is almost circular, there is very little difference between its nearest and furthest points.  On 11th it passes about 1 degree north of Aldebaran, 'the eye of the bull'.  Venus can't get quite as far south as the bright star - yet! On August 27th, in the year 5336 there will be an occultation. No idea whether this will be visible from Manchester - or even whether there will still be a Manchester at this time. On 17th the waning crescent Moon passes north of the planet, closest - 3 degrees 03' - at 07.06.  On 31st it rises at 02.06 slightly fainter at mag -4.4 and reaches 22 degrees by dawn.

Mars:  in Pisces, mag -0.5
Gets higher and brighter during the month.  On 1st it rises at 00.50 and is easily visible from around 2am until dawn, when it is at 24 degrees in the SE. It moves into Cetus on 9th and on the night of 11th/12th the gibbous Moon passes 1 degree 46' to the south, while they are still below the horizon.  They will be separated by 3 degrees 30' at 4am, when Mars will have reached 30 degrees in the SE.  Also around this time it crosses the celestial equator as it continues its northward journey.  On 17th it goes back into Pisces; it doesn't actually change direction at this time, it's just how the constellation borders lie. On this day it rises at 23.29  and is visible from 00.30, reaching 37 degrees in the south by dawn. By 31st it will be at mag -1.1, rising at 23.17 and reaching 38 degrees before the sky begins to brighten shortly before 05.00.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius, mag -2.7
On 1st it rises at 22.15, reaching 8 degrees in the SE before midnight and culminating, 6 degrees higher, in the south at 02.14. On 5th, the just past full Moon passes 1 degree 05' south of the planet at 22.36.  They should be visible about an hour later when Jupiter is 7 degrees above the SE horizon. Highest point, 14 degrees, at 01.56 on 6th when the separation will be 3 degrees. It is at opposition, when it is directly opposite the Sun in the sky, on 14th.  On this day it rises at 21.16 and culminates at 01.16. It is at its brightest on the night of 16th/17th but, as it is only around 0.02 of a magnitude higher than on 1st, no one will notice. On 31st it rises at 20.06 and culminates just before midnight, still at only 14 degrees in the south.

Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.2
Slightly higher but much fainter than the nearby Jupiter.  On 1st it rises at 22.31 and reaches 10 degrees in the SE by 02.39.  It joins Jupiter in Sagittarius on 4th and on 6th is also visited by the Moon, which is 6 degrees SW of Saturn at 2am, closest, 2 degrees 27' in daylight at 10.13.  It is at opposition on 20th, when it rises at 21.13 and reaches 15 degrees in the south at 01.19. The planet's northern hemisphere is currently tilted towards us, the rings are at an angle of 21 degrees and are a spectacular sight when seen through a telescope. Around opposition, when sunlight falls directly on to the planet from our point of view,the rings are noticeably brighter. This is because the shadows of the particles comprising them fall directly behind,  so they can't be seen and there isn't the usual dimming - more sunlight is reflected back towards us. This is known as the Opposition Surge, or Seeliger Effect after Hugo von Seeliger who, in 1887, first explained this and saw it as proof that the rings were not solid structures but were made up of lots (now thought to be billions) of individual particles.  On 31st Saturn rises at 10.38, reaches 10 degrees in the SE by 22.15 and culminates, 5 degrees higher, at 00.32.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.8
A  morning object, not visible in early July.  On 1st it rises at 01.35 and is on the horizon at dawn. Its position improves during the month, on 14th it rises at 00.45 and reaches 13 degrees in the east as the sky brightens.  A week later it rises at 00.18 and is at 21 degrees by daybreak.  On 31st it rises at 23.35 and should be high enough to be seen soon after 2am, reaching an altitude of 31 degrees in reasonable darkness.  As always, excellent eyesight and a very dark sky site are necessary in order to see it with the naked eye.  For the rest of us binoculars are needed, or a scope to show the small blue/green disc.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9
Another one which isn't easy to see at the start of July. On 1st it rises at 00.20 and is only 11 degrees above the horizon by dawn. On 10th, at 03.00, the Moon passes 7 degrees SW of the planet, which will be 19 degrees above the horizon as the sky brightens.  From mid month it should be high enough in the still dark sky for telescopic observation. On 13th it rises at 23.29 and reaches 22 degrees in the SE before the sky begins to brighten.  On 31st it rises at 22.10 and almost reaches its highest point, 31 degrees, in the south in darkness.  A reasonable sized amateur scope should show the planet's disc, much bluer than Uranus, thought to be because the atmosphere has a higher concentration of methane, which absorbs light at the red end of the spectrum and reflects the blue.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Aquarius, mag 8.6
The only one of the 5 which orbits in the (relatively) nearby asteroid belt, is very low this month.  On 1st it rises at 01.24 and on 31st at 23.29.  By this time it will have brightened to mag 8.1 but still be too low for telescopic observation.

