Southern Sky Watch

April Skies

This month sees Jupiter at opposition.

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

April 1; crescent Moon inside the head of Taurus the Bull close to the bright star Aldebaran. April 8; Jupiter at opposition. April 10; waxing Moon close to Jupiter. April 15; Moon at Apogee. April 16; Saturn close to the waning Moon, April 24; crescent Moon close to Venus. April 28; Moon at Perigee. April 28; Mars, the thin crescent Moon and Aldebaran form a triangle.


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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Autumn has arrived again, and the nights are getting longer. People are dusting off the various spheroids of their preferred football code. Anyone at night time practice can take some time off to stare up at the Autumn skies and see the Milky Way, and the constellations of Carina, Puppis and Vela, blaze across our night sky. Orion the Hunter and his dog Canis major are also magnificent. You don't have to practice a football code to look at the stars, of course. Nights are often cool now, so don't forget a footy jumper before doing any extended star watching.


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

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 sees "propellers" in Saturn's rings.

Mars Curiosity Rover watches dust devils.

Mars Express sees remnants of ancient floods.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has completed 50,000 orbits.

Dawn reveals the age of Ceres's bright spots.

New Horizons says farewell to Pluto.

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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 4th
O Full moon on the 11th
D Last quarter on the 19th
O New Moon is on the 26th


April 1; crescent Moon inside the head of Taurus the Bull close to the bright star Aldebaran. April 10; waxing Moon close to Jupiter. April 15; Moon at Apogee. April 16; Saturn close to the waning Moon, April 24; crescent Moon close to Venus. April 28; Moon at Perigee, April 28; Mars, the thin crescent Moon and Aldebaran form a triangle.

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.
evening sky, 10:00 pm

The evening sky facing west in Melbourne on April 1 at 60 minutes after sunset showing the Moon close to Aldebaran. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg April 1 at 60 minutes after sunset Adelaide).

evening sky, 9:00 pm

The eastern sky on April 10 at 9 pm AEST showing Jupiter, Spica and the Moon. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg midnight in Adelaide.

morning sky, 5:53 am pm

The eastern morning sky on April 24 an hour before sunrise showing Venus and the crescent Moon. similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time.

Mercury returns to the morning sky in the latter half of the month, but will be difficult to see low in the twilight.

Venus returns to easy visibility in the morning sky by the middle of this month. In a telescope the crescent phase is very obvious. On the 1st Venus is just three finger-widths above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the evening of April 1 thin crescent Moon forms a triangle with Venus and Mars. By April 15 Venus is over two hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On April 24 the crescent Moon is a hand-span from crescent Venus. On the 30th Venus is just over four hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.

Mars is low above the western horizon this month, difficult to see and not a worthwhile telescopic target. Mars moves from Aries to Taurus this month. It has faded substantially and may be difficult to recognize low in the twilight. However, it is the brightest reddish object almost due west in an area otherwise devoid of bright stars.

On April 1 Mars is just under two hand-spans above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. On April 15 Mars is still just under two hand-spans above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. On April 28 Mars, the thin crescent Moon and Aldebaran form a triangle low in the twilight sky. By the 30th, Mars is one and a half hand-spans above the western horizon half an hour after sunset.

Jupiter is at opposition this month, when it is biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. It is now rising as the sun sets. At the beginning of April Jupiter is a hand-span from the bright star Spica, alpha Virginis, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. Over the Month Jupiter pulls way from Spica, but the twp remain an obvious pair.

On April 1, Jupiter is just two hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half after sunset and is at its highest above the northern horizon around 1 am local time. On April 8 Jupiter is at opposition. On April 10 Jupiter is almost directly between Spica and the waxing Moon, the following night Jupiter, the Moon and Spica make a nice triangle. On April 15, Jupiter is just under four hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half after sunset and is highest above the northern horizon around 11 pm local time. On April 30, Jupiter is just over five hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half after sunset and is highest above the northern horizon around 11 pm local time.

