The Night Sky This Month

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


To see previous night sky notes, please click here

The night sky in December 2021

by Anne Holt


Sunrise 1st: 08.01 31st: 08.24

Sunset 1st: 15.53 31st: 15.59


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


Day length 1st: 7.52.01 31st: 7.34.30


The shortest day is 21st, which is 7hr 28mins 44 secs - 9 hours 23 minutes shorter than the longest day.

21st is also the winter solstice (summer solstice in the southern hemisphere) when the centre of the Sun reaches its lowest point in our sky, 34 degrees 45’ south and is overhead at local noon along the tropic of Capricorn.


Latest sunrise: 29th Dec at 08.24 Earliest sunset: 13th Dec at 15.59

Neither of these fall on the shortest day, for 2 reasons: firstly the shortest day is when the centre of the Sun is above the horizon for the least time, sunrise and sunset are when the top edge of the sun appears and disappears. Also, light from the sun is refracted when it is just below the horizon, so we can see it for a few minutes before sunrise and after sunset.


New Moon: 4th at 07.44. passes 58 arcminutes south of the Sun.

Full Moon: 19th at 04.35. angular diameter 29’ 25”


There is a total solar eclipse on 4th, only visible from parts of Antarctica, with a partial eclipse seen in South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and the southern coasts of S America, S Africa, Australia and New Zealand.


Lunar perigee: 4th at 10.24 (356793 km AD 33’ 28”)

Lunar apogee: 18th at 02.14 (406321 km. AD 29’ 23”}


Most of the names given to December’s full Moon refer to the cold and the lack of daylight, the most common is the Cold Moon. Other names given in the Old Farmer’s Almanac are the Drift Clearing Moon, the Frost Exploding Trees Moon, the Midwinter Moon and the Winter Making Moon. It’s the Colonial American Christmas Moon, the Old English/Anglo Saxon Moon before Yule, the Neo Pagan Long Night Moon, the Chinese Bitter Moon and the Inuit Dark Night Moon.

The Cherokee called it the Snow Moon, it’s the Ojibwa Little Spirit Moon and the Siouwan Younger Hard Times Moon. For the Dakota Sioux it’s the Twelfth Moon (what do they call it when it’s the 13th full Moon of the year?) the Hopi Moon of Respect and the Shawnee Eccentric Moon.


Highlights


We have very short days in December, good for astronomers as that means long nights - about 12 hours astro darkness throughout the month.

Brilliant Venus is visible soon after sunset, Jupiter about 30 minutes later. The much fainter Saturn may be seen, between the two, about an hour after the Sun has gone down. The waxing crescent Moon passes south of the trio on the nights of 6th to 9th.

Uranus is well placed for binocular observation and Neptune is an early evening target for a small scope.

We have the year’s most reliable meteor shower peaking close to full Moon, so best seen in the early hours after it has set. There are several minor showers and a few faint comets, one of which might - but probably won’t - reach binocular or even naked eye brightness.

And: if you’re planning a trip to Antarctica this month, you’ve picked a very good time to go - there’s a total solar eclipse on 4th and an occultation of Mars on 31st. Neither visible from the UK, of course.


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 Ophiuchus, mag -1.3

Not visible in early December, on 1st it appears only 1 degree from the Sun. It is at aphelion on 2nd, at a distance of 0.47AU, but still very close from our perspective. It moves into Sagittarius on 9th, down to mag -0.9 and still only 7 degrees from the Sun, setting at 15.58. It is getting higher in the evening twilight, moving up towards Venus, separation on 29th is 4 degrees 18’ with Mercury to the south but it is still only 3 degrees above the horizon at dusk. On 31st it is a little over 6 degrees south of Venus, setting 22 minutes before it at 17.11.


Venus: in Sagittarius, mag -4.66

Unmissably bright in the SSW soon after sunset. On 1st it is 9 degrees above the horizon soon after 16.15 and easily visible for at least half an hour, longer if you have a low, clear horizon, setting at 18.07. On 6th and 7th the crescent Moon passes to the south, separation on 6th is about 6 degrees with the Moon to the right. The Moon will be very low and only a thin crescent on this night, so not easy to see. On 7th they are slightly further apart, with the Moon to the left - now higher and about 14% lit. They are closest, just under 2 degrees, at 00.49 on 7th, when both are below the horizon. On this day Venus is at its brightest, mag -4.67. It is at its highest point in the evening sky on 18th, when it is 12 degrees at sunset. On 29th it passes 4 degrees 13’ north of Mercury at 01.10, separation not much more on the evenings of 28th and 29th, but both are very low in the evening twilight with Mercury unlikely to be visible and Venus only 7 degrees as the sky darkens. On 31st, now at mag -4.3, Venus is slightly lower at dusk, setting at 17.23.


Mars: in Libra, mag 1.6

Not visible in early December and still very low in the morning sky at the end of the month. On 1st it rises at 06.22 and is only 3 degrees above the horizon by dawn. On 3rd the almost new Moon passes north at 00.27, separation about 4 degrees when the Moon rises at 06.50, about 25 minutes after the planet, but neither will be easy to see as they are so low in the brightening sky. Mars moves into Scorpio on 16th, when it rises at 06.25 but only reaches 5 degrees by dawn. On 25th it goes into Ophiuchus, still not getting any higher in darkness. A couple of days later it passes 4 and a half degrees north of Antares, the red supergiant ‘Rival of Mars’. At mag 1.09 it is a little brighter than Mars’ current magnitude. On 31st the 3% Moon passes 56’ south at 20.13, separation about 7 degrees 30’ on the morning of 31st, half a degree closer the following day, when the planet rises at 06.24, still only getting to 5 degrees in darkness. On 31st observers in Antarctica and the far south of Australia and Tasmania will see an occultation.


Jupiter: in Capricorn, mag -2.3

Now an early evening object, still very bright in the south. On 1st it should be visible from around 16.15, culminating a little over an hour later, when it is at 22 degrees, sinking to 7 degrees in the SE by 9pm. The crescent Moon is close by on the evenings of 8th and 9th, about 10 degrees SW on the evening of 8th, 5 degrees SE the following day. It moves into Aquarius on 18th, still visible from around 16.15, culminating 15 minutes later. From 19th it reaches its highest point before the sky darkens, but only by a few minutes on this day. On 31st it is at 23 degrees in the south at 16.30, down to 7 degrees in the SW 3 hours later, setting at 20.32.


Saturn: in Capricorn, mag 0.7

Another early evening object, sandwiched between the much brighter Venus and Jupiter. Because it is so much fainter it doesn’t become visible until about half an hour after Jupiter - on 1st at around 16.45, when it is 17 degrees in the south. It remains high enough for observing till 18.40, setting at 20.26. On 7th the crescent Moon is SW of the planet, separation as it becomes visible is about 8 degrees. The pair are closest, 4 degrees 04’, at 03.28. On the evening of 8th the separation is again around 8 degrees, with the moon now to the left. On 31st Saturn again becomes visible about 30 minutes after Jupiter, now only 12 degrees in the SW, high for a short time and setting at 18.46’


Uranus: in Aries, mag 5.7

The best placed of the major planets again this month, high in the sky for much of the night especially in the earlier part of December. On 1st it is 24 degrees in the east as the sky darkens around 17.30, culminating at 22.03 when it is 51 degrees above the southern horizon, down to 21 degrees in the west by 3am. On 15th the waxing gibbous Moon is 1 degree 30’ to the south at 05.55, an hour after Uranus has set. The Moon is about 5 degrees SW of the planet as it culminates a few minutes after 2am. On 31st it is at 41 degrees in the SE when the sky gets sufficiently dark, around 17.30, culminating at 20.00 and high enough for observing until about 1am.


Neptune: in Aquarius, mag 7.9

Now an early evening target for small scopes, maybe binoculars if observing from a very dark sky site. It resumes prograde ( west to east) apparent motion on 1st. It is at 20 degrees in the east at 17.30, culminating 31 degrees in the south at 18.52. It will be too low for observing soon after 21.30, setting at 00.29. On 11th the first quarter Moon is 4 degrees 20’ south of the planet at 00.45, after it has set. When it culminates at 18.12 the separation is around 7 degrees. On 31st it is observable from 17.30, when it is 31 degrees in the south, too low after a couple of hours, setting at 22.31.