The rest are very faint, distant and, because they take so long to orbit the Sun, move very slowly against the background stars. Their orbits are highly inclined to the plane of the solar system, so they are not necessarily found close to the ecliptic.  With the exception of Pluto, found in Feb 1930, their discovery was announced in a short period between late Dec 2004 and late May 2005. Of these 3, only Haumea is now in a different constellation, having crossed the border between Coma Berenices and Bootes in 2007.

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 14.9.
Much too low for observing or imaging, as it will be for many years yet.  it is at opposition on 16th, less than 1 degree south of Jupiter.

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4, and Makemake in Coma Beenices, mag 17.1, are even further and fainter than Pluto but better bets for imaging as they are higher in the sky.  Haumea reaches 32 degrees in the west on 1st and 27 degrees on 31st.  Makemake is slightly lower at 2 degrees and 23 degrees respectively.

Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.5
Faintest and furthest of the 5 officially designated dwarf planets.  It is high enough for imaging by serious, experienced astrophotographers at the end of July. On 1st it rises at 00.24 and reaches 23 degrees in the east at 3am, a short time before the sky brightens.
Eris takes 558 years to orbit the Sun, but that's nothing compared to some distant objects.  Sedna, with a very eccentric orbit taking it from the outer reaches of the Kuiper Belt to the inner part of the, as yet hypothetical, Oort Cloud  has a period of around 11,000 years.  It's one of the bodies thought to be influenced by some distant, massive object, maybe planet 9.

A couple of asteroids are at opposition in July.

532 Herculina, in Sagittarius, mag 9.5
Reaches opposition on 3rd, when it culminates at 01.12, but is only 16 degrees above the horizon.

2 Pallas, in Sagitta, mag 9.6.
The second asteroid belt body to be discovered, and the third biggest, having 7% of the mass of the entire belt, is at opposition on 15th, when it is at 57 degrees in the south at 00.41. This has a similar magnitude to Herculina but should be much easier to observe, being so much higher - again, because of the inclination of its orbit.

Comets

C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) in Taurus, mag -0.3 (or less)
This was discovered on March 27th, when it was at mag 17. It was at one time predicted to reach -2.6 in early July, but now the highest estimate is -0.3.  other sources give it as mag 2 or 3, or maybe as low as 6.  All agree that it will fade rapidly during the month.
On 1st it rises at 02.32 but only reaches 3 degrees above the horizon by dawn. it is at perihelion on 3rd, when it moves into Auriga, rising at 02.55 and getting to 7 degrees in darkness.  It get higher in the morning sky but fades rapidly.  It becomes circumpolar on 8th when it will be at 14 degrees in the east as the sky begins to brighten. It moves into Lynx on 13th, when it should be visible fom around 22.30 to 04.00, reaching 15 degrees in the NE by dawn but down to mag 1.8 (or less). Crosses into Ursa Major on 18th, when it is at 19 degrees in the NW at 23.00, down to 13 degrees at 03.30. It ends the month in Coma Berenices, and should be visible, 22 degrees above the western horizon, for a short time after 23.00, much fainter now - highest estimate 5.5.
The home page of www.cometwatch.co.uk  has been updated to show images and a finder chart for this one.

