Southern Sky Watch

December Skies

This month the planetary action remains mostly in the evening skies, with 3 bright planets visible after the sky is fully dark at the beginning of the month, then Mercury joins the line up later in the month. Venus blazes in the west not far from the pair of Saturn and Jupiter in the north-west. Mercury is low the evening twilight. Mars climbs higher in the morning sky. The Moon does a planet dance with bright Venus, Saturn and Jupiter. The Geminid meteors are good this year. Possible binocular comet C/2021 A1 Leonard. Occultation of Mars on Mew Years day.

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

December 3; the thin crescent moon near Mars, low in the morning twilight. December 4; New Moon. December 4; perigee Moon. December 6; Crescent moon forms a line with Venus, Saturn and Jupiter. December 7; Venus is close to the crescent Moon. December 8; Moon between Saturn and Jupiter. December 9; waxing Moon close to Jupiter. December 10; waxing Moon forms a line with Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. December 11; First Quarter Moon. Morning December 14; Geminid meteor shower peaks. December 16-25; Comet C/2021 A1 Leonard visible. December 18; apogee Moon. December 19; Full Moon (apogee ”mini” moon). December 27; Last Quarter Moon. January 1 2022; Morning occultation of 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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Summer is here once more, and the beautiful constellations of Orion, Taurus and the magnificent rambling constellations of Carina, Puppis and Vela grace our skies again. The December school holidays will be an ideal time to head out somewhere dark and view the stars and planets at their best. Summer also means very long twilights in southern Australia, so you may have to wait to see these delights. Despite the warmth of the days, nights are often cool, so don't forget a light jumper before doing any extended star watching. A blanket or rug to sit on is a good idea. Some mosquito repellent will be a must.


While these pages are primarily intended for the use of people observing in Australia, non-Australian Southern Hemisphere observers will find most of the information here applies to them. The star information will be most helpful, when you correct your location for latitude (see the Stars section for appropriate location information). Most Moon phase, planet, comet and asteroid information will be very similar to what will be seen in New Zealand, South Africa and South America. Countries close to the equator (eg Indonesia) will have somewhat different southern and northern views, but the eastern and western views should be similar enough to get a good idea of what is going on.

Occultations, eclipses and aurora are highly location dependent, and it would be best to get a local almanac for these events. If there is no local almanac available, email me and I might be able to help you. I do try and give general info for occultations and eclipses in the Oceania area of the Southern Hemisphere.

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Aurora Alert UPDATED 28/11/20: The new solar cycle (25) has started, and we may expect to see more auroral displays. During solar minimum, we were still getting occasional good auroral displays. August 26th 2018 saw an impressive display visible from NZ and Tasmania despite the full Moon. The last week of March 2017 saw some impressive aurora displays from Tasmania, Victoria, SA and WA. October 2016 saw a series of good but transient aurora in Tasmania and southern Victoria. July 2015 saw a massive storm seen as far north as mid NSW, again clouded out for large parts of Australia. 17-19/3/2015, the St. Patrick's Day aurora, massive storm seen as far north as Southern Queensland. Unfortunately clouded out for large parts of Australia. 26/2/2015, yet another good set of aurora were seen from Tasmania. 9/2/2015 There was a series of very good auroral events during February, some were seen in NSW, Victoria, SA and WA as well as Tasmania. Last year saw some nice events and a coronal mass ejection from an M class flare hit us square on on March 17 2013. Aurora were detected as far north as the QLD border, with some really nice events in Tasmania, and here are some images from that event. The Sun is now climbing out of solar minimum, but is still rather quiet 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.

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 (and solar cycle 25 should peak around 2024-2025), 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 heading towards solar maximum (except for the occasional humdinger, like the September 2005 auroral event), it is doing double duty. I am running the list via MailChimp, and no personal data is harvested or passed on to third parties. Astroblog will have images when possible of these events soon after.

