This month starts with two bright planets in the western evening sky. There will be some nice planetary encounters this month.
Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
February 1; crescent Moon close to Mars. February 2; Moon forms line with Mars and Venus. February 6; Moon at Perigee. February 11; Occultation of Regulus by the Moon. February 11; comet 45P closest to Earth. February 15; waning Moon close to Jupiter. February 19; Moon at Apogee. February 21; Saturn close to the thin crescent Moon. February 23; Maxima of variable star Mira. Asteroid Vesta visible in binoculars for most of February.
Looking up at the stars is still a rewarding pursuit, despite the increasing light pollution in our major cities. The southern sky is full of interesting objects, many of which go unseen in the northern hemisphere. All you need for a good nights viewing is yourself, a good idea of where south and east are, and your hands. Optional extras are a small pair of binoculars, a torch with red cellophane taped over the business end and a note book. A great many tips for backyard astronomy may be found here, although many of them are more relevant to the northern hemisphere. A general article on amateur astronomy from New Scientist is here (May require subscription otherwise see the TASS site.).
This page is designed to give people a simple guide to the unaided eye sky. In the descriptions of planet and star positions, distances in the sky are given as "fingers width" and "hand span". This is the width of your hand (with all the fingers together as in making a "stop" sign, not bunched as a fist) or finger when extended a full arms length from you.
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Summer is here once more, and the beautiful constellations of Orion, Taurus and the magnificent rambling constellations of Carina, Puppis and Vela grace our skies again. The February school holidays will be an ideal time to head out somewhere dark and view the stars and planets at their best. Summer also means very long twilights in southern Australia, so you may have to wait to see these delights. Despite the warmth of the days, nights are often cool, so don't forget a light jumper before doing any extended star watching. A blanket or rug to sit on is a good idea. Some mosquito repellent will be a must.
While these pages are primarily intended for the use of people observing in Australia, non-Australian Southern Hemisphere observers will find most of the information here applies to them. The star information will be most helpful, when you correct your location for latitude (see the Stars section for appropriate location information). Most Moon phase, planet, comet and asteroid information will be very similar to what will be seen in New Zealand, South Africa and South America. Countries close to the equator (eg Indonesia) will have somewhat different southern and northern views, but the eastern and western views should be similar enough to get a good idea of what is going on.
Occultations, eclipses and aurora are highly location dependent, and it would be best to get a local almanac for these events. If there is no local almanac available, email me and I might be able to help you. I do try and give general info for occultations and eclipses in the Oceania area of the Southern Hemisphere.
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Aurora Alert UPDATED 03/10/16: Despite solar maximum having passed, we are still getting occasional good auroral displays. 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 dramatic seasonal changes on Titan.
Mars Curiosity Rover begins its next chapter on Mars.
Mars Express sees buried glaciers.
The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter finds finds some lakes formed later than others.
Dawn finds ice in Oxo crater.
New Horizons finds clouds on Pluto.
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First quarter on the 4th
Current Phase of the Moon.
Full moon on the 11th
Last quarter on the 19th
New Moon is on the 27th
February 1; crescent Moon close to Mars. February 3; Moon close to Mars. February 6; Moon at Perigee. February 11; Occultation of Regulus by the Moon. February 15; waning Moon close to Jupiter. February 19; Moon at Apogee. February 21; Saturn close to the thin crescent Moon.
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 February 2 at 60 minutes after sunset showing the Moon close to Venus and Mars. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg February 2 at 60 minutes after sunset Adelaide).
The eastern sky on February 15 at midnight showing Jupiter 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 February 21 an hour and a half before sunrise showing Saturn and the crescent Moon. similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time.
Mercury is visible for the first half of this month, then is lost in the twilight. On the 1st, Mercury is a hand-span above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. By the 15th Mercury is a a hand-span above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. By the 28th, Mercury is lost in the twilight.
Venus is still prominent in the evening sky in this month and is extremely obvious as its startling white light makes it the brightest object in the western sky (aside from the Sun and Moon of course). On the 1st Venus is just over one and a half hand-spans above the western horizon an hour after sunset. Venus climbs out of Aquarius into Pisces. On the evening of February 1 thin crescent Moon forms a triangle with Venus and Mars. On the evening of February 2 thin crescent Moon forms a line with Venus and Mars. On February 15 Venus is just over a hand-span above the western horizon an hour after sunset. On the 28th Venus is just over one hand-span above the western horizon half an hour after sunset.
