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Monday, 24 February 2020  •  Monday, 1 Alder Moon 2020

Watching the night sky in Alder Moon 2020

24 February - 24 March 2020

Map of night sky at full moon: 9 March, 17:47 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Alder Moon 2020

Venus is the bright evening star. The crescent moon is nearby on 27 February. On 7 March Venus passes 2° north of the ice giant Uranus. Uranus is usually considered too faint to see with the naked eye. Do look for the pair with binoculars or a telescope. Between the planets is a star HD12479 that has about the same brightness as Uranus.

On 24 March, Mercury reaches 28°W of the sun in the eastern morning sky, an excellent view from the southern hemisphere, where Mercury is visible for about the last three weeks of the lunar month, and for all of the next month. The old crescent moon is nearby on the mornings of 21 and 22 March. From Earth’s north, you may just be able to see Mercury if you have a clear horizon to the ESE before sunrise.

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto are all in the southern constellation Sagittarius for most of the month in the morning sky, with Mars rapidly approaching the much brighter Jupiter until it passes 42 minutes of arc south of it on 20 March. On the morning of 18 March, as seen from Europe, the moon is near to the right of Mars and Jupiter, the three bodies more or less in a line. They rise about two hours before the sun, but remain low in the SE. Saturn is a little bit further in towards the dawn. On 21 March, Saturn crosses into Capricornus. On 23 March, Mars passes 46 seconds of arc (very close) south of Pluto. If you have a telescope powerful enough to see Pluto (maybe 30cm diameter), this would be a great opportunity to find it without any automation.

The month ahead: Willow Moon 2020

25 March - 22 April 2020

Map of night sky at full moon: 8 April, 02:35 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Willow Moon 2020

Venus is the bright evening star, and on 25 March, it reaches 46°E of the sun in the western evening sky. The moon is nearby on 28 March, with the Pleiades about 5°W of Venus. On 3 April, Venus passes in front of the southern portion of the Pleiades cluster: a beautiful sight. Look through binoculars or a telescope to see the immensely rich star field, and also Venus in its half phase, with the lit half pointing towards where the sun has set.

Mercury is visible all month in the southern hemisphere’s morning sky, falling into the dawn at the end of the month, with the very old crescent moon above it on 21 April.

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto are all near each other in the morning sky on the borders of the southern constellations Sagittarius and Capricornus. At the start of the lunar month, Mars is half way between the slightly brighter Saturn and the much brighter Jupiter. Pluto, unseen unless through large telescopes, is between Mars and Jupiter. On 30 March, Mars joins Saturn in Capricornus, and on 31 March passes 0.9°S of the ringed planet. Mars rushes on eastwards against the background of the stars much faster than its line-of-sight neighbours, and by 9 April it has left Saturn so far behind that the ringed planet is now halfway between Mars and Jupiter. Mars also brightens during the month faster than the others, and on 13 April it has reached the same brightness as Saturn. On 15 April the moon is near Jupiter and Saturn, and on 16 April is south of Mars. Substantially further out from the sun than Mars, Jupiter nevertheless makes good progress through the stars, and by the end of the lunar month has drawn considerably closer to Saturn.

Look out for the Lyrid meteors around 22 and 23 April, especially as the moon is out of the way.

William Morris
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