This page provides some astronomical information on a monthly basis for those of you living in the Taunton area. Timings are in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) unless otherwise noted. Latest additions or updates are highlighted with a red border.
This month we have sections on:
Additional information on the phases of the Moon, the seasons, summer times, eclipses, chronological cycles and eras, religious calendars, the civil calendar and holiday dates in the United Kingdom can be found in HMNAO's Astronomical and Calendarial Sheet No. 107 for 2020. This is a pdf document for which a document reader can be downloaded by clicking on the Adobe Reader icon above.
This web page can also be accessed from outside the UK Hydrographic Office on http://astro.ukho.gov.uk/nao/taunton.html.
↻ The last update to this page was made on Monday, 2020 November 30 at 13:06:39 GMT.
An animated view of the Sun's disk over the last twenty-eight days is shown in the image on the left. North is at the top of the image and east is to the left. These images come from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager instrument on the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite. More multi-wavelength data from the SDO can be found here.
There are six active regions on the visible disk of the Sun, five of which are in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere. AR2787 is a small feature in the north-eastern quadrant of the Sun and AR2783 is about to cross over the south-western limb of the Sun. AR2785, AR2788 and AR2786 span the south-western quadrant of the Sun from west to east with AR2789 in the south-eastern quadrant of the Sun. AR2788 and AR2789 are small features whereas AR2785 is still a significant single sunspot. Active region AR2786 is a very large feature with a number of small trailing sunspots following it and is now capable of generating medium-strength M-class solar flares. The remaining features are still capable of generating C-class solar flares. A medium-strength M4.4 flare was detected from beyond the south-eastern limb of the Sun, the strongest flare in the past three years, on November 29th at 13:11 UT. As the event was partially masked by the Sun, it may have been a much stronger event — maybe even an X-class event. X-rays and UV radiation from the flare ionized the top of the Earth's atmosphere, producing a short-wave radio blackout over the South Atlantic Ocean. Ham radio operators and mariners may have noticed strange propagation effects at frequencies below 20 MHz, with some transmissions below 10 MHz completely extinguished. The flare may brush the Earth on December 1st–2nd, possibly leading to G1-class geomagnetic storms and auroral activity in the polar regions. The total number of spotless days for 2020 remains at two hundred and six, or 61% of the year so far. Solar winds are currently blowing with velocities of around 520km/s and the planetary Kp geomagnetic activity index is likely to peak at 3 (quiet) today. There are no significant coronal holes on the visible disk of the Sun. The overall amount of solar activity remains at very low levels.
NASA reported that a reversal of the Sun's magnetic field took place at the start of 2014 indicating that the maximum of Solar Cycle 24 had been reached. A plot of sunspot numbers, both observed and predicted versus time indicates that the solar maximum of Solar Cycle 24 was more complex than had been previously predicted. The maximum was double-peaked in a similar manner to that of the previous maximum of 2001/2002. The individual peaks occurred in 2011 and 2014 with the latter being the larger of the two. However, sunspot numbers were significantly down on the predictions made for the maximum — indeed Solar Cycle 24 may be the weakest in the last 100 years or so i.e. since Solar Cycle 14.
The declining phase of the solar cycle brings increased numbers of cosmic rays to the Earth, an increased frequency of 'pink' aurorae and a slight dimming of the Sun of approximately 0.1% in terms of the total solar irradiance. TSIS-1 was launched on December 15th 2017, which will monitor the Sun over a five-year period covering the whole of the current solar minimum. Cooling and contraction of the Earth's upper atmosphere in response to the changes on the Sun due to the solar minimum also delayed the orbital decay of satellites such as the Chinese space station, Tiangong 1, which returned to Earth on Monday April 2nd 2018 at 00:16 UTC. The Sun's magnetic field and solar winds provide some protection for the Earth from cosmic rays. A recent paper in the journal Space Weather claims that this solar minimum could see a rise in the number of cosmic rays reaching the Earth by as much as 30% due to the weakening magnetic field of the Sun and reduced levels of solar winds. This could mean an increased risk of radiation exposure for travellers on commercial airlines and possible changes to the climate.
