Southern Sky Watch

February Skies

This month sees more planetary action in the morning skies and the return of Venus to the evening skies by the end of the month. After last months "blue Moon" this month has no full Moon.

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

February 1; Mars very close to star beta1 Scorpi1. February 8; Jupiter and Moon close. February 9-10; Mars and Moon close. February 11; Moon at Apogee. February 12; crescent Moon close to Saturn, crescent Moon, Saturn and the globular cluster M22 visible together in binoculars. Feb 1-17; Asteroid Ceres visible in binoculars. February variable star Mira fades from maximum brightness. February 28; Venus visible low in evening twilight.


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 December 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 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 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

1 January 2018; Mars three finger-widths from Jupiter in the morning skies

2 January 2018; Perigee ("Super") Moon

7 January 2018; Mars and Jupiter closest at 0.25 degrees.

12 January 2018; Crescent Moon, Mars and Jupiter form a triangle

13 January 2018; Mercury less than a finger-width from Saturn in the morning sky

15 January 2018; thin crescent Moon near Mercury and Saturn

27-31 January 2018; Asteroid Ceres visible in binoculars

31 January 2018; Blue Moon, Total Lunar Eclipse ~11pm AEST

8 February 2018; Waning Moon close to Jupiter in Morning sky

10 February 2018; Waning Moon close to Mars

13 February 2018; Crescent Moon close to Saturn

4 March 2018; Venus and Mercury very close, low in the evening twilight

7 March 2018; Moon close to Jupiter

10-11 March 2018; Moon close to Mars

11-12 March 2018; Moon close to Saturn

19 March 2018; thin crescent Moon close to Mercury and Venus in evening twilight

20 March 2018; Mars close to Triffid Nebula

1-3 April 2018; Mars and globular cluster M22 less than a finger-width apart in morning sky

2 April 2018; Mars and Saturn close, a finger-width apart

3 April 2018; Moon close to Jupiter in evening sky

15 April 2018; thin crescent Moon close to Mercury in morning twilight

18 April 2018; crescent Moon close to Venus in evening sky

30 April 2018; Moon close to Jupiter in evening sky

1-30 May 2018; Saturn within 2finger-widths of globular cluster M22, closest on the 15th

4 May 2018; Moon close to Saturn.

6 May 2018; Moon close to Mars.

6 May 2018; Eta Aquariid meteor shower.

9 May 2018; Jupiter at opposition.

14-15 May 2018; Mars less than half a finger-width from globular cluster M75.

17-18 May 2018; crescent Moon close to Venus.

21 May 2018; Venus close to M35.

27 May 2018; Moon close to Jupiter.

1 June 2018; Moon and Saturn close.

3 June 2018; Moon and Mars close.

16 June 2018; Crescent Moon near Venus.

19 June 2018; Asteroid Vesta at opposition, potentially visible with the unaided eye.

20 June 2018; Venus in the Beehive cluster.

21 June 2018; crescent Moon and Venus close.

23 June 2018; Moon and Jupiter close.

27 June 2018; Saturn at opposition.

28 June 2018; Saturn close to the Moon.

1 July 2018; Mars and Moon close.

4 July 2018; Mercury close to Beehive cluster.

13 July 2018; Partial Eclipse of the sun, visible only southern SA and VIC.

15 July 2018; thin crescent Moon and Mercury close in the twilight.

16 July 2018; crescent Moon and Venus close.

21 July 2018; Moon and Jupiter close.

25 July 2018; Moon and Saturn close.

27 July 2018; Mars at Opposition, the best since 2003.

28 July 2018; Total Lunar Eclipse, early morning.

30 July 2018; Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower.

14 August 2018; Crescent Moon close to Venus.

17 August 2018; Moon close to Jupiter.

21 August 2018; Moon close to Saturn.

30 August 2018; Saturn close to Triffid Nebula.

1-2 September 2018; Venus and Spica close.

12-13 September 2018; Crescent Moon close to Venus.

14 September 2018; crescent Moon close to Jupiter.

18 September 2018; Moon close to Saturn.

20 September 2018; Moon and Mars close.

10-20 October 2018; All 5 ove bright planets visible in early evening sky.

10 October 2018; Mercury and Crescent Moon close.

11 October 2018; crescent Moon near Venus

12 October 2018; crescent Moon close to Jupiter.

15 October 2018; Moon close to Saturn.

16 October 2018; Venus and Mercury close.

18 October 2018; Moon close to Mars.

22 October 2018; Orionid meteor shower.

28 October 2018; Mercury and Jupiter close.

9 November 2018; Jupiter crescent Moon close.

11 November 2018; Crescent Moon and Saturn close.

16 November 2018; Moon close to Mars.

17 November 2018; Leonid Meteor Shower.

26 November 2018; Variable star Mira at its brightest

1-20 December 2018; Comet 46P potentially visible to the unaided eye.