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Coming events

Date Event
January
2 January 2021 Earth at Perihelion
12 January 2021 Crescent Moon and Venus close low in the morning twilight
14 January 2021 Crescent Moon, Mercury and Jupiter close low in the morning twilight
21 January 2021 Mars and waxing Moon close
21 January 2021 Uranus between Mars and the waxing Moon
February
6-7 February 2021 Venus close to Saturn low in the twilight
11 February 2021 Venus close to Jupiter and the crescent moon low in the twilight
19 February 2021Mars near first Quarter Moon
20-28 February 2021 Mercury between Jupiter and Saturn in the twilight
28 February 2021 Mars within binocular distance of the Pleiades cluster
March
1-9 March 2021 Mars within binocular distance of the Pleiades cluster, closest on the 4th
4 March 2021 Asteroid Vesta at opposition, just visible to the unaided eye, best in binoculars
5 March 2021 Mercury very close to Jupiter below Saturn in the morning
10 March 2021 Saturn close to the crescent Moon in the morning
11 March 2021Mercury close to Jupiter and the crescent Moon
in the morning
19 March 2021 Mars near waxing Moon
20 March 2021Earth at Equinox
April
7 April 2021 Saturn near to the waning Moon in the morning sky
8 April 2021 Jupiter near to the crescent Moon in the morning sky
11 April 2021 Mercury close to the crescent Moon in the morning twilight
17 April 2021 Mars close to the crescent Moon
27 April 2021 Mars on outskirts of open cluster M35 (binoculars best)
28 April 2021 Perigee Full Moon ("super" Moon), 1:00 am
May
4  May 2021 Saturn close to waning Moon in the morning sky
5 May 2021 Jupiter near to the waning Moon in the morning sky
6-7 May 2021Eta Aquariid meteor shower
13 May 2021Thin crescent Moon above Mercury in morning sky
26 May 2021Total eclipse Perigee Full Moon ("super" Moon), 12:00 pm (eclipse from 8 pm)
29 May 2021 Mercury and Venus close low in the twilight (binoculars best)
June
1 June 2021 waning Moon near Jupiter
12 June 2021 Venus near thin crescent Moon low in the evening sky
14 June 2021 Waxing crescent Moon and Mars near in evening sky
21 June 2021 Earth at solstice
23-24 June 2021 Mars crosses beehive cluster (binoculars best)
27 June 2021 Waning Moon close to Saturn
28 June 2021 waning Moon near Jupiter
July
3 July 2021 Venus at the edge of the beehive cluster, best in binoculars
6 July 2021 Earth at aphelion
8 July 2021Mercury close to the thin crescent Moon in the morning
12 July 2021Crescent Moon, Venus and Mars close in the evening
13 July 2021Venus and Mars very close in the evening sky
22 July 2021 Venus very close to bright star Regulus
24 July 2021 Saturn near Moon
26 July 2021 Jupiter near Moon
29-30 July 2021 Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower
30 July 2021 Mars very close to Regulus
August
2 August 2021 Saturn at opposition
10 August 2021 Mars near thin crescent Moon
11 August 2021 Venus close to crescent Moon
18 August 2021 Variable star Mira predicted to peak in brightness
19 August 2021 Jupiter at opposition
17-21 August 2021 Mercury close to Mars, closest on the 19th
20 August 20 Saturn near Moon
22 August 2021 Jupiter near Moon
September
6 September 2021 Venus close to bright star Spica
9 September 2021 Mercury and crescent Moon close in the evening sky
10 September 2021 Crescent Moon and Venus nearby forming triangle with Spica
17 September 2021 Waxing Moon near Saturn
18 September 2021 Waxing Moon near Jupiter
23 September 2021 Earth at Equinox
21 September 2021 Mercury close to bright star Spica
24 September 2021 Venus close to moderately bright star alpha2 Librae, below Scorpius and above the pair of Mercury and Spica
October
1 October 2021 Mercury and bright star Spica still close
10 October 2021 Venus, the crescent Moon and the bright star Antares form a triangle
14 October 2021 Saturn and the waxing Moon close
15 October 2021 Jupiter and the waxing Moon close
17 October 2021 Venus and the bright star Antares at their closest
21-22 October 2021 Orionid meteor shower
23-24 October 2021 Venus close to globular cluster M19 (binocular or telescope)
November
4 November 2021 Thin crescent Moon close to Mercury low in the twilight
8 November 2021Venus close to thin crescent Moon below the teapot of Sagittarius
8-24 November 2021 Venus crosses the teapot of Sagittarius
10-11 November 2021 Waxing Moon near Saturn
11-12 November 2021Waxing Moon near Saturn
18 November 2021 Leonid Meteor Shower
19 November 2021 Partial Lunar eclipse, difficult with mid eclipse in the twilight
December
3 December 2021 Mars and thin crescent Moon close low in the morning twilight
7-10 December 2021 Three bright planets form a line in the evening with the thin crescent. moon joining them, Venus and Moon close on the 7th
8 December 2021 Saturn and crescent Moon close
10 December 2021 Jupiter and crescent Moon close
14 December 2021 Geminid Meteor shower in the morning (waxing Moon sets before best rates)
18 December 2021 Apogee Full Moon (12:00 pm)
21 December 2021 Earth is at Solstice
23-30 December 2021 four bight planets, Mercury, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter line up in the evening twilight, on the 29th Venus and Mercury are at their closest.
1 January 2022 Thin crescent Moon very close to Mars low in the morning sky. Occultation seen in south eastern and south central Australia

