Southern Sky Watch

January Skies

This month the planetary action is split between ebening and morning skies evening skies. Venus is prominent in the evening skies, encountering Neptune and the crescent Moon, Mercury makes a fleeting appearnace later in the month. Mars is visible in the morning twilight throughout the month, encountering some bright stars in Scorpios. Jupiter enters the evening sky late in the month.

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

Betelgeuse dims. January 2; Moon at Apogee. January 5; Earth at perihelion. January 8, Mars near Acrab, January 10, Mars very close to Omgea 1 and 2 Scorpii, January 11, penumbral eclipse of the Moon. January 14; Moon at perigee. January 21; Mars and crescent Moon close. January 23, Jupiter and the thin crescent Moon close in the twilight. January 26, thin crescent Moon and Mercury close with Venus above. January 27, Venus and Neptune close. January 28; crescent Moon and Venus close.


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 28/08/18: Despite solar maximum having passed, 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
11 January 2020 Penumbral lunar eclipse in the morning, close to dawn.
21 January 2020 Crescent Moon and Mars close in the morning
23 January 2020 Crescent Moon and Jupiter close in the morning
27 January 2020 Venus and Neptune close
26 January 2020 Mercury close to the crescent moon in the evening twilight
28 January 2020 Venus close to the crescent moon in the evening
February
18 February 2020 Mars passes between the triffid and Lagoon Nebulae
19 February 2020 Waxing Moon close to Mars in the morning
20 February 2020 Waxing Moon extremely close to Jupiter in the morning
21 February 2020 Waxing Moon close to Saturn in the morning
27 February 2020 Waning Crescent Moon close to Venus
29 February 2020 Mars close to Globular cluster M22
March
1 March 2020 Mars still close to Globular cluster M22
8-9 March 2020 Venus close to Uranus (binocular only)
18 March 2020 Waning Crescent Moon forms a line with Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the morning sky
19 March 2020 Crescent Moon between Mars and Jupiter and Saturn
20 March 2020 Earth at Equinox
21 March 2020 Mars very close to Jupiter
22 March 2020 Mercury close to the crescent Moon in the morning
29March 2020 Venus close to the crescent Moon in the evening
April
1 April 2020 Saturn close to Mars in the morning sky
3-4 April 2020 Venus passes through the Pleiades cluster
4 April 2020 Mercury close to Neptune
8 April 2020 Perigee Full Moon ("super" Moon), 3:10 am
15 April 2020 waning Moon close to Jupiter in the morning sky
16 April 2020 waning Moon close to Saturn in the morning sky
22 April 2020 Crescent Moon close to Mercury in the morning sky
26-27 April 2020 Crescent Moon near Venus in the evening sky
May
5 May 2020 Eta Aquariid meteor shower
12 May 2020 Moon between Jupiter and Saturn in evening sky
15-16 May 2020 Mars near the waning Moon
22 May 2020 Mercury and Venus close
24 May 2020 Thin crescent Moon near Venus
June
6 June 2020 Penumbral lunar eclipse early morning near dawn
8 June 2020 Moon and Jupiter close in evening
9 June 2020 waning Moon and Saturn close in evening
13 June 2020 Moon and Mars close in morning
19 June 2020 Thin crescent Moon and Venus close in the morning twilight
July
5 July 2020 Jupiter close to the moon
6 July 2020 Moon and Saturn close
11 July 2020 Moon and Mars close in evening
12 July 2020 Moon close to bright star Aldebaran
14 July 2020 Jupiter at Opposition
17 July 2020 Thin crescent Moon near Venus in the morning
21 July 2020 Saturn at Opposition
29 July 2020 Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower
August
2 August 2020 Moon between Jupiter and Saturn
9 August 2020 Moon close to Mars
15-16 August 2020 Crescent Moon close to Venus
28 August 20 Asteroid Ceres at opposition (binoculars only)
29 August 2020 Moon between Jupiter and Saturn again
September
5-6 September 2020 Mars close to the Moon
14 September 2020 Venus and crescent Moon close in morning sky
19 September 2020 Crescent Moon and Mercury close forming triangle with Spica
24 September 2020 Variable star Mira at its brightest
22 September 2020 Mercury and bright star Spica very close
22 September 2020 Earth at Equinox
25 September 2020 Waxing Moon, Jupiter form a triangle with Saturn
30 September 2020 Venus close to bright star Regulus
October
2-3 October 2020 Mars and waning Moon close
3 October 2020 Venus and the bright star Regulus very close
14 October 2020 Venus and the crescent Moon close
14 October 2020 Mars at opposition
18 October 2020 Mercury and thin crescent Moon closeish in the evening twilight
21 October 2020 Orionid meteor shower
22 October 2020 Jupiter and waning Moon close
23 October 2020 Saturn and waning Moon close
31 October 2020 Blue Moon in WA.
November
1 November 2020 Apogee Full Moon (mini-Moon). In WA full Moon occurs before midnight but for all states apogee is on the early morning of the 1st.
13 November 2020 Thin crescent Moon close to Venus
14 November 2020 Thin crescent Moon close to Mercury
18 November 2020 Leonid Meteor Shower
19 November 2020 Crescent Moon and Jupiter close forming triangle with Saturn
24-25 November 2020 Waxing Moon close to Mars
30 November 2020 Penumbral Lunar eclipse, only seen from eastern states. Blue Moon of all states except WA. (see above)
December
13 December 2020 Venus and thin crescent Moon close
14 December 2020 Geminid Meteor shower (New Moon, good rates)
17 December 2020 Jupiter and Saturn spectacularly close with the thin crescent Moon close too.
21 December 2020 Jupiter and Saturn even more spectacularly close in a conjunction that will not be repeated for over a decade. The pair will easily be visible together in telescope eye pieces.
21 December 2020 Earth is at Solstice
23-24 December 2020 Waxing Moon close to Mars

