Southern Sky Watch

March Skies

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.

March 1; crescent Moon close to Venus and Mars. March 2; Moon forms line with Mars and Venus. March 3; Moon at Perigee. March 14; waning Moon close to Jupiter. March 19; Moon at Apogee. March 20; Saturn close to the waning Moon, Earth at Equinox. March 29; crescent Moon close to Mercury. March 30; crescent Moon close to Mars.


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 03/10/16: 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 reynella@mira.net with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject and I will send you an email alert of any likely auroral event (or other interesting sky phenomena). However, even a strong solar flare is no guarantee that you will be able to see aurora, but it does increase the probability. Still more alternatively, there are the facebook pages Aurora Australis Tasmania, Aurora Australis Tasmania NOW! and Aurora Australis all do discussions and alerts.

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Email alerts I try to update this page fairly regularly outside of the monthly postings. However sometimes things happen which I can't get in fast enough, or you forget to mark your calendar. If you would like to be alerted to or reminded of interesting astronomical or sky phenomena, send an email to reynella@internode.on.net with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject. This is the old aurora alert list, but with auroras rare even though we are at solar maximum (except for the occasional humdinger, like the September 2005 auroral event), it is doing double duty. Astroblog will have images when possible of these events soon after.

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Coming events

2 January 2017; crescent Moon Near Venus

3 January 2017; crescent Moon near Mars

18 January 2017; opposition of Vesta

19 January 2017; Moon near Jupiter

25 January 2017; Moon close to Saturn

26 January 2017; Moon close to Mercury

31 January 2017; Moon close to Venus, forming line with Mars

1 February 2017; Moon close to Mars, forming line with Venus

11 February 2017; Comet 45P closest to Earth, possibly visible in binoculars

15 February 2017; Moon close to Jupiter

21 February 2017; Moon near Saturn

23 February 2017; Variable star Mira at its brightest

1 March 2017; Moon close to Mars and Venus, making a triangle

2 March 2017; Moon close to Mars, making a line with Venus

14-15 March 2017; Moon close to Jupiter

20 March 2017; Moon close to Saturn

29 March 2017; Moon close to Mercury

30-31 March 2017; Moon close to Mars

8 April 2017; opposition of Jupiter

10-11 April 2017; Moon close to Jupiter

16 April 2017; Moon close to Saturn

24 April 2017; crescent Moon close to Venus in morning sky

1-15 May 2017; Comet 41P visible in the morning sky in binoculars

6 May 2017; Eta Aquariid meteor shower.

7-8 May 2017; Moon near Jupiter.

13 May 2017; Moon close to Saturn.

23 May 2017; crescent Mon close to Venus.

4 June 2017; Moon and Jupiter close.

1-25 June 2017; Comet C/2015 V2 Johnson potentially visible in binoculars.

9-10 June 2017; Moon near Saturn.

15 June 2017; Opposition of Saturn.

21 June 2017; crescent Moon and Venus close.

1 July 2017; Jupiter and Moon close.

7 July 2017; Saturn and Moon close.

21 July 2017; crescent Moon and Venus close.

25 July 2017; thin crescent Moon and Mercury very close, low in the twilight.

29 July 2017; Moon and Jupiter close.

30 July 2017; Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower.

3 August 2017; Moon close to Saturn.

8 August 2017; Partial eclipse of the Moon in the early morning.

19 August 2017; Crescent Moon close to Venus.

25 August 2017; Jupiter and Crescent Moon close, forming a shallow triangle with Spica.

5-16 September 2017; Jupiter and Spica close.

