Southern Sky Watch

August Skies

Sorry, late again, lots of life things slowing me down. This month sees Saturn in an excellent position for observation. Mercury at its best in the evening for the first half of the month.

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

August 3; Moon at Apogee. August 3; waxing Moon close to Saturn. August 8; Partial Lunar Eclipse. August 16; Crescent Moon close to the Hyades and Aldebaran. August 18; Moon at Perigee. August 19; crescent Moon close to Venus. August 25; crescent Moon close to Jupiter, forming a line with Spica. August 26; crescent Moon forms a triangle with Jupiter and Spica. August 31st; Moon close to Saturn again.

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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Clear crisp Winter nights are often the best for star gazing, with the broad sweep of the Milky Way arching across the sky. However, it gets very cold, so don't forget to rug up before doing any extended star watching. Dew formation can also mean some dampness, so a blanket or rug to sit on is a good idea, as well as a thermos of your favorite hot beverage. Winter sees our night skies dominated by the Southern Cross, sprawling Scorpio and Sagittarius, in which the heart of our galaxy hides, so it's well worth stepping out into the chill for an astronomical thrill.

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 03/04/17: Despite solar maximum having passed, we are still getting occasional good auroral displays. The last week of March 2017 saw some impressive aurora displays from Tasmania, Victoria, SA and WA. September 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 January, 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 maximum, but has been rather quite so far apart from the odd event like the 17 March 2013 one and the 22 February 2014 and the January 2015 events (and of course the St. Patrick's Day Storm). Although we should be exiting solar maximum in 2016 we may 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 at the tail end of solar maximum in 2016, and we can expect to see a reducing frequency of aurora. There have been some good displays in Tasmania recently (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 gives notice of when solar winds likely to cause aurora will arrive. Alternatively, send an email to 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 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

2 January 2017; crescent Moon Near Venus

3 January 2017; crescent Moon near Mars

18 January 2017; opposition of Vesta

19 January 2017; Moon near Jupiter

25 January 2017; Moon close to Saturn

26 January 2017; Moon close to Mercury

31 January 2017; Moon close to Venus, forming line with Mars

1 February 2017; Moon close to Mars, forming line with Venus

11 February 2017; Comet 45P closest to Earth, possibly visible in binoculars

15 February 2017; Moon close to Jupiter

21 February 2017; Moon near Saturn

23 February 2017; Variable star Mira at its brightest

1 March 2017; Moon close to Mars and Venus, making a triangle

2 March 2017; Moon close to Mars, making a line with Venus

14-15 March 2017; Moon close to Jupiter

20 March 2017; Moon close to Saturn

29 March 2017; Moon close to Mercury

30-31 March 2017; Moon close to Mars

8 April 2017; opposition of Jupiter

10-11 April 2017; Moon close to Jupiter

16 April 2017; Moon close to Saturn

24 April 2017; crescent Moon close to Venus in morning sky

1-15 May 2017; Comet 41P visible in the morning sky in binoculars

6 May 2017; Eta Aquariid meteor shower.

7-8 May 2017; Moon near Jupiter.

13 May 2017; Moon close to Saturn.

23 May 2017; crescent Mon close to Venus.

4 June 2017; Moon and Jupiter close.

1-25 June 2017; Comet C/2015 V2 Johnson potentially visible in binoculars.

9-10 June 2017; Moon near Saturn.

15 June 2017; Opposition of Saturn.

21 June 2017; crescent Moon and Venus close.

1 July 2017; Jupiter and Moon close.

7 July 2017; Saturn and Moon close.

21 July 2017; crescent Moon and Venus close.

25 July 2017; thin crescent Moon and Mercury very close, low in the twilight.

29 July 2017; Moon and Jupiter close.

30 July 2017; Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower.

3 August 2017; Moon close to Saturn.

8 August 2017; Partial eclipse of the Moon in the early morning.

19 August 2017; Crescent Moon close to Venus.

25 August 2017; Jupiter and Crescent Moon close, forming a shallow triangle with Spica.

5-16 September 2017; Jupiter and Spica close.