C/2019 U6 (Lemmon) in Sextans, mag 5.5
Not visible from here until the latter part of July. It is moving  north eastwards but dimming as it gets higher. It passes through Leo and Virgo, still below our horizon at dusk,  and into Coma Berenices on 23rd, whe it will be at 13 degrees in darkness but fainter at a probable mag of around 7.1.  On 31st it is at 21 degrees in the west at dusk, setting at 01.39, predicted mag now 7.9.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Canes Venatici mag 9.3
Moving south westwards and fading, circumpolar for the first week in July, on 1st it is at 35 degrees in the west soon after midnight, down to 26 degrees in the NW at o 01.45. On 9th it sets for a short while and is at its highest, 32 degrees in the west, around midnight.  It is in Coma Berenices from 15th, when it will be at mag 9.5 and best seen for about an hour after midnight when it reaches 30 degrees in the west.  On 31st it is down to 24 degrees, best seen soon after 11pm, setting at 02.04, slightly fainter, predicted mag 9.9.

Websites used

www.cometwatch.co.uk has only updated its home page to give information on C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE).  The rest has not been changed since April, or even earlier.

Meteor Showers

A couple of minor showers at the end of the month, both favouring observers further south.

Southern Delta Aquarids, active July 12th to August 23rd, peak on the night of 28th/29th (or maybe 30th - sources fail to agree, yet again)  ZHR 25, but the radiant is very low as seen from Manchester, so expect far fewer.  These are faint, medium speed meteors with no trails and no fireballs.  Parent comet 96P/Machholz.

Alpha Capricornids, active July 3rd to August 15th, they have a plateau-like peak centred on 29th.  ZHR 5 but again fewer from our latitude.   Slow moving meteors but worth looking out for as as this shower often includes fireballs.  Parent comet 169P/NEAT.

There could be an outburst of the July Draconids on July 28th, around 01.30.  This shower usually shows very little activity, but the last time that Earth was in the same position realtive to the dust cloud, in 2016, a ZHR of aroud 100 was recorded.  The parent comet is unknown, probably one of the Jupiter family - comets which have had their orbits altered by a close encounter with the gas giant and now have a period of less than 20 years.

The radiant of the antihelion source moves through Capricorn into SW Aquarius during July.  The Capricornids have a radiant close by but should be easily distinguishable as meteors from the ANT are much faster moving.






The night sky in June 2020

posted 30 May 2020, 13:04 by Pete Collins   [ updated 31 May 2020, 05:28 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise      1st:   04.46         30th:  04.44
Sunset       1st:   21.27         30th:  21.40

Astronomical darkness: none. In the later part of the month we only have about 2 hours of astro twilight.

Day length      1st:  16.41.24       30th:  16.58.42
Longest day   20th: 17.01.50   (21st is less than 1 second shorter)

Earliest Sunrise     17th:  04.39
Latest Sunset        24th:  21.42

The Summer Solstice, when the Sun reaches its most northerly point in the sky, is on 20th at 22.27.  On this day the Sun is overhead at local noon along the Tropic of Cancer.

Full Moon       5th at  20.12    (366564 Km)
New Moon    21st at  07.42   (387066 Km)

Lunar perigee     3rd  (364365 Km)    30th  (368957 Km)
Lunar apogee   15th  (404596 Km)

June's full Moon is known as the Strawberry Moon.  Other names are the Rose Moon, Hot Moon, Mead Moon and Honey Moon.

On 5th June there is a partial penumbral lunar eclipse.  There will be only a very slight darkening of the right hand side of the Moon's disc as it passes through the outer part of the Earth's shadow.  And, even worse, from Manchester the eclipse will be almost over when the Moon rises at 21.21 - it finishes at 22.04 when the Moon is still only 4 degrees above the SE horizon.  

On 21st there is an annular solar eclipse, visible only from parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon is fairly close to apogee so does not appear large enough to completely cover the Sun.  On this occasion the Moon will have 99.5% the diameter of the Sun so, at maximum, will leave only a very thin 'ring of fire'.  The best view will probably be from Tibet where the high altitude means clear air and clear skies.

