Southern Sky Watch

February Skies

This month the planetary action is mostly in the morning skies, but will be difficult to see in the twilight. Venus is visible in the morning sky low twilight.

Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.

February 4; Moon at perigee. February 6: Venus and Saturn close, low in the morning twilight February 11; crescent Moon close to Venus.. February 14; Saturn, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, close low in the morning twilight sky. February 19; Mars and First Quarter Moon close. February 18; Moon at Apogee. February 24; Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury, close low in the morning sky. February 28; Mars within binocular range of Pleiades.


Looking up at the stars is still a rewarding pursuit, despite the increasing light pollution in our major cities. The southern sky is full of interesting objects, many of which go unseen in the northern hemisphere. All you need for a good nights viewing is yourself, a good idea of where south and east are, and your hands. Optional extras are a small pair of binoculars, a torch with red cellophane taped over the business end and a note book. A great many tips for backyard astronomy may be found here, although many of them are more relevant to the northern hemisphere. A general article on amateur astronomy from New Scientist is here (may require subscription otherwise see the TASS site.).

This page is designed to give people a simple guide to the unaided eye sky. In the descriptions of planet and star positions, distances in the sky are given as "fingers width" and "hand span". This is the width of your hand (with all the fingers together as in making a "stop" sign, not bunched as a fist) or finger when extended a full arms length from you.


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Summer is here once more, and the beautiful constellations of Orion, Taurus and the magnificent rambling constellations of Carina, Puppis and Vela grace our skies again. The January school holidays will be an ideal time to head out somewhere dark and view the stars and planets at their best. Summer also means very long twilights in southern Australia, so you may have to wait to see these delights. Despite the warmth of the days, nights are often cool, so don't forget a light jumper before doing any extended star watching. A blanket or rug to sit on is a good idea. Some mosquito repellent will be a must.


While these pages are primarily intended for the use of people observing in Australia, non-Australian Southern Hemisphere observers will find most of the information here applies to them. The star information will be most helpful, when you correct your location for latitude (see the Stars section for appropriate location information). Most Moon phase, planet, comet and asteroid information will be very similar to what will be seen in New Zealand, South Africa and South America. Countries close to the equator (eg Indonesia) will have somewhat different southern and northern views, but the eastern and western views should be similar enough to get a good idea of what is going on.

Occultations, eclipses and aurora are highly location dependent, and it would be best to get a local almanac for these events. If there is no local almanac available, email me and I might be able to help you. I do try and give general info for occultations and eclipses in the Oceania area of the Southern Hemisphere.

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Aurora Alert UPDATED 28/11/20: The new solar cycle has started, and we may expect to see more auroral displays. During solar minimum, we are still getting occasional good auroral displays. August 26th 2018 saw an impressive display visible from NZ and Tasmania despite the full Moon. The last week of March 2017 saw some impressive aurora displays from Tasmania, Victoria, SA and WA. October 2016 saw a series of good but transient aurora in Tasmania and southern Victoria. July 2015 saw a massive storm seen as far north as mid NSW, again clouded out for large parts of Australia. 17-19/3/2015, the St. Patrick's Day aurora, massive storm seen as far north as Southern Queensland. Unfortunately clouded out for large parts of Australia. 26/2/2015, yet another good set of aurora were seen from Tasmania. 9/2/2015 There was a series of very good auroral events during February, some were seen in NSW, Victoria, SA and WA as well as Tasmania. Last year saw some nice events and a coronal mass ejection from an M class flare hit us square on on March 17 2013. Aurora were detected as far north as the QLD border, with some really nice events in Tasmania, and here are some images from that event. The Sun is now at solar minimum,and is rather quiet we June see more aurora in the near future.

Auroral images and descriptions from past geomagnetic storms are now at the auroral image web page.

We are now deep in solar minimum, and we can expect to see few aurora. There have been some good displays in Tasmania in the recent past (the St. Patrick's Day storm was a beauty, see as far north as NSW). Tasmania, King Island and Southern Victoria are the most likely places to see aurora. However, on September 24, 2005 there was a massive auroral storm seen as far as northern NSW (and the 22 February 2014 one was seen as far north as southern NSW). Naturally, the best views of any aurora will be away from the city and bright lights. Aurora occur when charged particles from the solar wind enter Earths outer atmosphere and interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms producing eerie displays of coloured lights. During solar maximum, which occurs every 11 years, the number and speed of the particles are higher, allowing them to penetrate the Earth's magnetic field at lower latitudes than normal. Observers in Tasmania are likely to see green glows or sheets of light in the southern sky. Observers in Southern Victoria are more likely to see a red glow in the southern sky, although more spectacular displays are possible.