Out in Space

Mars Curiosity Rover sends a picture postcard from Mars.

Mars Express helps explain a Phobos mystery.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter gives a Martian Weather report.

The newest rover, Perseverance captures a challenging flight by the helicopter Ingenuity.

The Juno mission provides the first 3D view of Jupiter's atmosphere.

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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.

O New Moon is on the 4th
C| First quarter on the 10th
O Full Moon on the 19th
D Last quarter on the 27th

December 3; the thin crescent moon near Mars, low in the morning twilight. December 4; New Moon. December 4; perigee Moon. December 6; Crescent moon forms a line with Venus, Saturn and Jupiter. December 7; Venus is close to the crescent Moon. December 8; Moon between Saturn and Jupiter. December 9; waxing Moon close to Jupiter. December 10; waxing Moon forms a line with Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. December 11; First Quarter Moon. December 18; apogee Moon. December 19; Full Moon (apogee ”mini” moon). December 27; Last Quarter Moon. January 1 2022; Morning occultation of 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, 20:52 pm

Western Evening sky on Tuesday, December 7 looking west as seen from Adelaide at 21:57 ACDST (90 minutes after sunset). Venus is close to the Crescent Moon and forms a line with Saturn and Jupiter. The insets shows the telescopic view of Venus. Similar views will be seen throughout Australia at the equivalent local time (90 minutes after sunset, click to embiggen).

Evening sky, 21:34 pm

Whole sky showing the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus and Comet C/2021 A1 on Saturday December 18, 21:27 ACDST, 60 minutes after sunset (click to embiggen). Elsewhere in Australia will see a similar planetary line up that the equivalent time (60 minutes after sunset).

Evening sky, 21:00

Evening sky on Monday December 27 showing the western sky as seen from Adelaide at 21:01 pm ACDST (30 minutes after sunset). Mercury, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter form a line in the evening sky. The inset shows the telescopic view of Venus. Similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia at the equivalent local time (30 minutes after sunset), click to embiggen.

Mercury is low in the evening twilight from the middle of this month of this month and encounters Venus. On the 27 Venus and Mercury can been seen low in the twilight half an hour after sunset together, and the pair are at their closest on the 29th (with Venus below).

On the 15th Mercury is just over two finger-widths from the western horizon half an hour after sunset. By the 30th Mercury is just over a hand-span from the western horizon half an hour after sunset.

Venus is easily visible at the beginning of the month in the evening sky from 30 minutes after sunset (I can see it as early as 5 minutes after sunset) until well after the sky is fully dark. Venus, Saturn and Jupiter make a nice line in the evening sky for most of December. Venus is at its greatest brilliance on the 4th, then rapidly moves to the horizon. Venus is a very obvious crescent in even small telescopes and will get thinner as it heads towards the horizon, by the end of the Month it may be visible as a crescent in binoculars.

On the 7th the crescent Moon is close to Venus. On the 27 Venus and Mercury can been seen low in the twilight half an hour after sunset together, and the pair are at their closest on the 29th (with Venus below).

On the 1st Venus is just under three hand-spans from the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. By the 15th Venus is just two hand-spans from the western horizon an hour after sunset. On the 30th Venus is just under three finger-widths from the western horizon a half an hour after sunset.

Earth is at solstice on Wednesday the 22nd, when the day is longest.