Dwarf Planets


Ceres: in Taurus, mag 7.2

Another good target for a small scope, high in the sky for much of the night following opposition in late November. It is currently retrograde, appearing to move from east to west against the background stars. On 1st it is observable from 18.30, when it reaches 21 degrees in the east, highest point, 53 degrees, is at 23.37 and it is down to 21 degrees in the west by 04.40. It fades during the month, on 31st now at mag 7.9 it is 24 degrees in the east as the sky darkens, culminating at 21.16 and remaining reasonably high until around 02.20. It sets at 05.03.


Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 15.1

Close to Venus this month but much too faint for telescopic observation when it is so close to the horizon. They are in conjunction at 05.58 on 13th, when Venus passes 20 arcminutes to the north of the almost 100 billion times fainter Pluto. On 1st it sets at 19.03 and on 31st appears only 16 degrees from the Sun, setting at 17.11.


Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4

A morning object, a possible target for good amateur astrophotographers. Its position improves during the month, on 1st it rises at 02.31 and is high enough for imaging from 5am, reaching 33 degrees in the east before it is lost in the brightening sky around 06.30. On 31st it rises at 00.34, reaches observable altitude soon after 3am and is at 48 degrees in the east by dawn.


Makemake: in Coma Berenices, mag 17.3

Also high enough for imaging in the pre dawn sky. On 1st it rises at 00.31, is observable from 03.15 and reaches 48 degrees in the SE by dawn. On 31st it rises at 22.33 and is at observable altitude from 01.20, getting to 58 degrees in the south before the sky brightens.


Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.8

The goddess of discord was in Cetus when it was discovered in Jan 2005. It had been in that constellation since 1931 and won’t move into Pisces until May 2035 - over a hundred years in the same constellation, albeit a very large one. And, being so far from the Sun, it does move very slowly across the sky. It is currently an evening object, a target for only the very best amateur astrophotographers, using the very best equipment. On 1st it is 21 degrees in the SE at the start of astro darkness at 18.01, reaching 30 degrees in the south by 21.12 and down to 21 degrees in the SW by 00.30. On 31st it is 31 degrees in the SE soon after the sky gets fully dark, culminating at 19.15 and remaining reasonably high until 22.30.


Comets


The one to watch is, of course:-


C/2021 A1 (Leonard) : in Canes Venatici, current mag (as of 28/11) 8.6

A morning object, moving south eastwards quite quickly. On 1st it rises at 23.21 and reaches observable altitude by 02.40, reaching 54 degrees in the SE by dawn. It moves into Bootes on 4th, now 50 degrees in the SE in a dark sky. On 5th and 6th it passes close to Arcturus, Alpha Bootis, 5 degrees to the north on 6th. On 9th it goes into Serpens Caput, the serpent's head, rising at 02.48 and at observable altitude (about 21 degrees) from 05.15, now only getting to 32 degrees in the east by dawn. By 11th, when it briefly visits Hercules, it is only 18 degrees at dawn. On 12th, now in Ophiuchus, it is at its closest to Earth, 0.23 AU, but is very low in the pre dawn sky, only reaching 9 degrees in darkness. It is at its greatest brightness on 13th, but how bright will that be? Predictions vary from mag 7 or 8 to mag 4 or brighter. On 14th, when it passes through Serpens Cauda, the serpent’s tail, it appears only 14 degrees from the Sun. Incidentally, Serpens is the only one of the 88 recognised constellations which is divided into 2 separate parts - the head and tail are either side of Ophiuchus, the snake bearer. As its separation from the Sun increases it becomes an evening object but very low in the SW after sunset, so unlikely to be visible. On 16th, now in Sagittarius, it appears 19 degrees from the Sun. On 21st, when it crosses into Microscopium, it is only 6 degrees above the horizon. It ends the month in Piscis Austrinus but is down to 1 degree above the horizon.


C/2019 L3 (ATLAS): in Lynx, mag 9.9

Moving slowly south eastwards during December, circumpolar for the first half of the month. On 1st it is 5 degrees north of Castor, alpha Geminorum, high enough for observing from 20.15 until dawn, reaching 73 degrees in the south at 03.12. From 13th it sets for a short time, during daylight. On that day it is still high for most of the night. It passes through Auriga on 17th and is in Gemini from 19th, high enough for imaging from 19.00 till dawn, highest point, now 71 degrees, at 01.49. On 31st, slightly brighter at an estimated mag of 9.7, it is observable from 18.15 until dawn, culminating at 00.47 when it reaches 69 degrees in the south.


67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko: in Cancer, mag 8.6

Moving N eastwards through northern Cancer for most of December. In the last few days of the month it curves round to move westwards. On 1st it rises at 19.16 and reaches 22 degrees in the east soon after 10pm. Highest point, 63 degrees in the south, is at 04.17 and it remains at an observable altitude until dawn, a little over 2 hours later. On 31st now slightly fainter, maybe mag 8.9, it reaches 21 degrees by 20.30 and 63 degrees in the south at 02.32, still reasonably high when the sky begins to brighten.


104P/Kowai: in Aquarius, mag 10.1

Starts the month on a continuation of the line between Saturn and Jupiter, moving N eastwards and ending the month below the circlet of Pisces. On 1st it is observable from around 17.30, half an hour before it culminates at 26 degrees in the south. It remains high enough for observing for another couple of hours. It moves into Pisces on 30th and on 31st becomes visible as it is at its highest point, 31 degrees in the south, at 17.31. By 20.15 it is down to 21 degrees in the SW, setting at 23.06.


Meteor Showers


This month we have what is generally regarded as the most reliable shower of the year.


Geminids: active Dec 4th to 20th, peak on the night of 13th/14th, ZHR 150. From the very darkest parts of the Greater Manchester area it could be as high as 100. There is a broad peak centred on 14th at 7am. The radiant rises at sunset and is highest at 2am, so the shower is usually best seen between then and dawn.

These are bright meteors, mainly white with some yellow and a few red, green or blue ones. They are slow moving, 35 kps, sometimes with very short lived trails, so are very good photographic targets. Meteors seen on the day before the maximum are often fainter than during the rest of the period of activity.

The Moon is about 80% on the night of 13th/14th, so there will be some interference until it sets at around 3am.

Parent body is asteroid 3200 Phaethon - a strange object which has some comet like properties. It brightens and shows a tail when it nears the Sun .


Monocerotids: active Dec 3rd to 20th, peak 9th, ZHR 3.

This shower is best seen around 2am, when the radiant is highest. Peak activity this year predicted for 4am on 9th.

These meteors are often confused with Geminids as they only slightly faster and appear to come from the same area of the sky. The first quarter Moon sets at 20.34on the night of 8th, so won’t interfere.


Sigma Hydrids: active Dec 3rd to 20th, peak 9th (or maybe 14th) ZHR 7.

The shower often includes very bright meteors, much faster than Geminids and Monocerotids which are also active at this time. They are best seen around 3am when the radiant is highest. No Moon interference.


Comae Berenicids: active 12th to 23rd, peak 16th, ZHR 3 (2 from Manchester)

These were once considered to be part of the Geminids but are now classed as a separate shower, as they are much faster moving at 65 kps. The radiant, in Leo, rises at 22.21 and doesn’t reach its highest point until after dawn. Peak activity predicted for 2am on 16th.

The 94% Moon is above the horizon for most of the night.


December Leonids Minorids: active Dec 5th to Feb 4th, peak Dec 19th, ZHR 5 ( 4 from Manchester)

A weak, long lasting shower of fast moving (64 kps) meteors. The radiant rises at 19.29 and is highest at 05.00, peak activity around midnight on 19th/20th but a few meteors might be seen at any time on this night.

The Moon is only 1 day past full so will interfere.


