This month sees the opposition of Regulus and the eta-Aquariid meteor shower.
Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
May 1; Mercury and Uranus a finger-width apart. May 4; occultation of Regulus. May 8; waxing Moon close to Jupiter. May 13; Moon at Apogee. May 13; Saturn close to the waning Moon, May 23; crescent Moon close to Venus. May 24; crescent Moon close to Mercury. May 26; Moon at Perigee. May 27; Mars, and the thin crescent Moon 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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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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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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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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First quarter on the 3rd
Current Phase of the Moon.
Full moon on the 11th
Last quarter on the 19th
New Moon is on the 26th
May 4; occultation of Regulus. May 8; waxing Moon close to Jupiter. May 13; Moon at Apogee. May 13; Saturn close to the waning Moon, May 23; crescent Moon close to Venus. May 24; crescent Moon close to Mercury. May 26; Moon at Perigee. May 27; Mars and the thin crescent Moon 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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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.
The evening sky facing west in Melbourne on May 1 at 60 minutes before sunrise showing Venus, Mercury and Uranus (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg May 1 at 60 minutes after sunset Adelaide).
The eastern sky on May 8 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.
The eastern morning sky on May 23 an hour before sunrise showing Venus, the crescent Moon Uranus and Mercury. similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time.
Mercury is prominent in the morning sky this month. On the 1st Uranus is a finger-width from Mercury, but the pair are a mere four finger-widths above the eastern horizon 60 minutes before sunrise and difficult to see. On the 1st, Mercury is just under two hand-spans above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the 15th Mercury is two hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On May 24 the crescent Moon is close to Mercury. By the 30th, Mercury is one and half hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.
Venus dominates the morning sky this month. In a telescope the crescent phase is very obvious. On the 1st Venus is just over four hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. By May 15 Venus is under five hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On May 23 the crescent Moon is two finger-widths from crescent Venus. On the 30th Venus is just over five 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 travels through 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 May 1 Mars is one and a half hand-spans above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. On May 15 Mars is just over a hand-span above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. By the 30th, Mars is a hand-span above the western horizon half an hour after sunset.
Jupiter was at opposition last month, when it was biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. It is still very obvious and bright; a good telescopic target. At the beginning of May Jupiter is in between the bright star Spica, alpha Virginis, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo, and Porrima, another bright star in Virgo. Over the Month Jupiter pulls way from Spica, but the two remain an obvious pair.
On May 1, 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. On May 7 Jupiter is almost directly between Spica and the waxing Moon, the following night Jupiter, the Moon and Spica make a nice triangle. On May 15, Jupiter is just under seven hand-spans above the north-eastern horizon an hour and a half after sunset and is highest above the northern horizon around 9:30 pm local time. On May 30, Jupiter is just over ten hand-spans above the north-eastern horizon an hour and a half after sunset and is highest above the northern horizon around 8:30 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 Mon 1 May 1:47 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 1 May 2:02 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Mon 1 May 17:43 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Mon 1 May 19:02 Eur: Transit Ends S Mon 1 May 20:10 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Mon 1 May 20:36 Io : Transit Begins T Mon 1 May 21:08 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Mon 1 May 21:38 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 1 May 22:46 Io : Transit Ends S Mon 1 May 23:19 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Tue 2 May 17:45 Io : Disappears into Occultation Tue 2 May 20:31 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Wed 3 May 3:25 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 3 May 4:20 Gan: Disappears into Occultation Wed 3 May 17:48 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Wed 3 May 23:16 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 4 May 19:08 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 6 May 0:55 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 6 May 17:52 Gan: Transit Begins T Sat 6 May 20:06 Gan: Transit Ends Sat 6 May 20:26 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins S Sat 6 May 20:46 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 6 May 22:46 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends Sun 7 May 0:37 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Sun 7 May 3:55 Io : Transit Begins T Sun 7 May 4:19 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse T Sun 7 May 4:34 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Mon 8 May 1:04 Io : Disappears