Out in Space

Mars Curiosity Rover finds an Ancient Oasis on Mars .

Mars Express tracks the phases of Phobos.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spots global dust storms launching towers of dust into the sky.

The Juno mission sees cyclones on the south pole.

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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.

C| First quarter on the 3rd
O Full moon on the 11th
D Last quarter on the 15th
O New Moon is on the 23rd

January 2; Moon at Apogee. January 11, penumbral eclipse of the Moon. January 14; Moon at perigee. January 21; Mars and crescent Moon close January 23, Jupiter and the thin crescent Moon close in the twilight. January 26, thin crescent Moon and Mercury close with Venus above. January 28; crescent Moon and Venus close.

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.
orning sky, 5:20 pm

The morning sky facing east in Adelaide on on Tuesday January 21 as seen from Adelaide at 5:20 ACDST, before sunrise, Mars is close to the crescent Moon. (similar views will be seen similar views will be seen Australia 60 minutes before sunrise)

morning sky, 5:57 am

The morning sky facing east in Adelaide on Thursday January 23 at 5:57 ACDST, 30 minutes before sunrise, Jupiter is close to the crescent Moon. (similar views will be seen similar views will be seen Australia 30 minutes before sunrise).

evening sky, 21:27 pm

The evening sky facing west in Adelaide on Tuesday January 28 at 21:27 ACDST (60 minutes after sunset), Venus and the crescent Moon are close. (similar views will be seen Australia wide 60 minutes minutes after sunset).

Mercury is low in the evening sky for most of the month and is basically un-observable.

Venus is high in the evening sky and has some interesting encounters. On the 1st Venus is two hand-spans above the western horizon an hour after sunset. By the 15th Venus is still two hand-spans above the western horizon an hour after sunset. On the 27th, Venus and faint Neptune will be half a fingerwidth from each other (telescopes of good binoculars only). On the 28th the thin crescent Moon is two finger-widths from Venus. On the 30th Venus is just under two hand-spans above the western horizon an hour after sunset.

Earth is at perihelion on 5 February when it is closest to the Sun.

Mars is higher in the morning sky. On the 1st Mars is three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On the 15th Mars is four hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise, a hand-span from the red star Antares (the "rival of Mars"). On the 21st Mars and the thin crescent Moon are two finger-widths apart, forming a line with Antares. On the 30th Mars is five hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.

Jupiter, is low above the eastern horizon in the morning by the end of the month. At the start of the month it is too low for viewing.