15 September 2017; Crescent Moon close to Venus.

19 September 2017; crescent Moon forms triangle with Mars and Mercury low in the twilight.

22 September 2017; Moon close to Jupiter, forming triangle with Spica.

27 September 2017; Moon and Saturn close.

30 September 2017; Moon and Mars close.

6 October 2017; Venus and Mars very close low in the twilight.

17 October 2017; Mars close to crescent Moon. Forms line with Venus

18 October 2017; Venus close to crescent Moon, forming triangle with Mars.

22 October 2017; Orionid meteor shower.

24 October 2017; crescent Moon close to Saturn.

13 November 2017; Venus and Jupiter very close in the twilight.

13 November 2017; Mercury and Antares close in the twilight.

15 November 2017; crescent Moon close to Mars.

17 November 2017; Leonid Meteor Shower.

17 November 2017; crescent Moon close to Venus and Jupiter in the twilight.

21 November 2017; Crescent Moon close to Saturn.

28 November 2017; Mercury close to Saturn.

14 December 2017; Crescent Moon close to Mars.

15 December 2017; Geminid Meteor shower.

15 December 2017; Crescent Moon close to Jupiter.

31 December 2017; Mars and Jupiter close.

31 December 2017; asteroid Ceres potentially visible in binoculars.


Out in Space

Cassini sees 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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The Moon:

Current Phase of the Moon.
This is a JavaScript applet kindly supplied by Darren Osbourne. It shows the Moon as Southern Hemisphere viewers see it, and is upside down from the Northern Hemisphere perspective.

C| First quarter on the 5th
O Full moon on the 13th
D Last quarter on the 21st
O New Moon is on the 28th


March 1; crescent Moon close to Venus and Mars. March 2; Moon forms line with Mars and Venus. March 3; Moon at Perigee. March 14; waning Moon close to Jupiter. March 19; Moon at Apogee. March 20; Saturn close to the waning Moon, Earth at Equinox. March 29; crescent Moon close to Mercury. March 30; crescent Moon close to Mars.

An interactive calendar of the Moon's phases.

A view of the phase of the Moon for any date from 1800 A.D. to 2199, US based, so that the Moon is upside down with respect to us. The image above is from this source.

The phases of the Moon have been linked in the popular imagination to activities as diverse as madness and menstruation. However, careful study has shown that there are no such links. This web page outlines how the Moon is unconnected with a wide range of human activities.

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Planets:

Finding planets, even with the directions below, can sometimes be difficult if you are unfamiliar with the sky. However, the Moon is very obvious, and can be a guide to location of planets. Not only that, the combination of the Moon and bright planet(s) is often very beautiful. Thus the guide below gives the dates when the planets and the Moon are close together.
evening sky, 10:00 pm

The evening sky facing west in Melbourne on March 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 March 2 at 60 minutes after sunset Adelaide).

evening sky, 8:34 pm

The eastern sky on March 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.

morning sky, 4:53 am pm

The eastern morning sky on March 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 returns to the evening sky in the latter half of th month, but will be difficult to see low in the twilight. On the 29th the crescent Moon is close to Mercury, but the pair are a mere three finger-widths above the western horizon 20 minutes after sunset and very difficult to see.

Venus is low above the horizon early this month, and disappears into the twilight by mid-month. Dispite being very bright, its nearness to the horizon makes viewing difficult. In a telescope the thin crescent phase is very obvious. On the 1st Venus is just over one hand-span above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. On the evening of March 1 thin crescent Moon forms a triangle with Venus and Mars. On the evening of March 2 thin crescent Moon forms a line with Venus and Mars. By March 15 Venus is lost in the twilight.

Earth is at equinox on Monday, 20 March. At this time day and night are roughly equal in duration.

Mars is low above the western horizon this month, difficult to see and not a worthwhile telescopic target. Mars moves from Pisces to Aries 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. Mars is also around a hand-span from Venus for the first week of the month.

On March 1 Mars is just over two hand-spans above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. On March 1 the thin crescent Moon and Mars form a triangle with Venus. On the evening of March 2 thin crescent Moon forms a line with Venus and Mars. On March 15 Mars is two hand-spans above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. By the 30th, Mars is just under two hand-spans above the western horizon half an hour after sunset.