Highlights

Not much in the way of highlights again this month.  As always in June, the main problem is too much light, no astronomical darkness and very little astro twilight.  Mercury starts the month a day past its highest point in the evening sky but is still very low as the sky darkens.  Early risers fare a little better, Jupiter is still very bright in the early hours and Mars is brightening and getting higher in the pre dawn sky.  We have about 40 minutes of a partial penumbral lunar eclipse and an annular solar eclipse which isn't visible at all from here.  And C/2020 F8 (SWAN) is the latest in a long line of comets which fail to live up to earlier promise.
However, we might see some ...

Noctilucent Clouds
The season for observing these thin, wispy clouds runs from late May to early August.  They may, if we're lucky,  be seen in the north to NW, about 60 to 90 minutes after sunset, and in the north to NE, 90 to 60 mintes before sunrise, when the Sun is about 6 degrees below the horizon. They are usually blue and silver but occasionally red or orange.  They are composed of ice crystals in the mesosphere about 50 miles up - so high that they are still in sunlight when the Sun has set for observers at ground level.
They are formed when water vapour condenses on to dust particles and freezes in the very low temperatures, around minus 120 degrees C.
Some of the water vapour may be moisture from gaps in the troposphere but it is thought to be predominantly produced by chemical reactions involving methane.  Displays became more prominent in the first half of the 20th century when the amount of methane in the upper atmosphere increased.
The dust is mostly of meteoric origin, though some could be atmospheric pollution, the first recorded sighting of the clouds was in 1885, soon after the eruption of Krakatoa.
As well as high methane levels increasing the amount of moisture in the mesosphere, the amount of carbon dioxide also affects the formation of NLCs, high levels of the gas make it even colder which helps the ice crystals to form. 
Displays are stronger and more frequent when, as now, we are close to solar minimum.
Last year we had some exceptional displays, the clouds were seen much further south than ever before, however recent atmospheric studies have suggested that 2020 won't equal these, so we should expect only average displays.
But, recent satellite images have shown the first faint NLCs of the season, above the Arctic Circle, on May 17th, this is very early so you never know.

Update:  these are now intensifying  for up to date information see

Constellations

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

Planets

Mercury:  in Gemini, mag 0.1
Not easy to see this month.  On 1st it is only 7 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 23.29, a couple of hours after the Sun. It reaches greatest eastern elongation on 4th, when it appears separated from the Sun by  23.6 degrees but only 15 degrees above the horizon at sunset, down to 6 degrees by the time the sky darkens.  From mid June it is below the horizon at dusk. It also fades during the month and on 22nd it is down to mag 3.2  and appearing only 13 degrees from the Sun.  It is at aphelion, the furthest point in its elliptical orbit from the Sun, on 23rd, when it is at a distance of 0.47 AU.  On 30th it sets 20 minutes after the Sun and the apparent separation is only 4 degrees.

Venus:  in Taurus, mag -3.8
Not visible in early June.  On 1st it sets less than half an hour after the Sun and is separated by only 4 degrees.  It reaches inferior solar conjunction on 3rd, passing less than half a degree north of our star.  It then becomes a morning object but too low in the dawn sky to be visible. On 19th at 08.40 (from the centre of the UK - couldn't find local time) in daylight, the planet is occulted by the thin crescent Moon.  At dawn on that day the pair are separated by less than a degree but only 2 degrees above the horizon.  On 30th Venus has brightened to mag -4.4, rising at 03.08 and reaching 7 degrees as the sky brightens.

Mars:  in Aquarius, mag 0.0
On 1st when it rises at 02.14 and should be visible from 03.30, when it reaches 12 degrees in the SE.  On the morning of 13th, the 51% Moon passes 3 degrees south of the planet, now at mag -0.2, in the early hours.  If you look through binoculars you might have a chance of seeing the much fainter Neptune 1 degree 44' to the north.
WARNING:  the Sun rises soon after 4.30 on this day so be sure to put your binoculars away in good time.  Looking at the Sun, even for a few seconds by accident, through binoculars could result in permanent blindness. 
Mars moves into Pisces on 25th, where it rises at 01.27 and reaches 21 degrees by dawn.  On 31st it is at mag -0.5, rising at 00.52 and getting to 24 degrees in the SE as the sky brightens.