On the 15th Jupiter is a hand-span above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the 23rd Jupiter and the thin crescent Moon are three finger-widths apart. On the 30th Jupiter is nearly two hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.

In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter's Moons are always interesting. But there is a very limited time window to see them this month.

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	4	Jan	5:58	Eur:	Transit Ends	
Wed	8	Jan	6:16	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Sat	11	Jan	5:39	Eur:	Shadow Transit Begins        S	
Sat	11	Jan	6:08	Eur:	Transit Begins               ST	
Mon	13	Jan	5:25	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Thu	16	Jan	6:08	Io :	Shadow Transit Begins        S	
Fri	17	Jan	6:03	Io :	Reappears from Occultation	
Mon	20	Jan	5:55	Eur:	Reappears from Occultation	
Mon	20	Jan	6:14	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Fri	24	Jan	5:22	Io :	Disappears into Eclipse	
Fri	24	Jan	5:42	Cal:	Shadow Transit Begins        S	
Sat	25	Jan	5:13	Io :	Transit Ends	
Sat	25	Jan	5:24	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Mon	27	Jan	5:01	Eur:	Disappears into Eclipse	

Saturn is un-observable until next month.

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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, 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 
4/1/2018  	Quadrantids         110   First Quarter Moon     
 

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.

The Quadrantids are a relatively reliable northern hemisphere shower, whose radiant lies below the horizon. They are difficult to see, but one can be rewarded by the (rare) sight of meteors shooting up above the horizon. The best time is to view between 4.00 am and 5.00 am, looking to the north east. A spotters map is here. The map shows the view to the east at 4.00 am (AEDST, 3.00 am AEST). This year there will be no significant interference from Moonlight.

Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 6 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:

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse January 11, 2020:

Lunar Eclipse, 3:10 am

Morning sky on January 11 looking west as seen from Perth at 03:10 AWST, at mid-eclipse. (click to embiggen). The subtle darkening of the Moon may be hard to spot.

Unfortunately, the January 11 eclipse occurs in the early morning. Even though it is on a Saturday you may wish to stay in bed for this one (WA and NT excluded). Bushfire smoke is an added disincentive for those of us in SA, VIC and NSW.

You don't need special filters or fancy equipment to watch the lunar eclipse, you just need your eyes and somewhere comfortable to sit and watch. Watching the faint outer shadow of earth creep across the Moons face is quite challenging, as the darkening is subtle, but those in WA and NT may find it rewarding (I have with past penumbral eclipses). The Moon is very obvious to the west.

On the East coast, the eclipse starts when the sky is quite dark at 4:06 am AEDST and mid-eclipse is after Moon set.

In the central states, the eclipse starts before astronomical twilight at 2:36 am ACST (3:36 ACDST) and mid-eclipse begins during twilight in SA and before twilight in NT (NT has a better view than SA due to eclipse geometry, see the map link below).

In WA, the eclipse starts with the Moon quite high, well before astronomical twilight and most of the eclipse is seen. The eclipse starts at 1:06 am AWST and mid-eclipse begins at 3:30 am AWST.

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. Algol is currently not visible and Mira reached maximum on October 24 2019 and is now fading. However, the bright red star Betelgeuse in Orion has faded dramatically and is now at its dimmest for 50 years, the constellation looks quite strange now. We don't know if it will brighten up again or get even dimmer so watch it over the coming month.

evening sky, 22:18 pm

Evening sky looking north-east at 22:18 ACDST on Saturday, January 4 (90 minutes after sunset). Similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia at the equivalent local time. Orion is readily visible. Betelgeuse is the bright red star below the "saucepan" of Orion. Red Aldebaran is almost the same height above the horizon as red Betelgeuse, making brightness comparisons easy.

Nearby Aldebaran (magnitude 0.85) also red, is a good comparison star. Bellatrix, the other shoulder star of Orion opposite Betelgeuse is magnitude 1.6. The middle star of Orion's belt, Alnilam is magnitude 1.7 and Adhara in Canis Major is Magnitude 1.5. Wezen, near Adhara, is 1.8 and Saiph in Orion is 2.1.

evening sky, 22:18 pm

Spotters chart of stars suitable for estimating the brightness of Betelgeuse.

