This page provides some astronomical information on a monthly basis for those of you living in the Taunton area. Timings are in BST (British Summer 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 Tuesday, 2020 August 04 at 09:29:08 BST.
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.
Active region AR2767 has crossed over the south-western limb of the Sun and active region AR2768 has now dissipated. A recent active region, designated AR2769, has appeared over the north-eastern limb of the Sun followed by another active region AR 2770. Both of these sunspots are quiescent active regions from the new Solar Cycle 25. The total number of spotless days for 2020 remains at one hundred and fifty three, or 71% of the year so far. Solar winds are currently blowing with velocities of around 670km/s and the planetary Kp geomagnetic activity index is likely to peak at 4 (unsettled) today. A coronal hole lies in the polar region of the north-western quadrant of the Sun approaching the limb. Fast solar winds emanating from this modest feature are currently brushing the Earth's magnetic field. The overall amount of solar activity remains at very low levels.
The increasing number of spotless days heralds the coming of the solar minimum expected in 2019/2020. The decline in the number of sunspots is greater than expected. This could be the deepest solar minimum in more than a century. This 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. A new satellite has been launched, TSIS-1, which will monitor the Sun over the next five years covering the whole of the upcoming 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.
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 this solar maximum is more complex than had been previously predicted. The maximum is 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 are significantly down on the predictions made for this maximum — indeed solar cycle 24 may be the weakest in the last 100 years or so i.e. since solar cycle 14. Assuming the start of 2014 was the beginning of the post maximum phase of solar cycle 24, we are now well into the declining phase of activity where 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 be expected from this type of violent outburst. The next solar minimum, characterized by periods of many days without sunspots and flare activity, is likely to occur between late 2019 and early 2020. 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 next solar maximum is expected to occur between 2023 and 2026. Solar cycle 25 is likely to be similar to solar cycle 24 which means another weak maximum and a long, deep minimum.
The sequence of Moon phases for this month and their designations are shown in the following animation:
|Moon phases for August 2020 are as follows:|
|Full Moon||—||Monday August 3rd at 16:59 BST
|Last Quarter||—||Tuesday August 11th at 17:45 BST|
|New Moon||—||Wednesday August 19th at 03:42 BST
|First Quarter||—||Tuesday August 25th at 18:58 BST|
The Moon is at apogee (i.e. furthest from the Earth) on Sunday August 9th at 14:51 BST when it is 404,659 km from the Earth. It is at perigee (i.e. nearest to the Earth) on Friday August 21st at 11:58 BST when it is 363,513 km from the Earth.
On Sunday August 9th, the Moon occults the planet Mars in the southern part of the constellation of Pisces. This occultation by the waning gibbous moon is visible from most of western Antarctica, south-eastern South America, the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island. This occultation is not visible from the United Kingdom.
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 in the east north-eastern morning twilight sky for the first week of the month before disappearing into the twilight glow as it approaches superior conjunction on Monday August 17th. It then moves into the western evening twilight for the last few days of August. During the first week of the month, Mercury brightens noticeably from magnitude −0.8 to −1.2 and during the last few days of August it fades noticeably from magnitude −1.0 to −0.7. Mercury is 7° south of Pollux (β Geminorum) on Sunday August 2nd.
Venus is prominent in the north north-eastern morning twilight sky, rising three to four hours before the Sun. It fades noticeably from magnitude −4.6 at the start of the month to −4.3 at the end of August. Venus reaches greatest western elongation on Thursday August 13th and lies 4° south of the waning crescent moon on Saturday August 15th.
Mars rises in the eastern sky between midnight and two hours before midnight. It spends the remainder of the year in the southern part of the constellation of Pisces. Mars brightens significantly from magnitude −1.0 at the start of the month to −1.8 at the end of August. It lies 0.8° north of the waning gibbous moon on Sunday August 9th. In certain parts of the world this event can be seen as an occultation.
