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Monday 25 July 2016  •   21 Holly Moon 2016

Viewing the night sky in Holly Moon 2016

5 July - 2 August 2016

Map of night sky at full moon: 19 July, 22:57 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Holly Moon 2016

Towards the end of the month, Mercury begins to rise into the evening sky from behind the sun, somewhat better seen from the southern hemisphere. Also rising into the evening, but lower down nearer the sun, is the brighter Venus. On 16 July, when the pair of planets is still very near the sunset, Mercury passes half a degree north of Venus. On 30 July, Mercury passes 0.3° north of the less bright star Regulus, the main star of Leo.

Jupiter is quite a bit further out from the sunset than Mercury and Venus, and sets in the late evening. The moon is nearby on 9 July. Indeed, as seen in daylight from far SE Africa and parts of the southern Indian Ocean, and after dark from Wilkes Land in Antarctica, the Moon passes in front of Jupiter in the first of a series of four occultations.

Earth is moving quickly away from Mars, and the latter is less bright now in the constellation Libra. The moon passes well to its north on 14 July. On 2 August, it moves forward again into Scorpius, still managing to outshine its great red star, Antares.

Saturn, also increasingly far away, continues its slow path westwards through Ophiuchus in the evening sky, to the north of Antares. The moon is near on 15 July. Both Mars and Saturn set before midnight.

Pluto comes to opposition on 10 July, when it is 4839 million km or 4.48 light hours from Earth. As seen from here, it is very faint, and you need a good telescope just to see it as a faint prick of light.

Look out for the Delta Aquarid meteors on 27/28 July, especially just before the moon rises.

The month ahead: Hazel Moon 2016

3 August - 1 September 2016

Map of night sky at full moon: 18 August, 09:27 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Hazel Moon 2016

Mercury and Venus rise further into the evening sky. On 4 Aug, the new crescent moon is near Mercury and Venus, and also the bright star Regulus. They are well seen from the southern hemisphere, but are low in the west, just after sunset, as seen from the north. Above all of these is Jupiter, now less bright as it moves towards the sunset. As seen during daytime over the South Pacific, the moon passes in front of Mercury. This can be seen after dark from the far south of South America. On 5 Aug, the moon has moved to be nearer Jupiter in the sky. On 6 Aug, the moon occults Jupiter over Indonesia, Melanesia and far NE Australia during daylight, and parts of the South Pacific after dark. On 9 Aug, Jupiter crosses into the constellation Virgo.

On 18 Aug, Mercury reaches 27.43°E of the sun in the evening sky. Much the better view is from the southern hemisphere, but even northern hemisphere sky watchers should be able to see Mercury, Venus and Jupiter together in the sky, especially if you have a good low western horizon. As seen from the north, Mercury is unfortunately very low down, but you may be able to see it below Jupiter. On 22 August, Mercury passes 4°S of Jupiter. On 27 August, Venus passes just four minutes of arc north of Jupiter, easily to be seen together as discs through a telescope, and Jupiter has its moons strung out beside it.

Setting in the late evening, Mars and Saturn are coming closer on the borders of Scorpius and Ophiuchus, with Mars still the brighter of the two. Both planets outshine the nearby bright red star Antares. The moon is in the vicinity on 11 August. On 13 August, Saturn resumes its usual slow eastward course through the stars. On 21 August, Mars crosses into Ophiuchus, getting still closer to Saturn and Antares. By 24 August, Mars has caught up with them, and passes 4.4°S of the ringed planet, and 1.8°N of Antares. On 27 August, still moving eastwards, Mars crosses into another corner of Scorpius.

At dark moon on 1 September, there is an annular eclipse of the sun; visible from parts of Central Africa and Madagascar; there is a partial eclipse for all of Africa except the far north, and much of the Indian Ocean, as well as from the west coast of southern Sumatra at sunset. The annular eclipse comes to Africa on the west coast of Gabon, just south of Port-Gentil at 0840 (0740 UT), and passes north of Brazzaville in Congo, and through central parts of DR Congo and the SW of Tanzania, just fringing north of Mbeya at 1153 (0853 UT). It then passes through the far NE of Mozambique and crosses central Madagascar north of Antananarivo, reaching the east coast at Toamasina at 1255 (0955 UT), before crossing the Indian Ocean just south of Réunion.

Look out for the Perseid meteors on 11/12 August, especially in the early hours after the moon has set. A potentially lovely display.

William Morris
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