Jupiter: in Sagittarius, mag -2.6
Still shining brightly in the morning sky. On 1st it rises at 00.24 and is visible from 01.45 till dawn, when it is at 14 degrees in the south. On 8th the 89% Moon passes just over 2 degrees south of the planet, they are closest at 18.46 while still below the horizon but not much further apart on the morning of 9th.  During the last week in June, Jupiter is less than 1 degree north of Pluto.  They are in conjunction (having the same right ascension) on 25th at 19.32 but at their closest on the morning of 27th.  On this day Jupiter rises at 22.32 and reaches 14 degrees in the south at 02.32.  Unfortunately Pluto will be too faint to be easily imaged at this low altitude.  On 30th Jupiter has brightened to mag -2.7, rises at 22.19 and reaches 8 degrees in the SE by 23.45, culminating at 14 degrees at 02.18.

Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.4
Still low in the morning sky. On 1st it rises at 00.37 and should be high enough to be seen by around 02.30 and getting to 15 degrees in the south by dawn.  On 9th the Moon passes 2 degrees 38' south of the planet at 03.53, with Jupiter also close by, a few degrees to the west.  The Moon will be 86% lit, so no smiley face. By 30th Saturn will be at mag 0.2, rising at 22.35 and culminating, 16 degrees above the southern horizon, at 02.44.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9
Not visible this month.  On 1st it rises at 03.31 but is still 10 degrees below the horizon at dawn.  It does improve during the month but is still only just on the horizon at daybreak on 30th.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9
On 1st it rises at 02.17 and is still below the horizon when the sky begins to brighten.  On 12th at 13.18 Mars passes 1 degree 44' south of the fainter planet, they are still close on the morning of 13th, when Neptune rises at 01.30 but doesn't get high enough in darkness to be an easy binocular target.  On 30th it rises at 00.24 and gets to 9 degrees by dawn, still a bit too low for observing.  


Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Aquarius, mag 9.0
Rises at 03.01 on 1st but is still very low in the SE by dawn. On 30th it rises at 01.27, has brightened to mag 8.6 but still doesn't get high enough for imaging or observing.

Pluto:  In Sagittarius, mag 15.0
Orbiting in the Kuiper Belt, the faint, distant Pluto is much too low to be successfully imaged, even towards the end of the month when it is very close to Mars.

Haumea, in Bootes, mag 17.3, and Makemake in Coma Berenices, mag 17.1, are much higher in the sky and a better bet for ambitious, experienced amateur astrophotographers, despite being so distant and faint. On 1st Haumea is at 50 degrees in the SW around midnight, Makemake reaches a similar altitude.  By month end the highest points in darkness are 32 degrees and 27 degrees in the west respectively.

Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.8
The faintest, most distant of the currently recognised dwarf planets is below the horizon all night throughout June.

Asteroid 7 Iris, in Sagittarius, reaches opposition on 28th.  On this day it is at mag 8.9 and culminates at 01.14 but is only 15 degrees above the southern horizon.

Comets

C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) in Taurus.
Originally predicted to be a candidate for Comet of the Century,  then it broke up.  But the 4 main pieces are still going and are quite bright at magnitudes ranging from 3.8 to 5.9.
But we can't see them, as they are now too close to the Sun.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Ursa Major, mag 8.8
Circumpolar at the start of June, and reasonably high during the hours of darkness . By 6th it is quite low for part of the night and best seen between midnight and 2am. Moves into Canes Venatici on 25th, when it will have faded slightly and only be high enough from 01.00 to 01.30.  On 30th it is predicted to have faded to mag 9.2 and will be best positioned between 00.40 and 01.40.

C/2020 F8 (SWAN) in Auriga, mag 6.4
Yet another which hasn't lived up to expectations, estimates now a couple of magnitudes less than previously given. On 1st it is circumpolar, just over 1 degree SW of Capella, only 11 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens. It is moving south westwards, getting lower in the evening sky.  On 23rd it moves into Lynx and is only 9 degrees at dusk.  It goes back into Auriga on 28th  and on 30th, now with an estimated mag of 8.1, appears only 9 degrees from the Sun.