Jupiter is now rising before midnight. During March Jupiter is less than a hand-span from the bright star Spica, alpha Virginis, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. On March 1, Jupiter is just under three hand-spans above the eastern horizon at 11 pm local daylight saving time. On March 14 Jupiter is almost directly between Spica and the waning Moon. On March 15,Jupiter is just under four hand-spans above the eastern horizon at at 11 pm local daylight saving time. On March 30, Jupiter is just over six hand-spans above the north-eastern horizon at 11 pm local daylight saving time.

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

Wed	1	Mar	0:23	Io : Transit Begins               ST
Wed	1	Mar	1:45	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Wed	1	Mar	2:33	Io : Transit Ends
Wed	1	Mar	23:41	Io : Reappears from Occultation
Thu	2	Mar	3:26	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	2	Mar	23:17	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	4	Mar	3:46	Eur: Disappears into Eclipse
Sat	4	Mar	5:04	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	5	Mar	0:55	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	5	Mar	21:55	Eur: Shadow Transit Begins        S
Sun	5	Mar	23:29	Eur: Transit Begins               ST
Mon	6	Mar	0:24	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends          T
Mon	6	Mar	1:49	Eur: Transit Ends
Mon	6	Mar	6:42	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	6	Mar	6:58	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Mon	6	Mar	23:47	Gan: Disappears into Eclipse
Tue	7	Mar	2:17	Gan: Reappears from Eclipse
Tue	7	Mar	2:33	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	7	Mar	2:59	Gan: Disappears into Occultation
Tue	7	Mar	4:06	Io : Disappears into Eclipse
Tue	7	Mar	4:53	Gan: Reappears from Occultation
Tue	7	Mar	7:00	Io : Reappears from Occultation
Tue	7	Mar	22:24	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	8	Mar	1:26	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Wed	8	Mar	2:09	Io : Transit Begins               ST
Wed	8	Mar	3:38	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Wed	8	Mar	4:19	Io : Transit Ends
Wed	8	Mar	22:34	Io : Disappears into Eclipse
Thu	9	Mar	1:26	Io : Reappears from Occultation
Thu	9	Mar	4:11	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	9	Mar	22:07	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Thu	9	Mar	22:45	Io : Transit Ends
Fri	10	Mar	0:02	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	11	Mar	5:49	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	11	Mar	6:21	Eur: Disappears into Eclipse
Sun	12	Mar	1:40	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	12	Mar	21:31	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	13	Mar	0:30	Eur: Shadow Transit Begins        S
Mon	13	Mar	1:47	Eur: Transit Begins               ST
Mon	13	Mar	2:59	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends          T
Mon	13	Mar	4:07	Eur: Transit Ends
Tue	14	Mar	3:18	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	14	Mar	3:45	Gan: Disappears into Eclipse
Tue	14	Mar	5:59	Io : Disappears into Eclipse
Tue	14	Mar	6:13	Gan: Reappears from Eclipse
Tue	14	Mar	6:21	Gan: Disappears into Occultation
Tue	14	Mar	23:09	Eur: Reappears from Occultation
Tue	14	Mar	23:09	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	15	Mar	3:20	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Wed	15	Mar	3:54	Io : Transit Begins               ST
Wed	15	Mar	5:32	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Wed	15	Mar	6:04	Io : Transit Ends
Thu	16	Mar	0:28	Io : Disappears into Eclipse
Thu	16	Mar	3:11	Io : Reappears from Occultation