Mars was at Opposition in May 2016, when it was biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. It is still a small but recognizable disk in small amateur instruments, but they will not show much detail. Mars is in Pisces this month. It has faded substantially and may be difficult to recognize. However, it is the brightest reddish object almost due west in an area otherwise devoid of bright stars. Mars is also around a hand-span from Venus for most of the month.On February 1 Mars is just over two hand-spans above the western horizon an hour after sunset. On February 1 the thin crescent Moon and Mars are at their closest, forming a triangle with Venus. On the evening of February 2 thin crescent Moon forms a line with Venus and Mars. On February 15 Mars is two hand-spans above the western horizon an hour after sunset. By the 28th, Mars is just over a hand-span above the western horizon an hour after sunset.
Jupiter is now rising before midnight. During February Jupiter is less than a hand-span from the bright star Spica, alpha Virginis, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. On February 1, Jupiter is a hand-span above the eastern horizon at midnight. On February 15,Jupiter is just under three hand-spans above the eastern horizon at midnight and almost directly between Spica and the waning Moon. On February 28,Jupiter is just over four hand-spans above the eastern horizon at midnight.
In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter's Moons are always interesting. Jupiter is now high enough from the horizon for good viewing from early morning to morning twilight.This table was created using The Planets 2.02 a free program available from http://www.cpac.org.uk Times are AEST, subtract 30 minutes for ACST and 3 hours for AWST. Add one hour for Daylight Saving time. GRS = Great Red Spot. S = Shadow Transit, T = Transit Sat 4 Feb 2:03 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 4 Feb 4:56 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Sat 4 Feb 6:06 Io : Transit Begins ST Sun 5 Feb 2:04 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Sun 5 Feb 5:23 Io : Reappears from Occultation Mon 6 Feb 0:33 Io : Transit Begins ST Mon 6 Feb 1:37 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Mon 6 Feb 2:44 Io : Transit Ends Mon 6 Feb 3:41 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 6 Feb 23:32 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 6 Feb 23:51 Io : Reappears from Occultation Tue 7 Feb 6:46 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Wed 8 Feb 5:19 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 9 Feb 0:54 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Thu 9 Feb 1:10 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 9 Feb 3:10 Eur: Transit Begins ST Thu 9 Feb 3:24 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends T Thu 9 Feb 5:31 Eur: Transit Ends Fri 10 Feb 0:22 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends Fri 10 Feb 2:27 Gan: Transit Begins T Fri 10 Feb 4:28 Gan: Transit Ends Sat 11 Feb 0:38 Eur: Reappears from Occultation Sat 11 Feb 2:48 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 11 Feb 6:50 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Sun 12 Feb 3:57 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Mon 13 Feb 1:18 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Mon 13 Feb 2:22 Io : Transit Begins ST Mon 13 Feb 3:30 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Mon 13 Feb 4:27 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 13 Feb 4:32 Io : Transit Ends Tue 14 Feb 0:18 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 14 Feb 1:39 Io : Reappears from Occultation Tue 14 Feb 22:59 Io : Transit Ends Wed 15 Feb 6:05 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 16 Feb 1:56 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 16 Feb 3:28 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Thu 16 Feb 5:35 Eur: Transit Begins ST Thu 16 Feb 5:58 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends T Fri 17 Feb 1:45 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins S Fri 17 Feb 4:18 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends Fri 17 Feb 6:05 Gan: Transit Begins T Sat 18 Feb 3:02 Eur: Reappears from Occultation Sat 18 Feb 3:34 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 18 Feb 23:25 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 19 Feb 5:50 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Mon 20 Feb 3:11 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Mon 20 Feb 4:10 Io : Transit Begins ST Mon 20 Feb 5:12 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 20 Feb 5:23 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Mon 20 Feb 6:20 Io : Transit Ends Tue 21 Feb 0:19 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Tue 21 Feb 1:03 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 21 Feb 3:27 Io : Reappears from Occultation Tue 21 Feb 22:37 Io : Transit Begins ST Tue 21 Feb 23:52 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Wed 22 Feb 0:47 Io : Transit Ends Wed 22 Feb 6:50 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 23 Feb 2:41 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 23 Feb 6:03 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Thu 23 Feb 22:32 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 24 Feb 5:43 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins S Sat 25 Feb 1:12 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Sat 25 Feb 4:19 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 25 Feb 5:23 Eur: Reappears from Occultation Sun 26 Feb 0:10 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 26 Feb 23:29 Eur: Transit Ends Mon 27 Feb 5:05 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Mon 27 Feb 5:57 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 27 Feb 5:57 Io : Transit Begins ST Mon 27 Feb 22:19 Gan: Reappears from Eclipse Mon 27 Feb 23:31 Gan: Disappears into Occultation Tue 28 Feb 1:27 Gan: Reappears from Occultation Tue 28 Feb 1:48 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 28 Feb 2:12 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Tue 28 Feb 5:14 Io : Reappears from Occultation Tue 28 Feb 23:33 Io : Shadow Transit Begins SSaturn climbs higher in the morning sky this month. Saturn is easily recognized as the brightest object below th distinctive side-on "question-mark" of Scorpius the Scorpion in the eastern morning sky. It is high enough to be a reasonable telescopic object before twilight this month. On February 1 Saturn is just over four hand-spans above the eastern horizon hour before sunrise. On February 15 Saturn is is just under seven hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On February 21 Saturn is close to the thin crescent Moon. On February 28 Saturn is just under eight hand-spans above the eastern horizon hour before sunrise.