Jupiter is visible in the south-eastern evening sky rising four to six hours before midnight and setting two to four hours after midnight in the south-western sky. It lies in the constellation of Sagittarius until late December. Jupiter fades slightly from magnitude −2.7 at the start of the month to −2.6 at the end of August. It lies 1.5° north of the waxing gibbous moon on Sunday August 2nd and 1.4° north of the waxing gibbous moon on Saturday August 29th. The separation of Jupiter and Saturn grows from 7.7° to 8.3° during August.
Saturn is visible in the south-eastern evening sky rising four to six hours before midnight and setting two to four hours after midnight in the south-western sky. It lies in the constellation of Sagittarius until mid-December. Saturn fades somewhat from magnitude +0.1 at the start of the month to +0.3 at the end of August. It lies 2.0° north of the waxing gibbous moon on Sunday August 2nd and 2.0° north of the waxing gibbous moon on Saturday August 29th. The separation of Saturn and Jupiter grows from 7.7° to 8.3° during August.
Uranus rises in the east north-eastern sky an hour or so before midnight and sets in the early afternoon. It is a blue-green object which brightens slightly from magnitude +5.8 at the start of the month to +5.7 at the end of the month. Uranus lies in the south-western part of the constellation of Aries where it remains for the rest of the year. Uranus is approximately 12.8° north east of the fourth magnitude star Omicron Piscium. This planet can also be glimpsed with the naked eye under optimum conditions.
Neptune rises about three hours or so before midnight in the eastern twilight sky and sets about three hours after sunrise. 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 8.4° to the north east of the third magnitude star Lambda Aquarii. It is a bluish object of magnitude +7.8 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 about four to six hours before midnight in the south-eastern morning sky and sets around two to four hours after midnight in the south-western sky. It lies in the north-eastern part of the constellation of Sagittarius about 4.4° to the east of Jupiter in mid-August. Strictly speaking, this is a dwarf planet which was demoted from the ranks of the 'bona-fide' planets at the International Astronomical Union General Assembly in Prague in 2006. At magnitude +14.6, you will need a much larger telescope to find this remote member of the Solar System.
The Perseid meteor shower will be visible this month. These meteors are associated with the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle which orbits the Sun every 133 years. Although the Perseids are active from Friday July 17th to Monday August 24th, they reach the peak of their activity in the afternoon of Wednesday August 12th between 14:00 BST and 17:00 BST so it is worth trying to observe them in the early hours of either Wednesday August 12th or Thursday August 13th. The radiant, the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to originate, is reasonably high in the north-eastern sky, and lies between the "W-shaped" constellation of Cassiopeia and the top of the inverted "Y-shape" of Perseus below Cassiopeia. This year, the peak of the shower coincides with a last quarter moon meaning skies will be bright in the post-midnight period. At the peak of the shower, we would expect to see as many as 110 meteors per hour on a dark night. However, moonlight will make the fainter meteors more difficult to see. The Perseids are often bright, quite fast and frequently leave persistent trails. Their numbers also increase somewhat as morning twilight approaches. The Perseids also produce a significant number of fireballs i.e. meteors that appear to be brighter than the planet Venus.
No other significant meteor showers visible from our latitudes 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. In the first few days of August all the following three comets lie close to each other in the constellation of Coma Berenices.
C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) starts the month as a magnitude +10.1 object visible with a small telescope in the constellation of Coma Berenices for the first three days of the month. It then crosses over into the neighbouring constellation of Boötes and then moves into Virgo for the last ten days of August. It is best seen in the western sky in the late evening twilight. It reached perihelion on Monday May 4th 2020 and is likely to fade by a magnitude or so during August.
C/2019 U6 (LEMMON) starts the month as a magnitude +8.8 object visible with a small telescope in the constellation of Coma Berenices for the first three days of the month before crossing over into the neighbouring constellation of Boötes for the remainder of August. It has moved sufficiently far north in the sky to be visible from our northerly latitudes and it will be visible in the western sky about an hour or so after sunset. The comet reached perihelion on Thursday June 18th 2020 and is likely to continue fading during August by around two magnitudes.