Thu	16	Mar	4:56	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	16	Mar	21:48	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Thu	16	Mar	22:20	Io : Transit Begins               ST
Fri	17	Mar	0:00	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Fri	17	Mar	0:30	Io : Transit Ends
Fri	17	Mar	0:47	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	17	Mar	21:37	Io : Reappears from Occultation   T
Fri	17	Mar	21:49	Gan: Transit Ends
Sat	18	Mar	6:34	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	19	Mar	2:25	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	19	Mar	22:16	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	20	Mar	3:06	Eur: Shadow Transit Begins        S
Mon	20	Mar	4:04	Eur: Transit Begins               ST
Mon	20	Mar	5:34	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends          T
Mon	20	Mar	6:24	Eur: Transit Ends
Tue	21	Mar	4:03	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Tue	21	Mar	22:12	Eur: Disappears into Eclipse
Tue	21	Mar	23:54	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	22	Mar	1:24	Eur: Reappears from Occultation
Wed	22	Mar	5:13	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Wed	22	Mar	5:38	Io : Transit Begins               ST
Wed	22	Mar	7:25	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Thu	23	Mar	2:21	Io : Disappears into Eclipse
Thu	23	Mar	4:56	Io : Reappears from Occultation
Thu	23	Mar	5:41	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	23	Mar	23:42	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Fri	24	Mar	0:04	Io : Transit Begins               ST
Fri	24	Mar	1:32	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	24	Mar	1:53	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Fri	24	Mar	2:14	Io : Transit Ends
Fri	24	Mar	20:50	Io : Disappears into Eclipse
Fri	24	Mar	21:23	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	24	Mar	21:35	Gan: Shadow Transit Begins        S
Fri	24	Mar	23:12	Gan: Transit Begins               ST
Fri	24	Mar	23:22	Io : Reappears from Occultation   ST
Sat	25	Mar	0:02	Gan: Shadow Transit Ends          T
Sat	25	Mar	1:09	Gan: Transit Ends
Sat	25	Mar	7:19	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	25	Mar	20:22	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Sat	25	Mar	20:40	Io : Transit Ends
Sun	26	Mar	3:10	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	26	Mar	23:01	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	27	Mar	5:41	Eur: Shadow Transit Begins        S
Mon	27	Mar	6:20	Eur: Transit Begins               ST
Tue	28	Mar	4:48	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	29	Mar	0:39	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	29	Mar	0:46	Eur: Disappears into Eclipse
Wed	29	Mar	3:39	Eur: Reappears from Occultation
Wed	29	Mar	7:07	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Wed	29	Mar	7:22	Io : Transit Begins               ST
Wed	29	Mar	20:30	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	30	Mar	4:15	Io : Disappears into Eclipse
Thu	30	Mar	6:26	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Thu	30	Mar	6:40	Io : Reappears from Occultation
Thu	30	Mar	21:28	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends          T
Thu	30	Mar	21:49	Eur: Transit Ends
Fri	31	Mar	1:35	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        S
Fri	31	Mar	1:48	Io : Transit Begins               ST
Fri	31	Mar	2:17	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	31	Mar	3:47	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Fri	31	Mar	3:58	Io : Transit Ends
Fri	31	Mar	22:08	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	31	Mar	22:44	Io : Disappears into Eclipse