Ursids: active Dec 17th to 26th, peak 22nd, ZHR 10 (though sometimes as high as 50)

The radiant, in Ursa Minor, is circumpolar, highest at 9am. Peak activity is predicted for 16.00 on 22nd so the best time for seeing these is when the sky darkens on 22nd. There is also a short peak predicted for 06.47 on 22nd, when the Earth passes through a dense part of the dust trail. ZHR for this is given as 27, but only for a very short time, so around one every 2 minutes. This shower does occasionally show major outbursts, the last ones being in 1945 and 1986, when the ZHR reached 500 (about 8 per minute) for a very short time. Lesser outbursts were seen in 2014 and 2015. These outbursts don’t seem to be connected to the perihelion dates of the parent comet, 8P/Tuttle.

The 90% Moon on the night of 22nd/23rd will interfere.


There are also a couple of showers visible only to observers in the southern hemisphere, as their radiants never rise above our horizon.



Phoenicids: active Nov 28th to Dec 2nd, peak 2nd, ZHR variable, very slow 18 kps.


Puppid Velids: active Dec 1st to 15th, peak 7th, ZHR 10, medium speed 40 kps.


Credits

Most of the solar system information given here is from:

https://in-the-sky.org

More information, exact co-ordinates and finder charts of all solar system objects can be found on this site.

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

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

https://www.timeanddate.com

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



The night sky in November 2021

by Anne Holt

Sunrise 1st: 07.08 30th: 08.00

Sunset 1st: 16.36 30th: 15.54


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


Day length. 1st: 9.27.45 30th: 7.54.01


New Moon: 4th at 21.14 (passes 1 degree 43’ north of the Sun)

Full Moon: 19th at 08.57 (angular diameter 29’ 28”)


Lunar perigee: 5th at 22.24 (358844km, angular diameter 33’ 16”) the day after new Moon, so it will appear as a very thin crescent.

Lunar apogee: 21st at 02.15 (406257km, angular diameter 29’ 23”)


On 19th there is a partial lunar eclipse, the start will be visible from Manchester - for early risers with a clear WNW horizon. The penumbral eclipse begins at 06.02 when the Moon is 12.3 degrees above the horizon. The umbral eclipse begins at 07.18, by this time the Moon is down to 2.3 degrees. By 07.32 about 18% of the Moon’s disc is covered by the Earth’s shadow but the Moon is on the horizon, setting 10 minutes later, as the Sun rises. This eclipse favours those in the north and west, observers in London will see only 3% covered, those on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides fare much better - 74% before the Moon sets. Maximum coverage, 97%, will be visible from N America, Greenland, NE Russia and parts of the Pacific Ocean.


The most common name for the November full Moon is the Beaver Moon - this is the time when these animals have finished their preparations for winter and go into their lodges. Other names given in the Old Farmer’s Almanac are the Deer Rutting Moon, the Digging and Scratching Moon and the Whitefish Moon. It was the Medieval English Mourning Moon or Darkest Depths Moon, the Celtic Dark Moon or Oak Moon and the Neo Pagan Tree Moon. The Chinese call it the White Moon and to the Inuit it is the Freezing Frost Moon.

As always there are many Indigenous American names, among them the Cherokee Trading Moon, the Ojibwa Ice Flowing Moon and the Dakota Sioux Moon when horns are broken off.


Highlights


We have a partial lunar eclipse as described above, the start of which is visible to Manchester observers as the Moon is setting a little after 7am. Jupiter is still shining brightly in the evening sky but by the end of the month is very low in the SW by 9pm. Venus’ position is improving slightly, as is its brightness, it ends the month at mag -4.7. Uranus has a very favourable opposition in early November, and dwarf planet Ceres near the end of the month. We have a few comets, high in the sky but probably very faint, and a few minor meteor showers, mostly marred by moonlight. However, this is the prime time for seeing fireballs - dust particles larger than 1mm entering our atmosphere and streaking across the sky at mag -4 or brighter. For ISS fans, there are some bright early evening passes of the space station from the 24th of the month to 4th December.

And we have lots of astronomical darkness, ten and a half hours at the start of the month, only a few minutes short of 12 hours by 30th. And, now the clocks have gone back to proper time, it begins at a reasonable hour - soon after 6pm.



Constellations


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

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

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

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

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

Planets


Mercury: in Virgo, mag -0.8

Might be seen for a short time in the morning sky at the start of November. On 1st it rises at 05.23, becoming visible a few minutes before 6.30 and reaching 10 degrees in the SE before the sky brightens about 15 minutes later. The next morning it is 4 degrees north of Spica, alpha Virginis, and on 3rd the thin crescent Moon passes 1 degree 13’ to the north of the planet at 18.39. They are separated by 6 degrees, with the Moon to the NW, when they are visible for a few minutes soon after 06.30. The separation is only 5 degrees on the morning of 4th, but the Moon will be almost impossible to see, as it is only a few hours from new. On 6th Mercury rises at 05.50 but only gets to 8 degrees in relative darkness. It moves into Libra on 11th, when it is 5 degrees at dawn, and Scorpio on 25th, now separated from the Sun by only 3 degrees. It is at superior conjunction on 29th, passing 43 arcminutes to the south at 04.39. The following day it moves into Ophiuchus, still much too close to the Sun to be visible.


Venus: in Ophiuchus, mag -4.4

Low in the evening sky but bright enough to be seen soon after sunset, and improving during the month. On 1st it is only 5 degrees in the SSW as the sky darkens, setting at 18.15. It moves into Sagittarius on 3rd and on the morning of 8th the 4 day Moon passes 1 degree 06’ to the north at 05.20. An occultation will be visible to observers in NE China, Japan and the NW Pacific. From Manchester the Moon will appear about 6 degrees west of the planet on the evening of 7th and slightly closer, to the east, after sunset on 8th. On both days Venus is 6 degrees above the horizon as the sky begins to darken, setting at 18.16. By 21st, now at mag -4.6, it is 8 degrees above the horizon in the evening twilight around 16.30, setting at 18.26. On 30th it is at mag -4.7 and 9 degrees in the SSW at dusk, setting at 18.28.


Mars: in Virgo, mag 1.7

Not visible this month. On 1st it rises at 06.21, about 45 minutes before the Sun but appears separated from it by only 7 degrees. On 10th and 11th it is very close to Mercury, about 1 degree separation, but both are too close to the Sun to be observed safely. On 12th, when it moves into Libra, the separation from the Sun is still only 11 degrees. By the end of November it rises at 06.23 but only gets to 3 degrees above the horizon by dawn.


Jupiter: in Capricorn, mag -2.5

Shining brightly in the early evening sky, still culminating in darkness. On 1st it should be visible soon after 17.00, when it is 16 degrees in the SE. It reaches its highest point, 21 degrees in the south, at 19.06 and is down to 7 degrees in the SW soon after 22.30, setting at 23.45. On 6th the second largest moon, Callisto, crosses the planet’s disc, beginning at 16.45 in civil twilight, and ending at 21.20. On this day Jupiter is best seen between 16.54 and 22.26, culminating at 18.48. On 11th the first quarter Moon passes 4 degrees 21’ to the south at 17.16, soon after the planet becomes visible at 17 degrees in the SE. They are slightly closer at 19.45. By 30th it is at 21 degrees in the south as the sky darkens around 16.20, culminating an hour later. It is down to 7 degrees in the SW by 21.00, setting at 22.06. It will have faded slightly to mag -2.3.


Saturn: in Capricorn, mag 0.6

On 1st it becomes visible, 16 degrees in the south, around 17.20 culminating, one degree higher, at 18.06. It is down to 10 degrees in the SW by 20.30 and sets at 22.17. The 41% Moon passes 4 degrees 06’ to the south on 10th at 14.24, it is 6 arcminutes closer at 15.58. When the planet becomes visible at 17.00 the separation is about 5 degrees. Jupiter is close by, 16 degrees east of Saturn and about 4 degrees higher. Saturn culminates at 17.29 and is down to 11 degrees in the SW by 20.00. On 20th it is at its highest point at 16.54, only a few minutes after it becomes visible in the darkening sky, and is down to 10 degrees in the SW by 19.15. On 30th, now mag 0.7, it is at 17 degrees in the south at 16.45 and visible for about 2 hours, setting at 20.30.