Mars is low in the twilight until late in the month. On the 1st Mars is just under a hand-span from the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the 3rd the thin crescent moon is close to Mars. By the 15th Mars is just a hand-span and a half from the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the 30th Mars is just over a hand-span from the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise, below the bright star Antares. On January 1, 2002 Mars is occulted by the thin crescent Moon. .

Jupiter is readily visible from astronomical twilight and is now lowering into the western evening sky. Jupiter still bright and an excellent object in even small telescopes, but the window for telescopic observation is closing. At the beginning of this month at astronomical twilight, we can enjoy the sight the sight of bright Venus in the west forming a line with Saturn and bright Jupiter in the north-west. Once Venus has set Jupiter dominates the night sky. by the end of the Month Mercury has replaced Venus.

The moon visits the bright planets in Turn, Venus on the 7th, Saturn on the 8th then Jupiter on the 9th. The Moon will be close enough to Jupiter for the pair to fit in the field of view of 10x50 binoculars. The sight of the three bight planets together with the Moon will be particularly beautiful.

On the 1st Jupiter is nearly six hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after after sunset. At this time it is in a line with Saturn and Venus. On the 15th Jupiter is just over six hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after after sunset. On the 30th Jupiter is just over two hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after after sunset.

In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter's Moons are always interesting.



Times are AEST, subtract 30 minutes for ACST and 3 hours for AWST. adjust for daylight savings as necessary.
GRS = Great Red Spot. S = Shadow Transit, T = Transit

Jupiter Events from 01 December 2021 to 30 December 2021
Thu	2	Dec	0:36	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Thu	2	Dec	0:37	Io : Disappears into Occultation	
Thu	2	Dec	20:27	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Thu	2	Dec	21:01	Cal: Disappears into Eclipse	
Thu	2	Dec	21:58	Io : Transit Begins               T	
Thu	2	Dec	23:16	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST	
Fri	3	Dec	0:16	Io : Transit Ends                 S	
Fri	3	Dec	1:09	Cal: Reappears from Eclipse       S	
Fri	3	Dec	22:41	Io : Reappears from Eclipse	
Sat	4	Dec	22:06	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Sat	4	Dec	22:53	Gan: Disappears into Occultation	
Sun	5	Dec	23:10	Eur: Disappears into Occultation	
Mon	6	Dec	23:45	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Tue	7	Dec	22:44	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends	
Wed	8	Dec	21:44	Gan: Shadow Transit Ends	
Thu	9	Dec	21:16	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Thu	9	Dec	23:56	Io : Transit Begins               T	
Fri	10	Dec	21:05	Io : Disappears into Occultation  T	
Fri	10	Dec	21:40	Cal: Transit Ends	
Sat	11	Dec	0:37	Io : Reappears from Eclipse	
Sat	11	Dec	20:44	Io : Transit Ends                 S	
Sat	11	Dec	21:58	Io : Shadow Transit Ends	
Sat	11	Dec	22:55	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Tue	14	Dec	22:33	Eur: Shadow Transit Begins        ST	
Tue	14	Dec	22:57	Eur: Transit Ends                 S	
Wed	15	Dec	20:56	Gan: Transit Ends	
Wed	15	Dec	22:15	Gan: Shadow Transit Begins        S	
Thu	16	Dec	22:05	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Fri	17	Dec	23:04	Io : Disappears into Occultation	
Sat	18	Dec	21:36	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST	
Sat	18	Dec	22:43	Io : Transit Ends                 S	
Sat	18	Dec	23:45	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Sat	18	Dec	23:53	Io : Shadow Transit Ends	
Sun	19	Dec	21:01	Io : Reappears from Eclipse	
Tue	21	Dec	21:16	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Tue	21	Dec	22:51	Eur: Transit Begins               T	
Wed	22	Dec	21:38	Gan: Transit Begins               T	
Thu	23	Dec	22:55	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Thu	23	Dec	23:06	Eur: Reappears from Eclipse	
Sat	25	Dec	22:25	Io : Transit Begins               T	
Sat	25	Dec	23:32	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST	
Sun	26	Dec	22:57	Io : Reappears from Eclipse	
Mon	27	Dec	23:32	Cal: Shadow Transit Begins        S	
Tue	28	Dec	22:05	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Thu	30	Dec	20:49	Eur: Disappears into Occultation	

Saturn can be easily seen from nautical twilight (an hour after sunset) during December. Saturn is telescopically bets at astronomical twilight, when the sky is fully dark, but from mid-month it is too close to the horizon for good telescopic observation. The moon is close to Venus on the 7th, Saturn on the 8th then Jupiter on the 9th. The sight of the three bight planets together with the Moon will be particularly beautiful. .