15 September 2017; Crescent Moon close to Venus.

19 September 2017; crescent Moon forms triangle with Mars and Mercury low in the twilight.

22 September 2017; Moon close to Jupiter, forming triangle with Spica.

27 September 2017; Moon and Saturn close.

30 September 2017; Moon and Mars close.

6 October 2017; Venus and Mars very close low in the twilight.

17 October 2017; Mars close to crescent Moon. Forms line with Venus

18 October 2017; Venus close to crescent Moon, forming triangle with Mars.

22 October 2017; Orionid meteor shower.

24 October 2017; crescent Moon close to Saturn.

13 November 2017; Venus and Jupiter very close in the twilight.

13 November 2017; Mercury and Antares close in the twilight.

15 November 2017; crescent Moon close to Mars.

17 November 2017; Leonid Meteor Shower.

17 November 2017; crescent Moon close to Venus and Jupiter in the twilight.

21 November 2017; Crescent Moon close to Saturn.

28 November 2017; Mercury close to Saturn.

14 December 2017; Crescent Moon close to Mars.

15 December 2017; Geminid Meteor shower.

15 December 2017; Crescent Moon close to Jupiter.

31 December 2017; Mars and Jupiter close.

31 December 2017; asteroid Ceres potentially visible in binoculars.

Out in Space

Cassini begins its final five orbits.

Mars Curiosity Rover watches Martian clouds.

Mars Express flys over Mwrth Vallis.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows where Curiosity landed.

Dawn climbs to a higher orbit.

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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.

O Full moon on the 8th
D Last quarter on the 15th
O New Moon is on the 22nd
C| First quarter on the 29th

August 3; Moon at Apogee. August 3; waxing Moon close to Saturn. August 8; Partial Lunar Eclipse. August 16; Crescent Moon close to the Hyades and Aldebaran. August 18; Moon at Perigee. August 19; crescent Moon close to Venus. August 25; crescent Moon close to Jupiter, forming a line with Spica. August 26; crescent Moon forms a triangle with Jupiter and Spica. August 31st; Moon close to Saturn again.

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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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.
evening sky, 9:16 pm

The evening sky facing north-west in Melbourne on August 25 at 90 minutes after sunset showing the crescent Moon close to Jupiter. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg August 25 at 90 minutes after sunset Adelaide).

evening sky, 9:00 pm

The western sky on August 12 an hour after sunset showing Mercury high above the horizon. (similar views will be seen Australia wide an hour after sunset).

morning sky, 5:56 am

The eastern morning sky on August 19 an hour before sunrise showing Venus and the Moon. (similar views will be seen Australia wide an hour before sunrise).

Mercury is at its best in the evening sky in the first half of the month, and this is the best evening view we have of the elusive planet this year (after late July last month). On the 1st Mercury is just over two hand-spans above the horizon an hour after sunset. On the 15th Mercury is just over a hand-span above the western horizon an hour after sunset. After this Mercury rapidly heads towards the horizon. By the 30th, Mercury is no longer visible.

Venus continues to dominate the morning sky but slowly edges towards the horizon this month. In a telescope Venus is a distinct "gibbous-Moon" shape. On the 1st Venus is just under three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. Venus moves through Gemini coming close to some of the dimmer stars before ending the month in Cancer. By August 15 Venus is just under two hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On August 19 the crescent Moon is just under a hand-span above Venus. On the 30th Venus is a hand-span above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.

Mars is lost in the suns' glare this month.

Jupiter was at opposition in May, but is still good viewing in the early evening. At the beginning of August Jupiter is is in between the bright stars Porrima (gamma Virginis) and Spica, alpha Virginis, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. Over the Month Jupiter pulls way from Porrima and heads towards Spica, by the end of the Month Jupiter is close to Spica.

On August 1, Jupiter is just over eight hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On August 15, Jupiter is six hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On August 25 Jupiter is a hand-span from the crescent Moon, forming a line with Spica. On August 26, Jupiter, Spica and the crescent Moon form a triangle. On August 30, Jupiter is just over four hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half after sunset.

In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter's Moons are always interesting.