In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter's Moons are always interesting. Jupiter is now high enough from the horizon for good viewing all night long.

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	1	Apr	1:29	Gan:	Transit Begins               ST
Sat	1	Apr	2:59	Gan:	Shadow Transit Ends          T
Sat	1	Apr	3:27	Gan:	Transit Ends
Sat	1	Apr	19:04	Io :	Shadow Transit Begins        S
Sat	1	Apr	19:14	Io :	Transit Begins               ST
Sat	1	Apr	21:15	Io :	Shadow Transit Ends          T
Sat	1	Apr	21:24	Io :	Transit Ends
Sun	2	Apr	2:55	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	2	Apr	22:46	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	3	Apr	18:37	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	4	Apr	4:33	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	5	Apr	0:24	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	5	Apr	2:20	Eur:	Disappears into Eclipse
Wed	5	Apr	4:53	Eur:	Reappears from Occultation
Wed	5	Apr	20:15	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	6	Apr	5:10	Io :	Disappears into Eclipse
Thu	6	Apr	6:11	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	6	Apr	20:36	Eur:	Shadow Transit Begins        S
Thu	6	Apr	20:43	Eur:	Transit Begins               ST
Thu	6	Apr	23:04	Eur:	Sh Ends & Tr Ends
Fri	7	Apr	2:02	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	7	Apr	2:29	Io :	Shadow Transit Begins        S
Fri	7	Apr	2:31	Io :	Transit Begins               ST
Fri	7	Apr	4:41	Io :	Sh Ends & Tr Ends
Fri	7	Apr	21:53	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	7	Apr	23:38	Io :	Disappears into Eclipse
Sat	8	Apr	1:50	Io :	Reappears from Ecl & Occ
Sat	8	Apr	4:31	Gan:	Shadow Transit Begins        S
Sat	8	Apr	4:43	Gan:	Transit Begins               ST
Sat	8	Apr	6:45	Gan:	Transit Ends                 S
Sat	8	Apr	20:57	Io :	Transit Begins               T
Sat	8	Apr	20:58	Io :	Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Sat	8	Apr	23:07	Io :	Transit Ends                 S
Sat	8	Apr	23:09	Io :	Shadow Transit Ends
Sun	9	Apr	3:40	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	9	Apr	20:19	Io :	Reappears from Eclipse
Sun	9	Apr	23:31	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	10	Apr	19:22	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	11	Apr	5:18	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	11	Apr	18:29	Gan:	Disappears into Occultation
Tue	11	Apr	21:03	Gan:	Reappears from Eclipse
Wed	12	Apr	1:09	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	12	Apr	4:46	Eur:	Disappears into Occultation
Wed	12	Apr	21:00	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	13	Apr	22:58	Eur:	Transit Begins               T
Thu	13	Apr	23:12	Eur:	Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Fri	14	Apr	1:20	Eur:	Transit Ends                 S
Fri	14	Apr	1:40	Eur:	Shadow Transit Ends
Fri	14	Apr	2:47	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	14	Apr	4:15	Io :	Transit Begins               T
Fri	14	Apr	4:23	Io :	Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Fri	14	Apr	22:38	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	15	Apr	1:23	Io :	Disappears into Occultation
Sat	15	Apr	3:45	Io :	Reappears from Eclipse
Sat	15	Apr	18:29	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	15	Apr	20:38	Eur:	Reappears from Eclipse