into Occultation Mon 8 May 2:33 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 8 May 3:57 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Mon 8 May 18:56 Eur: Transit Begins T Mon 8 May 20:20 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Mon 8 May 21:22 Eur: Transit Ends S Mon 8 May 22:21 Io : Transit Begins ST Mon 8 May 22:24 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 8 May 22:47 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends T Mon 8 May 23:02 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Tue 9 May 0:32 Io : Transit Ends S Tue 9 May 1:13 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Tue 9 May 18:15 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 9 May 19:31 Io : Disappears into Occultation Tue 9 May 22:26 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Wed 10 May 4:11 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 10 May 17:31 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Wed 10 May 17:36 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse ST Wed 10 May 18:58 Io : Transit Ends S Wed 10 May 19:42 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Thu 11 May 0:02 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 11 May 19:54 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 13 May 1:41 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 13 May 21:15 Gan: Transit Begins T Sat 13 May 21:32 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 13 May 23:33 Gan: Transit Ends Sun 14 May 0:25 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins S Sun 14 May 2:44 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends Sun 14 May 2:55 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Sun 14 May 17:23 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 15 May 2:51 Io : Disappears into Occultation Mon 15 May 3:19 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 15 May 21:17 Eur: Transit Begins T Mon 15 May 22:58 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Mon 15 May 23:10 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 15 May 23:43 Eur: Transit Ends S Tue 16 May 0:07 Io : Transit Begins ST Tue 16 May 0:56 Io : Shadow Transit Begins SST Tue 16 May 1:24 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends ST Tue 16 May 2:18 Io : Transit Ends S Tue 16 May 3:07 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Tue 16 May 19:01 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 16 May 21:18 Io : Disappears into Occultation Wed 17 May 0:21 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Wed 17 May 18:34 Io : Transit Begins T Wed 17 May 19:25 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Wed 17 May 20:10 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse ST Wed 17 May 20:45 Io : Transit Ends S Wed 17 May 21:36 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Thu 18 May 0:48 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 18 May 18:49 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Thu 18 May 20:40 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 20 May 2:27 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 20 May 22:18 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 21 May 0:43 Gan: Transit Begins T Sun 21 May 3:04 Gan: Transit Ends Sun 21 May 18:10 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 22 May 23:39 Eur: Transit Begins T Mon 22 May 23:57 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 23 May 1:35 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Tue 23 May 1:55 Io : Transit Begins STT Tue 23 May 2:07 Eur: Transit Ends ST Tue 23 May 2:51 Io : Shadow Transit Begins SST Tue 23 May 19:48 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 23 May 23:06 Io : Disappears into Occultation Wed 24 May 2:16 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Wed 24 May 18:25 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Wed 24 May 18:33 Gan: Disappears into Eclipse Wed 24 May 20:22 Io : Transit Begins T Wed 24 May 20:51 Gan: Reappears from Eclipse T Wed 24 May 21:19 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Wed 24 May 22:33 Io : Transit Ends S Wed 24 May 22:44 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse S Wed 24 May 23:30 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Thu 25 May 1:35 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 25 May 17:33 Io : Disappears into Occultation Thu 25 May 20:44 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Thu 25 May 21:26 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 26 May 17:18 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 26 May 17:20 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends S Fri 26 May 17:59 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Sat 27 May 23:05 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 28 May 18:56 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 30 May 0:43 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 30 May 2:04 Eur: Transit Begins T Tue 30 May 20:35 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 31 May 18:11 Gan: Disappears into Occultation Wed 31 May 20:37 Gan: Reappears from Occultation Wed 31 May 20:48 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Wed 31 May 22:11 Io : Transit Begins T Wed 31 May 22:33 Gan: Disappears into Eclipse T Wed 31 May 23:14 Io : Shadow Transit Begins STSaturn rises higher in the evening sky this month and is best as a telescopic object in the late evening/early 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 May Saturn is within a binocular field of the Triffid and Lagoon Nebulae. On May 1 Saturn is five hand-spans above the eastern horizon at 11 pm local time. On May 13 Saturn is close to the waning Moon. On May 15 Saturn is is just over five hand-spans above the eastern horizon at 10 pm local time.On May 30 Saturn is seven hand-spans above the eastern horizon at 10 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.
