Astronomical highlights for the week



  • You may have read that Uranus is visible with the naked eye this week. While technically true, and the jokes just write themselves, planets beyond Saturn are too far away to be visible to most without a telescope. This magnitude 5 objects will be lost in the light pollution of even some rural skies.
  • Mon September 14, before dawn: the Moon and Venus will be less than 5 degrees apart. Rising before 4 am, the pair will be visible until dawn.
  • Wed Sep 16, overnight: A new moon is a great opportunity to see just how dark your sky is. If its dark enough, you may be able to look out across our galaxy, the Milky Way, running straight up from the southwestern horizon down to the northeast horizon.
  • Thu Sep 17, 1 pm EDT: NASA will host an “ask me anything” sessions with experts from the Solar Cycle 25 Prediction panel about recent progress toward declaring solar minimum and beginning a new ~11 year solar cycle.

As the Moon turns new at 7am EDT, this begins a new month for lunisolar calendars including the eighth month of the Chinese calendar, the second month of the Islamic calendar (Safar), and the first month of the Hebrew calendar (Tishrei).
    Thu Sep 17, 5:45 EDT: NWA president-elect Nate Johnson and I will be presenting a slightly geeky virtual poster session at the 2020 NWA Annual Meeting on observations about communicating a snow event here in central North Carolina last February. Stop by and talk weather communication and what we observed when comparing an ensemble forecast created from forecasters in central North Carolina (via Python code, told you it was geeky).
  • Fri Sep 18, 9:44 am EDT, the Moon will be at perigee, its closest to the Earth for this orbit.
  • Thu Sep 17 07:00:10: new moon
  • Wed Sep 23 21:54:49: first quarter moon
  • Tue Sep 22 09:30:38: autumnal equinox

Upcoming Launches

·  Tue, Sep 15 09:00 AM +08 (01:00 UTC) China plans the launch of Jilin-1 Gaofen-03-1 from the Yellow Sea in area between mainland China and the Korean Peninsula

·  Thu, Sep 17 02:17 PM EDT (18:17 UTC) SpaceX plans the launch of Starlink-13 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida

·  Fri, Sep 18 12:30 AM EDT (04:30 UTC) United Launch Alliance (ULA) plans the launch of NROL-44 from the Cape Canaveral AFS in Florida

·  Tue, Sep 29 10:26 PM EDT (02:26 UTC) Northrop Grumman plans the launch of CRS2 NG-14 (Cygnus, SS Kalpana Chawla) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (Wallops Island) in Virginia

·  Tue, Nov 10 11:45 AM PST (19:45 UTC) SpaceX plans the launch of Michael Freilich (Sentinel-6) from the Vandenberg AFB in California

On This Day

  • Sept 15, 1965: “Lost in Space” debuts on TV
  • Sept 13, 1977: Second glide test of the Space Shuttle Enterprise
  • Sept 15, 2017: Cassini mission ends with a planned plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere.

In case you missed it

  • Startup rocket manufacturer Astra, attempted the maiden launch of its 3.1 rocket from Kodiak, Alaska last Friday but was destroyed when it began to drift off course.
  • A study of data from India’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper aboard the Chandrayaan-1 mission finds rust on the moon, which may be caused not by influences of Earth’s atmosphere. read more

Early this week

A thin sliver of waning crescent moon cozies up to Venus Monday morning Sep 14.

Near-Earth Objects (NEO)

lunar distance (LD) is the mean distance to the moon ~239k miles. Anything within 1 LD is newsworthy. For more information see NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies

This week

objectclose approach dateuncertaintyLDmillion
2020 RB12020-09-13 00:49Z< 1 sec11.7<3
2020 RL12020-09-13 06:00Z< 1 sec5.21+
2020 RH22020-09-13 20:51Z~1 hour8.6~2
2017 US2020-09-13 22:22Z<5 hours17.24+
2020 RF32020-09-14 06:49Z~1 hour0.2<58,439 miles
2020 QL22020-09-14 15:50Z< 1 sec17.9~4.55
2020 RJ22020-09-16 01:06Z< 1 sec3.4<1
2020 RN12020-09-17 16:55Z< 1 sec18.5~4.55
2014 QJ332020-09-17 23:50Z< 1 sec6.7~2
2017 SL162020-09-20 06:56Z< 1 sec8.82+
2020 RA22020-09-23 17:32Z< 1 sec18.4~4.55
2020 RO2020-09-25 00:10Z~1 hour15.2~4


withinobjectclose approach dateuncertaintylunar distancesmillion
~14 days2020 RF32020-09-14 06:49Z~1 hour0.2<58,439 miles
~1 year2020 RF32020-09-14 06:49Z~1 hour0.2<58,439 miles
~100 years999422029-04-13 21:46Z< 1 sec0.1~23,441 miles