4 December 2018; Crescent Moon close to Venus in morning twilight.

9 December 2018; Crescent Moon close to Saturn in evening twilight.

15 December 2018; Geminid Meteor shower.

14-15 December 2018; Moon close to Mars.

22 December 2018; Jupiter and Mercury very close in dawn sky.


Out in Space

Mars Curiosity Rover looks back on its journey.

Mars Express sees Mars upside down.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter finds huge slabs of ice.

The Juno mission probes Jupiter great Red Spot.

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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 9th
O New Moon is on the 17th
C| First quarter on the 25th

(Yes, there is no Full Moon this February) February 8; Jupiter and Moon close. February 9-10; Mars and Moon close. February 11; Moon at Apogee. February 12; crescent Moon close to Saturn, Crescent Moon, Saturn and the globular cluster M22 visible together in binoculars.

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, 6:00 pm

The eastern morning sky on February 1, 60 minutes before sunrise showing Mars close to Beta1 Scorpii. The inset shows the telescopic view of Mars and Beta1 Scorpii.(similar views will be seen Australia wide 60 minutes before sunrise).

morning sky, 6:00 pm

The eastern morning sky on February 12, 90 minutes before sunrise showing Saturn and the crescent Moon close, Inset shows M22 though Binoculars. (similar views will be seen Australia wide 90 minutes before sunrise).

evening sky, 9:16 pm

The evening sky facing north-west in Melbourne on February 28 at 30 minutes after sunset showing Venus and Mercury just above the horizon. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg February 28 at 30 minutes after sunset Adelaide).

Mercury Returns to the evening skies this month, but never really rises high enough above the horizon to be easily visible.

Venus returns to the evening sky by the end of February. By the 28th Venus is only a finger-width above the horizon half and hour after sunset.

Mars rises still higher in the morning skies this month and is in some interesting binocular territory in Scorpius and Ophiuchus. On February 1 Mars Mars is just eight hand-spans from the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise and is less than half a finger-width from the moderately bright star Beta1 Scorpius (Graffias). At this time the pair are together in medium power telescope eyepieces. Over the first part of the month Mars moves away from Grafias and towards Antares and Saturn. On February 11 Mars and Antares (and the bright globular cluster M4) are just under a hand-span apart. Mars then leaves Antares behind behind and closes in on Saturn. On February 9 and 10 the waning Moon is just under a hand-span from Mars, forming first a line then a triangle with Antares. On February 15 Mars is just over nine hand-spans from the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. In the latter half of February Mars come close to a number of faint globular clusters. On the 19th it is spectacularly close to the faint globular cluster NGC 6235 but the brightness difference means seeing the cluster will be difficult. Between the 19th and 24th Mars is within binocular distance of the magnitude 6.8 globular cluster M19. On the 28th Mars is just over nine hand-spans from the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise and three hand-spans from Saturn.

Jupiter climbs higher in the morning sky this month.

On February 1, Jupiter is nine hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. Jupiter is inn Libra all month. On February 8 the Last Quarter Moon is just under a hand-span from Jupiter. On February 15, Jupiter is ten hand-spans above the north-eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. By February 28, Jupiter is twelve hand-spans above the northern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise.