In order to avoid the Purkinje effect, where red stars seem to become brighter the longer you stare at them, you need to keep shifting your gaze around. Try bracketing the star with observations of stars brighter and dimmer. to get a good comparison

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Stars:

evening sky, 10:00 pm

The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEDST in Melbourne on January 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 (Australian Eastern Daylight Saving Time) on 1 January 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 daylight saving time. Corrections for cities other than Melbourne are given below.

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

Facing west, the battered triangle of Capricorn, the Goat, is 3 hand-spans left of west, almost directly on the horizon. To the right by 3 hand spans and up by two hand-spans is Aquarius.

6 hand-spans up from the western horizon and three hand spans to the left is bright Fomalhaut, the main star of Piscinis Austrinus, the southern fish. Further off to the left is the battered cross of Grus the crane.

The faint constellation of Cetus, the whale is just below the zenith stretching from the west to south-west.

The Zenith is dominated by the rambling constellation Eridanus, the river, and bright Achernar, alpha Eridanus. Achernar is the 9th brightest star in the sky, and is a blue supergiant. Epsilon Eridani is notable for being the 10th closest star to our solar system. A sun-like star, epsilon Eridani has recently been discovered to have a dust disk which may indicate the presence of planets.

On the eastern horizon are the constellations of Hydra, directly east, and rectangle of Gemini, 6 hand-spans to the left. The bright stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, will not clear the Horizon until about an hour later.

The constellations of Taurus, the bull, Orion the hunter and Canis major, Orion's hunting dog are now well above the horizon, and will be magnificent viewing later in the month, when the moon has waned.

Directly east, 8 hand-spans from the horizon is Canis Major. The bright white star 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 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 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 again is a faint, but pretty, compact cluster of stars called the Pleiades (the seven sisters). The Pleiades are particularly beautiful through binoculars.

Facing directly north, about three hand-spans up is Perseus. Six hand-spans up is the Pleiades. The large square of stars that forms Pegasus, the flying horse is six hand-spans to your left on the north-western horizon. Andromeda, and the famous Andromeda galaxy, is two hand-spans below the bottom right hand star of the square, and one hand span to the right, near a faint star. Andromeda is best seen through binoculars or a small telescope on a dark night. However, as Andromeda is so close to the horizon, it may be difficult to see anything.

Looking south, the bright, distinctive alpha and beta Centauri, the so called "pointers", are two hand-spans from the southern horizon, with alpha being the yellow star which is furthest from the horizon, and beta the blue white star below and to the left. Most of the rest of Centaurus, the Centaur, is too close to, or below, the Horizon to be seen properly.

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.

Returning to alpha Centauri, following a line east through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, one and a half hand-spans from beta Centauri to beta Crucis, and two hand-spans above the horizon between the 7 o'clock and 8 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 (pointing down to the south-east, with bright Acrux on the end of the axis away from the horizon). Beta and delta Crucis, forming a nearly horizontal line, 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 above 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.

Above and to the left of the Southern Cross is Carina (the keel of the former constellation Argo Navis). 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 (which is just above the south-eastern horizon), is particularly rich. Here 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, and one hand-span to the left of Acrux. 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. Two hand-spans to the left and four hand-spans up from the Southern Cross is the False Cross, seven hand-spans from the southern horizon. Just to the left of the False Cross is a good open cluster. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star sitting 11 hand-spans above the south-eastern horizon (and about 4 hand-spans up from the False Cross.

Vela, the sail of Argo Navis, and Puppis, the poop deck, (to the left and below Carina respectively) are now well above the horizon and their collection of clusters are quite visible now. 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.

To the left of the false Cross by about a hand-span is a good collection of the open clusters to be found in Vela, and two hand-spans further along brings you to another collection of clusters in Puppis.

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 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 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.

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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 January 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 January sky at 10.00pm AEST on 1 January can be downloaded here (jansky_e.png 30 Kb) and a view of the western January sky can be downloaded here (jansky_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]
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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 (aroun $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 2020 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2020 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 2020 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 2020 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: Monday, 2 January 2020, 11:30:13 PM


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