See an Iridium Flare at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box
- Heavens above, an excellent site. You need to choose your location or manually enter a longitude and latitude (once done the site remembers this). Predicts Iridium Flare occurrence, and gives the visibility the space shuttle, the International space station and heaps of other satellites. I find this the most useful site.
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.
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.
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.
- The JPASS site from NASA.
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Date Meteor Shower ZHR Illumination 6/05/2017 eta-Aquariids 40 0.05
Morning sky on Sunday May 7 looking east as seen from Adelaide at 4:00 am local time in South Australia showing the eta Aquariid meteor shower radiant. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local timeThe 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. In practise, you will never see this many meteors as the radiant will be some distance from the Zenith. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the lower the figure, the darker the sky.
Although the actual peak is on the morning of the 6th (Australian time), for Australia the best time to see the eta-Aquariids is in the early morning of May 7, 8 and 9, between around 4 and 5 am, when Aquarius is fairly high above the horizon. You may see between 1-3 meteors every 3 minutes at this time. The radiant of the shower is about five hand-spans up from the eastern horizon, and three hand-spans to the left of due east at 4 am, in the space defined by Altair, Fomalhaut and Venus. A map of the radiant at 5 am is here (may_aqr). The Moon will not interfere with meteor rates this year.
A good page describing meteor watching is at the Sky Publications site.
The Meteor Section of the Astronomical Society of Victoria has some good information on meteor watching too.
Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.
A Cool Fact about meteor speeds
A good page on detecting meteors using home made radio-telescopes is here.
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There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment.
Comet 41P on May 15 facing north at 2 am local timein the morning.Comet 41P is visible in binoculars.
Comet 41P may be magnitude 6.5-6.9 in early May (although recent reports only have it as bright as 8.1). This means it will visible only in binoculars or telescopes which should show it as a small fuzzy patch with maybe the hint of a tail. The comet will be close to the bright star Lyra above the northern horizon. It rapidly fades after this and by the end of May it is visible in telescopes only. A B&W spotters map is available here . A B&W suitable for binoculars is available here , the large circle is the approximate field of view of 10x50 binoculars.A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.
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No interesting naked-eye occultations this month.
Occultation of Regulus by the Moon 4 March.
The Moon at 23:43 pm ACDST in Adelaide on Saturday 11 February just before the Moon covers Regulus.
On the early evening of Thursday 4 may the bright star Regulus is occulted by the Moon as seen from the most of Australia. This is the last of two occultations of Regulus this year. The Moon is a very obvious signpost for where to look and Regulus will be the brightest object near the Moon. Start watching about half an hour before hand to get set up and familiar with the sky. Although this event is easily seen with the unaided eye, given the brightness of the Moon the occultation is best seen in a small telescope or binoculars.
Regulus will appear to "wink out" as it goes behind the dark limb of the Moon, reappearance will be harder to see as you have to be looking just at the right moment. The "Dark" limb of the Moon is is reasonably dark as the Moon is just past first Quarter.
The occultation occurs in the early evening, the Moon will be reasonably high above the northern horizon. The Moon is easily visible and a ready signpost to Regulus. It is advisable to set up and practise on the Moon a day or so before the event, so you are familiar with your telescope set-up. Set up at least half an hour ahead of time so that you can be sure everything is working well and you can watch the entire event comfortably (trying to focus your telescope moments before the occultation will cause a lot of unnecessary stress). Regulus will be clearly visible with the unaided eye, in a telescope or binoculars near the Moon.
Place Disappears Dark Limb Reappears Bright Limb Adelaide ACST 19:24 20:39 Brisbane AEST 20:14 21:36 Canberra AEST 20:11 21:31 Darwin ACST 18:33 20:05 Hobart AEST 20:19 21:19 Melbourne AEST 20:09 21:21 Perth AWST - 18:01 Sydney AEST 20:14 21:35
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.
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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The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEST in Melbourne on May 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 May 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?
- Readers in Adelaide and Auckland should see roughly the same views at the local equivalent of 10.00 pm AEST.