During the post maximum phase of the solar cycle individual energetic events can spawn some of the most powerful flares and coronal mass ejections of the cycle. The so-called Carrington event on September 1st–2nd 1859 during Solar Cycle 10 is a good example of just what might ensue from this type of violent outburst. On 2020 September 15th NASA and NOAA announced that a minimum of the Sun's activity had been reached in December 2019 bringing to an end the old Solar Cycle 24. Predictions are that the new Solar Cycle 25 will be a weak one, similar to its predecessor, peaking in 2025. It is likely to be a deep minimum with long periods without much sunspot or flare activity. Space weather will be dominated by solar winds and cosmic rays rather than sunspots and solar flare activity.
The sequence of Moon phases for this month and their designations are shown in the following animation:
|Moon phases for November 2020 are as follows:|
|Last Quarter||—||Sunday November 8th at 13:46 GMT|
|New Moon||—||Sunday November 15th at 05:07 GMT
|First Quarter||—||Sunday November 22nd at 04:45 GMT|
|Full Moon||—||Monday November 30th at 09:30 GMT
'Moon before Yule'
The Moon is at perigee (i.e. nearest to the Earth) on Saturday November 14th at 11:43 GMT when it is 357,837 km from the Earth. It is at apogee (i.e. furthest from the Earth) on Friday November 27th at 00:29 GMT when it is 405,894 km from the Earth.
The combination of the Moon being close to perigee and the phase of the Moon being either new or full (i.e. the Sun, Earth and Moon are in alignment) as it is around Sunday November 15th and shortly thereafter leads to 'perigean (or proxigean)' spring tides i.e. spring tides with a tidal range slightly larger than those of normal spring tides.
Please follow the New Moon link above to find out more about our Crescent Moon Watch program which involves making sighting of the new crescent moon as early as possible after the instant of New Moon.
There are six eclipses visible during 2020, four penumbral eclipses of the Moon and one annular and one total eclipse of the Sun. Parts of three of the penumbral eclipses of the Moon are visible from the United Kingdom, only one is visible in its entirety. Neither of the solar eclipse are visible from the United Kingdom.
A penumbral eclipse of the Moon occurred on Friday January 10th 2020. It was visible in its entirety from northern Alaska, Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, western Australia, the Middle East, Madagascar, Africa except eastern parts, Europe including the United Kingdom, Iceland and most of Greenland. Parts of the eclipse were visible from north-western parts of North America, most of Australia, eastern parts of Africa and north-eastern parts of Canada. This was a deep penumbral eclipse with a magnitude of 0.921, making it somewhat easier to discern. From Taunton, the whole eclipse was visible starting about an hour after moonrise at 17:06 UT and ending at 21:14 UT.
A penumbral eclipse of the Moon occurred on Friday June 5th 2020. It was visible in its entirety from most of Australia except the north-eastern part, the Philippines, Indonesia, south-east Asia, most of China except the north-eastern part, central Asia, India, the Middle East, Madagascar and Africa except the north-western part. Parts of the eclipse were visible from New Zealand, Japan, northern Asia, Europe including the United Kingdom, north-western Africa and easternmost parts of South America. This was a modest penumbral eclipse with a magnitude of 0.593, making it difficult to discern. From Taunton, the eclipse started at moonrise at 21:12 BST and ended at 22:07 BST.
An annular eclipse of the Sun occurred on Sunday June 21st 2020. It was visible in its entirety from most of the eastern half of Africa, the northern half of Madagascar, south-east Europe, most of Asia except the northernmost part, westernmost parts of Micronesia and Melanesia, Papua New Guinea and northernmost parts of Australia. The path of annularity began over the north-eastern part of the Republic of the Congo and crossed the north-western part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the south-eastern tip of the Central African Republic, South Sudan, northern Ethiopia, central Eritrea, Yemen, the south-eastern tip of Saudi Arabia, north-eastern Oman, Pakistan, the northernmost part of India, Tibet, southern China, Taiwan and ended south-east of Guam in the Northern Mariana Islands. The eclipse was not visible from the United Kingdom.
A penumbral eclipse of the Moon occurred on Sunday July 5th 2020. It was visible in its entirety from westernmost parts of Africa and the Americas with the exception of north-western parts of North America. Parts of the eclipse were visible from Madagascar, most of Africa, western Europe including the United Kingdom, the southernmost part of Greenland and north-western parts of the United States, central Canada, eastern Polynesia and New Zealand. From Taunton, the shallow penumbral eclipse started at 04:04 BST and ended at moonset at 05:01 BST. It was a difficult eclipse to detect with the naked eye.