On December 1 Saturn is just over five hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. At this time it is in a line with Jupiter and Venus. By December 15, Saturn is just over two hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after after sunset. On the 30th Saturn is just two hand-spans above the western horizon an hour after sunset. At this time it is in in a line with Jupiter and Mercury.

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Iridium Flares, the International Space Station and other satellites

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

The Iridium satellites have deorbited, However, other satellites do flares as well (bit more rarely) the visibility of Iridium flares is VERY dependent on observer position, so you need a prediction for your spot within about 30 km. Hence I'm referring you to a web site for predictions rather than doing it myself.


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

Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:
Another site, JPASS, 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 
 7/12/2021  Puppids-Velids      10     New Moon   
14/12/2021  Geminids            150    First Quarter Moon             
22/12/2021 Ursids               10    Full Moon             
 

The figure ZHR is zenithal hourly rate. This is the number of meteors that a single observer would see per hour if the shower's "point of origin", or radiant, were at the zenith and the sky were dark enough for 6.5-magnitude stars to be visible to the naked eye. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the sky is darkest at New Moon, and brightest at full Moon, morning meteors will be unaffected by the First Quarter Moon, but will be dimmed by the Last Quarter Moon.

The Puppids-Velids are a modest southern meteor shower (roughly a meteor every four minutes) that doesn't require you getting up too late to see, although meteors are always best in the early morning. At midnight, AEDST (11.00 pm AEST) the radiant is 9 hand-spans up from, and 6 hand-spans to the left of, due east. This is roughly a hand-span below and to the left of the False Cross. A spotters map is here. This year the Moon will not interfere significantly.

morning sky, 4:00 am

Geminid radiant seen facing north in the southern Hemisphere at 4:00 am daylight saving time, December 14.

The Geminids are a fairly reliable meteor shower, with rates of about a meteor per minute at their best. This is a reasonable year for Geminids, as the waxing Moon will set before the radiant is at its highest. The radiant doesn't rise until just before midnight (daylight saving time) in most of Australia, so you will have to disturb your sleep for this one. At 1.00 am in the morning AEDST (midnight, AEST) Castor (alpha Geminorum) is about two hand-spans above the horizon and 10 hand-spans to the left of due north. Pollux, the other twin, is less than a hand-span to the left again. The radiant is just below Castor. A spotters map is here. Unlike the Leonids, where there is a very narrow peak of high activity, the Geminids have a broad peak and will normally show good activity well before and after the peak, and on the day before and after, although Moonlight interferes this year after the peak. Australians should see a meteor every 2-3 minutes under dark skies in the early morning of the 14th, between 2:00 am and 4:00 am.

Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 6 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2 per hour during the evening. The evening rates will be reduced during the times around the full Moon due to interference by the Moons light.

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

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

Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.

A Cool Fact about meteor speeds

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

 

 

 

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Comets:

morning sky, 5.31 am

Comet C/2021 A1 Leonard as seen looking west from Adelaide at 21:53 ACDST (60 minutes after sunset) shown at daily intervals from 18 to 25 December. Similar views will be seen in elsewhere in Australia 60 minutes after sunset.

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) is this years “Christmas comet”. While not as spectacular as the “searchlight comet” Comet C/2011 W3 Lovejoy, it will be a nice little binocular object. It is predicted to reach magnitude 4 at its brightest but it will be too close to the sun to see, the earliest we can expect to see it in the southern hemisphere is around the 16th, low in the twilight. As it climbs higher we will get better views but it will fade rapidly.

On the 18th it is about 1 and half a binocular fields south from Venus, the on the 21st it is around 2 binocular fields south of Saturn, on the 25th it will be around unaided eye threshold some distance from Saturn and Jupiter. It will be fuzzy dot to the unaided eye and a small tail may be seen in binoculars.