This table was created using The Planets 2.02 a free program available from

Times are AEST, subtract 30 minutes for ACST and 3 hours for AWST. Add one hour for Daylight Saving time.
GRS = Great Red Spot. S = Shadow Transit, T = Transit

Tue	1	Aug	17:51	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	1	Aug	20:46	Io : Transit Begins               T
Tue	1	Aug	21:57	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Tue	1	Aug	22:58	Io : Transit Ends                 S
Wed	2	Aug	18:05	Io : Disappears into Occultation
Wed	2	Aug	21:27	Io : Reappears from Eclipse
Thu	3	Aug	18:36	Io : Shadow Transit Ends
Thu	3	Aug	19:31	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	3	Aug	19:45	Eur: Disappears into Occultation
Sat	5	Aug	19:30	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends
Sat	5	Aug	21:10	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	7	Aug	19:29	Gan: Transit Begins               T
Mon	7	Aug	22:03	Gan: Transit Ends
Tue	8	Aug	18:40	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	9	Aug	20:03	Io : Disappears into Occultation
Thu	10	Aug	18:20	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Thu	10	Aug	19:26	Io : Transit Ends                 S
Thu	10	Aug	20:20	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	10	Aug	20:31	Io : Shadow Transit Ends
Thu	10	Aug	22:27	Eur: Disappears into Occultation
Fri	11	Aug	17:51	Io : Reappears from Eclipse
Sat	12	Aug	19:45	Eur: Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Sat	12	Aug	19:59	Eur: Transit Ends                 S
Sat	12	Aug	21:59	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	12	Aug	22:06	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends
Sun	13	Aug	17:50	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	15	Aug	19:30	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	16	Aug	22:03	Io : Disappears into Occultation
Thu	17	Aug	19:12	Io : Transit Begins               T
Thu	17	Aug	20:15	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Thu	17	Aug	21:09	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	17	Aug	21:25	Io : Transit Ends                 S
Fri	18	Aug	18:29	Gan: Disappears into Eclipse
Fri	18	Aug	19:46	Io : Reappears from Eclipse
Fri	18	Aug	20:35	Gan: Reappears from Eclipse
Sat	19	Aug	20:14	Eur: Transit Begins               T
Sun	20	Aug	18:40	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	21	Aug	18:55	Eur: Reappears from Eclipse
Tue	22	Aug	20:19	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	24	Aug	21:12	Io : Transit Begins               T
Fri	25	Aug	18:26	Gan: Disappears into Occultation
Fri	25	Aug	18:32	Io : Disappears into Occultation
Fri	25	Aug	20:57	Gan: Reappears from Occultation
Fri	25	Aug	21:41	Io : Reappears from Eclipse
Sat	26	Aug	18:49	Io : Shadow Transit Ends
Sun	27	Aug	19:29	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	28	Aug	21:30	Eur: Reappears from Eclipse
Tue	29	Aug	21:08	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian

Saturn was at opposition in June, but remains an excellent telescopic object all this month. Saturn is easily recognized as the brightest object below the distinctive side-on "question-mark" of Scorpius the Scorpion in the northern sky. During August Saturn is just above the dark dust lanes that mark the heart of the milky way. On August 1 Saturn is just under ten hand-spans above the north-eastern horizon an hour and a half after sunset and is highest above the northern horizon at 10 pm local time. On August 3 Saturn is just under a hand-span from the waxing Moon. On August 15 Saturn is is just over twelve hand-spans above the northern horizon an hour and a half after sunset and is highest above the northern horizon at 8 pm local time. On August 30 Saturn is just over twelve hand-spans above the northern horizon an hour and a half after sunset and is highest above the northern horizon at 7 pm local time. On August 31 the Moon is close to Saturn again.

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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.

Iridium flares add a bit of spectacle to the night sky. The Iridium satellite network was set up to give global phone coverage, so an Iridium satellite is almost always over head. Occasionally, one of the antenna of the satellites is aligned so that it reflects the sun towards an observer, giving a brilliant flare, often out-shining Venus. However, 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.

new See an Iridium Flare 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:

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, doesn't do Iridium flares, but 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 
 30/07/2017  alpha-Capricornids   5   0.05         
 6/08/2017  iota-Aquarids        8   0.05          
13/08/2017  Perseids            150    0.05         
18/08/2017  Kappa-Cygnids        3   0.5         

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.