The Astronomical Society of Tasmania has a webpage devoted to this phenomenon. The Australian IPS radio and space services covers Aurora and related phenomena in very great detail (too much if you don't know much about them) but has a nice education page. Flinders Uni also has real time magnetometer readings, however, this will probably not mean much to most people.

Aurora will generally follow solar flares by about 2 days, and a number of instruments are watching the sun for these outbursts. The solar minimum occurred in 2006 and persisted for some time. While sunspot numbers, and hence flare rates are increasing, sometimes months will go by without an alert, then you have three in a week. The space weather site at http://www.spaceweather.com gives notice of when solar winds likely to cause aurora will arrive. Alternatively, send an email to reynella@mira.net with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject and I will send you an email alert of any likely auroral event (or other interesting sky phenomena). However, even a strong solar flare is no guarantee that you will be able to see aurora, but it does increase the probability. Still more alternatively, there are the facebook pages Aurora Australis Tasmania, Aurora Australis Tasmania NOW! and Aurora Australis all do discussions and alerts.

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Email alerts I try to update this page fairly regularly outside of the monthly postings. However sometimes things happen which I can't get in fast enough, or you forget to mark your calendar. If you would like to be alerted to or reminded of interesting astronomical or sky phenomena, send an email to reynella@internode.on.net with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject. This is the old aurora alert list, but with auroras rare even though we are at solar maximum (except for the occasional humdinger, like the September 2005 auroral event), it is doing double duty. Astroblog will have images when possible of these events soon after.