C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was discovered on 2020 March 27th by the infra-red survey telescope aboard the NASA NEOWISE spacecraft. This comet reached perihelion on Friday July 3rd and survived its 0.29au encounter with the Sun. It passed the Earth on Thursday July 23rd at a distance of 0.69au. C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) has been the brightest comet in the northern hemisphere since C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) in 1997. It starts the month in the constellation of Coma Berenices where it remains for nine days. It then moves into Virgo for three days, followed by Boötes for three days before moving back into Virgo for the remainder of the month. It will be visible to observers with binoculars or, more likely, a small telescope in the western evening sky about an hour or so after sunset until the end of August. The comet is now around magnitude +6.0 taking it beyond naked-eye visibility. It is fading rapidly as it moves away from the Earth as well as the heating effect of the Sun although it may well return in another 6,700 years!
Images of the comet (and some noctilucent cloud) were taken on Thursday July 2nd from Arizona and during morning twilight on Saturday July 4th from the Czech Republic. The comet had a dust tail about a degree long as well as a faint ion tail as can be seen in this photograph taken from north-eastern France on Tuesday July 7th. Another image of the comet, as well as a display of noctilucent cloud, was taken on Saturday July 11th from Liverpool. An evening image taken on July 11th from northernmost Italy shows its tail had reached 20° in length although it appeared shorter when viewed with the naked eye or with binoculars. Here is my attempt at capturing the comet on Sunday July 19th 2020 at 23:54 BST (Canon 350D, speed ISO 1600, 25-second exposure with a 55mm lens at f/5.6). A beautiful, deep image of the comet was taken at closest approach to the Earth by Michael Jaeger from Martinsberg in Austria on Thursday July 23rd.
Strictly speaking, this phenomenon is an atmospheric one rather than a truly astronomical one. Nonetheless, living in the United Kingdom, we are well placed to see this unusual spectacle during the shorter nights of the summer months, particularly in June and July.
These tenuous cloud-like structures are composed of ice-coated particles at an altitude of around 80 km in the mesosphere, approximately four times higher than the limiting altitude of cirrus cloud. Created by water vapour freezing around meteor smoke in the upper atmosphere, their altitude means that they appear silvery-blue in colour against the darker twilight sky when the Sun lies between 6° and 16° below the horizon.
Noctilucent or "night shining" Cloud is normally seen between 10° and 20° above the northern horizon exhibiting a range of forms — perhaps the most common is the "herring-bone" pattern. Normal visibility limits are mid-May to mid-August, peaking around the time of the Summer Solstice. More information, including the facility to report your sightings, can be found at the Noctilucent Cloud Observers' Homepage.
A word of warning; displays are unpredictable and more frequently seen from the northern half of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, observations have been submitted by observers living in this locality e.g. from Exeter and Castle Cary.
A photograph demonstrating that these clouds can be seen from southern parts of the United Kingdom was taken by D. Tate in Castle Cary in the early hours of Monday June 10th 2013.
[23rd May 2020] The first noctilucent cloud display of the northern season was seen by the AIM satellite over the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia on Sunday May 17th and marks one of the earliest starts to the NLC season. The display was small and relatively weak but it should not be too long before stronger displays appear over northern parts of the United Kingdom. Another small display was reported by ground-based observers in Estonia, Finland and Latvia on Saturday May 23rd.
[31st May 2020] The United Kingdom has seen its first display of noctilucent cloud. A display was seen in the early hours of Sunday May 31st from Edinburgh.
[7th June 2020] An early season sighting of NLC was made at the end of the first week in June in the London area. Record-breaking cold temperatures in the mesosphere may be an indicator of a very active NLC season.
[21st June 2020] An unusually bright display of NLC was observed from London on June 21st. This may be an indication of even more intense displays in the near future.
[6th July 2020] A widespread, bright display of NLC was observed over the whole of Europe on July 5th–6th. An example of what was observed can be seen in this photograph taken over Budapest.
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 BST on Sunday August 16th 2020 from Taunton. The night sky will look the same an hour later at 23:00 BST at the beginning of the month and an hour earlier at 21:00 BST 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 August 2020, the amount of daylight (measured from sunrise to sunset) decreases from 15 hours 19 minutes at the start of the month to 13 hours 34 minutes at the end of the month. Total daylight (sunrise to sunset) for the month is 448 hours 43 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.