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Wednesday 20 August 2014  •   25 Hazel Moon 2014

Viewing the night sky in Hazel Moon 2014

27 July - 25 August 2014

Map of night sky at full moon: 10 August, 18:09 UT
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Hazel Moon 2014

There are two bright pairs of planets this month. Mars and Saturn are in the evening sky, low down in the SW after dark as seen from northern lands, with Mars just the brighter of the two, and nearer to the sunset. The moon is between Mars and Saturn on the evening of 3 August before going on to occult Saturn the following evening as seen from Australia (except Tasmania) and (in daylight) far south Asia. As seen from Sydney, the moon covers Saturn on 4 August from 11:22 to 12:13 UT (21:22 to 22:13 EST). Mars crosses into Libra on 10 August and, towards the end of the lunar month, is close to Saturn in the sky, and with pretty much the same brightness. On the evening of 25 August, Mars is closest to Saturn, passing three degrees to the south of it, and the two have identical magnitude.

Later in the month, Jupiter emerges from behind the sun into the morning sky, where it joins the brighter Venus, which is on its way back in, moving towards the sun’s far side. Venus passes very close north of Jupiter (a fifth of a degree apart) on the morning of 18 August. The pair will look lovely to the naked eye in the pre-dawn sky, but lovelier still through binoculars, as they are on the southern fringes of the Beehive Cluster. While it is still dark enough to see them well, they are low down in the ENE, so find a place with an unobstructed view in that direction. On the mornings of 23 and 24 August, the old crescent moon will be south of the bright pair.

On 14 August, the moon is very close to Uranus, occulting it from parts of Siberia and the Arctic.

Look out for the Southern Delta Aquariid meteors around 28 or 29 July, especially if you’re looking from the southern hemisphere, and then for the Perseid meteors around 12 or 13 August, normally the best shower of the year, but made harder to see this year by the moon being only just past full. The best time to look is in the hours between midnight and the pre-dawn lightening of the sky.

The month ahead: Vine Moon 2014

26 August - 24 September 2014

Map of night sky at full moon: 9 September, 01:38 UT
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Vine Moon 2014

On the evening of 31 August, the moon is near Mars and Saturn in the western evening sky, low down as seen from the northern hemisphere. The moon occults Saturn over West Africa and (in daylight) over the Caribbean and nearby North and South America. As seen from Lagos, the moon covers Saturn from 20:00 to 21:12 UT (21:00 to 22:12 West Africa Time). Mars, now a little fainter than Saturn, moves on into Scorpius on 13 September. On 11 September, the Earth-Mars distance becomes as great as the Sun-Mars distance.

On 14 September, the moon rises amongst the Hyades, and is very close to Aldebaran.

Jupiter emerges further from behind the sun into the eastern morning sky. For the first part of the month, you can see it together with Venus in the east. Venus is over on the far side of the sun, but still brighter than Jupiter, and still visible low in the eastern morning sky, below the giant planet. On 5 September, Venus passes 0.7° north of Regulus, the bright star of Leo. On the morning of 20 September, the waning crescent moon is near Jupiter; by this time, Venus has sunk too low in the twilight to be seen without difficulty.

Mercury reaches 26.3°E of the sun in the western evening sky on 21 September, the day before the equinox. It is not easy to see Mercury this time from the northern hemisphere, as the horizon is at a very low angle with the plane of the solar system, and Mercury is in any case currently well south of this plane (pretty much equivalent to the ecliptic, the projection of Earth’s orbit into space, and thus the path of the sun among the other stars). A great view, however, from the southern hemisphere, especially as Mars and Saturn are in the sky above Mercury. Mercury itself looks a little like a twin planet, but the other point of light is in fact the bright star Spica in Virgo (to the right of Mercury, and not as bright as the planet). Mars, further out from the sun, also has a twin effect going on, albeit not so close, as it is in the vicinity of the bright red star Antares in Scorpius.

On 11 September, the moon is very close to Uranus, occulting it from Iceland, the Faroes, Shetland and northern Norway. As seen from Lerwick, the far southern edge of the moon covers Uranus from about 02:22 to 02:28 BST. You will need binoculars or better to see Uranus, just too faint for the naked eye.

On 29 August, Neptune comes to opposition and its closest to Earth this year, 4333 million kilometres or just over four light hours away. Neptune is a blue ice giant with a diameter less than four times that of the Earth. It can be seen from Earth only through telescopes. Its position today, 46 minutes of arc north-east of the star Sigma Aquarii, may help you find it.

William Morris
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