Uranus: in Aries, mag 5.7

Very well placed in November, high in the sky for most of the night. On 1st it rises at 16.38 and reaches 20 degrees in the east by 19.10, culminating at 00.08, when it is 51 degrees above the southern horizon. It is down to 21 degrees in the west soon after 5am, as astronomical darkness ends. It is at opposition on 4th, at 23.49, still becoming visible around 19.10 and now reaching 51 degrees at 23.55 . It is then at perigee at a distance of 18.74 AU. It’s the most favourable opposition for 50 years, and the Moon is new on this night, so it’s an excellent time to try to find the planet with the naked eye - or, if you’re in a light polluted area and don’t have perfect eyesight, with binoculars. On 18th at 01.50 the Moon is only 2 degrees south of the planet, unfortunately it is only one day from full, so the sky in that area will be very bright. Uranus is still well positioned at the end of November, on 30th it is 24 degrees in the east as the sky darkens, highest point at 22.03 and down to 21 degrees in the west by 3am, setting at 05.35.


Neptune: in Aquarius, mag 7.9

The most distant of the major planets is still quite high in the early part of the night, a good target for a small scope, or even binoculars from a dark sky site. On 1st it should become visible, 21 degrees in the SE, around 18.00. It reaches its highest point, 31 degrees, at 20.30 and remains high enough for observing for a further 3 hours, setting at 02.28. By 30th it is higher, 28 degrees as the sky darkens around 17.30, culminating at 18.56 and remaining high until 21.45, when it is down to 22 degrees in the SW. It sets at 02.28.


Dwarf Planets


Ceres: in Taurus, mag 7.8

The closest dwarf planet, the largest object in the Asteroid Belt, starts the month at a similar magnitude to Neptune but is much higher in the sky and brightening as it approaches opposition. On 1st it rises at 18.28 and should be observable soon after 9pm when it is 21 degrees above the eastern horizon. At this time it is 15’ SE of Aldebaran, the eye of the bull. It reaches 52 degrees in the south at 02.06 and is down to 34 degrees in the west when the sky begins to brighten. Its apparent motion is currently retrograde, moving from east to west against the background stars, so on 2nd it passes to the south of Aldebaran and on 3rd it is SW of the star. It is at opposition on 27th, now at mag 7.2 and at a distance of 1.76 AU from Earth. It is observable from around 19.00, when it is at an altitude of 21 degrees in the east, highest point, 53 degrees, a few minutes after midnight and reasonably high until dawn. On 30th it gets to 22 degrees soon after 18.30, culminates at 23.43 and is down to 21 degrees in the east by 04.45. It is a good target for a small scope, or binoculars from a dark sky site, especially at the start of the month when it is so close to Aldebaran, and towards the end around opposition.


Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 15.1

Much too low to be observable, as it is so faint. Sets in the early evening, 21.01 on 1st, 19.06 on 30th.


Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4

Very faint, a target for only the best amateur astrophotographers. It is very low during the first half of November. On 1st it is so far north of the Sun that it both rises well before and sets well after it. However it only reaches 11 degrees by dawn and is down to 10 degrees in the west as the sky darkens in the evening. On 16th it is high enough for imaging in the morning sky, for a very short time, rising at 03.28 and getting to 22 degrees in the east a few minutes after 6am, as the sky begins to brighten. By 30th it rises at 02.34 and will be at a reasonable altitude from a few minutes after 5am, reaching 32 degrees before dawn breaks around 6.30.



Makemake: in Coma Berenices, mag 17.3

Again a difficult imaging target, and doesn’t make such a pretty picture as galaxies or nebulae, which is probably why so few amateurs seem to attempt it. On 1st it rises at 02.30, high from soon after 5am, reaching 32 degrees in the east by dawn. On 30th it rises a couple of hours earlier, observable for about 3 hours from 03.30 and getting to 48 degrees in the SE in darkness.


Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.7.

The most distant, and faintest, of the 5 currently designated dwarf planets - though there are several more Kuiper Belt objects which meet the criteria and are awaiting IAU approval. High enough for imaging in the early part of the night, on 1st it is at 23 degrees in the east by 20.00, culminating at 23.15 when it is 35 degrees in the south. By 02.30 it will have sunk to 22 degrees in the SW, setting at 02.24. On 30th it reaches 21 degrees in the SE by 18.00 and 35 degrees in the south at 21.16. By 00.30 it will be down to 21 degrees in the SW, setting at 03.12.


Comets


67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko: in Gemini

Could possibly be bright enough to be seen through binoculars this month (one site says through bird watching binoculars) as it approaches perigee - but maybe not. Estimates of maximum brightness vary between 8.3 and 10.7. During November it moves eastwards through Gemini and into Cancer. It starts the month in the middle of Gemini, forming a not quite equilateral triangle with Castor and Pollux. On 1st it rises at 19.51, reaches 21 degrees in the east a few minutes before 23.00 and its highest point, 62 degrees in the south, at 04.45. It’s only a couple of degrees lower by dawn. It’s at perihelion, 1.21 AU, on 3rd and at its brightest (your guess is as good as mine!) on the night of 7th/8th, when it rises at 19.47 and reaches 21 degrees in the east around 20.00. Highest point, 63 degrees, is at 04.43 and it is down slightly to 59 degrees as the sky begins to brighten just before 6am. This is a very good night to try imaging the comet, the Moon is only 13% and sets at 17.58. The comet is at perigee, 0.42 AU, on 13th, when it is higher than 22 degrees from 23.00, culminating at 04.41 and still 59 degrees by dawn. It crosses the boundary into Cancer the following day and on 30th is high between 22.30 and dawn, reaching 63 degrees at 04.17.


C/2019 L3(ATLAS) in Lynx, mag 10.3

Circumpolar throughout November, moving slowly south-westwards towards Gemini. On 1st it is high enough for imaging from around 22.00, when it is 22 degrees in the NE, until dawn, highest point, 76 degrees in the south, at 05.17 - less than half an hour before it is lost in the morning twilight. On 30th, slightly brighter at mag 9.9 (maybe), it is 22 degrees in the NE at 20.20, 74 degrees in the south at 03.17 and 54 degrees in the west at dawn.


4P/Faye: in Monoceros, mag 10.5

Moving south eastwards for most of the month, starting to curve towards the west in late November. On 1st it reaches observable altitude, 21 degrees in the east, not long before midnight, highest point, 48 degrees, at 04.15 and down to 44 degrees in the SW by dawn. On 30th it reaches 21 degrees in the east around 22.15 and its highest point, now 44 degrees, at 02.31. It is down to 24 degrees in the west when it is lost in the brightening sky.


2021/A1 (Leonard): in Ursa Major.

The first comet to be discovered this year was initially predicted to reach naked eye brightness in late December. That now seems highly unlikely. Some sources say it may get to mag 7, visible in binoculars, but don’t hold your breath - one source gives the current mag as only 12.3! It is currently moving eastwards from the southern region of Ursa Major, heading towards Bootes.

On 1st it rises at 22.22 and is at observable altitude from 02.20, reaching 53 degrees in the east by dawn. It moves into Canes Venatici on 11th, still 53 degrees at dawn. It briefly strays into Coma Berenices on 19th but is back in Canes Venatici the following day, when it is high soon after 2am and at 56 degrees in the east as the sky brightens. It is back in Coma Berenices on 29th and on 30th rises at 23.10, is high from soon after 02.30 and 55 degrees in the SE by dawn.


Meteor Showers


Northern Taurids: active Oct 20th to December 10th, peak Nov 12th, ZHR 5 (4 from Manchester) Rates may be near peak level for about 10 days, centred on 12th. The radiant is above the horizon for most of the night, highest at 01.00. Maximum activity is predicted for noon on 12th, so it’s worth looking in both the morning and evening sky on that day. These are slow moving meteors, 29 km/sec, often leaving slow, bright trails. Parent body given as either comet 4P/Encke or asteroid 2004 TG10 - which is thought to be a fragment of Encke. The 1st quarter Moon sets an hour before midnight on the night of 11th/12th.