Saturn climbs higher in the morning sky this month. Saturn is easily recognized as the brightest object below the 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 March 1 Saturn is just under eight hand-spans above the eastern horizon hour before sunrise. On March 15 Saturn is is just under eleven hand-spans above the north-eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. On March 21 Saturn is close to the waning Moon. On March 30 Saturn is just over twelve hand-spans above the northern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise.

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Iridium Flares, the International Space Station and other satellites

See this amazing site for images of the space station taken through a telescope.

Iridium flares add a bit of spectacle to the night sky. The Iridium satellite network was set up to give global phone coverage, so an Iridium satellite is almost always over head. Occasionally, one of the antenna of the satellites is aligned so that it reflects the sun towards an observer, giving a brilliant flare, often out-shining Venus. However, the visibility of Iridium flares is VERY dependent on observer position, so you need a prediction for your spot within about 30 km. Hence I'm referring you to a web site for predictions rather than doing it myself.

new See an Iridium Flare at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box

Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:

See the International Space Station at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box

Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:
Another site, JPASS, doesn't do Iridium flares, but is very cool and does the International Space Station, and many other satellites. However, although the output is flashy, it's harder to use than heavens above.

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Meteor showers:

Date        	Meteor Shower       ZHR  Illumination 
 

The figure ZHR is zenithal hourly rate. This is the number of meteors that a single observer would see per hour if the shower's "point of origin", or radiant, were at the zenith and the sky were dark enough for 6.5-magnitude stars to be visible to the naked eye. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the lower the figure, the darker the sky.

There are no significant showers this month.

Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 10 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2 per hour during the evening. The evening rates will be reduced during the times around the full Moon due to interference by the Moons light.

A good page describing meteor watching is at the Sky Publications site.

The Meteor Section of the Astronomical Society of Victoria has some good information on meteor watching too.

Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.

A Cool Fact about meteor speeds

A good page on detecting meteors using home made radio-telescopes is here.

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Comets:

There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment.

A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.

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Occultations:

No interesting naked-eye occultations this month.

 


Eclipse:

No significant eclipses this month.

Find local sunrise/sunset and twilight times for your city or location (courtesy of Heavens Above).
Use either the drop down box for the listed cities, or type in your latitude, longitude and city in the boxes below.

Type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.

Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:

 


Variable Stars:

While most stars seem to shine with a constant brightness, there are some that undergo regular, dramatic change in brightness. The classic variables are Mira and Algol. Mira and Algol are currently not visible from Australia (well Mira is, but it is so low to the horizon at astronomical twilight that identifying it will be difficult).

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Stars:

evening sky, 10:00 pm

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

Facing west, Cetus, the whale, lies on the horizon.

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

Directly on the eastern horizon is the constellation of Virgo, this will become clearer during the month.

Directly above Virgo is the long rambling constellation Hydra, and crater the cup with its distinct, but upside down, cup shape.

Five hand-spans to left of Virgo, and up by five hand-spans is Leo, with the sickle of Leo being quite clear. Cancer, which contains the attractive "Beehive" cluster, is 3 hand-spans above and 5 hand-spans to the left of the sickle of Leo.

The rectangle of Gemini is 6 hand-spans to the left of Regulus and two hand-spans up. The bright stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux form an attractive pair less than a hand-span apart.

The constellations of Taurus, the bull, Orion the hunter and Canis Major, Orion's hunting dog, are now in the mid-north western sky.

13 hand-spans from the horizon just under the Zenith and slightly north west is Canis Major. The bright white star is Sirius (alpha Canis Majoris), the brightest star in the sky. The constellation of Canis Major 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.

Slightly to the right of Sirius and below by about four hand-spans is the distinctive saucepan shape of Orion's belt. The handle of the saucepan is Orion's sword, which contains some good naked eye open clusters, and the final star in the handle hosts the famous Orion nebula, which is visible to the naked eye under clear skies. Directly above the handle of the saucepan is bright Rigel (beta Orionis). Directly below the saucepan is the bright reddish Betelgeuse (alpha Orinonis), a red giant star.

To the right of Orion's belt and below by about 4 hand-spans is Aldebaran (alpha Tauri), another red giant which forms the base of the V shaped group of stars called the Hyades, which forms the head of Taurus. Further to the left again is a faint, but pretty, compact cluster of stars called the Pleiades (the seven sisters). The Pleiades are particularly beautiful through binoculars.

Facing directly north, Auriga, the Charioteer is disappearing below the horizon. Four hand-spans up is Gemini, with bright Castor and Pollux just to the right.

Facing due South, five hand-spans to the left and five 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 somewhat to the left. To the left again, and following a line through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, seven hand-spans above the horizon at about the 9 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 slightly up is a small star, another hand span on is a fuzzy star, this is omega Centauri (5139 on the map), a globular cluster of stars which is quite spectacular in good binoculars, and more spectacular than 47 Tucana (see below). Another hand-span to the left and about two fingers down is Centaurus A, a very radio bright galaxy (5128 on the map). You need a dark night and binoculars (at least 10 x 30) to see it, but it is one of the few galaxies you can see in the southern hemisphere (outside of the small and large Magellanic clouds) without a telescope.