For more info and exact positions of any solar system objects see

I usually recommend www.cometwatch.co.uk but as it hasn't been updated since April 20th, maybe not.
If I've missed any current comets - blame them!

Meteor Showers

Not a good month for meteor spotters. The antehelion source may provide one or two, especially in early and late June but the radiant, moving across Sagittarius, is very low for observers in the northern hemisphere.

June Bootids, active (maybe) June 22nd to July 2nd, peak on the night of 27th around 23.00.  ZHR is variable, given as anything between zero and 30, but this year is predicted to be at the lower end of that range, though there could possibly be some activity on 23rd.  The parent comet of these slow moving meteors is 7P/Pons-Winnecke.

June Lyrids, peak 15th/16th.  Not much activity from these in recent years.

There are a few daytime showers:

Zeta Perseids,  active May 20th to July 5th. peak 9th (or maybe 13th).  This shower, parent comet 2P/Encke, was first discovered at Jodrell Bank in 1947.

Beta Taurids,  active June 5th to July 18th, peak 28th.  ZHR said to be 'weak' or 'modest' but it is thought that the Tunguska meteor in June 1908 could have been associated with this shower.

Daytime Arietids, active May 14th to June 24th, peak June 7th,  ZHR 30.
A few of these may be spotted visually in the morning twilight but the radiant is only 30 degrees west of the Sun.

The night sky in May 2020

posted 29 Apr 2020, 05:19 by Pete Collins   [ updated 29 Apr 2020, 06:06 ]

by Anne Holt

Sunrise   1st:    05.33       31st:   04.47
Sunset:   1st:   20.39       31st:   21.26

Astro Darkness   1st:  23.28 to 02.42    31st:  none
Ends at 01.20 on the morning of 13th, then none until the end of July.

Day length  1st:  15.05.23     31st:  16.39.19

Full Moon:       7th  at 11.45
New Moon:     22nd  at 18.39

Lunar perigee:    6th at 04.03   (359654 km)
Lunar apogee:    18th at 08.44   (405583 km)

This month's full Moon occurs at a distance of 361184 km, making it a Supermoon.

May full Moon is known as the Flower Moon because so many blossom around this time.  Other names are the Corn Planting Moon and the Anglo Saxon/Old English Milk Moon.

Highlights

After April's excitement of a possible naked eye comet, we're back to having not much to write home about this month.
The sky is much clearer because of the decrease in pollution (I wish the same could be said about light pollution) but to counteract that we lose astronomical darkness from mid month.  We are also losing Venus as it is getting much lower in the evening sky, though still very bright so visible until the last few days of the month.  Mars and Saturn are getting higher in the pre-dawn sky, as is the much brighter Jupiter.  The one major meteor shower is much better seen from the southern hemisphere and, as if that wasn't enough, will be affected by the presence of the almost full Moon.  Also only visible from further south is a newly discovered comet which again promises great things.

Constellations

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

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

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

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

Planets

Mercury:  in Aries, mag -1.8
Not visible in early May, on 1st it is only 4 degrees from the Sun.  It reaches superior solar conjunction, when it is on the opposite side of the Sun to the Earth, on 4th, when it passes 6 minutes south of our star.  It then becomes an evening object but still not visible as it is so close to the Sun.  On 10th when it moves into Taurus it reaches perihelion, 0.31AU from the Sun, but still too close to the Sun to be visible.  Its position gets much better in the second half of May, on 15th it is 5 degrees above the horizon at dusk setting at 22.15 and now at mag -1.2.  It gets higher in the evening sky, moving closer to Venus which is now losing height.  They are at their closest - just under 1 degree - on 22nd at 08.44,  but stilll separated by only 1.3 degrees at 21.00, about 8 degrees above the horizon at dusk.  Mercury is to the south, now fainter at mag 0.7.  On 24th at 22.00 the Moon passes 5 degrees SE of the planet, with Venus also close by.  Mercury moves into Gemini on 30th, when it is at its highest point in the evening sky but still only 8 degrees at dusk.  On 31st it sets at 23.39.