Unfortunately there are no prominent guide stars to help find it. A black and white spotters chart suitable for printing is here . A B&W chart 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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Occultations:

Occultation of Mars by the Moon 1 January, 2022.

evening sky, 04:53 pm

The Moon at 04:53 am ACDST in Adelaide on Saturday 1 January, 2022 before Mars disappears behind the Moon.

The occultation of Mars seen in south eastern and south central Australia in the early morning on New Years Day. It will be visible from Adelaide, Hobart, Melbourne and Canberra. Sydney sees a graze 12 minutes before sunrise. The occultation will be low to the horizon with the thin crescent Moon covering Mars. In Adelaide this is after astronomical twilight and in the east with the best views, for Hobart, Melbourne and Canberra this is around nautical twilight.


PlaceDisappears bright LimbReappears dark Limb
Adelaide ACDST 04:53 05:37
Canberra AEDST 05:31 05:47
Hobart AEST 05:30 06:11
Melbourne AEST 05:26 06:00
Sydney AEST 5:36 -


More cities in Australia can be found at the IOTA site (UT times only, which is why is says DEC 31).

 


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. Algol is currently not visible. In mid August Mira should have been be close to its maximum around the 18th. Mira no longer visible to the unaided eye.

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Stars:

evening sky, 10:00 pm

The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEST in Melbourne on December 1 (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 10:00 pm ACST Adelaide, 9:00 pm AEST Brisbane).

All descriptions here are based on the view from Melbourne at 10.00 pm AEST on 1 December 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 AEST 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 east, the faint constellation of Monocerous (the Unicorn) is just on the horizon.

At around three hand-spans from the eastern horizon are the constellations of Taurus, the bull, Orion the hunter and Canis major, Orion's hunting dog. Three hands-pans left of due east 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 left of Orion's belt by about 4 hand-spans is Aldebaran (alpha Tauri), another red giant which forms the base of the V shaped group of stars called the Hyades, which forms the head of Taurus. Further to the left again by about two hand-spans is a faint, but pretty, compact cluster of stars called the Pleiades (the seven sisters, even though eight can be seen on a dark night with good eyesight). The Pleiades are particularly beautiful through binoculars.

To the right of Orion's belt by about 4 hand-spans is the bright white star 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.

About 6 hand-spans up from due east is the small constellation of Lepus, the Hare.

Above this again, is the faint constellation of Eridanus, the river, which starts near bright Rigel and meanders upwards and southwards to where its brightest star, Achernar, points to the small Magellanic cloud.

Continuing on to the zenith we find the faint constellations Sculptor and Phoenix.

Due west, bright Fomalhaut, alpha star of Piscis Austrinus is 5 hand-spans below the Zenith (and 12 hand-spans above the western horizon). Three hand-spans to the left of Fomalhaut is Grus, the crane, with a distinctive, battered cross-like shape.

About five hand-spans down from Fomalhaut is the battered triangle of Capricornius, the Water Goat, currently hosting Uranus and Neptune. Of interest as well is alpha Capricornii, (eight hand-spans below Fomalhaut and 4 hand-spans from the horizon) the brightish star at bottom left hand corner of the triangle that is Capricorn. This is a naked eye double star.

Returning to the Zenith and working towards the northern horizon; five hand spans below the zenith (and 12 hand-spans from the northern horizon) is Cetus, the whale, which stretches down and right. Beta Ceti is a modestly bright star 4 hand-spans below and a hand-span left of the zenith, the rest of Cetus is relatively faint. Mira, Omicron Ceti (O on the maps) is a variable star with a period of about 332 days. Mira is currently around magnitude 5.0 and is start brightening for a maximum in late December.

Cetus also hosts a nearby sun like star. Tau Ceti is 11.4 light years away from earth, looking 12 hand-spans up from east and three to the left is magnitude 2 Deneb Kaitos, beta Ceti. Two hand-spans below and slightly to the left is eta Ceti, two hand-spans to the right of eta Ceti, forming a triangle with eta and beta, is Tau Ceti.

Three hand-spans below Cetus is Pisces, a rather nondescript constellation, despite its importance in the Zodiac.

Continuing down Mirach (beta Andromedae) is 14 hand-spans from the zenith, and three hand-spans from the northern horizon. One hand-span below and half a hand-span to the left of Mirach is the Andromeda galaxy (also 1 hand-span to the left of due north and two above the horizon), one of the local group of galaxies and very similar to our own, at magnitude 3.2 it should be easily visible to the naked eye under dark skies as a fuzzy star. The binocular view should be excellent.