Sadly, the Perseids are very low on the horizon in Australia and for all of us south of Brisbane, the radiant (where the meteors appear to originate in the sky) will be below the horizon. While the ZHR is around 150, Australian observers from Brisbane and similar latitudes can expect to see a meteor every 20 minutes of so, at the latitude of Alice Springs a meteor every 6 minutes and at the latitude of Darwin and Cairns a meteor every four minutes under clear conditions away from light pollution. On August the 12th and 13th, between around 3.30 am and 5.30 am (yes, that's right, bleeding cold morning time), go out and face North. The meteor shower will be between two to three hand-spans from the horizon. The best rates will be on the morning of the 13th though. A map showing the location of the meteor radiant as seen facing north from Darwin at 5.00 am is here. (also useful for Alice Springs and Brisbane, Townsville etc. where the radiant is lower). This year moonlight will interfere significantly.

The Perseids are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which has a 135 year orbit around the sun. The best Perseid showers were in 1991 and 1992, when Swift Tuttle was at perihelion (the closest approach to the sun) at 1 AU from the Sun, around 400 meteors per hour were seen. Swift Tuttle is now much further out.

Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 12 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2-4 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.

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There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment.

A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.

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No interesting naked-eye occultations this month.



No significant eclipses this month.
Partial Lunar Eclipse August 8, 2017:

Lunar Eclipse, 8:30 pm

Morning sky on August 8 looking west as seen from Adelaide at 03:51 ACST. Similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia at the equivalent local time. (click to embiggen). Note the subtle darkening of the Moon.

On the morning of 8 August there is a partial eclipse of the Moon, where the Moon glides through the edge of the inner segment of the shadow cast by Earth. There will be a clear, darkening of the Moons southern regions. Unfortunately, this all occurs in the early morning, so you will need to get up in the early hours to see it. However, to eclipse aficionados the chip of the Moons bright light to a pearly glow is quiet beautiful 9and the first decent eclipse since 2015).

All of Australia will see this partial eclipse from start to finish.

For the East Coast Moon the eclipse begins at 3:22 am AEST, maximum eclipse is at 4:21 am , the eclipse ends at 5:19 am

For the Central states the eclipse begins at 2:52 am ACST, maximum eclipse is at 3:51 am , the eclipse ends at 4:49 am

For Western Australia the eclipse begins at 1:22 am AWST, maximum eclipse is at 2:21 am , the eclipse ends at 3:19 am

See here for a map and contact timings in UT for sites outside Australia

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. Mira and Algol are currently not visible from Australia.

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evening sky, 10:00 pm

The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEST in Melbourne on August 1 (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 10:00 pm ACST Adelaide).

All descriptions here are based on the view from Melbourne at 10.00 pm AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on 1 August 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 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?

Facing east, the constellation of Cetus, the Whale, is just coming over the horizon. Five hand-spans up from the eastern horizon and one hand-span to the left is the faint but rambling constellation of Aquarius. Six hand-spans up and one to the right is bright Fomalhaut, Alpha star of Piscis Austrinus.

Eight hand-spans above the horizon and one to the left of east is the battered triangle of Capricornius, the Water Goat, currently hosting Uranus and Neptune. Of interest as well is alpha Capricorni, the brightish star at top left hand corner of the triangle that is Capricorn. This is a naked eye double star.

Straddling the Zenith is the distinctive "teapot" shape of Sagittarius, the archer. The "teapots" spout is pointing east, its handle west, and its lid points to the left (north). This constellations panoply of clusters and nebula reach full prominence. M24, an open cluster about two finger-widths to the right and slightly down from the "lid" of the teapot should be visible to the naked eye, just above this and slightly to the left by about a hand span is a number of open clusters and a patch of luminosity that marks the lagoon nebula. M22, a globular cluster, is close to the lid (between and about a finger-widths left of the two stars that make the bottom of the lid), should be visible as a dim, fuzzy star on a dark night. Between these clusters and the "lid" itself runs the Great Sagittarius Star-cloud. The center of our galaxy lies in Sagittarius, and on a dark night, the traceries of the Milky Way and its dust clouds are particularly beautiful. A high definition map of Sagittarius can be found here.