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Coming events

Date Event
January
2 January 2021 Earth at Perihelion
12 January 2021 Crescent Moon and Venus close low in the morning twilight
14 January 2021 Crescent Moon, Mercury and Jupiter close low in the morning twilight
21 January 2021 Mars and waxing Moon close
21 January 2021 Uranus between Mars and the waxing Moon
February
6-7 February 2021 Venus close to Saturn low in the twilight
11 February 2021 Venus close to Jupiter and the crescent moon low in the twilight
19 February 2021Mars near first Quarter Moon
20-28 February 2021 Mercury between Jupiter and Saturn in the twilight
28 February 2021 Mars within binocular distance of the Pleiades cluster
March
1-9 March 2021 Mars within binocular distance of the Pleiades cluster, closest on the 2nd
4 March 2021 Asteroid Vesta at opposition, just visible to the unaided eye, best in binoculars
5 March 2021 Mercury very close to Jupiter below Saturn in the morning
10 March 2021 Saturn close to the crescent Moon in the morning
11 March 2021Mercury close to Jupiter and the crescent Moon
in the morning
19 March 2021 Mars near waxing Moon
20 March 2021Earth at Equinox
April
7 April 2021 Saturn near to the waning Moon in the morning sky
8 April 2021 Jupiter near to the crescent Moon in the morning sky
11 April 2021 Mercury close to the crescent Moon in the morning twilight
17 April 2021 Mars close to the crescent Moon
27 April 2021 Mars on outskirts of open cluster M35 (binoculars best)
28 April 2021 Perigee Full Moon ("super" Moon), 1:00 am
May
4  May 2021 Saturn close to waning Moon in the morning sky
5 May 2021 Jupiter near to the waning Moon in the morning sky
6-7 May 2021Eta Aquariid meteor shower
14 May 2021Thin crescent Moon above Mercury in morning sky
26 May 2021Total eclipse Perigee Full Moon ("super" Moon), 12:00 pm (eclipse from 8 pm)
29 May 2021 Mercury and Venus close low in the twilight (binoculars best)
June
1 June 2021 waning Moon near Jupiter
12 June 2021 Venus near thin crescent Moon low in the evening sky
14 June 2021 Waxing crescent Moon and Mars near in evening sky
21 June 2021 Earth at solstice
23-24 June 2021 Mars crosses beehive cluster (binoculars best)
27 June 2021 Waning Moon close to Saturn
28 June 2021 waning Moon near Jupiter
July
3 July 2021 Venus at the edge of the beehive cluster, best in binoculars
6 July 2021 Earth at aphelion
8 July 2021Mercury close to the thin crescent Moon in the morning
12 July 2021Crescent Moon, Venus and Mars close in the evening
13 July 2021Venus and Mars very close in the evening sky
22 July 2021 Venus very close to bright star Regulus
24 July 2021 Saturn near Moon
26 July 2021 Jupiter near Moon
29-30 July 2021 Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower
30 July 2021 Mars very close to Regulus
August
2 August 2021 Saturn at opposition
10 August 2021 Mars near thin crescent Moon
11 August 2021 Venus close to crescent Moon
18 August 2021 Variable star Mira predicted to peak in brightness
19 August 2021 Jupiter at opposition
17-21 August 2021 Mercury close to Mars, closest on the 19th
20 August 20 Saturn near Moon
22 August 2021 Jupiter near Moon
September
6 September 2021 Venus close to bright star Spica
9 September 2021 Mercury and crescent Moon close in the evening sky
10 September 2021 Crescent Moon and Venus nearby forming triangle with Spica
17 September 2021 Waxing Moon near Saturn
18 September 2021 Waxing Moon near Jupiter
23 September 2021 Earth at Equinox
21 September 2021 Mercury close to bright star Spica
24 September 2021 Venus close to moderately bright star alpha2 Librae, below Scorpius and above the pair of Mercury and Spica
October
1 October 2021 Mercury and bright star Spica still close
10 October 2021 Venus, the crescent Moon and the bright star Antares form a triangle
14 October 2021 Saturn and the waxing Moon close
15 October 2021 Jupiter and the waxing Moon close
17 October 2021 Venus and the bright star Antares at their closest
21-22 October 2021 Orionid meteor shower
23-24 October 2021 Venus close to globular cluster M19 (binocular or telescope)
November
4 November 2021 Thin crescent Moon close to Mercury low in the twilight
8 November 2021Venus close to thin crescent Moon below the teapot of Sagittarius
8-24 November 2021 Venus crosses the teapot of Sagittarius
10-11 November 2021 Waxing Moon near Saturn
11-12 November 2021Waxing Moon near Saturn
18 November 2021 Leonid Meteor Shower
19 November 2021 Partial Lunar eclipse, difficult with mid eclipse in the twilight
December
3 December 2021 Mars and thin crescent Moon close low in the morning twilight
7-10 December 2021 Three bright planets form a line in the evening with the thin crescent. moon joining them, Venus and Moon close on the 7th
8 December 2021 Saturn and crescent Moon close
10 December 2021 Jupiter and crescent Moon close
14 December 2021 Geminid Meteor shower in the morning (waxing Moon sets before best rates)
18 December 2021 Apogee Full Moon (12:00 pm)
21 December 2021 Earth is at Solstice
23-30 December 2021 four bight planets, Mercury, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter line up in the evening twilight, on the 29th Venus and Mercury are at their closest.
1 January 2022 Thin crescent Moon very close to Mars low in the morning sky. Occultation seen in south eastern and south central Australia

Out in Space

Mars Curiosity Rover reaches its 3000th day on Mars .

Mars Express sees festive features on Mars's south pole.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is using AI to find new craters on Mars.

The Juno mission is extended until 2025..

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The Moon:

Current Phase of the Moon.
This is a JavaScript applet kindly supplied by Darren Osbourne. It shows the Moon as Southern Hemisphere viewers see it, and is upside down from the Northern Hemisphere perspective.

D Last quarter on the 5th
O New Moon is on the 12th
C| First quarter on the 20th
O Full Moon on the 27th

February 4; Moon at perigee. February 11; crescent Moon close to Venus.. February 19; Mars and First Quarter Moon close. February 18; Moon at Apogee.

An interactive calendar of the Moon's phases.

A view of the phase of the Moon for any date from 1800 A.D. to 2199, US based, so that the Moon is upside down with respect to us. The image above is from this source.

The phases of the Moon have been linked in the popular imagination to activities as diverse as madness and menstruation. However, careful study has shown that there are no such links. This web page outlines how the Moon is unconnected with a wide range of human activities.