Planet visibility

body (phase)risetransit (alt)setconstellation
Mercury (77%)08:53:2814:29:17 (41°)20:04:02Virgo
Venus (66%)03:22:5510:24:51 (66°)17:26:14Cancer
Moon (0%)06:53:4113:29:54 (54°)19:54:14Virgo
Mars20:46:2703:15:56 (56°)09:41:05Pisces
Saturn16:29:1321:17:51 (28°)02:02:29Sagittarius
Jupiter16:01:0020:39:57 (27°)01:22:45Sagittarius

Sample rise/set times for 09/17/20

Satellite Passes

This information is best used to identify passes worth sharing or skipping. Those nearest overhead are closest, brightest, and longest. Check dates and times for each pass before sharing.

International Space Station (ISS)

  • poor pass begins Wed 2020-09-16 20:12:47 EDT from the S (189°) reaches 24°, enters Earth’s shadow 19° above the horizon 4 minutes later
  • exceptional pass begins Fri 2020-09-18 20:14:04 EDT from the SW (227°) reaches 75°, enters Earth’s shadow 14° above the horizon 6 minutes later
  • fair pass begins Sun 2020-09-20 20:16:18 EDT from the WSW (259°) reaches 39°, lasts 6 minutes
  • poor pass begins Tue 2020-09-22 20:19:10 EDT from the WNW (288°) reaches 21°, lasts 5 minutes

Atmospheric drag and other factors can and do cause orbits to change. See the European Space Agency supported Heavens Above for the latest pass predictions. Satellite pass gradings are based on altitude reached and duration of the pass. Higher altitude passes are closer to the observer and generally brighter as a result. Satellites other than ISS are much more difficult to spot.

Moon Phases

Thu 2020-09-17 07:00:10new
Wed 2020-09-23 21:54:49first quarter
Thu 2020-10-01 17:05:13full
Fri 2020-10-09 20:39:29last quarter



DateRiseSolar noon (alt)Setsunlight
Thu 2020-09-1706:5713:08 (51.40°)19:1812 hrs 21 min
Fri 2020-09-1806:5813:08 (51.01°)19:1712 hrs 18 min
Sat 2020-09-1906:5913:07 (50.63°)19:1512 hrs 16 min
Sun 2020-09-2007:0013:07 (50.24°)19:1312 hrs 13 min
Mon 2020-09-2107:0113:07 (49.85°)19:1212 hrs 10 min
Tue 2020-09-2207:0213:06 (49.46°)19:1012 hrs 8 min
Wed 2020-09-2307:0313:06 (49.07°)19:0812 hrs 5 min
Thu 2020-09-2407:0413:05 (48.68°)19:0712 hrs 2 min
Fri 2020-09-2507:0513:05 (48.29°)19:0512 hrs 0 min
Sat 2020-09-2607:0613:05 (47.90°)19:0311 hrs 57 min
  • lost 0:23:53.222977 (hh:mm:ss) of daylight over this period
  • daylight (HH:MM): 12:09
  • mean: sunrise 07:02 sunset 19:11
  • max: sun angle 51.40°


Thu 2020-09-1705:2320:51
Fri 2020-09-1805:2420:49
Sat 2020-09-1905:2520:48
Sun 2020-09-2005:2620:46
Mon 2020-09-2105:2720:44
Tue 2020-09-2205:2820:42
Wed 2020-09-2305:2920:40
Thu 2020-09-2405:3020:39
Fri 2020-09-2505:3120:37
Sat 2020-09-2605:3320:35

Covers Thu 2020-09-17 01:00 through Sun 2020-09-27 01:00 . Calculations are for Altoona, PA (40.4800,-78.4200) at an elevation of 341 m and are expressed in local (US/Eastern) time and a 24-hour clock.

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