There is also a chance of a secondary peak of the associated Southern Taurids on the night of 4th/5th. These meteors are marginally slower than those from the northern stream, 27.7 km/sec, not enough for the average observer to notice any difference.


Both the N and S Taurids are likely to include fireballs, so the best chance of seeing these is between late October and late November, when both showers are active.


Leonids: active Nov 6th to 30th, peak 17th, ZHR 10 to 15 (from Manchester 8 to 12)

The radiant rises at 22.16 and culminates after dawn, so the shower is best seen in the morning sky. Peak activity is predicted for 18.00 on 17th, so it could also be worth looking soon after the radiant rises. This shower often shows enhanced rates when the parent comet, 55P/ Tempel-Tuttle, returns but we’ll have to wait another 10 years for that. Even better displays, known as meteor storms, occur when Earth passes through the extremely dense part of the dust cloud, but that won’t happen again until 2099 - much too late for most of us. These are fast moving meteors, 71 km/sec, with persistent trails. The bad news is that the almost full Moon will be above the horizon for most of the night, meaning only the very brightest meteors will be seen.


Alpha Monocerotids: active Nov 18th to 21st, peak 21st, ZHR given as variable, usually no more than 5. The radiant, in Canis Minor (presumably constellation boundaries have changed since the shower was first noted) rises at 21.48 and is highest at 04.00. Peak activity predicted at 17.00 on 21st, so worth looking any time after 10pm. These are slightly slower moving than the Leonids, 65 km/sec, parent comet C/1917 (Mellish). Again the gibbous Moon is above the horizon for most of the night.


November Orionids: active Nov 13th to Dec 6th, peak Nov 28th, ZHR 3

The radiant of these is quite close to that of the N Taurids but meteors should be easily distinguishable as the Nov Orionids are much faster - 44 km/sec. The radiant is highest at 2am, peak activity 05.00 so the shower is best seen in the early hours. The third quarter Moon rises half an hour before midnight on 27th/28th.


Credits

Most of the solar system information given here is from:

https://in-the-sky.org

More information, exact co-ordinates and finder charts of all solar system objects can be found on this site.

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

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

https://www.timeanddate.com

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


The Night Sky in October 2021


by Anne Holt


Sunrise 1st: 07.10 31st: 07.06

Sunset 1st: 1848 31st: 16.38


Astronomical darkness 1st: 20.42 to 05.15 31st: 18.36 to 05.05


Day length 1st: 11.34.27 31st: 9.31.37


GMT returns on the morning of 31st.


New Moon: 6th at 12.06 (the Moon passes 3 degrees 53’ north of the Sun).

Full Moon: 20th at 18.56. (Angular diameter 29’ 54”)


Lunar perigee: 8th at 18.29 (363387 Km, AD 32’ 52”)

Lunar apogee: 24th at 16.31 (405614 Km, AD 29’ 45”)


The Old Farmer’s Almanac name for the October Full Moon is the Hunters’ Moon, because this is when deer, fattened during the summer, are hunted and killed for winter food. Other names given are the Drying Rice Moon and the Migrating Moon. The Chinese called it the Kindly Moon and it was the Inuit Ice Moon. For the Celts, Medieval English and Neo Pagan it was the Blood Moon and among the many indigenous American names we have the Algonquin Raven Moon, the Choctaw Blackberry Moon, the Ojibwa Falling Leaves Moon and the Dakota Sioux Moon when quilting and beading is done.


Highlights


Jupiter is very bright and well placed in the evening sky, Saturn is lower and much fainter but still worth observing or imaging as the rings are well positioned. The two ice giants are high in the sky, Uranus for most of the night, Neptune till almost 3am in early October, midnight at month end.

We have several minor (and very minor) meteor showers and one reasonable one, which is unfortunately marred by the presence of the just past full Moon.

There’s lots of lovely astronomical darkness, weather permitting, - eight and a half hours on the 1st, two hours more by the end of the month.

And BST ends in the early hours of 31st.


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 1.5

Not visible until late October. On 1st it sets only a couple of minutes after the Sun and on 9th is at inferior solar conjunction, passing 1 degree 53’ to the north. It then becomes a morning object but too close to the Sun to be seen for the next couple of weeks. On 20th it is at perihelion, at a distance of 0.31AU, much brighter at mag 0.2 but only 8 degrees above the horizon at dawn. A couple of days later it rises at 06.01 and may be visible for a few minutes as it gets to 10 degrees before the sky brightens. It reaches greatest eastern elongation on 25th, when its apparent separation from the Sun is 18 degrees 25’. It rises at 05.59 and should be visible from around 7am, reaching 11 degrees before dawn breaks around 07.30. On this day it is at its highest point in the morning sky, 15 degrees at sunrise. On 31st it rises at 05.17 (GMT) and has faded slightly to mag 0.8. It should become visible soon after 06.15, still reaching 11 degrees before fading from view half an hour later.


Venus: in Virgo, mag -4.2

Very low in the sky after sunset but bright enough to be visible to observers with a low, clear western horizon. On 1st it is only 3 degrees at dusk, setting at 19.49, a little over an hour after the Sun. It is at aphelion on 3rd at a distance of 0.73 AU, however its orbit is almost circular, so there is very little difference between this and perihelion. It goes into Scorpio on 8th, and on 9th, with Venus only 4 degrees at dusk, the 19% Moon passes 2 degrees 51’ to the north at 19.35 as the planet sets. They are 7’ closer at 21.04 when both are below the horizon. On 16th it is briefly over the border in Ophiuchus, then back into Scorpio until 22nd. On this day it is 4 degrees at dusk, setting at 19.25. It is at greatest eastern elongation on 29th, when it appears 47 degrees from the Sun, 12 degrees at sunset but down to 5 degrees by the time the sky begins to darken. On 31st, now at mag -4.4, it is still 5 degrees at dusk, setting at 18.15 (GMT).


Mars: in Virgo, mag 1.7

Not visible this month as it approaches solar conjunction. On 1st it is only 2 degrees from the Sun and sets at 18.51. On 8th it passes 39’ north of the Sun at 05.01, now at its most distant from Earth at 2.63 AU. It remains unobservable for the rest of the month, on 31st it rises at 06.18 but is separated from theSun by only 7 degrees.


Jupiter: in Capricorn, mag -2.7

Very bright in the evening sky. On 1st it should be visible soon after 19.00, 11 degrees in the SE. It culminates, 21 degrees in the south, at 22.08 and is down to 8 degrees in the SW soon after 01.30, setting a little over an hour later. On 15th the gibbous Moon passes 4 degrees 05’ south at 11.02, down to 3 degrees 56’ at 13.21. On the night of 14th/15th the separation is 10 degrees when Jupiter culminates at 21.16, and 8 degrees as it is lost from view around 00.45. The following evening they are 5 degrees apart as the planet becomes visible in the SW, a degree more when it reaches its highest point at 21.12. On 18th it resumes prograde motion, moving from west to east against the background stars, and on 31st becomes visible as it culminates, 21 degrees in the south, at at 19.10. By 22.40 it is down to 7 degrees in the SW and sets at 22.48.


Saturn: in Capricorn, mag 0.5

An early evening object much fainter, so harder to see, than nearby Jupiter. The 2 planets are almost 16 degrees apart in early October, just over 15 degrees by 25th. On 1st Saturn should be visible from around 19.30, at 14 degrees in the SE, culminating at 21.04 when it is 17 degrees in the south. It will be lost to view by 23.30, when it is down to 10 degrees in the SW. It resumes prograde motion on 11th and on 14th the gibbous Moon passes 3 degrees 56’ to the south at 08.08, slightly closer, 3 degrees 50’, at 09.37. On the night of 13th/14th they are separated by 8 degrees when the planet culminates at 20.19, a degree less when it is down to 10 degrees in the SW at 22.45. The following night the separation is 6 degrees when Saturn becomes visible, 15 degrees in the south, at 19.00, 7 degrees when it culminates at 20.15. On this night Jupiter is also close by, the three forming an upside down triangle with the Moon at the bottom, Saturn above and to the right, Jupiter slightly higher to the left. On 31st, at mag 0.6,Saturn becomes visible around 17.20 when it is 16 degrees in the south, culminating one degree higher at 18.06. It should remain visible until 20.30, when it is down to 10 degrees in the SW.