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Planets:

Finding planets, even with the directions below, can sometimes be difficult if you are unfamiliar with the sky. However, the Moon is very obvious, and can be a guide to location of planets. Not only that, the combination of the Moon and bright planet(s) is often very beautiful. Thus the guide below gives the dates when the planets and the Moon are close together.
morning sky, 6:22 am

The morning sky facing east in Adelaide on on Sunday February 14 as seen from Adelaide at 6:22 ACDST, 30 minutes before sunrise, Saturn,Jupiter, Venus and Merucy are together low in the twilight. You may need binoculars to see Mercury though. (similar views will be seen Australia wide 30 minutes before sunrise)

evening sky, 21:35 pm

The evening sky facing west in Adelaide on Thursday February 19 at 21:35 ACDST, 90 minutes after sunset. The First Quarter Moon is close to Mars. (similar views will be seen Australia wide at the equivalent local time, 90 minutes after sunset).

morning sky, 6:01 am

The morning sky facing east in Adelaide on on Wednesday February 24 as seen from Adelaide at 6:01 ACDST, 60 minutes before sunrise, Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury are together low in the morning sky. (similar views will be seen Australia wide 90 minutes before sunrise)

Mercury is low in the morning sky this month and has some interesting, if difficult to see, encounters. On the 14th Mercury is visible just under a hand-span from the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. At this time Jupiter, Venus and Mercury form a triangle with Saturn above. You may need binoculars to see Mercury. Mercury continues to rise and brighten and by the 19th it is about a hand-span above the the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise, forming a triangle with Jupiter and Saturn. From now until the end of the month Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter form a triangle, with Mercury and Jupiter coming closer. On the 28th Mercury is two hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise and in a line with Jupiter and Saturn.

Venus continues to descend in the morning sky and is now visible low in the twilight. You will need a level, unobscured horizon to see Venus for most of its encounters this month. Venus is lost in the twilight glow from mid-month.

On the 1st Venus is just over a hand-span above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the 6th Venus and Saturn are very close low in the twilight, You will need binoculars and a level unobstructed horizon to see Saturn. On the 11th Venus and the crescent Moon are close, with Jupiter just below Venus, you may need binoculars to see Jupiter. On the 14th Venus, Jupiter and Saturn form a line, low in the twilight, with Mercury making a triangle with Jupiter and Venus. By the 15th Venus is just under a hand-span above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. By the 28th Venus is lost in the twilight glow.

Mars is easily visible in the north-western to western evening sky. Mars continues to dim this month as it is long past opposition. On the 1st Mars is is six hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On the 15th Mars is just under four hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On the evening of the 19th the first Quarter Moon is near Mars. On the 28th Mars is just over three hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. At this time it is within a binocular field of the beautiful Pleiades cluster.

Jupiter is low in the morning eastern twilight sky and will become easier to see after mid-month.

On the 1st Jupiter is lost in the twilight. On the 11th Jupiter is just below Venus, with the thin crescent Moon nearby and Stun above. You will need a flat, unobstructed horizon like the ocean or desert to see this, and may require binoculars to see the planets clearly. Jupiter is just under a hand-span above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the 14th Saturn, Jupiter and Venus form a line, with Mercury forming a triangle with Jupiter and Venus. You will need a flat, unobstructed horizon like the ocean or desert to see this, and may require binoculars to see the planets clearly. On the 15th Jupiter is just over a hand-span above the north-western horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the 28th Jupiter is nearly two hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. At this time it is in a line with Mercury and Saturn.

In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter's Moons are always interesting. However, Jupiter is too deep in the twilight to effectively observe them for most of this month.



Times are AEST, subtract 30 minutes for ACST and 3 hours for AWST. 
GRS = Great Red Spot. S = Shadow Transit, T = Transit

Jupiter Events from 01 Aug 2021 to 31 Aug 2021
Time (LMT) Sat Event 
Thu	4	Feb	6:42	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	11	Feb	6:48	Io :	Disappears into Eclipse
Fri	12	Feb	6:17	Io :	Shadow Transit Ends          T
Fri	12	Feb	6:32	Io :	Transit Ends
Tue	16	Feb	6:41	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	19	Feb	5:54	Io :	Shadow Transit Begins        S
Fri	19	Feb	6:16	Io :	Transit Begins               ST
Sat	20	Feb	5:53	Io :	Reappears from Occultation
Sun	21	Feb	5:50	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	28	Feb	6:32	Eur:	Disappears into Eclipse
Sun	28	Feb	6:39	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian

Saturn, like Jupiter, is low in the morning eastern twilight sky and will become easier to see after mid-month. Saturn is above Jupiter.