Venus:  in Taurus, mag -4.5
Still shining brightly, high in the evening sky, at the start of the month.  On 1st it is at 27 degrees in the west around 21.00, setting at 00.51.  It gets lower during the month, by 14th it is down to 14 degrees as the sky darkens.  On 22nd it is at its closest to Mercury and on 24th the thin crescent Moon passes less than 4 degrees south of the planet, only 8 degrees in the NW at dusk.  By 29th it is only 2 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens and on 31st appears only 6 degrees from the Sun.

Mars: in Capricorn, mag 0.4
On 1st it rises at 03.34 and reaches 7 degrees above the horizon as the sky begins to brighten.  Its position improves slightly during May, when it moves into Aquarius on 9th it is a degree higher by dawn.  On 15th, when it is at mag 0.2, the Moon passes about 2 and a half degrees to the south.  By month end  Mars is at mag zero, rising at 02.16 and getting to 10 degrees while the sky is still reasonably dark.

Jupiter:  in Sagittarius, mag -2.4
A morning object, still quite low in the sky but easy to spot because of its brightness.  On 1st it rises at 02.26 and reaches 13 degrees in the south by 05.00 as the sky begins to brighten.  On 12th the Moon passes south of the planet,  5 degrees separation at 5am and closest, 2 degrees 4', at 11.09.  On this day it rises at 01.44 and is at 14 degrees in the south by dawn.  On 14th it appears to change direction and moves from east to west across the sky - known as retrograde motion.  Of course it doesn't actually start going the other way, it's a similar effect to when a car passes a slower moving vehicle - when seen from the faster vehicle the other appears to go backwards for a short time.  It is near to Saturn throughout May, they start the month separated by 5 degrees, closest on 18th at just under 4.7 degrees, with Jupiter to the SW.  On 31st it rises at 00.20, slightly brighter at mag -2.6 and visible from around 2am.   It now reaches 18 degrees by dawn.

Saturn:  in Capricorn, mag 0.6
Slightly lower, and much fainter, than Jupiter in the morning sky but still a beautiful sight even through a small scope, with its rings at an angle of 20 degrees.  On 1st it rises at 02.39 and should be visible a couple of hours later, getting to 11 degrees in the SE by the time the sky begins to brighten.  From 11th its apparent motion is also retrograde.  The gibbous Moon passes to the south on 12th,  separated by 2 degrees 38' at 19.55 and by 5 degrees on the morning of 13th.  On 31st it is slightly brighter at mag 0.4, rising at 00.41 and reaching 15 degrees in the SE shorty before 4am as dawn breaks.

Uranus:  in Aries, mag 5.9
Not visible this month.  On 1st its apparent separation from the Sun is only 4 degrees. It moves away slighly during the month but is still below the horizon at dawn on 31st.

Neptune:  in Aquarius, mag 7.9
Again, not visible, still below the horizon as the sky begins to brighten throughout May.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres:  in Aquarius, mag 5.2
The only dwarf palnet which orbits in the (relatively) close Asteroid Belt is still too low for imaging.  On 1st it rises less than an hour before the Sun.  On 31st it rises at 03.04 but still very close to the horizon as day breaks.   On this day, Mars lies about 8 degrees to the north.

The rest, lying in the Kuiper belt, are so distant and therefore faint that even at their best they are a challenge for the most experienced astrophotographers.

Pluto:  in Sagittarius, mag 15.1
Too low for imaging and, because it moves so slowly around the sky, will be for many years yet. 

Haumea in Bootes, mag 17.3, and Makemake in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2, are both high in the sky for most of the night so could be a possible imaging target for the ambitious.  Haumea reaches 52 degrees on 1st and 51 degrees on 31st,  Makemake gets to 60 degrees, falling to 51 degrees.

Eris:  in Cetus, mag 18.8
The most distant and faintest of the 5 officially recognised dwarf planets appears very close to the Sun this month.

On 24th at 10.00, asteroid Vesta passes 2 degrees west of the Moon.  Those watching from North America and parts of Europe (but unfortunately not from Manchester) will see an occultation.