From the Zenith continuing on west, the distinctive "hook" shape of Scorpio, the scorpion, stretches down towards the western horizon. Going up from the western horizon by about twelve hand-spans (or down from the zenith by 5) you will see six bright stars forming a T, with the tail of the "T" nearly perpendicular to the horizon and a curved "tail" of stars. The bright red giant star Antares (Alpha Scorpius, the middle star in the three stars forming the tail of the T) is quite prominent. The area around Scorpio is quite rewarding in binoculars, and there is a small but pretty globular cluster about one finger-width above and to the north of Antares (between Antares and the leading star of the tail of the T). It can be hard to see in city conditions. A high definition map of Scorpio is here. Just before the point where the tail curves around is a series of star clusters that make up the so-called false comet. The illusion of a comet is quite strong in small binoculars as well, but in stronger binoculars the clusters are quite clear.

Directly below the "T" of Scorpio by one hand-span is a broad triangle of stars that marks Libra, the balance. Alpha Librae (with the amazing name Zubenelgenubi) is the brightest star and apex of the triangle pointed at Spica, is almost midway between Spica and Antares. This star is a wide binary, and those with good eye sight and dark skies can usual see both components. Beta Librae (Zubeneschamali) is the next brightest star in the triangle and closest to the horizon. Four finger-widths to the left of Beta Librae is delta Librae, this dim star (magnitude 4.9) is an eclipsing variable, where a dim star orbiting a brighter star eclipses the brighter star, causing a fall in perceived brightness. Delta Librae dims and brightens by one whole magnitude every 2.3 days, and is a good (if dim) naked eye variable. Libra also hosts the star HD 141569 (roughly a hand-span below beta Librae, but at 7th magnitude invisible to the naked eye), which has a dust disk with dark lanes which may indicate planets.

Underneath alpha Librae by around four hand-spans and to the left by one hand-span is bright white Spica, the brightest start in the contstellation of Virgo. Spica marks the top righthand corner of a rectangular group of stars that marks out the body of Virgo, the virgin. Virgo is now grazing the western horizon.

Six hand-spans to the right of spica is bright orange Arcturus, alpha star of the constellation of Bootes, the herdsman.

Directly to the left of Virgo by three hand-spans is the kite shape of Corvus the crow,

Returning to the Zenith and working towards the Northern horizon. Ten hand-spans down from the Zenith (and 8 above the northern horizon) and two to the left is Rasalhague, alpha star of Ophiuchus, a large rambling constellation. A similar distance from the Zenith and 5 hand-spans to the right is the three bright stars that mark Aquila, the Eagle, with the brightest, white Altair, being in the center.

Continuing down towards the northern horizon, the next bright star is white Vega, alpha Lyrae (the Lyre), three hand-spans from the horizon. Below and to the right of Vega, just above the horizon is bright Deneb, alpha star of Cygnus, the swan. In the norther hemisphere, Vega, Altair and Deneb make a prominent triangle in the night sky. Here their closeness to the horizon dims the splendor somewhat.

Between Altair, Arcturus, and Spica are a number of dim constellations, including Hercules. Hercules is almost mid way between Altair and Arcturus, and a reasonably prominent box shape just to the left of Vega marks the centre of the constellation.

Now return to the Zenith and go South. Directly south of the teapot of Sagittarius by about two finger-widths, is the a delicate arc of stars, Corona Australis, the Southern Crown. About three hand-spans away from the Zenith and between due south and the curved tail of Scorpio is a small squarish constellation Ara. Another hand-span south again brings you to the edge of the large, but dim, constellation of Pavo the Peacock. Peacock, alpha Pavonis, is a reasonably bright magnitude 2 star and lies three hand-spans left of due south. Delta Pavonis, about two hand-spans below and two hand-spans to the right of alpha Pavonis, is one of the handful of sun-like stars within 20 light-years of Earth that might have terrestrial planets in its habitable zone.