A penumbral eclipse of the Moon occurs on Monday November 30th 2020. It is visible in its entirety from Greenland, North America, Polynesia, the North Island of New Zealand, northern Japan and Siberia. Parts of the eclipse are visible from Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean region, South America, the South Island of New Zealand, Australia, south east Asia and central Asia. From Taunton, the reasonably deep penumbral eclipse starts at 07:30 UT and ends at moonset at 07:48 UT. The depth of the eclipse will make it easier to discern.
A total eclipse of the Sun occurs on Monday December 14th 2020. It is visible in its entirety from the south-eastern part of the Pacific basin including French Polynesia, most of South America except the northern part, parts of Antarctica, the South Atlantic Ocean and the south-western part of Africa. The path of totality begins over the north-eastern part of French Polynesia and passes over the south-eastern Pacific Ocean and then crosses the central part of Chile and Argentina, passing over the South Atlantic Ocean and ends just off the coast of central Namibia. The eclipse is not visible from the United Kingdom.
Further information on all the eclipses in 2020 can be found on the Eclipses Online web pages. This web site provides information on both solar and lunar eclipses in the period from 1501 CE to 2100 CE. Global circumstances of both solar and lunar eclipses are provided as well as local circumstances of the solar eclipses based on a gazetteer of approximately 1500 locations worldwide. Eclipses for next year, 2021, are also available.
Mercury is visible low in the eastern morning twilight sky during November and is best seen during the first half of the month by observers in the northern hemisphere as it loses altitude as the month progresses. It brightens noticeably from magnitude +1.3 at the start of the month to −0.8 at the end of November. Mercury reaches greatest western elongation on Tuesday November 10th. It lies 1.7° south of the waxing crescent moon on Friday November 13th.
Venus remains prominent in the eastern morning twilight sky, rising around three hours before the Sun. It fades slightly from magnitude −4.0 at the start of the month to −3.9 at the end of November. Venus lies 3° south of the waning crescent moon on Thursday November 12th and lies 4° north of Spica (α Virginis) on Sunday November 15th.
Mars rises in the eastern sky in the mid-afternoon and sets three to four hours before sunrise. It spends the remainder of the year in the southern part of the constellation of Pisces. Mars fades significantly from magnitude −2.2 at the start of the month to −1.1 by the end of November. It lies 5° north of the waxing gibbous moon on Wednesday November 25th.
Jupiter is visible in the south south-western evening twilight sky having risen around midday and setting in the early evening in the south-western sky. It lies in the eastern part of the constellation of Sagittarius until the latter half of December. Jupiter fades slightly from magnitude −2.2 at the start of the month to −2.0 at the end of November. It lies 2° north of the waxing crescent moon on Thursday November 19th. The separation between Jupiter and Saturn decreases from 5.1° to 2.3° during November.
Saturn is visible in the south south-western evening twilight sky having risen around midday and setting in the early evening in the south-western sky. It lies in the eastern part of the constellation of Sagittarius until mid-December. Saturn remains at magnitude +0.6 for the whole of November. It lies 3.0° north of the waxing crescent moon on Thursday November 19th. The separation between Saturn and Jupiter decreases from 5.1° to 2.3° during November.
Uranus rises in the east north-eastern sky in the mid-afternoon and sets before the start of civil twilight in the west north-western sky. It is a blue-green object which remains at magnitude +5.7 for the whole of November. Uranus lies in the southern part of the constellation of Aries where it remains for the rest of the year. Uranus is approximately 9.9° north east of the fourth magnitude yellow giant star Torcular (ο Piscium). This planet can also be glimpsed with the naked eye under optimum conditions.
Neptune rises in the early afternoon in the eastern sky and sets shortly after midnight in the western sky. It lies in the north-eastern part of the constellation of Aquarius where it will remain for the rest of the year. Neptune is approximately 6.3° to the north east of the third magnitude red-giant star Hydor (λ Aquarii). It is a bluish object of magnitude +7.9 for the whole of the month. It can be visible with good binoculars under optimum conditions although it can also be difficult to distinguish Neptune from other stellar objects of a similar magnitude.
Pluto rises around midday in the south-eastern sky and sets in the middle of the evening in the south-western sky. It lies in the north-eastern part of the constellation of Sagittarius about 0.9° to the south west of Jupiter in mid-November. Strictly speaking, this is a dwarf planet which was demoted from the ranks of the 'bona-fide' planets at the 2006 International Astronomical Union General Assembly in Prague. At magnitude +14.8, you will need a much larger telescope to find this remote member of the Solar System.
