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2021 Sky Guide Africa South

Now available from ASSA Centres or if you join as a country member


Comet C/2020 M3 ATLAS

by Kos Coronaios

Comet C/2020 M3 ATLAS is currently in the constellation of Orion. At Vm +8 (11/11/2020), the comet is not visible with the naked eye or with binoculars (10 x 50), but is within reach of small to medium sized telescopes ( it was an easy target in an 8-inch f5 SkyWatcher).

Discovered by the ATLAS telescope system earlier this year (June 27, 2020), it makes its closest approach to Earth on the 14th November. The ATLAS telescope system developed by the University of Hawaii is an asteroid or comet impact early warning system. The comet reached perihelion, closest approach to the Sun on October 25th this year. At closest approach to us, it will be 53 613 439 km from Earth and will not return until the year 2159. The comet appears as a small fuzzy diffuse object and not star-like at all. A position change can easily be noted after observing for 60 minutes or so as it moves at 51 500 km/h while the nearby stars appear or seem to be fixed in their positions. Over a 24 hour period the comets movement is easily noted.

The two images were taken from Pearly Beach in the Western Cape around midnight on the 11th November.


Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE

by Kos Coronaios

This comet is a long period comet with a near-parabolic orbit discovered on March 27, 2020, by astronomers during the NEOWISE mission of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer space telescope.

At that time, it was an 18th-magnitude object, located 2 AU (300 million km; 190 million mi) away from the Sun and 1.7 AU (250 million km) away from Earth.

NEOWISE is known for being the brightest comet in the northern hemisphere since Comet Hale–Bopp in 1997. It was widely photographed by professional and amateur observers and was even spotted by people living near city centers and areas with light pollution. While it was too close to the Sun to be observed at perihelion (03 July 2020), it emerged from perihelion around magnitude 0.5 to 1, making it bright enough to be visible to the naked eye. Under dark skies, it could be seen with the naked eye and remained visible to the naked eye throughout July 2020. By July 30, the comet was about magnitude 5, but binoculars were required near urban areas to locate the comet.

For observers in the southern hemisphere, the comet was visible from around the 26th July a couple of degrees above the northern horizon after sunset. At around magnitude +5 it was never going to be visible with the naked eye due to it’s proximity to the horizon shortly after sunset, but it was a reasonably easy target for binoculars as well as small telescopes by the first week in August. Currently at around magnitude +7 it is in the constellation of Virgo, moving into Libra by the end of September 2020.


Nightfall V 4 # 1 – June 2020


Comet C/2020 F8 (SWAN) – by Kos Coronaios

Comet C/2020 F8 (SWAN) was discovered in images taken by the SWAN camera on March 25th 2020, aboard the Solar Heliospheric Observer (SOHO), I was fortunate to have a number of imaging/observing sessions before the comet moved to close to the horizon in the early hours of the morning to be visible from my location in Pearly Beach, Western Cape. These started from the middle of April, with the last session on the 5th May when proximity to the horizon as well as the Moon became problematic.

Analyzing the images from SWAN, Michael Mattiazzo, (Swan Hill, Australia), realized that they showed a new comet in outburst. The comet increased in brightness becoming a naked eye apparition towards the end of April. While Southern hemisphere observers have had the best seats from around mid April to early May, the comet is rapidly moving northwards and if the comet’s brightness increases or at least remains as is for the next few weeks, northern hemisphere observers and astrophotographers are in for a treat. Comet SWAN will make its closest approach to Earth on May 12 and reach perihelion on May 27.


Stargazing in SA National Parks

South African National Parks (SANParks) recognised the need to diversify and expand their current tourist activities to provide meaningful experiences to its visitors.

Astro-tourism has been identified as a potential activity with minimal environmental impact, while providing visitors with the opportunity to experience the natural environment in a unique way.

The primary objective of this study is to determine the feasibility of stargazing activities in SANParks. Participation in the research process is voluntary and all information will remain confidential and anonymous.  Your contribution to the study is important and its success depends on the number of respondents who complete the survey. For more information, contact Amélia Wassenaar at starsandparks@gmail.com

Click here to start the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/83FGGXR


Sky Guide 2021 now available


A Bit of Sky Guide History

The first edition of this Sky Guide was published in 1946 and was known as the Astronomical Handbook for Southern Africa. It consisted of 12 pages and was available for 1/6 from Juta and Co., Darling Street, Cape Town. Dr Richard Hugh Stoy of the Royal Observatory carried out most of the calculations, assisted by Mr Reginald de Kock, Dr Alan Cousins and other members of staff. In 1957 the book was redesigned and most of the calculations were performed by the Transvaal Centre’s Computing Section. In 1962 the Handbook was sold for 25 cents, and the Royal Observatory was again responsible for generating the data. In 1974, Dr Tony Fairall at the UCT Astronomy Department took over as editor. The next 13 issues were edited by Mr Rupert Hurly until Ms Pat Booth took over in 1990. During 2003, a committee consisting of Auke Slotegraaf, Maciej Soltynski and Cliff Turk, assisted by many helpers, redesigned the Handbook. After much deliberation the name was changed to the Sky Guide.


Big 5 of the African Sky

Published 2017 June 23
The Big 5 of the African Sky – the five best deep-sky objects – are beautifully placed at this time of year for observing.

Find out more about the Big 5 and how to observe them and also how to qualify for this beautiful personalized mug!