- Readers in Hobart and Christchurch must decrease descriptions to the North by about five finger widths and increase those to the south by the same amount.
- Readers in Sydney, Fremantle, Perth, Santiago and Capetown should add 3 finger widths to the northern descriptions, and subtract 3 finger widths to the south.
- Readers in Brisbane, Alice Springs, Rio deJanerio and Johannesburg must adjust North/South descriptions by two hand spans.
- Readers in Darwin, Cairns, Brazilia, La Paz, Lusaka and Lima must adjust North/South descriptions by about 4-5 hand spans.
During May, the Milky Way is a spectacular sight as it arches across the sky.
Scorpio is now sufficiently high in the sky to be properly appreciated. It is a very distinctive constellation looking somewhat like the hook shown in the "use no hooks" cartoons on boxes. Facing due East, going up about eight hand-spans you will see six bright stars forming a T, with the tail of the "T" nearly parallel to the horizon and a curved "tail" of stars. The bright red giant star Antares (Alpha Scorpius, the middle star in the three stars forming the tail of the T) is quite prominent. The area around Scorpio is quite rewarding in binoculars, and there is a small but pretty globular cluster about one finger-width above and to the north of Antares (between Antares and the leading star of the tail of the T). It can be hard to see in city conditions.
Just below Scorpio and to the right is Sagittarius, this constellation is particularly good for binocular viewing, but will only be far enough above the horizon later in the month.
To the left by one hand-span and slightly higher is a broad triangle of stars that marks Libra, the balance. 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.
Looking now to the right of Scorpio, about a hand-span away from the curved tail is a small squarish constellation Ara, another hand-span again brings you to the edge of the large, but dim, constellation of Pavo. Delta Pavonis, about another hand-span away, is one of the handful of sun-like stars within 20 light years of Earth that might have terrestrial planets in its habitable zone.
Directly above Virgo by four hand-spans is 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. Hydra has a nice open cluster, M48, near its head (about 6 hand-spans to the right of Spica) that is quite attractive in binoculars, four hand-spans above Spica is a nice globular cluster, just visible to the naked eye, but best in binoculars. About four hand-spans above Spica and about one to the right is M83, a galaxy which can easily be seen in small binoculars on a dark night.
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 4 hand-spans to the left of the sickle of Leo.
3 hand-spans up from the western 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.
Just above Canis Major is a battered group of stars that forms Puppis, the poop deck of the former constellation Argo Navis, through which comet H1 Lee is passing. Just below the 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 it's 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.
To the left of Vela, 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 to the right of the Southern Cross, between it and the false cross, is particularly rich. Here you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars in Carina. Smaller and less spectacular than their northern counterparts, they still look very nice in binoculars. Four finger-widths 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. Five hand spans to the right of the Southern Cross 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 8 hand-spans from the south-Western horizon .
Facing due South, three hand-spans to the left and eleven 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. 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.
Slightly to the right again, and following a line through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, 15 hand-spans above the horizon at about the 12 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 eastern sky 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. Recent evidence suggests that 47 tucana was a dwarf galaxy that was captured by our own and stripped of most of its stars, leaving the current globular core.
Up six hand spans from due south and four 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.
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How to use the maps
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 May 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 MapsA view of the Eastern May sky at 10.00pm AEST on 1 May can be downloaded here (maysky_e.png 30 Kb) and a view of the western May sky can be downloaded here (maysky_w.png 30 Kb). These are more compact files but don't have a lot of resolution.
PDF MapsHigh Resolution PDF files can be obtained for the eastern (110 Kb) and the western (110 Kb) horizon maps.
The Zenith Map (110 Kb) shows you the whole sky. You will need to face the one of the compass points, then hold the map with the appropriate compass point on the map at the bottom of the page.
You will need a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat or GhostView to view and print them. They look slightly worse on-screen than the PNG files, but print much better and come with legends.
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[December Skies][January Skies] [February Skies] [March Skies] [April Skies] Return to Menu
Cheers! And good star gazing!
Ian's Astrophotography GallerySome of the photographs/images I have taken in recent years of astronomical phenomena that may be of interest.