On February 1 Saturn is is lost in the twilight. On the 6th Venus and Saturn are very close low in the twilight, You will need binoculars and a level unobstructed horizon to see Saturn with Saturn just over a hand-span above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the 11th Saturn is above the triangle of Venus, the crescent Moon and Jupiter binoculars to see Jupiter. On the 14th Saturn, Jupiter and Venus form a line, with Mercury forming a triangle with Jupiter and Venus. You will need a flat, unobstructed horizon like the ocean or desert to see this, and may require binoculars to see the planets clearly. By February 15, Saturn is just over two hand-spans above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the 28th Saturn is three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. At this time it is in a line with Mercury and Jupiter.

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Iridium Flares, the International Space Station and other satellites

See this amazing site for images of the space station taken through a telescope.

The Iridium satellites have deorbited, However, other satellites do flares as well (bit more rarely) the visibility of Iridium flares is VERY dependent on observer position, so you need a prediction for your spot within about 30 km. Hence I'm referring you to a web site for predictions rather than doing it myself.


See the International Space Station at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box

Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:
Another site, JPASS, is very cool and does the International Space Station, and many other satellites. However, although the output is flashy, it's harder to use than heavens above.

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Meteor showers:

Date        	Meteor Shower       ZHR  Illumination 

The figure ZHR is zenithal hourly rate. This is the number of meteors that a single observer would see per hour if the shower's "point of origin", or radiant, were at the zenith and the sky were dark enough for 6.5-magnitude stars to be visible to the naked eye. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the lower the figure, the darker the sky.

There are no significant showers this month.

Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 10 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2 per hour during the evening. The evening rates will be reduced during the times around the full Moon due to interference by the Moons light.

A good page describing meteor watching is at the Sky Publications site.

The Meteor Section of the Astronomical Society of Victoria has some good information on meteor watching too.

Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.

A Cool Fact about meteor speeds

A good page on detecting meteors using home made radio-telescopes is here.

A good page describing meteor watching is at the Sky Publications site.

The Meteor Section of the Astronomical Society of Victoria has some good information on meteor watching too.

Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.

A Cool Fact about meteor speeds

A good page on detecting meteors using home made radio-telescopes is here.

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Comets:

There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment.

A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.

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Occultations:

No interesting naked-eye occultations this month.

 


Eclipse:

No significant eclipses this month.

Find local sunrise/sunset and twilight times for your city or location (courtesy of Heavens Above).
Use either the drop down box for the listed cities, or type in your latitude, longitude and city in the boxes below.

Type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.

Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:

 


Variable Stars:

While most stars seem to shine with a constant brightness, there are some that undergo regular, dramatic change in brightness. The classic variables are Mira and Algol. Algol is currently not visible. Mira reached maximum on September 20 2021 and is now below unaided eye visibility.

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Stars:

evening sky, 10:00 pm

The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEDST in Melbourne on February 1 (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 10:00 pm ACDST Adelaide, 9:00 pm AEST Brisbane).

All descriptions here are based on the view from Melbourne at 10.00 pm AEDST on 1 February and assumes a fairly level horizon. Starset occurs progressively earlier each day, so these descriptions are valid for 9.00 pm on the 15th and 8.00pm AEDST on the 30th Readers from other time zones should see roughly the same views at 10.00 pm local time. Corrections for cities other than Melbourne are given below.

How do I find east, west, north and south?

Face east, just above the north eastern horizon is Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, which is just rising above the horizon. Directly east, above the horizon by 4 hand-spans is Hydra, and to the south east is the distinct wine-glass shape of Crater, the Cup.

About 13 hand-spans up from due east is Puppis, the poop deck of the form constellation of Argo Navis, the Argonaut's ship. The Milky Way passes through Puppis (and its companion constellations Vela and Carina), and there are several rather beautiful clusters worth looking at in binoculars.

Directly to the left of Vela is Canis Major. The bright white star 3 hand-spans left of due east is Sirius (alpha Canis Majoris), the brightest star in the sky. The constellation of Canis Majoris has a number of open clusters that are well worth exploring with binoculars, Most of these lie two hand-spans to the right of Sirius, amongst the V shaped group of stars that marks the tail of Canis Major. Below Sirius by two hand spans, and one hand-span to the right is M47. This cluster is quite nice in binoculars.