Uranus: in Aries, mag 5.7

High in the sky for most of the night, as it approaches opposition in early November. On 1st it should be visible from around 22.15, when it is at 21 degrees in the east, culminating, 52 degrees in the south, at 03.17 and visible until it is lost in the brightening sky around 05.45 - still high at 42 degrees in the SW. On 21st the just past full Moon passes 1 degree 14’ to the south at 23.39 - might be a good time to try to spot the planet through binoculars. Not so good for trying with the naked eye as the bright Moon will wash it out. It is visible from 9pm till around 06.30, culminating at 01.56. On 31st it culminates at 01.12 and remains visible until the sky begins to brighten soon after 5am.


Neptune: in Aquarius, mag 7.8

The most distant of the planets, the only one not visible to the naked eye (in theory, though Uranus rarely is) is also well positioned this month. On 1st it rises at 18.16 and reaches 21 in the SE soon after 21.00. It culminates, 31 degrees in the south, at 23.55 and is down to 21 degrees in the SW soon after 02.30. On 17th, the almost full Moon passes 4 degrees 40’ SE of the planet at 19.30, about 50 minutes before it reaches 21 degrees in the SE. On 31st it should be visible from 18.00, culminating, 31 degrees in the south, at 20.54 and remaining high until a few minutes before midnight. It sets at 02.32.


Dwarf Planets


Ceres: in Taurus, mag 8.4

Should be visible through binoculars or a small scope. On 1st it rises at 21.39 and reaches 22 degrees in the east by 00.15 culminating, 52 degrees in the south, at 05.14 about half an hour before it is lost in the brightening sky. On 31st it rises at 19.33 and becomes visible when it gets to 22 degrees in the east, soon after 22.00. It culminates at 02.41 and remains reasonably high until dawn.


Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 15.1

Still much too low for imaging or telescopic viewing.


Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4

Not easy to image this month as it appears too close to the Sun. On 1st it is 18 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens, setting at 22.22. It is at solar conjunction on 21st at 23.08, when it passes 27 degrees north of the Sun. On this day it is 13 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 21.04. Because it passes so far north of the Sun, for some time around conjunction it both rises before it and sets after it. On 31st it rises at 04.29, about 2 and a half hours before sunrise and sets at 19.25, almost 2 hours after sunset. Still too close to be observable, only 13 degrees at dusk.


Makemake: in Coma Berenices, mag 17.2

Following solar conjunction at the end of September, Makemake is also very low in the dawn and dusk sky. On 1st it rises at 05.24 and sets at 22.00 but is only 13 degrees in the west as the sky darkens. The last few days in October it reaches observable altitude in the morning sky for a very short time . On 27th it rises at 03.46 and gets to 22 degrees in the east at 06.33, only a couple of minutes before the sky gets too bright. On 31st it rises at 02.30 and is reasonably high for about half an hour from around 05.20, reaching 25 degrees by dawn.


Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.7

Reaches opposition this month so is fairly high in the sky for most of the night and a good target for experienced astrophotographers. It also means that it is at its closest to Earth but, as it is so far distant, the 2AU difference in distance makes very little difference in magnitude. On 1st it rises at 20.19, reaches 21 degrees in the east by 23.00 and culminates, 35 degrees in the south, at 02.16. It remains reasonably high until around 05.30. Opposition is on 17th, it is high in the sky from soon after 19.00 until around 04.30, culminating, still 35 degrees, at 01.15. On 31st it rises at 18.21, reaches 21 degrees in the SE by 21.00 and culminates at 00.18. It is down to 22 degrees in the SW by 05.14.


Comets


67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in Taurus, mag 9 (or maybe only around mag 11 - as always, sources vary)

Stil brightening, albeit quite slowly, but very well placed in the morning sky as it moves eastwards through the head of the bull and into Gemini. On 1st it should be high enough for observing or imaging from midnight, when it is at 22 degrees in the east, culminating, 57 degrees in the south, at 05.27 half an hour before the sky begins to brighten. It moves into Gemini on 17th, now at mag 8.7 (maybe) and visible from a few minutes before midnight until dawn, culminating at 05.37 when it is at 60 degrees. On 31st it rises at 20.52 and reaches 21 degrees in the east by midnight, culminating at 04.44, now at 62 degrees. It is still at 60 degrees when it is lost in the brightening sky a little before 6am.


15P/Finlay: in Cancer, mag 10.5

Still high but fading rapidly. On 1st it should be observable from around 02.45 until the sky brightens a little before 6am, when it will have reached 48 degrees. By 31st, down to mag 12.5, it is high enough for imaging from 01.30, reaching 61 degrees by dawn.


4P/Faye: in Orion, mag 10.7

A faint, early morning object, moving eastwards from the northern part of Orion into southern Gemini. On 1st it is high between 01.30 and dawn, when it reaches 51 degrees. It moves into Gemini on 14th, now culminating in darkness - 50 degrees at 06.05. On 31st, at mag 10.5, it should be high enough for imaging from around 00.45, when it is at 22 degrees in the east. It culminates, 48 degrees in the south, at 04.21 and is only 3 degrees lower when it is lost in the brightening sky around 05.45.


C/2019 L3(ATLAS): in Lynx, mag 10.7

Circumpolar, highest in the sky after midnight. On 1st it is at 21 degrees in the NE at 00.25 and gets to 65 degrees by dawn. On 31st, slightly brighter at mag 10.3, it is high from 23.00, culminating, 77 degrees in the south, at 05.20, only about 20 minutes before dawn.


Meteor Showers


There is one fairly good shower which is badly affected by moonlight, several minor showers - and the possibility of a few fireballs.


Orionids: active Oct 2nd to Nov 7th, peak on the night of 20th/21st, ZHR 25 (from Manchester only about 11) The radiant is visible from 10pm, highest at 5am, so the best displays are likely to be shortly before dawn on 21st. Peak activity is 13.00 on 21st, so it might also be worth looking after 10pm that night. These are fast moving meteors, often leaving trails, parent comet 1P/Halley. Unfortunately, this year the peak is the day after the full Moon, so only the brightest meteors will be visible.


Camelopardalids: active 5th and 6th, very short peak in the early hours of 6th, ZHR 5

The radiant, in Draco, is highest at 11am, so these medium paced meteors are best seen before dawn. Very close to new Moon, so no interference.


Draconids: active 6th to 10th, peak 8th, ZHR 5, but could be as many as 10 - numbers have been higher over the last few years.

The radiant of these very faint, slow moving meteors is highest at 17.00 and the peak time is given as 19.30, so best seen soon after the sky darkens. The shower occasionally shows much higher rates but this isn’t predicted for this year. Parent comet is 21P/Giacobini-Zinner - hence the alternative name for the shower, the Giacobinids. Again, close to new Moon.


Southern Taurids: active 10th Sept to 20th Nov, peak Oct 10th, ZHR 5 (3 from Manchester) with enhanced activity on the days either side of the peak. The radiant is highest at 2am, peak activity predicted for 4am, after the Moon has set. These are very bright, slow moving meteors, ideal photographic subjects. The shower often includes fireballs, as does the associated Northern Taurids active from 20th. They are thought to have originally been a single shower which has become split into 2 parts. Parent comet is 2P/Encke


Delta Aurigids: active 10th to 18th, peak 11th, ZHR 3. The circumpolar radiant is highest at 05.00, so the most likely time to see one or two meteors is just before dawn.


Epsilon Geminids: active 14th to 27th, peak 18th, ZHR 3

The radiant rises soon after 21.00, highest at 06.00 so this is another shower best seen in the pre dawn sky. Peak activity is 12.00 on 18th, so there might be the odd meteor after the radiant rises on that day.