Comets

C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) has not lived up to expactations - there's a surprise! Rather than becoming an unmissable naked eye object it has broken up into at least 4 fragments. They are in Camelopardalis, circumpolar and reasonably high throughout the night in early May.  It moves into Perseus on 13th, when it is much lower - around 14 degrees maximum, andon 25th dips below the horizon between 11pm and 2am.  It is in Taurus from 27th, when it appears only 12 degrees from the Sun.  Reaches perihelion on 30th.

The other ATLAS,  C/2019 Y1, mag 11.5, is also circumpolar and high enough for imaging throughout the night at the start of May. Moves into Camelopardalis on 3rd, Draco on 9th, and Ursa Major on 14th.  By 31st it is predicted to have faded to mag 14.5 and to be too low in the sky between midnight and 2am.

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) in Camelopardalis, mag 8.9
Again circumpolar, high in the sky all night.  On 18th it briefly crosses the border into Draco then into Ursa Major the following day.  It should brighten slightly during the month, mag 8.8 from 6th to 24th then end the month back at 8.9.

C/2020 F8 (SWAN)
Discovered on 28th March with the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory's SWAN camera.  Great things are predicted for this one. The bad news is that it is currently only visible from the southern hemisphere. It starts the month in Andromeda at around mag 8, moves into Perseus on 12th and Auriga on 31st.  On this day, from our latitude, it will be 12 degrees above the horizon at dusk - still too low for imaging.

For more details and exact positions of all solar system objects see

and for latest news on comets

Meteor Showers

Not a great deal going on this month - and what there is will be seriously marred by moonlight.

Eta Aquarids:  active April 19th to May 28th, peak on the night of 5th/6th. This shower is better seen from south of the equator, from here ZHR is around 10, at best.  These bright, fast moving meteors, ofetn leaving trails, are best seen just before dawn on the morning of 6th.  However the almost full Moon sets just before the Sun rises.  Parent comet 1P/Halley.

Eta Lyrids:  active 3rd to 14th, peak 8th.  ZHR 3. Best seen just before dawn and after dusk on 8th but again there will be significant moonlight interference. Parent comet C/1983 (IRAS-Araki-Alcock).

It is thought that there could be some activity at around 23.00 on May 14th, from debris left by near Earth object 461852 (2006 GY2).  These slow meteors have a radiant in Hercules.

The antihelion source has a radiant moving across northern Scorpio into Libra. ZHR 2, but could be double that towards the end of the month.

And finally: the second half of May is a good time for daytime showers, detectable only using radio or radar equipment.  Most prominent is the daytime Arietids, beginning on May 14th, though the peak is not until early June.



The night sky in April 2020

posted 30 Mar 2020, 06:03 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

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

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

Day length   1st:  13.03.35       30th:  15.02.04

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

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

Highlights

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

Constellations

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

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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


And for comet news


Meteor Showers

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

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

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

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



The night sky in March 2020

posted 28 Feb 2020, 07:45 by Pete Collins

by Anne Hot

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

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

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

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

BST begins on Sunday 29th at 1am.

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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

Constellations

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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


Comets

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

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

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

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

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


Meteor Showers

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



The night sky in February 2020

posted 3 Feb 2020, 07:42 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights  (and lows)

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

Constellations

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and, for comets:

Meteor showers

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

The night sky in January 2020

posted 31 Dec 2019, 07:45 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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


Constellations

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

Also circumpolar, but much fainter.

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

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

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


and for news about comets

Meteor Showers

One promising shower and a couple of very minor ones.

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

Minor showers:

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

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

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

The night sky in December 2019

posted 27 Nov 2019, 10:12 by Pete Collins

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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

Constellations

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

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

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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


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

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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

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

For detailed positions and more info on all solar system objects


Meteor Showers

One major shower in December

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

Minor Showers

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

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

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

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

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







The night sky in November 2019

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

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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

Constellations

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

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

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

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

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a trio of fainter ones:

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meteor showers

One reasonably active shower this month

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

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

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

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

The night sky in October 2019

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

by Anne Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constellations

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

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

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

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

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

Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of asteroids are at opposition in October:

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

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

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

Comets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meteor Showers

One major shower this month.

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

Fair to middling shower:

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

There are several minor showers:

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

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

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

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

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