To the left of Sirius by about four hand-spans and almost due north is the distinctive saucepan shape of Orion's belt. The handle of the saucepan is Orion's sword, which contains some good naked eye open clusters, and the final star in the handle hosts the famous Orion nebula, which is visible to the naked eye under clear skies. Directly above the handle of the saucepan is bright Rigel (beta Orionis). Directly below the saucepan is the bright reddish Betelgeuse (alpha Orionis), a red giant star.

To the left of and below Orion's belt by about 4 hand-spans is Aldebaran (alpha Tauri), another red giant which forms the base of the V shaped group of stars called the Hyades, which forms the head of Taurus. Further to the left and down again by 2 hand-spans from Aldebaran is a faint, but pretty, compact cluster of stars called the Pleiades (the seven sisters). The Pleiades are particularly beautiful through binoculars.

To the right of and below Orion's belt by around 8 hand-spans are bright Castor and Pollux, the brightest stars of Gemini.

Directly below Orion's belt by around 9 hand-spans, and just a hand-span from the northern horizon is Capella, the brightest star of Auguia, the Charioteer.

Facing east, and Puppis again, to the left of Puppis is Vela and Carina, the sail and keel of Argo Navis. When Argo Navis was broken up into Puppis, Vela and Carina in 1750, they forgot to assign alpha and beta stars to Vela, and its brightest star at magnitude 1.5 is Gamma Velorum. Gama Velorum is a double star which may be resolved in good binoculars. The Milky Way passes through Vela, and there are many open clusters which can be seen with binoculars or the naked eye. One of the best of these is NGC2547, a little below gamma Velorum. Vela is also home to the spectacular Gum nebula (which can only be seen in telescopic photographs), and the second pulsar to be observed optically. Kappa and delta Velorum, with iota and epsilon Carina, make the "false cross" (about 7 hand spans above the southern horizon). A high definition map of Vela is here.

Carina (the keel of the former constellation Argo Navis) is a little further to the left of Vela. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star sitting 3 hand-span from due east and 14 hand-spans above the south-eastern horizon (and about 3 hand-spans up from the False Cross). A high definition map of this region is here. It is now far enough from the horizon to appreciate its many faint objects. Looking almost anywhere in the area of Carina will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area between the Southern Cross and the false cross is particularly rich. The False Cross is 3 hand-spans below Canopus, four hand-spans up from the Southern Cross and, nine hand-spans from the southern horizon. Just to the left of the False Cross is a good open cluster. Between the False Cross and the Southern Cross you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars, with theta Carina two hand-spans up from Acrux in the Southern Cross. Smaller and less spectacular than their northern counterparts, they still look very nice in binoculars. Four finger-widths below the Southern Pleiades are two rich open clusters, and the barely visible star Eta Carina. Eta Carina's spectacular nebula is only dimly seen in binoculars.

Continuing down from Vela and Carina, following the Milky Way, we come to the Southern Cross.

The Southern Cross is, as expected, a cross shaped formation with Acrux (alpha Crucis) and gamma Crucis forming the long axis of the cross (pointing down to the south-east, with bright Acrux on the end of the axis away from the horizon). Beta and delta Crucis form the cross piece of the cross. Just to the right of Acrux is the Coal Sack. This dark area against the glow of the Milky Way represents a large dust cloud and is usually clearly visible in dark skies, but will be hard to see this close to the horizon. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just to the right of Beta Crucis. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly, and is unlikely to be good viewing this close to the horizon.

Continuing down and south from the cross we come to the bright, distinctive alpha and beta Centauri, the so-called "pointers". They are a little over two hand-spans from the south-eastern horizon, with alpha being the yellow star which is closest to the horizon, and beta the blue white star just above and to the left. Most of the rest of Centarus, the Centaur, is too close to the Horizon to be seen properly. Later in the month however, omega Centauri, a naked eye globular cluster three hand-spans to the left of alpha Centauri, should be high enough to view properly. It is the object marked 5139 on the eastern sky map. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.

Alpha Centauri is the closest star to our sun at around 4 light years. However, recent measurements with the Hippacaros satellite put the system 300 million kilometres further away than previously thought. Alpha Centauri is actually a triple star, consisting of two sun-like stars and a red dwarf, Proxima Centauri, which is the closest of the triple stars to earth.

Directly above the southern horizon by 11 hand-spans is the extended nebulosity of the Large Magellanic cloud, the largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies. Binoculars will reveal a rather attractive nebula near it, the Tarantula nebula.