Eight hand-spans straight up, and eight hand-spans to the right of due south (or two hand-spans down and three left of Achernar), is the extended nebulosity of the Small Magellanic cloud, one of the dwarf satellite galaxies to the Milky Way. This feature is best viewed on a dark night, away from the city. In this nebulosity is what looks to be a fuzzy star, this is 47 Tucana, a spectacular globular cluster that is very nice through binoculars.

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

Above the south-eastern horizon the constellations Vela, Puppis and Carina are now high enough to appreciate their spectacular collections of nebula and clusters. Puppis is nearly at the zenith. A high definition map of this region is here. Looking almost anywhere in the area stretching between Canis major and the Southern Cross will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area two hand-spans up from the Southern Cross and two hand-spans to the left is particularly rich. Here you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars in Carina. Smaller and less spectacular than their northern counterparts, they still look very nice in binoculars. Four finger-widths to the left of the Southern Pleiades are two rich open clusters, and the barely visible star Eta Carina. Eta Carina's spectacular nebula is only dimly seen in binoculars. Five hand-spans up from the Southern Cross and one hand-spans to the left 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), the second brightest star in the sky, is 11 hand-spans from the southern horizon above the main band of stars.

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Sky Maps

How to use the maps

      map viewsky view

Comparison of a section of a skymap showing the Southern Cross (Crux) and pointers, with the appearance of the night sky. The map and sky are for March 1 at 10.00 pm, facing south. Both show approximately 30 degrees (5 hand-spans) of sky just above the horizon

The maps look a little busy, as they cover all sky from horizon to zenith. The grid lines are navigational helpers; each horizontal or vertical line covers 30 degrees of arc (the gridlines in the illustration show 15 degrees of arc), which is roughly five hand-spans (where a hand-span is the width of your hand, held flat light a "stop" sign at arms length). As you can see from the way the lines bunch up. The map is a little distorted, due to trying to project a spherical surface on a flat surface. The horizon is the lowest curved line on the map (for technical software reasons I can't block things out below the Horizon). Constellations are linked by lines and their names are in italics. Stars are shown as circles of varying size, the bigger the circle the brighter the star. The stars are named with their Bayer letter (eg a - alpha, the brightest star in a constellation, a Crucis is the brightest star in Crux). Variable stars are shown as hollow circles, double stars are marked with a line (eg a, b and g Crucis are all double stars, that look quite beautiful in a small telescope). Clusters and Nebula brighter than magnitude 6.0 are marked as broken circles (eg. the Jewel box cluster next to b Crucis above which is best viewed in binoculars or a telescope) and squares respectively. To find Crux for example, locate Crux on the appropriate map (eg. see the illustration above). Holding the Map, face either east or west (depending on the map), then use the grid lines to determine how far over and up you should look, then look for the Crux pattern in that part of the Sky.

GIF Maps

A view of the Eastern March sky at 10.00pm AEST on 1 March can be downloaded here (marsky_e.png 30 Kb) and a view of the western March sky can be downloaded here (marsky_w.png 30 Kb). These are more compact files but don't have a lot of resolution.

PDF Maps

High Resolution PDF files can be obtained for the eastern (110 Kb) and the western (110 Kb) horizon maps.

The Zenith Map (110 Kb) shows you the whole sky. You will need to face the one of the compass points, then hold the map with the appropriate compass point on the map at the bottom of the page.

You will need a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat or GhostView to view and print them. They look slightly worse on-screen than the PNG files, but print much better and come with legends.

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[December Skies][January Skies] [February Skies]
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Cheers! And good star gazing!


updated

Ian's Astrophotography Gallery

Some of the photographs/images I have taken in recent years of astronomical phenomena that may be of interest.