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Iridium Flares, the International Space Station and other satellites
See this amazing site for images of the space station taken through a telescope.
Iridium flares add a bit of spectacle to the night sky. The Iridium satellite network was set up to give global phone coverage, so an Iridium satellite is almost always over head. Occasionally, one of the antenna of the satellites is aligned so that it reflects the sun towards an observer, giving a brilliant flare, often out-shining Venus. However, the visibility of Iridium flares is VERY dependent on observer position, so you need a prediction for your spot within about 30 km. Hence I'm referring you to a web site for predictions rather than doing it myself.
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
The figure ZHR is zenithal hourly rate. This is the number of meteors that a single observer would see per hour if the shower's "point of origin", or radiant, were at the zenith and the sky were dark enough for 6.5-magnitude stars to be visible to the naked eye. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the lower the figure, the darker the sky.
There are no significant showers this month.
Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 10 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2 per hour during the evening. The evening rates will be reduced during the times around the full Moon due to interference by the Moons light.
A good page describing meteor watching is at the Sky Publications site.
The Meteor Section of the Astronomical Society of Victoria has some good information on meteor watching too.
Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.
A Cool Fact about meteor speeds
A good page on detecting meteors using home made radio-telescopes is here.
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There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment.
Comet 45P on February 11 facing north-east at astronomical twilight in the morning.Comet 45P is visible in binoculars.
Comet 45P may be magnitude 6.5 in early February. 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. On February 11 the comet will be closest to Earth and the comet may be seen to move visibly during the morning skies. The comet will be in between the bright star Arcturus and the bright planet Saturn close to the north-eastern horizon. It rapidly fades after this and by the end of February 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.
Black and white binocular chart suitable for printing (click to embiggen and print). The large circle represents the field of view of 10x50 binoculars. The small that of a 4" Newtonian telescope with a 24 mm eyepiece. Use the horizon charts for orientation first.
The asteroid 4 Vesta is easily visible in binoculars this month, it continues to fade and may be unobservable in small binoculars by the end of the month.
Vesta is relatively easy to find. It is above the north-eastern horizon at astronomical twilight, and nearly due north at midnight. The bright stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, point to it, with Vesta being almost the distance between Castor and Pollux from Pollux (see charts, sweep your binoculars up from Castor to Pollux and around a binocular width beyond Pollux). You may need to watch night to night as the asteroid moves to be sure of its identity..
A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.
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Occultation of Regulus by the Moon 11 February.
The Moon at 23:43 pm ACDST in Adelaide on Saturday 11 February just before the Moon covers Regulus.
On the late evening of Saturday 11 February the bright star Regulus is occulted by the Moon as seen from the most of Australia. This is the first 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 bright 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 isn't particularly dark as the Moon is full.
The occultation occurs in the late evening 11th/just past midnight into the 12th, the Moon will be reasonably high above the north-eastern 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 Bright Limb Reappears Dark Limb Adelaide ACDST 23:43 01:05 (12th) Brisbane AEST 23:41 00:50 (12th) Canberra AEDST 00:34 (12th) 01:50 (12th) Darwin ACST 22:40 (graze) - Hobart AEDST 00:37 (12th) 01:58(12th) Melbourne AEDST 00:28 (12th) 01:51(12th) Perth AWST 20:39 21:50 Sydney AEDST 00:37 (12th) 01:58 (12th)
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. Algol is currently not observable from Australia. Mira should be brightening in the lead up to its predicted maximum of 3.4 on 23 February. It should be just about visible to the unaided eye by mid February and well worth following over the coming weeks as it brightens.
Cetus at 10:10 pm AEDST on 15 February, Mira is indicated by the circle.