To the left of this by 4 hand-spans and down by 3 hand-spans is the Small Magellanic cloud, the second largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies to the Milky Way. This feature is best viewed on a dark night, away from the city. In this nebulosity is what looks to be a fuzzy star; this is 47 Tucana (marked 104 on the western sky map), a spectacular globular cluster that is very nice through binoculars. To the right of the Small Magellanic Cloud by about 4 hand-spans is the dim constellation of Tucana, the Toucan, the parent constellation of 47 Tucana.

To the left, about two hand-spans from the south western horizon is Fomalhaut, alpha Piscinus Austrinis.

Almost 5 hand-spans up from due west is Deneb Kaitos, beta Ceti, brightest star of Cetus the whale, which stretches off to the right. Mira, Omicron Ceti (O on the maps) is a variable star with a period of about 332 days. Mira is currently not visible to the unaided eye.

Cetus also hosts a nearby sun like star. Tau Ceti is 11.4 light years away from earth. From beta Ceti, Two hand-spans to the right is eta Ceti, two hand-spans from eta Ceti, forming a triangle with eta and beta, is Tau Ceti.

Continuing up from beta Ceti by around 9 hand-spans is the rambling, faint constellation of Eridanus, the river. Bright Achernar is about 8 hand-spans up and to the left from beta Ceti (around 9 from the south western horizon).

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Sky Maps

How to use the maps

      map viewsky view

Comparison of a section of a skymap showing the Southern Cross (Crux) and pointers, with the appearance of the night sky. The map and sky are for February 1 at 10.00 pm, facing south. Both show approximately 30 degrees (5 hand-spans) of sky just above the horizon

The maps look a little busy, as they cover all sky from horizon to zenith. The grid lines are navigational helpers; each horizontal or vertical line covers 30 degrees of arc (the gridlines in the illustration show 15 degrees of arc), which is roughly five hand-spans (where a hand-span is the width of your hand, held flat light a "stop" sign at arms length). As you can see from the way the lines bunch up. The map is a little distorted, due to trying to project a spherical surface on a flat surface. The horizon is the lowest curved line on the map (for technical software reasons I can't block things out below the Horizon). Constellations are linked by lines and their names are in italics. Stars are shown as circles of varying size, the bigger the circle the brighter the star. The stars are named with their Bayer letter (eg a - alpha, the brightest star in a constellation, a Crucis is the brightest star in Crux). Variable stars are shown as hollow circles, double stars are marked with a line (eg a, b and g Crucis are all double stars, that look quite beautiful in a small telescope). Clusters and Nebula brighter than magnitude 6.0 are marked as broken circles (eg. the Jewel box cluster next to b Crucis above which is best viewed in binoculars or a telescope) and squares respectively. To find Crux for example, locate Crux on the appropriate map (eg. see the illustration above). Holding the Map, face either east or west (depending on the map), then use the grid lines to determine how far over and up you should look, then look for the Crux pattern in that part of the Sky.

GIF Maps

A view of the Eastern February sky at 10.00pm AEST on 1 February can be downloaded here (febsky_e.png 30 Kb) and a view of the western February sky can be downloaded here (febsky_w.png 30 Kb). These are more compact files but don't have a lot of resolution.

PDF Maps

High Resolution PDF files can be obtained for the eastern (110 Kb) and the western (110 Kb) horizon maps.

The Zenith Map (110 Kb) shows you the whole sky. You will need to face the one of the compass points, then hold the map with the appropriate compass point on the map at the bottom of the page.

You will need a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat or GhostView to view and print them. They look slightly worse on-screen than the PNG files, but print much better and come with legends.

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[ December Skies] [ January Skies]
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Cheers! And good star gazing!


updated

Ian's Astrophotography Gallery

Some of the photographs/images I have taken in recent years of astronomical phenomena that may be of interest.

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Links

Societies: Australian Resources: Australian Planetariums: updated Astronomy for Kids International Resources: Stunning sites: Useful programs:
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Charts, Books and Software for Astronomy

Stellarium, the free photorealistic sky chart that I use for my general charts, is now available in a web version, it is not as versatile as the desktop version, but handy if you are out and about. it Runs under a variety of browsers on standard PC's, Chromebooks and iPads. https://stellarium-web.org/

The is also a mobile Stellarium version, but it costs money (around $13, not much, but still).

