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Thursday, 1 October 2020  •  Thursday, 14 Vine Moon 2020

Watching the night sky in Vine Moon 2020

18 September - 16 October 2020

Map of night sky at full moon: 1 October, 21:05 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Vine Moon 2020

Jupiter and Saturn shine brightly in the evening sky. The just past half moon is nearby on 25 September. Towards the end of the month, their oppositions well past, the planets start moving much closer together.

Mars shines very brightly and redly all night, impossible to miss, rising around sunset and setting around sunrise. On 6 October, Mars comes closest to the Earth: 62.1 million kilometres, or 3.5 light minutes away. It is not the closest approach ever – these happen around the end of August – but it is the closest until 2035. You do not need to see it on the exact night of closest approach: Mars will be pretty much as prominent most of the month. On the night 2/3 October, the just past full moon is very close to Mars, and occults it as seen from the far south of South America, the South Atlantic and nearby parts of Antarctica. From Bahía Blanca, the moon just covers Mars from 23:52, 2 Oct to 00:11, 3 Oct local time (02:52 to 03:11, 3 Oct UTC). From Stanley, the times are 23:28 to 00:39 (02:28 to 03:39 UTC), and from Edinburgh of the Seven Seas 03:48 to 05:01 (local time and UTC). On 14 October, Mars is opposite the sun in the sky and shines brightly all night.

On 1 October, Mercury reaches 26°E of the sun in the western evening sky. It is a great view from the southern hemisphere, and impossible to see from Earth’s northern lands, where the ecliptic (the plane of the solar system) runs at a very low angle to the horizon at this time of year. As seen from the south, the new crescent moon is near Mercury on 19 September. Just above Mercury is the slightly dimmer star Spica, the main star of Virgo. Mercury climbs towards Spica, and on 22 September passes a quarter of a degree north of it. By Mercury’s elongation on 3 October, Spica is hard to see in the sunset.

Venus is the morning star. On the morning of 3 October, see it close to Regulus, the bright star of Leo. The old crescent moon is near Venus on 14 October.

The month ahead: Ivy Moon 2020

17 October - 15 November 2020

Map of night sky at full moon: 31 October, 14:49 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Ivy Moon 2020

Jupiter and Saturn look lovely together in the evening sky, low down in the southwest as seen from northern lands. The growing moon is nearby on 22 October. By the end of the month, the two planets are only three degrees apart. On 12 November, Jupiter passes north of faint Pluto once more.

Mars is still very bright and red, and setting in the late night. On the evening of 29 October, the nearly full moon is south of Mars in the sky. For most of the month, Mars appears to move in a retrograde (westwards) direction, because of the faster movement of the nearby Earth, but on 14 November, opposition well past, Mars starts moving slowly eastwards again.

Venus is the morning star, gradually approaching the dawn as it moves towards the far side of the sun. The old crescent moon is close on the morning of 13 November.

Mercury may just be visible immediately after sunset in southern hemisphere skies on the evening of 18 October, below the thin new moon, but then the planet moves rapidly towards the near side of the sun, and out of view. Around 2 November it emerges into the northern hemisphere dawn sky, once more near the star Spica, and below Venus. On 9 November, Mercury reaches 19°W of the sun in the eastern morning sky, still not far from Spica, but with the much brighter Venus approaching it from above. It is a great view from Earth’s northern lands, but a very poor one from the south. On 13 November, the old crescent moon is near Mercury, Venus and Spica, visible in the ESE, with the moon between Venus and Mercury, and Spica to the side of the old crescent. On 14 November the very old crescent is below Mercury, and may be hard to see in the dawn.

On 31 October, Uranus is opposite the sun in the sky, and may just be visible to the naked eye in the constellation Aries. It is also closest to the Earth: 2810.8 million kilometres, or 2.6 light hours away. Look for it with binoculars or a small telescope.

Look out for the Orionid meteors around 20 & 21 Oct, especially after midnight.

William Morris
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