Mira (omicron ceti), a star in the constellation of Cetus the whale, is a long period pulsating red giant and changes brightness from below naked eye visibility to a peak of round magnitude 2 (roughly as bright as beta Crucis in the Southern Cross) in around 330 days. Mira is predicted to peak with maximum of 3.4 around 23 February. Mira may be seen above the eastern horizon at from Astronomical twilight (and hour and a half after sunset, see above diagram) and will possibly be visible to the unaided eye by mid to late February.
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The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEST in Melbourne on February 1 (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 10:00 pm ACST Adelaide).
All descriptions here are based on the view from Melbourne at 10.00 pm AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on 1 February and assumes a fairly level horizon. Starset occurs progressively earlier each day, so these descriptions are valid for 9.00 pm on the 15th and 8.00pm on the 30th. Readers from other time zones should see roughly the same views at 10.00 pm local time. Corrections for cities other than Melbourne are given below.
How do I find east, west, north and south?
- 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.
Face east, just above the north eastern horizon is Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, which is just rising above the horizon. Directly east, above the horizon by 4 hand-spans is Hydra, and to the south east is the distinct wine-glass shape of Crater, the Cup.
About 13 hand-spans up from due east is Puppis, the poop deck of the form constellation of Argo Navis, the Argonaut's ship. The Milky Way passes through Puppis (and its companion constellations Vela and Carina), and there are several rather beautiful clusters worth looking at in binoculars.
Directly to the left of Vela is Canis Major. The bright white star 3 hand-spans left of due east is Sirius (alpha Canis Majoris), the brightest star in the sky. The constellation of Canis Majoris has a number of open clusters that are well worth exploring with binoculars, Most of these lie two hand-spans to the right of Sirius, amongst the V shaped group of stars that marks the tail of Canis Major. Below Sirius by two hand spans, and one hand-span to the right is M47. This cluster is quite nice in binoculars.
To the left of Sirius by about four hand-spans and almost due north is the distinctive saucepan shape of Orion's belt. The handle of the saucepan is Orion's sword, which contains some good naked eye open clusters, and the final star in the handle hosts the famous Orion nebula, which is visible to the naked eye under clear skies. Directly above the handle of the saucepan is bright Rigel (beta Orionis). Directly below the saucepan is the bright reddish Betelgeuse (alpha Orionis), a red giant star.
To the left of and below Orion's belt by about 4 hand-spans is Aldebaran (alpha Tauri), another red giant which forms the base of the V shaped group of stars called the Hyades, which forms the head of Taurus. Further to the left and down again by 2 hand-spans from Aldebaran is a faint, but pretty, compact cluster of stars called the Pleiades (the seven sisters). The Pleiades are particularly beautiful through binoculars.
To the right of and below Orion's belt by around 8 hand-spans are bright Castor and Pollux, the brightest stars of Gemini.
Directly below Orion's belt by around 9 hand-spans, and just a hand-span from the northern horizon is Capella, the brightest star of Auguia, the Charioteer.
Facing east, and Puppis again, to the left of Puppis is Vela and Carina, the sail and keel of Argo Navis. When Argo Navis was broken up into Puppis, Vela and Carina in 1750, they forgot to assign alpha and beta stars to Vela, and its brightest star at magnitude 1.5 is Gamma Velorum. Gama Velorum is a double star which may be resolved in good binoculars. The Milky Way passes through Vela, and there are many open clusters which can be seen with binoculars or the naked eye. One of the best of these is NGC2547, a little below gamma Velorum. Vela is also home to the spectacular Gum nebula (which can only be seen in telescopic photographs), and the second pulsar to be observed optically. Kappa and delta Velorum, with iota and epsilon Carina, make the "false cross" (about 7 hand spans above the southern horizon). A high definition map of Vela is here.
Carina (the keel of the former constellation Argo Navis) is a little further to the left of Vela. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star sitting 3 hand-span from due east and 14 hand-spans above the south-eastern horizon (and about 3 hand-spans up from the False Cross). A high definition map of this region is here. It is now far enough from the horizon to appreciate its many faint objects. Looking almost anywhere in the area of Carina will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area between the Southern Cross and the false cross is particularly rich. The False Cross is 3 hand-spans below Canopus, four hand-spans up from the Southern Cross and, nine hand-spans from the southern horizon. Just to the left of the False Cross is a good open cluster. Between the False Cross and the Southern Cross you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars, with theta Carina two hand-spans up from Acrux in the Southern Cross. Smaller and less spectacular than their northern counterparts, they still look very nice in binoculars. Four finger-widths below the Southern Pleiades are two rich open clusters, and the barely visible star Eta Carina. Eta Carina's spectacular nebula is only dimly seen in binoculars.
Continuing down from Vela and Carina, following the Milky Way, we come to the Southern Cross.