- Partial Lunar eclipse. Partial Lunar eclipse, July 5, 2001
- My Solar eclipse report. Pictures from the Dec 4, 2002 solar eclipse in South Australia
- Transit of Mercury pictures! 7 May 2003
- Images of the partial solar eclipse 24 Nov 2003
- Transit of Venus July 8 2004 report
- Images of Jupiter, taken, after an enormous struggle, with my webcam, April 2005
- Mosaics of the Moon, more fun with my webcam, April-May 2005
- Animation of Sunrise on the Moon November 2006
- Animation of A shadow Transit on Jupiter May 2007
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- OnLine Astronomical Societies in Australia, from the Astronomical Society of New South Wales Inc.
- Astronomical Society of Australia
- Mornington Peninsula Astronomy Society
- Astronomy Guild of Australia
- Ice in Space
- A clickable star map for Victoria
- Monthly free Star maps. High quality, monthly maps for Southern and Northern Skies, has lists of interesting objects. Requires Adobe Acrobat to print.
- Gordon Garradd's Astronomy Page
- Peter Enzerinks Astronomy page - Web based telescope/eyepiece calculator and other southern sky tidbits.
- Buying a telescope in Australia, lots of helpful hints.
- Anglo-Australian Observatory
- MSSSO - Mt Stromlo and Siding Springs Observatory
- ATNF - Australian Telescope National Facility
- Parks Radio telescope facility
- Spaceguard Australia the proposed search for Near Earth Objects including meteroids.
- Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
- Star Class, Astronomy Education
- Information about Aboriginal astronomy.
- Australian weather forecasts
- Sky and Space, Australia's Astronomy magazine.
- Planetary Society, Australian Volunteers events diary.
- Australian Astronomy
Astronomy for Kids
- Adelaide Planetarium
- Canberra Planetarium and Observatory
- Launceston Planetarium
- Science Centre and Planetarium (Wollongong)
- Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
- Perth Observatory and Planetarium
- Museum of Victoria Planetarium, Skynotes Index
- The Cosmos Centre in Charleville
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Star Child NASA space information for kis 5-13.
- Interactive site on the Sun, good kids resources
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Astronomy for Kids
- Astronomy for Kids (different site to the one above, and a bit simple, but lots of good images).
- Kids astronomy information from Astronomy Magazine
- SEDS, home of the Nine Planets Tour, and much much more
- The Planetary Society
- Center for Backyard Astrophysics
- Amateur Radio Telescopes
- International Occulation Timing Society
- Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy pages (very educational)
- SKY Online - Your Astronomy Source on the World Wide Web
- Astronomy Magazine
- Stellar distances
- Space Weather site (with Meteor counts)
- Near Earth Object home page (also follows comets, including LINEAR S4 and meteor showers)
- A 3D map of satellites orbiting the Earth in real time! Simply amazing!
- The Anglo Australian Observatories 3D virtual tour through a 3D map of the Cosmos. Mind Blowing!
- Views of extrasolar planets seen from the Southern sky, stunning Java-driven map with heaps of (complex) info.
- Stellarium, free (but large) photorealistic sky charting software. What I use for the horizon views.
- Celestia, free 3D space travel software, see the Earth from Mars, see the Moon of EL62, see Saturn rise on Titan.
- Ian's Celestia resources. Save these files into the "Extras" directory
- Script to show Conjunctions of Earth from Mars.
- Definition File for asteroid 87 Sylvia and her two moons (see story here).
- Definition File for Pluto's two new Moons P1 and P2.
- Definition file for three Neptunian extrasolar planets of HD 69830.
- Asteroid 2004 VD17, which will not hit the Earth.
- Definition file for Comet 2006/P1 McNaught
- Definition file for for the Gliese 581 system that contains the most Earth-like world yet.
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Charts, Books and Software for AstronomyIf 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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).
This page can be used freely for any non-commercial purpose but please attribute it correctly. However, see the disclaimer.
Ian with any suggestions
Created: Wednesday, 1 April 1998, 11:22:13 PM
Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2017, 11:30:13 PM