Sat	15	Apr	22:41	Io :	Transit Begins               T
Sat	15	Apr	22:51	Io :	Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Sun	16	Apr	0:51	Io :	Transit Ends                 S
Sun	16	Apr	1:03	Io :	Shadow Transit Ends
Sun	16	Apr	4:25	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	16	Apr	19:49	Io :	Disappears into Occultation
Sun	16	Apr	22:13	Io :	Reappears from Eclipse
Mon	17	Apr	0:16	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	17	Apr	19:17	Io :	Transit Ends                 S
Mon	17	Apr	19:31	Io :	Shadow Transit Ends
Mon	17	Apr	20:07	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	18	Apr	21:44	Gan:	Disappears into Occultation
Wed	19	Apr	1:01	Gan:	Reappears from Eclipse
Wed	19	Apr	1:54	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	19	Apr	21:45	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	21	Apr	1:13	Eur:	Transit Begins               T
Fri	21	Apr	1:49	Eur:	Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Fri	21	Apr	3:32	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	21	Apr	3:36	Eur:	Transit Ends                 S
Fri	21	Apr	4:16	Eur:	Shadow Transit Ends
Fri	21	Apr	23:23	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	22	Apr	3:08	Io :	Disappears into Occultation
Sat	22	Apr	5:39	Io :	Reappears from Eclipse
Sat	22	Apr	19:15	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	22	Apr	20:06	Eur:	Disappears into Occultation
Sat	22	Apr	23:12	Eur:	Reappears from Eclipse
Sun	23	Apr	0:25	Io :	Transit Begins               T
Sun	23	Apr	0:45	Io :	Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Sun	23	Apr	2:35	Io :	Transit Ends                 S
Sun	23	Apr	2:57	Io :	Shadow Transit Ends
Sun	23	Apr	5:10	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	23	Apr	21:34	Io :	Disappears into Occultation
Mon	24	Apr	0:08	Io :	Reappears from Eclipse
Mon	24	Apr	1:01	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	24	Apr	18:51	Io :	Transit Begins               T
Mon	24	Apr	19:14	Io :	Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Mon	24	Apr	20:53	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	24	Apr	21:01	Io :	Transit Ends                 S
Mon	24	Apr	21:25	Io :	Shadow Transit Ends
Tue	25	Apr	18:36	Io :	Reappears from Eclipse
Wed	26	Apr	1:01	Gan:	Disappears into Occultation
Wed	26	Apr	2:40	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	26	Apr	4:59	Gan:	Reappears from Eclipse
Wed	26	Apr	22:31	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	27	Apr	18:22	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	28	Apr	3:30	Eur:	Transit Begins               T
Fri	28	Apr	4:18	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	28	Apr	4:25	Eur:	Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Sat	29	Apr	0:09	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	29	Apr	4:52	Io :	Disappears into Occultation
Sat	29	Apr	18:48	Gan:	Shadow Transit Ends
Sat	29	Apr	20:00	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	29	Apr	22:21	Eur:	Disappears into Occultation
Sun	30	Apr	1:46	Eur:	Reappears from Eclipse
Sun	30	Apr	2:09	Io :	Transit Begins               T
Sun	30	Apr	2:39	Io :	Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Sun	30	Apr	4:20	Io :	Transit Ends                 S
Sun	30	Apr	4:51	Io :	Shadow Transit Ends
Sun	30	Apr	23:19	Io :	Disappears into Occultation