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 http://www.cpac.org.uk

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

Sat	3	Feb	0:58	Io : Reappears from Occultation   S
Sat	3	Feb	2:00	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends
Sat	3	Feb	2:12	Eur: Transit Begins               T
Sat	3	Feb	3:29	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	3	Feb	4:23	Eur: Transit Ends
Sat	3	Feb	4:38	Gan: Shadow Transit Begins        S
Sat	3	Feb	6:25	Gan: Shadow Transit Ends
Mon	5	Feb	5:08	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	6	Feb	0:59	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	7	Feb	1:23	Gan: Reappears from Occultation
Wed	7	Feb	6:46	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	8	Feb	2:38	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	8	Feb	5:00	Io : Disappears into Eclipse
Fri	9	Feb	2:17	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Fri	9	Feb	3:32	Io : Transit Begins               ST
Fri	9	Feb	4:27	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Fri	9	Feb	5:41	Io : Transit Ends
Sat	10	Feb	2:17	Eur: Shadow Transit Begins        S
Sat	10	Feb	2:51	Io : Reappears from Occultation   S
Sat	10	Feb	4:16	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	10	Feb	4:33	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends
Sat	10	Feb	4:46	Eur: Transit Begins               T
Mon	12	Feb	1:55	Eur: Reappears from Occultation
Mon	12	Feb	5:54	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	13	Feb	1:46	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	14	Feb	0:32	Gan: Reappears from Eclipse
Wed	14	Feb	3:59	Gan: Disappears into Occultation
Wed	14	Feb	5:19	Gan: Reappears from Occultation
Thu	15	Feb	3:24	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	15	Feb	6:53	Io : Disappears into Eclipse
Fri	16	Feb	4:10	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Fri	16	Feb	5:25	Io : Transit Begins               ST
Fri	16	Feb	6:21	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Sat	17	Feb	1:21	Io : Disappears into Eclipse
Sat	17	Feb	4:44	Io : Reappears from Occultation
Sat	17	Feb	4:50	Eur: Shadow Transit Begins        S
Sat	17	Feb	5:02	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	18	Feb	0:49	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Sun	18	Feb	0:54	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	18	Feb	2:03	Io : Transit Ends
Mon	19	Feb	2:02	Eur: Reappears from Eclipse
Mon	19	Feb	2:19	Eur: Disappears into Occultation
Mon	19	Feb	4:30	Eur: Reappears from Occultation
Mon	19	Feb	6:41	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	20	Feb	2:32	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	21	Feb	2:43	Gan: Disappears into Eclipse
Wed	21	Feb	4:29	Gan: Reappears from Eclipse
Thu	22	Feb	4:10	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	23	Feb	0:02	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	23	Feb	6:04	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Sat	24	Feb	3:14	Io : Disappears into Eclipse
Sat	24	Feb	5:49	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	24	Feb	6:36	Io : Reappears from Occultation
Sun	25	Feb	0:32	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Sun	25	Feb	1:40	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	25	Feb	1:46	Io : Transit Begins               ST
Sun	25	Feb	2:42	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Sun	25	Feb	3:55	Io : Transit Ends
Mon	26	Feb	1:03	Io : Reappears from Occultation
Mon	26	Feb	2:21	Eur: Disappears into Eclipse
Mon	26	Feb	4:37	Eur: Reappears from Eclipse
Mon	26	Feb	4:51	Eur: Disappears into Occultation
Mon	26	Feb	7:01	Eur: Reappears from Occultation
Tue	27	Feb	3:18	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	28	Feb	1:15	Eur: Transit Ends
Wed	28	Feb	6:40	Gan: Disappears into Eclipse

Saturn climbs higher in the morning skies this month. S On February 1 Saturn is three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. During the first half of the month Saturn and the Lagoon Nebula are visible together in Binoculars. On the 12th the crescent Moon and Saturn are less than a hand span apart. At this time The crescent Moon, Saturn, the bright globular cluster M22 and the open Cluster M25 can be seen together in binoculars. Both M22 and M25 remain within binocular range of Saturn for the rest of the month (although separately). By February 15 Saturn is visible just over five hand-spans from the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On the 28th Saturn is just under eight hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.

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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 
 

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.

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Comets:

There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment. The asteroid Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system, currently being orbited by the Dawn spacecraft, will be visible in binoculars from around mid month.

evening sky, 00.00 pm

Northern Sky at midnight on February, the asteroid Ceres is visible in binoculars between the Sickle of Leo and Cancer.

morning sky, 0.00 am
Black and white binocular chart suitable for printing (click to embiggen and print). The large circle represents the field of view of 10x50 binoculars. The small that of a 4" Newtonian telescope with a 24 mm eyepiece. Use the horizon chart above for orientation first.

The asteroid 1 Ceres is relatively easily visible in binoculars until around the middle of this month, as it fades from maximum brightness. There is significant interference from Moonlight at the beginning of the month but the asteroid soon finds itself in dark skies.

Ceres is relatively easy to find. It is above the northern horizon at midnight, and is in between below Kappa Leo and iota Cancerii. Kappa Leo is the brightish star the is the tip of the sickle of Leo (see charts, if you centre your binoculars on Kappa Leo from Mid Month Ceres will be just below and to the left of it). You may need to watch night to night as the asteroid moves to be sure of its identity.

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 should be fading after its maximum last month. It is still readily visible to the unaided eye and should remain so to the end of February and well worth following over the coming weeks as it fades.

evening sky, 10:00 pm

Cetus looking north-west at 10:00 pm AEDST on 15 February, Mira is indicated by the circle.

Mira (omicron ceti), a star in the constellation of Cetus the whale, is a long period pulsating red giant and changes brightness from below naked eye visibility to a peak of round magnitude 2 (roughly as bright as beta Crucis in the Southern Cross) in around 330 days. Mira is predicted to peak with maximum of 3.4 around 29 January. Mira may be seen above the western horizon from Astronomical twilight and is setting in the west. Mira is currently visible to the unaided eye and will fade over February.

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Stars:

evening sky, 10:00 pm

The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEST in Melbourne on February 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 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 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 naked 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

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 2018 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2018 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 http://www.stargazing.net/astropc/ (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at
http://stellarium.sourceforge.net/ (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 http://www.siennasoft.com/english/downloads.shtml) up.
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.

This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2018 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 2018 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: Wednesday, 31 January 2018, 11:30:13 PM


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