If you would like to have charts available all the time, rather than relying on mine, for between $2-$20 you can pick up a planisphere from a newsagent or bookshop (or for a bit more you can get fancy ones from Australian Geographic, the ABC shop or the other Australian Geographic look alike shop, or the Wilderness Society, or even a binocular/ optical store). The planisphere won't give you position of the planets, so you will need to get the planet rise/set times. These can be found in most serious newspapers (the Age, the Australian, SMH etc. The Australian is probably the best bet for budding amateurs). The combination of planisphere and rise/set times is the best value for beginners though, if you are not too worried about identifying star clusters in your binoculars.

Touring the Universe through Binoculars Atlas is now freeware http://www.philharrington.net/tuba.htm it can print observing charts, but has a few annoying quirks. These include having no horizon line, and moving about is a bit irritating.

I use a combination of a 1962 star chart, the Australian Astronomy 2021 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2021 almanac. It is more helpful for planetary/comet/asteroidal observations and eclipses than for double stars, clusters galaxies etc, but is an excellent resource for Australian observers and anyone who would like to seriously follow the planets in Australia should have this almanac. It has easy to follow month-by-month summary information, as well as detailed charts, tables and whole sky maps. It is easily navigated. The Almanac is often in big bookstores or optical shops, or email info@quasarastronomy.com.au to purchase a copy directly for those outside major population centres. The Australian Astronomy almanac comes out in around November for the following year, and is now approx $30.

Sky and Telescope now also do an Australian version of their magazine.

For detailed chart drawing and timing of events, as well as satellite track predictions I feed the information from the almanac into the $150 AUD SkyMap Pro 11.0 , planetarium program. This is a very handy program which prints maps of every possible orientation and scale. The maps on this page are produced by SkyMap. An update to SkyMap 12.0 which handles Windows 10 is now available.

A shareware version of SkyMap that runs on windows 3.x, and win95 can be found here http://www.winsite.com/info/pc/win3/desktop/skymp21a.zip this is approximately 640 Kb zipped.

A shareware version of the win95 only version 5.0 is here http://www.download.net.au/cgi-bin/dl?13607

Other highly recommended Sky charting packages (win95/98/2000/XP/Win7-10 sorry) are:
Cartes du Ciel at https://www.ap-i.net/skychart//en/start (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at
http://stellarium.sourceforge.net/ (FREE) stunning photorealistic program, but requires a grunty PC.
Celestron Sky Portal https://www.celestron.com/pages/skyportal-mobile-app is a good free mobile phone/tablet app
Sky Safari https://skysafariastronomy.com/ is another nice mobile astronomy app, but the Apple app store want to sell me Skysafari 6 rather than the freeware Sky Safari 5 (currently available on Google play).
TheSkyVarious packages from $49 US to $249 US
Stary Night various versions from $50 US for the basic pack (10 day trial of the basic pack at http://www.siennasoft.com/english/downloads.shtml) up to eye watering $250 USD versions.
Earth Centered Universe $88 AUD (shareware version at http://www.nova-astro.com/)
On the other hand a standard Sky Atlas for serious observing (much handier than carting a computer with you) such as Norton's Star Atlas can range from $35 to $90.

In these days of hand-held devices (smart phones and tablets), there is a plethora of sky charting apps you can take into the field with you. I use GoogleSky for android and a cut down version of Stellarium for iPad, my most used hand-held app is Heavens Above for Android, for watching Iridium flares and ISS passes. This is one app that has changed my astronomical life. There are many more, many free or less than 1 AUD to download. Celestron has a great free planetarium app (although big at 154 Mb) for Android, iPhone and iPad, SkyPortal (see links above).

This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2021 almanac. For any budding astronomers out there, it is fantastic value and no, I don't have any commercial interest in it, but I did win bronze in their website Olympics).

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Link to the Lab's 'In Space' gateway Link to the Lab's home page
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This page is provided by Ian Musgrave and is © copyright 2021 Ian Musgrave, except the "Southern Sky Watch" logo, as well as any other ABC logo used on this page, is © copyright of the ABC. Sky maps are generated with SkyMap Pro 11.0 .

This page can be used freely for any non-commercial purpose but please attribute it correctly. However, see the disclaimer.

* Email: reynella@internode.on.net e-mail Ian with any suggestions
Created: Wednesday, 1 April 1998, 11:22:13 PM
Last Updated: Sunday, 29 November 2021, 11:30:13 PM


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