The Leonid meteor shower is active from Friday November 6th to Monday November 30th. The shower typically exhibits a small number of fast meteors, hitting the atmosphere at around 70km/s at a rate of 10–20 per hour, reaching a peak of activity this year in the late morning of Tuesday November 17th. These meteors are related to the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle which last reached perihelion (the comet's closest approach to the Sun) in February 1998 when the shower generated around 500 meteors per hour on November 16th–17th 1998. The Leonids are known to be variable in terms of the number of meteors they produce — e.g. in 1966 they generated around 40 meteors per minute for an interval of around 15 minutes over the United States. Observations of the maximum of the shower in the early hours of November 17th will be not affected by moonlight as new moon takes place only two days earlier. The radiant, the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to emanate, lies within the "Sickle" (head) of Leo. No other regular showers exhibiting significant numbers of meteors are active this month. Further information on these and other meteor showers occurring during 2020 can be found at the International Meteor Organization and their 2020 Meteor Shower Calendar.
It is worth noting that bright sporadic meteors and fireballs are possible at any time e.g. the fireball observed over many parts of England and Scotland on Saturday March 3rd 2012 at 21:40 GMT. Larger events, known as bolides, are rarer. Typically, this is a very bright fireball reaching an apparent magnitude of −14 or so, perhaps three times as bright as a full moon. Even rarer are the superbolides, events with apparent magnitudes of −17 or so, around 50 times brighter than the full moon. A recent example of a superbolide was the Chelyabinsk meteor of 2013 February 15th at 03:20 UTC which may have been a 20-metre diameter near-Earth asteroid.
Another loosely-related phenomenon is the re-entry of space debris from space vehicles and satellites whose orbits are decaying to the point where they burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. A couple of well-reported examples of this occurred at around 23:00 BST on Friday September 21st 2012 as well as the return of the GOCE satellite just after midnight on Tuesday November 12th 2013.
There are a number of comets around the sky at the moment. However, most of them require telescopic assistance to see them and some may be too far south in the sky to be seen by observers based in the United Kingdom. Here is a brief summary of the comets that may be accessible to observers with binoculars or small telescopes in the northern hemisphere.
88P/HOWELL is a magnitude +9.0 object visible with a small telescope in the constellation of Scorpius for the first three weeks or so of the month. It then crosses over into the neighbouring constellation of Capricornus where it remains until the end of the month by which time it may have faded by about half a magnitude. It can just be seen very low in the southern sky in the evening twilight not too far away from the planets Saturn and Jupiter. It reached perihelion on September 26th 2020 and is likely to be difficult to find.
C/2020 M3 (ATLAS) is a magnitude +8.0 object best seen with binoculars or a small telescope in the southern sky shortly after midnight but it is visible throughout the night. It may brighten by half a magnitude or so during November as it reaches its closest point to the Earth of 0.358au on November 14th. The comet spends the first day of the month in the constellation of Lepus and then crosses into the neighbouring constellation of Orion for three weeks or so, ending the month in the constellation of Taurus. C/2020 M3 (ATLAS) was discovered on June 27th this year and reached perihelion on October 25th.
156P/Russell-LINEAR has brightened rapidly and unexpectedly by several magnitudes to reach magnitude +12.1. It may continue to brighten significantly over the next few weeks and could become a target of opportunity for observers with binoculars and small telescopes. It will reach perihelion in mid-November when it will lie within 0.5au of the Earth. It spends the first half of the month in Aquarius and then crosses into Pisces for the second half of November. It will be visible in the southern sky in the early evening, not too far away from the planet Mars, setting in the early hours of the morning. Sadly, as of late-November, the brightening has halted and the comet is now a 12th magnitude object requiring a 400mm reflecting telescope to see it.
C/2020 S3 (Erasmus) has brightened rapidly. It will reach perihelion on December 12th, when it is predicted to reach a maximum brightness of magnitude +6.8. It spends the first four days of the month in Sextans and then crosses into Crater for about ten days. It then moves into Corvus for a week and then crosses into Virgo for another week. It then spends a couple days in Hydra, ending the month in Libra. It can be seen with binoculars as a magnitude +7.5 object low in the south-eastern sky at the beginning of morning twilight. During late November, one can find the comet near the third magnitude star γ (Gamma) Hydrae. First find Venus, then find Spica by moving a little towards the south and then look down towards the horizon by a distance similar to that between Venus and Spica and you should locate C/2020 S3 (Erasmus). It will be visible until the end of the month when the comet disappears into the glare of the Sun.