Leonis Minorids: active 18th to 27th, peak 24th, ZHR 2

Circumpolar radiant, highest at 10.00, so best seen before dawn. Peak activity given as 13.00 on 24th, so one or two might be seen after dusk on 24th. The Moon is only a couple of days past full so will interfere. Parent comet C/1739 K1.


Credits

Most of the solar system information given here is from:

https://in-the-sky.org

More information, exact co-ordinates and finder charts of all solar system objects can be found on this site.

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

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

https://www.timeanddate.com

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


The Night Sky in September 2021

by Anne Holt

Sunrise 1st: 06.18 30th: 07.09

Sunset 1st: 19.58 30th: 18.47

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

Day length 1st: 13.59.50 30th: 11.38.39

The autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere is on 22nd at 20.21, when the centre of the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving southwards, marking the start of Autumn. This day is 12hrs 12 mins and 15 seconds long, despite the name equinox, which means equal night. There are 2 reasons for this, firstly it is the day when the centre of the Sun is above the horizon for exactly 12 hours, whereas sunrise and sunset times are when the top edge appears and disappears. Also, refraction of the light by our atmosphere means that we can see the sun for a few minutes before it rises and after it sets. The closest day to 12 hours is 25th at 11.59.39.

New Moon: 7th at 01.51, when it passes 4 degrees 56’ north of the Sun.

Full Moon: 21st at 00.54, angular diameter 30' 37".

Lunar perigee: 11th at 11.07, distance 368463 km, angular diameter 32' 24"

Lunar apogee: 26th at 22.45, distance 404639 km, angular diameter 29' 30"

This month’s full Moon is the closest to the autumnal equinox, making it the Harvest Moon. Other names given in the Old Farmer’s Almanac are the Corn Moon and the Barley Moon. Many more of this month’s names relate to the harvest and various crops, among those which don’t, we have the Celtic Singing Moon or Wine Moon - could there be a connection there? It’s the Chinese Chrysanthemum Moon, the Inuit Harpoon Moon and the Dakota Sioux Moon when calves grow hair.

Highlights

The best sight in the sky this month is the planet Jupiter, shining brightly for much of the night, reaching 22 degrees in the south as it culminates. Saturn, though lower and much fainter, is still reasonably placed and the 2 ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, are high in the sky. We have the autumnal equinox, when the Sun rises due east and sets due west, and a reasonable amount of astro darkness now beginning well before midnight - a couple of minutes short of 6 hours on 1st and 8 and a half hours by the end of the month.

Unfortunately there are still no bright comets and not much in the way of meteor showers - though the fireball season begins in mid September with the Southern Taurids.

And we have just confirmed the date of our Open Day, in the classroom behind the Stables Cafe, as Sunday Sept 26th.

Constellations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planets

Mercury: in Virgo, mag -0.1

Hardly visible this month, an evening object but extremely low in the sky. On 1st it is 2 degrees above the horizon 15 minutes after sunset and sets at 20.30, before the sky is dark enough for it to be seen easily. It is at aphelion, the furthest point in its orbit from the Sun, on 6th at a distance of 0.47AU. It reaches greatest eastern elongation on 13th, when the apparent separation is 26 degrees 48’. However the angle of the ecliptic to the horizon at this time is very small, the planet sets only 20 minutes after the Sun and is 3 degrees below the horizon at dusk. On 30th, now down to mag 1.8, it sets around sunset.

Venus: in Virgo, mag -4.0

Also very low in the evening sky. Throughout September it is about 4 degrees above the horizon as the sky darkens and sets an hour after the Sun. However, because it is so bright, it should be easily visible in the evening twilight to observers with a low, clear western horizon. On 1st it sets at 20.59 and on the evening of 5th it is only 1 degree 30’ north of Spica, Alpha Virginis, though it will be very difficult to see the first magnitude star, just above the horizon. On 10th, the 3 day Moon passes 4 degrees 04’ north of the planet at 03.08, separation at dusk on 9th is around 7 degrees, with the Moon to the right, a degree more and to the left after sunset on 10th, when Venus sets at 20.35. On 30th, slightly brighter at mag -4.2 it sets at 19.50.

Mars: in Leo, mag 1.8

Not visible this month as it appears very close to the Sun, only 12 degrees separation on 1st, down to 2 degrees on 30th. It is at apogee at 12.33 on 20th, at a distance of 2.64AU from Earth.

Jupiter: in Capricorn, mag -2.8

Shining brightly in the evening sky. On 1st it should become visible shortly before 9pm, in nautical twilight. It culminates at 00.22 reaching 22 degrees in the south and remains visible until around 4am, setting at 05.06. On 18th the gibbous Moon passes 3 degrees 57’ to the south at 07.54, separation is 6 degrees at midnight of 17th/18th down to around 5 degrees at 02.40 as the planet gets too low in the SW to be seen easily. On 30th it should be seen soon after 7pm, 11 degrees in the SE, culminating at 22.12 when it is 21 degrees in the south. It sinks to 8 degrees in the SW by 01.45, setting a little over an hour later.

Saturn: in Capricorn, mag 0.3

Now around 17 degrees SW of Jupiter. On 1st it is at 10 degrees in the SE when it becomes visible around 9pm, culminating, 17 degrees in the south, at 23.05 and sinking to 10 degrees in the SW by 01.40, setting at 03.18. The 89% Moon is 3 degrees 45’ to the south at 03.33 on the night of 16th/17th, the separation is around 6 degrees when Saturn culminates at 22.07. By 2am it is just over 4 degrees. On 30th Saturn becomes visible, 14 degrees in the SE, at 19.30 and culminates, 3 degrees higher, at 21.08. By 23.30 it is down to 10 degrees in the SW, and sets at 01.19.

Uranus: in Aries, mag 5.7

Well placed this month, a good time to try to spot the distant ice giant with the naked eye - given good eyesight, a very dark sky and knowing exactly where to look. Otherwise it should be visible in good binoculars as a star like object - a scope is needed to show the small blue/green disc. On 1st it rises at 21.44 and should be visible, 16 degrees WSW of the Pleiades, from soon after midnight until dawn, when it will be at 51 degrees in the south. After the first week in September it culminates in darkness, on 8th it rises at 21.16 and culminates at 52 degrees, a few minutes before it is lost in the morning twilight around 5am. On 24th the 83% Moon passes 1 degree 14’ to the south at 18.08 while the planet is still below the horizon. The separation at 22.45, as it becomes visible 22 degrees in the east, is around 2 degrees. When it culminates at 03.43 the pair are almost 5 degrees apart. On 30th Uranus is 21 degrees in the east soon after 22.15, reaches 52 degrees in the south at 03.21 and is still high, 42 degrees in the SE, when the sky begins to brighten a little before 6am.

Neptune: in Aquarius, mag 7.8

High in the sky for most of the night, could possibly be seen in decent binoculars (by those who can see Uranus without optical aid!), a scope will show its rich blue colour. On 1st it rises at 20.21 and is high enough for observing soon after 23.00, when it is at 21 degrees in the SE. It reaches 32 degrees in the south at 02.01 and is down to 22 degrees in the SW as the sky begins to brighten. It is at opposition on 14th, when it is at its highest point at 01.07 and high enough for observing for most of the night. On 30th it rises at 18.25 and gets to 21 degrees in the SE by 21.15, culminating soon after midnight and down to 21 degrees in the SW by dawn.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres: in Taurus, mag 8.9

On 1st it rises at 23.27 and should be observable from soon after 2am, reaching 44 degrees in the SE by dawn. The 15th is a good time to try to find it as it is just under 1 degree SE of Alpha Tauri - Aldebaran, the eye of the Bull. It culminates in darkness in the last few days of September, on 27th it reaches 52 degrees in the south at 05.32, a few minutes before it is lost in the brightening sky. On 30th it is at 22 degrees at 00.20, culminates at 05.18 and is still at 52 degrees when the sky begins to brighten half an hour later.

Pluto: In Sagittarius, mag 15.0

Too low for imaging or telescopic observing, max 13 degrees above the horizon.