Saturn enters the evening sky this month, but remains low until mid month and is best as a telescopic object in the morning. Saturn is easily recognized as the brightest object below the distinctive side-on "question-mark" of Scorpius the Scorpion in the eastern sky. During April Saturn is within a binocular field of the Triffid and Lagoon Nebulae. On April 1 Saturn is just over twelve hand-spans above the northern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. On April 15 Saturn is is just over three hand-spans above the eastern horizon at 11 pm local time. On April 16 Saturn is close to the waning Moon. On April 30 Saturn is five hand-spans above the eastern horizon at 11 pm local time.

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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 
22/04/2017  	Lyrids              18  0.05 

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 Lyrids are a northern shower, but can be observed by most mainland Australians. The best time to observe the Lyrids is in the morning between 2.00-5.00 am. However, the Lyrids low rates, combined with their closeness to the horizon, mean that few meteors are likely to be seen. To see the Lyrids, look to the north in the morning sky. About two hand-spans above the northern horizon is the bright, blue-white star alpha Lyra, the brightest star near the northern horizon. The Lyrid radiant is just above it and to the left by around a hand-span. This year there is no moonlight interference.

Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 8 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 3 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.

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. Mira and Algol are currently not visible from Australia.

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Stars:

evening sky, 10:00 pm

The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEST in Melbourne on April 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 April 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?

At the beginning of April, the Milky Way is a spectacular sight as it arches across the sky.

Just 4 hand-spans above the eastern horizon is the triangle of faint stars that make up Libra, the balance. To the right and closer to the horizon is the distinctive hook shape of Scorpio, the scorpion, which will become prominent in the later months. To the left of Libra and around two hand-spans up and three hand-spans left is bright white Spica, the brightest start in the constellation of Virgo. Spica marks to top right-hand corner of a rectangular group of stars that marks out the body of Virgo, the virgin.

Directly above Virgo by about four hand-spans are the long rambling constellation Hydra, and crater the cup with its distinct,but upside down, cup shape. Three hand-spans above Spica is the kite shape of Corvus the crow.

Five hand-spans to left of Virgo, is Leo, with the sickle of Leo, an upside down question mark with bright Regulus (alpha Leonis) at the end of the "handle", being quite clear. Cancer, which contains the attractive "Beehive" cluster, is 5 hand-spans to the left of the sickle of Leo.

The rectangle of Gemini is 6 hand-spans to the left of Regulus and 4 hand-spans down (just two hand-spans above the horizon). The bright stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux form an attractive pair less than a hand-span apart.

To the left again of Gemini, and just above the western Horizon by two 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 Orinonis), a red giant star.

4 hand-spans up from the belt of Orion 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.

Just above Canis Major is a battered group of stars that forms Puppis, the poop deck of the former constellation Argo Navis. At the very Zenith is Vela, the sail of that same ship. When, Argo Navis was broken up into Puppis, Vela and Carina (the keel) in 1750, they forgot to assign alpha and beta stars to Vela, and its brightest star is 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". A high definition map of Vela is here.

Just below Vela, to the south, is Carina (the keel). A high definition map of this region is here. Looking almost anywhere in the area stretching between Canis major and the Southern Cross will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area two hand-spans up from the Southern Cross and two hand-spans to the left 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 to the left of 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 below the zenith to the south is the False Cross, just below the False Cross is a good open cluster, just visible to the naked eye, and very nice in binoculars. One hand-span to the left of the False Cross is another rich open cluster, again, very nice in binoculars. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star 9 hand-spans from the south-western horizon.

Facing due South, five hand-spans to the left and ten hand-spans up are Alpha and beta Centauri the so called "pointers", with Alpha being the yellow star which is closest to the horizon, and Beta the blue white star a hand-span above and a little to the right. Slightly to the right again, and following a line through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, twelve hand-spans above the horizon at about the 11 o'clock position on a clock. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.

Just below the Southern Cross 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 below Beta Crucis, the southernmost bright star in the Cross at the moment. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly.

Returning to Alpha Centauri, a hand-span from this star to the left and a hand-span up is a small star, half a hand span up (and about a hand-span to the left) 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 left and about two fingers down 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.

Four hand-spans straight up from south, and half a hand-span to the right of due south, is the extended nebulosity of the Small Magellanic cloud, one 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.

Up ten hand spans from due south and five hand-spans to the right is the Large Magellanic cloud, the largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies. Binoculars will reveal a rather attractive nebula near it, the Tarantula nebula.

The mid sky 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.

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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 April 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 April sky at 10.00pm AEST on 1 April can be downloaded here (aprsky_e.png 30 Kb) and a view of the western April sky can be downloaded here (aprsky_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]
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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 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 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 $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 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/Win7-8 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 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: reynella@internode.on.net e-mail Ian with any suggestions
Created: Wednesday, 1 April 1998, 11:22:13 PM
Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2017, 11:30:13 PM


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