To the right of Pavo by about 5 hand-spans is alpha and beta Centauri, the so called "pointers", with Alpha being the yellow star which is furthest from the horizon, and Beta the blue white star below and slightly to the right. Between these stars and Pavo lie the dim constellations of trianglum and Circinus (the compass).

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 kilometers 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.

Two hand-spans from alpha Centauri to the right and a little down is a small star, about a hand-span to the right again is a fuzzy star, this is omega Centauri (5139 on the map), a globular cluster of stars which is quite spectacular in good binoculars, and more spectacular than 47 Tucana (see below). Another hand-span to the right is Centaurus A, a very radio bright galaxy (5128 on the map). You need a dark night and binoculars (at least 10 x 30) to see it, but it is one of the few galaxies you can see in the southern hemisphere (outside of the small and large Magellanic clouds) without a telescope.

Returning to alpha Centauri, following a line south east through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, two hand-spans below the pointers and 6 hand-spans above the horizon at about the 3 o'clock position on a clock. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.

The Southern Cross is, as expected, a cross shaped formation with Acrux (alpha Crucis) and gamma Crucis forming the long axis of the cross (running parallel to the horizon, with bright Acrux on the westerly end of the axis). Beta and delta Crucis, now running north-south, form the cross piece of the cross. Just above and to the right Acrux is the coal sack. This dark area against the glow of the milky way represents a large dust cloud and is clearly visible in dark skies. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just to the left of Beta Crucis, the uppermost bright star in the Cross at the moment. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly.

Just below the Southern Cross is Carina (the keel of the former constellation Argo Navis). A high definition map of this region is here. Looking almost anywhere in the area stretching between Sagittarius and Vela/Carina will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area two hand-spans below and slightly to the right of the Southern Cross, between it and the false cross, is particularly rich. Here you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars in Carina. 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. Five hand spans below and two to the left of the Southern Cross is the False Cross, now only two hand-spans from the horizon. Just to the left of the False Cross is a good open cluster, normally just visible to the naked eye but hard to see this close to the horizon. Still very nice in binoculars though. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star sitting just on the south-eastern horizon .

Just below Carina, sitting on the horizon is Vela, the sail 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, now below the horizon. Most of Vela's best sights are either below the horizon, or too close to be seen well. Kappa and delta Velorum, with iota and epsilon Carina, make the "false cross" (about 2 hand spans above the south-western horizon). A high definition map of Vela is here.

Three hand-spans straight up from south, and just to the left 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.

Six hand-spans up from the southern horizon and three to the left 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, a spectacular globular cluster that is very nice through binoculars.

To the left of the Small Magellanic cloud is the dim, nondescript constellation of Tucana, the Toucan itself, then another 6 hand-spans further left near bright Fomalhaut is the battered cross if Gruss the crane.

Four hand-spans from the south-eastern horizon, in an area otherwise devoid of bright stars is magnitude 0.5 Achenar, alpha Erandi, lead star in the constellation of the river, which will soon ramble across the southern skies.

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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 August 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 August sky at 10.00pm AEST on 1 August can be downloaded here (augsky_e.png 30 Kb) and a view of the western August sky can be downloaded here (augsky_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] [February Skies] [March Skies] [April Skies] [May Skies] [July Skies]
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Cheers! And good star gazing!


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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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

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 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 2017 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2017 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 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 $28.

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 this is approximately 640 Kb zipped.

A shareware version of the win95 only version 5.0 is here

Other highly recommended Sky charting packages (win95/98/2000/XP/Win7-10 sorry) are:
Cartes du Ciel at (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at (FREE) stunning photorealistic program, but requires a grunty PC.
TheSkyVarious packages from $49 US to $249 US
Stary Night various versions from $49 us for the basic pack (10 day trial of the basic pack at up.
Earth Centered Universe $88 AUD (shareware version at
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 dowload. Celestron has a great free planetarium app (although big at 154 Mb) for Android, iPhone and iPad, SkyPortal.

This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2017 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 2017 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: e-mail Ian with any suggestions
Created: Wednesday, 1 April 1998, 11:22:13 PM
Last Updated: Thursday, 10 August 2017, 11:30:13 PM

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