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4

Only high enough for imaging for a very short time at the beginning of September. On 1st it is at 23 degrees in the west as the sky darkens around 21.30, but is too low after only 15 minutes, setting at 00.20. By 30th it is only 18 degrees at dusk, setting at 22.26.

Makemake: in Coma Berenices, Mag 17.2

Too low in the evening sky for imaging. On 1st it is only 18 degrees above the western horizon at dusk, setting at 23.58. It gets even lower during the month and on 30th is at solar conjunction, on the opposite side of the Sun to the Earth. Because its orbit is inclined by 29 degrees to the plane of the ecliptic it will not appear close to the Sun at this time, it passes 27 degrees to the north at 15.37 and is 13 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 22.00 - more than 3 hours after sunset.

Eris: in Cetus, mag18.8

High enough in the morning sky for imaging, but so faint that it is only a target for the most experienced astrophotographers. On 1st it is at 21 degrees in the SE at 1am, culminating at 04.15, when it reaches 35 degrees in the south. It is only a degree lower when it is lost in the brightening sky around 04.45. By 30th it is higher than 21 degrees from 23.00 until dawn, culminating at 02.20.

Asteroids at Opposition

2 Pallas: in Pisces, mag 8.8

The second asteroid to be discovered and the third largest - one of the so-called Big 4. On 1st it is at 21 degrees in the SE soon after 10pm, reaches 38 degrees in the south at 01.46 and is down to 26 degrees in the SW by dawn. It is at opposition on 14th, slightly brighter at mag 8.6, higher than 21 degrees between 21.35 and 04.25 and highest, 38 degrees in the south, at 00.59. On 30th it is high from 20.35 to 02.19 and culminates, 32 degrees in the south, at 23.08.

Comets

Again, nothing spectacular. C/2021 03 (PanSTARRS) is predicted to reach binocular, or maybe even naked eye, brightness early next year. It’s currently in Pegasus, high in the sky but too faint, at mag 20, for amateurs to attempt.

67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko: in Aries, mag 10

On 1st it is high in the sky from around 1am, reaching 51 degrees in the south by dawn. Towards the end of the month it culminates before fading from view as the sky brightens. On 30th, now at mag 9, it rises at 21.16, reaches 21 degrees in the east by midnight and is at its highest point, 57 degrees in the south, at 05.26 - about 20 minutes before it is lost in the morning twilight.

15P/Finlay: in Gemini, mag 10.3

Getting higher in the morning sky, but fading. On 1st it rises at 00.21, becoming visible around 03.30 and reaching 34 degrees in the east by dawn. It moves into Cancer on 28th and on 30th rises at 23.44, high enough to be observed from 02.45 and getting to 47 degrees in darkness. It will have faded to mag 11.5.

4P/Faye: in Taurus, mag 11.0

Brightens very slightly during September. On 1st it rises at 23.24 and should be high enough for imaging from 2am until dawn, when it will be at 43 degrees in the SE. It is at perihelion, 1.62 AU from the Sun, on 10th and moves into Orion on 27th. On 30th, now at mag 10.7, it rises at 22.56 and is observable from 01.30, getting to 51 degrees in the south before the sky begins to brighten.

And: if you’ve read about the discovery of the largest comet ever seen, don’t get too excited. C/2014 UN271 was found by Bernadinelli and Bernstein when they studied data from the Dark Energy Survey between 2013 to 2019, and announced on June 19th this year. It’s nucleus is over 100 km in diameter, maybe much larger. It is currently at a distance of around 21AU and won’t get closer than 10.9AU at perihelion in January 2031. Calculations of its orbit show that it has been travelling towards the Sun, from the Oort Cloud, for about 1.5 million years, and won’t get back there for another 4.5 million years.

Meteor Showers

After the anticipation, and disappointment, of last month’s Perseids we are back to having only a couple of minor showers.

Aurigids: active Aug 25th to Sept 5th, peak on the night of 31st/1st. ZHR 6, probable maximum 5 from Manchester. Peak activity is predicted for 4am on the morning of 1st. The radiant is highest after dawn, at 9am, so is reasonable in the early hours, however the 28% Moon rises half an hour before midnight so will interfere. There could be an outburst earlier in the night, around 22.30, when the Moon is out of the way but the radiant is very low - only 10 degrees in the NE. These are fast moving meteors, parent comet C/1911 (Kiess).

Epsilon Perseids: active 5th to 21st, peak 9th, ZHR 5 (4 from Manchester)

The peak of this shower is around midday, so it is best observed before dawn and after dusk on 9th, though the circumpolar radiant is highest in the early hours. The 10% Moon sets shortly before 9pm, so won’t interfere. Also fast moving meteors, only marginally slower than Aurigids.

Southern Taurids are active from Sept 10th, but don’t peak until October. Rates are low, even at the maximum, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for these fairly slow moving meteors in the early hours, as the shower often includes bright fireballs.

Daytime Sextantids: active early Sept to early Oct, peak around Sept 29th, ZHR 5. The dates for this shower are said to be uncertain. The radiant is only 30 degrees west of the Sun, so most activity is in the daytime. However, a few may be spotted visually, just before dawn, around the time of the peak.

Credits

Most of the solar system information given here is from:

https://in-the-sky.org

More information, exact co-ordinates and finder charts of all solar system objects can be found on this site.

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

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

https://www.timeanddate.com

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

The night sky in August 2021

by Anne Holt

Sunrise 1st: 05.24 31st: 06.16

Sunset 1st: 21.04 31st: 20.00

Astronomical Darkness

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

Day Length:

1st: 15.39.37 31st: 13.43.57

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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

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

Constellations

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

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

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

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

Planets

Mercury: in Cancer, mag -2.1

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

Venus: in Leo, mag -3.9

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

Mars: in Leo, mag 1.8

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

Jupiter: in Aquarius, mag -2.8

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

Saturn: in Capricorn, mag 0.2

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

Uranus: in Aries, mag 5.8

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

Neptune: in Aquarius, mag 7.9

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

Dwarf Planets

Ceres: in Taurus, mag 9.2

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

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 14.9

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

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4

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

Makemake: in Coma Berenices, mag 17.3

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

Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.8

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

Asteroids at opposition

43 Ariadne: in Aquarius, mag 9.6

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

89 Julia: in Aquarius, mag 9.0

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

Comets

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

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

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

15P/Finlay: in Taurus, mag 9.0

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

Meteor Showers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credits

Most of the solar system information given here is from:

https://in-the-sky.org

More information, exact co-ordinates and finder charts of all solar system objects can be found on this site.

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

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

https://www.timeanddate.com

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


The Night Sky in July 2021

by Anne Holt

Sunrise 1st: 04.44 31st: 05.23

Sunset 1st: 21.40 31st: 21.06

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

Astronomical twilight. 1st: 00.04 to 02.21

Day length 1st: 16.55.52 31st: 15.43.07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights

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

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

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

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

Constellations

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

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

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

Planets

Mercury: in Taurus, mag 0.8

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

Venus: in Cancer, mag -3.9

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

Mars: in Cancer, mag 1.8

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

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

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

Jupiter: in Aquarius, mag -2.7

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

Saturn: in Capricorn, mag 0.4

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

Uranus: in Aries, mag 5.8

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

Neptune: in Aquarius, mag 7.9

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

Dwarf Planets

Ceres: in Aries, mag 9.3

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

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 14.9

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

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4

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

Makemake: in Coma Berenices, Mag 17.2

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

Eris: in Cetus, mag 18.8

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

Asteroids at Opposition

6 Hebe: in Aquila, mag 8.4

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

12 Victoria: In Aquila, mag 8.8

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

Comets

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

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

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

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

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

15P/Finlay: in Aries, mag 8.7

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

4P/Faye: in Aries, mag around 12

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

Meteor Showers

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

Piscis Austrinids

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

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

Alpha Capricornids

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

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

Southern Delta Aquarids

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

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

The Antihelion Source (ANT)

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

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

Credits

Most of the solar system information given here is from:

https://in-the-sky.org

More information, exact co-ordinates and finder charts of all solar system objects can be found on this site.

Also quite useful is https://theskylive.com

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

https://www.timeanddate.com

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