The Apollo near-Earth asteroid 2018 VP1 approached the Earth on November 2nd at 01:12 UT but missed by around 420,000km or 1.1 lunar distances. The 2-metre wide rock had a 1 in 240 (0.41%) chance of hitting our planet but no fireballs or impact-infrasounds were detected.
If you want to look for the International Space Station (ISS) as it passes over Taunton, please have a look at this page on the Heavens Above web site. The ISS is at least as bright as a first magnitude star and can approach the brightness of Venus. Similarly, if you want to look for the Chinese space station, Tiangong-1, you are too late! Tiangong-1 re-entered the Earth's atmosphere in an 'uncontrolled manner' on April 2nd 2018 at 00:16 UTC over an uninhabited part of the central Pacific Ocean at longitude 164.3° west and 13.6° south after the loss of a telemetry link in 2016. Information for Tiangong-2, the sole remaining Chinese space station orbiting the Earth, can be found on this page. Tiangong-2 is significantly fainter than the ISS, normally as bright as a third or fourth magnitude star. Predictions for other satellites may also be obtained from the Heavens Above web site.
The above image is a 30 minute forecast of the location and probability of auroral activity based loosely on a model developed at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory known as the Ovation Aurora Forecast model. It provides estimates of the energy per unit area on the Earth's atmosphere from observations of the solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field made by the Advanced Composition Explorer satellite in conjunction with empirical relationships derived from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. It shows where the aurora is most likely to be seen and how bright it might be. The model generates a global estimate of power, called the Hemispheric Power, deposited into the atmosphere in gigawatts (GW). For powers of less than 20GW, little or no aurora may be visible. For powers of 20-50GW, you may need to be relatively close to the aurora to see it. For values above 50GW, the aurora should be easily observable, active and mobile. For values above 100GW, this is considered to be a significant storm where the aurora may be visible from hundreds of miles away. The current prediction is downloaded when you load this page. If you want to download the latest model, simply reload this page or press F5. If you want to see the full-sized map, please click on the above image.
The above sky chart, generated from the Heavens-Above.com web site, shows what the night sky looks like at 22:00 GMT on Sunday November 15th 2020 from Taunton. The night sky will look the same an hour later at 23:00 GMT at the beginning of the month and an hour earlier at 20:00 GMT at the end of the month. Please click on the chart to see a full-sized sky chart image. If you want to generate your own star chart for Taunton for another date and/or time, please follow this link
In November 2020, the amount of daylight (measured from sunrise to sunset) decreases from 9 hours 41 minutes at the start of the month to 8 hours 16 minutes at the end of the month. Total daylight (sunrise to sunset) for the month is 267 hours 37 minutes.
start and end times of civil, nautical and astronomical twilights.
|h m||h m||h m||h m||h m|
|** ** No phenomenon that day|
|PLEASE NOTE: These times are in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) except between 01:00 GMT on March 29th and 01:00 GMT on October 25th when the times are in BST (British Summer Time) which is one hour in advance of GMT.|
The timings in the table above should be accurate to within 1–2 minutes inside the red circle superimposed on the map shown on the left.
Rising and setting times for the Sun, Moon and planets and times of twilights for other locations can be obtained from HMNAO's Websurf web pages using the Rise, Set and Twilight Times option.
The actual times at which the Sun will just appear, or disappear, will depend on the difference between the altitudes of the observer and the local horizon and the actual refraction, which depends on the meteorological conditions along the light path. Differences of a minute or so from the tabulated times are to be expected.
For the drivers amongst you, the 'Hours of Darkness', as defined in the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations (1989), start half an hour after sunset and end half an hour before the following sunrise. Headlights should be used during the Hours of Darkness and sidelights in the half hour periods after sunset and before sunrise. These timings can also be obtained from HMNAO's Websurf web pages using the Rise, Set and Twilight Times option.
For the VFR (Visual Flight Rules) pilots amongst you, night, according to Statutory Instrument 2009 No. 3015, Civil Aviation, The Air Navigation Order 2009, Part 33 (Interpretation), Article 255(1), means "the time from half an hour after sunset until half an hour before sunrise (both times inclusive), sunset and sunrise being determined at surface level". In other words, the night time period starts at the beginning of the Hours of Darkness and finishes at the end of the Hours of Darkness.