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Links

Societies: Australian Resources: Australian Planetariums: updated Astronomy for Kids International Resources: Stunning sites: Useful programs:
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Charts, Books and Software for Astronomy

If you would like to have charts available all the time, rather than relying on mine, for between $2-$20 you can pick up a planisphere from a newsagent or bookshop (or for a bit more you can get fancy ones from Australian Geographic, the ABC shop or the other Australian Geographic look alike shop, or the Wilderness Society, or even a binocular/ optical store). The planisphere won't give you position of the planets, so you will need to get the planet rise/set times. These can be found in most serious newspapers (the Age, the Australian, SMH etc. The Australian is probably the best bet for budding amateurs). The combination of planisphere and rise/set times is the best value for beginners though, if you are not too worried about identifying star clusters in your binoculars.

Touring the Universe through Binoculars Atlas is now freeware http://www.philharrington.net/tuba.htm it can print observing charts, but has a few annoying quirks. These include having no horizon line, and moving about is a bit irritating.

I use a combination of a 1962 star chart, the Australian Astronomy 2017 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2017 almanac. It is more helpful for planetary/comet/asteroidal observations and eclipses than for double stars, clusters galaxies etc, but is an excellent resource for Australian observers and anyone who would like to seriously follow the planets in Australia should have this almanac. It has easy to follow month-by-month summary information, as well as detailed charts, tables and whole sky maps. It is easily navigated. The Almanac is often in big bookstores or optical shops, or email info@quasarastronomy.com.au to purchase a copy directly for those outside major population centres. The Australian Astronomy almanac comes out in around November for the following year, and is now approx $28.

Sky and Telescope now also do an Australian version of their magazine.

For detailed chart drawing and timing of events, as well as satellite track predictions I feed the information from the almanac into the $150 AUD SkyMap Pro 11.0 , planetarium program. This is a very handy program which prints maps of every possible orientation and scale. The maps on this page are produced by SkyMap. An update to SkyMap 12.0 which handles Windows 10 is now available.

A shareware version of SkyMap that runs on windows 3.x, and win95 can be found here http://www.winsite.com/info/pc/win3/desktop/skymp21a.zip this is approximately 640 Kb zipped.

A shareware version of the win95 only version 5.0 is here http://www.download.net.au/cgi-bin/dl?13607

Other highly recommended Sky charting packages (win95/98/2000/XP/Win7-8 sorry) are:
Cartes du Ciel at http://www.stargazing.net/astropc/ (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at
http://stellarium.sourceforge.net/ (FREE) stunning photorealistic program, but requires a grunty PC.
TheSkyVarious packages from $49 US to $249 US
Stary Night various versions from $49 us for the basic pack (10 day trial of the basic pack at http://www.siennasoft.com/english/downloads.shtml) up.
Earth Centered Universe $88 AUD (shareware version at http://www.nova-astro.com/)
On the other hand a standard Sky Atlas for serious observing (much handier than carting a computer with you) such as Norton's Star Atlas can range from $35 to $90.

In these days of hand-held devices (smart phones and tablets), there is a plethora of sky charting apps you can take into the field with you. I use GoogleSky for android and a cut down version of Stellarium for iPad, my most used hand-held app is Heavens Above for Android, for watching Iridium flares and ISS passes. This is one app that has changed my astronomical life. There are many more, many free or less than 1 AUD to dowload. Celestron has a great free planetarium app (although big at 154 Mb) for Android, iPhone and iPad, SkyPortal.

This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2017 almanac. For any budding astronomers out there, it is fantastic value and no, I don't have any commercial interest in it, but I did win bronze in their website Olympics).

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Link to the Lab's 'In Space' gateway Link to the Lab's home page
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This page is provided by Ian Musgrave and is © copyright 2017 Ian Musgrave, except the "Southern Sky Watch" logo, as well as any other ABC logo used on this page, is © copyright of the ABC. Sky maps are generated with SkyMap Pro 11.0 .

This page can be used freely for any non-commercial purpose but please attribute it correctly. However, see the disclaimer.

* Email: reynella@internode.on.net e-mail Ian with any suggestions
Created: Wednesday, 1 April 1998, 11:22:13 PM
Last Updated: Thursday, 9 March 2017, 11:30:13 PM


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