The Southern Cross is, as expected, a cross shaped formation with Acrux (alpha Crucis) and gamma Crucis forming the long axis of the cross (pointing down to the south-east, with bright Acrux on the end of the axis away from the horizon). Beta and delta Crucis form the cross piece of the cross. Just to the right of Acrux is the Coal Sack. This dark area against the glow of the Milky Way represents a large dust cloud and is usually clearly visible in dark skies, but will be hard to see this close to the horizon. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just to the right of Beta Crucis. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly, and is unlikely to be good viewing this close to the horizon.
Continuing down and south from the cross we come to the bright, distinctive alpha and beta Centauri, the so-called "pointers". They are a little over two hand-spans from the south-eastern horizon, with alpha being the yellow star which is closest to the horizon, and beta the blue white star just above and to the left. Most of the rest of Centarus, the Centaur, is too close to the Horizon to be seen properly. Later in the month however, omega Centauri, a naked eye globular cluster three hand-spans to the left of alpha Centauri, should be high enough to view properly. It is the object marked 5139 on the eastern sky map. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.
Alpha Centauri is the closest star to our sun at around 4 light years. However, recent measurements with the Hippacaros satellite put the system 300 million kilometres further away than previously thought. Alpha Centauri is actually a triple star, consisting of two sun-like stars and a red dwarf, Proxima Centauri, which is the closest of the triple stars to earth.
Directly above the southern horizon by 11 hand-spans is the extended nebulosity of the Large Magellanic cloud, the largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies. Binoculars will reveal a rather attractive nebula near it, the Tarantula nebula.
To the left of this by 4 hand-spans and down by 3 hand-spans is the Small Magellanic cloud, the second largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies to the Milky Way. This feature is best viewed on a dark night, away from the city. In this nebulosity is what looks to be a fuzzy star; this is 47 Tucana (marked 104 on the western sky map), a spectacular globular cluster that is very nice through binoculars. To the right of the Small Magellanic Cloud by about 4 hand-spans is the dim constellation of Tucana, the Toucan, the parent constellation of 47 Tucana.
To the left, about two hand-spans from the south western horizon is Fomalhaut, alpha Piscinus Austrinis.
Almost 5 hand-spans up from due west is Deneb Kaitos, beta Ceti, brightest star of Cetus the whale, which stretches off to the right. Mira, Omicron Ceti (O on the maps) is a variable star with a period of about 332 days. Mira is currently not visible to the naked eye.
Cetus also hosts a nearby sun like star. Tau Ceti is 11.4 light years away from earth. From beta Ceti, Two hand-spans to the right is eta Ceti, two hand-spans from eta Ceti, forming a triangle with eta and beta, is Tau Ceti.
Continuing up from beta Ceti by around 9 hand-spans is the rambling, faint constellation of Eridanus, the river. Bright Achernar is about 8 hand-spans up and to the left from beta Ceti (around 9 from the south western horizon).
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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 February 1 at 10.00 pm, facing south. Both show approximately 30 degrees (5 hand-spans) of sky just above the horizon
The maps look a little busy, as they cover all sky from horizon to zenith. The grid lines are navigational helpers; each horizontal or vertical line covers 30 degrees of arc (the gridlines in the illustration show 15 degrees of arc), which is roughly five hand-spans (where a hand-span is the width of your hand, held flat light a "stop" sign at arms length). As you can see from the way the lines bunch up. The map is a little distorted, due to trying to project a spherical surface on a flat surface. The horizon is the lowest curved line on the map (for technical software reasons I can't block things out below the Horizon). Constellations are linked by lines and their names are in italics. Stars are shown as circles of varying size, the bigger the circle the brighter the star. The stars are named with their Bayer letter (eg a - alpha, the brightest star in a constellation, a Crucis is the brightest star in Crux). Variable stars are shown as hollow circles, double stars are marked with a line (eg a, b and g Crucis are all double stars, that look quite beautiful in a small telescope). Clusters and Nebula brighter than magnitude 6.0 are marked as broken circles (eg. the Jewel box cluster next to b Crucis above which is best viewed in binoculars or a telescope) and squares respectively. To find Crux for example, locate Crux on the appropriate map (eg. see the illustration above). Holding the Map, face either east or west (depending on the map), then use the grid lines to determine how far over and up you should look, then look for the Crux pattern in that part of the Sky.
GIF MapsA view of the Eastern February sky at 10.00pm AEST on 1 February can be downloaded here (febsky_e.png 30 Kb) and a view of the western February sky can be downloaded here (febsky_w.png 30 Kb). These are more compact files but don't have a lot of resolution.
PDF 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] 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: Monday, 19 February 2017, 11:30:13 PM