A hand-span to the right and a hand-span up from Mirach is M33, the pinwheel galaxy, also a member of the local group. At magnitude 5.7 and relatively close to the horizon, this galaxy is a challenge to see with the naked eye, but is easily found in small binoculars.

To the left of Mirach by two hand-spans, and up by one is Alpheratz, (alpha Andromedae) the bottom right hand star of the "great square" of the constellation Pegasus, the winged horse. The stars that make distinctive box shape of the main constellation lies around three hand-spans to the left of and up from (and 4 across from) Alpheratz.

Now return to the zenith and go South. Directly south by four hand-spans and slightly to the left is Achernar, alpha Eridanus.

Directly south again by about three hand-spans is the Small Magellanic cloud, the second largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies to the Milky Way. This feature is best viewed on a dark night, away from the city. In this nebulosity is what looks to be a fuzzy star, this is 47 Tucana (marked 104 on the map), a spectacular globular cluster that is very nice through binoculars. To the right of the Small Magellanic Cloud by about 4 hand-spans is the dim constellation of Tucana, the Toucan, the parent constellation of 47 Tucana.

A hand-span further down and three to the left 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.

Continuing directly down from the Magellanic cloud by about 3 hand-spans (about 6 from Achernar) and about one hand-span right is Octans, the octant (a navigating instrument the was the forerunner of the sextant). Octans houses the south celestial pole, and the faint Sigma Octanis, the South Polar star, which is the southern equivalent of Polaris. At magnitude 5.5 you will be stretched to see it under city conditions, but it is six hand-spans below and slightly to the left of Achernar, forming the right angle of a triangle with two other faint stars (tau and chi Octanis).

Slightly below and to the right of Octans by around one hand-span is the faint Chameleon, a narrow "kite" of four stars with the long axis nearly parallel to the horizon.

Moving down by another two hand-spans is Musca, the fly, and to the right of that by around three hand-spans is Triangulum. Directly below triangulum are the bright, distinctive alpha and beta Centauri, the so called "pointers", two hand-spans from the southern horizon, with alpha being the yellow star which is furthest from the horizon, and beta the blue white star below and to the left. Most of the rest of Centarus, the Centaur, is too close to, or below, the Horizon to be seen properly.

Alpha Centauri is the closest star to our sun at around 4 light years. However, recent measurements with the Hippacaros satellite put the system 300 million 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.

Returning to alpha Centauri, following a line south through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, one and a half hand-spans from beta Centauri to beta Crucis, and one hand-span above the horizon between the 6 o'clock and 7 o'clock position on a clock. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.

The Southern Cross is, as expected, a cross shaped formation with Acrux (alpha Crucis) and gamma Crucis forming the long axis of the cross (pointing down to the south-west, with bright Acrux on the end of the axis away from the horizon). Beta and delta Crucis, now nearly horizontal, form the cross piece of the cross. Just to the right Acrux is the coal sack. This dark area against the glow of the Milky Way represents a large dust cloud and is usually clearly visible in dark skies, but will be hard to see this close to the horizon. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just above Beta Crucis. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly, and is unlikely to be good viewing this close to the horizon.

Rising above the south-eastern horizon, to the left of due south is Carina (the keel of the former constellation Argo Navis). A high definition map of this region is here. It is now far enough from the horizon to appreciate its many faint objects. Looking almost anywhere in the area of Carina will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area between the Southern Cross and the false cross (which is just above the south-eastern horizon), is particularly rich. Here you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars, with theta Carina one hand-span up, and two hand-spans to the left of Acrux. Smaller and less spectacular than their northern counterparts, they still look very nice in binoculars. Four finger-widths below the Southern Pleiades are two rich open clusters, and the barely visible star Eta Carina. Eta Carina's spectacular nebula is only dimly seen in binoculars. Five hand-spans to the left of the Southern Cross is the False Cross, three hand-spans from the southern horizon. Just to the left of the False Cross is a good open cluster, normally just visible to the naked eye but hard to see this close to the horizon. Still very nice in binoculars though. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star sitting seven hand-spans above the south-eastern horizon (and about 4 hand-spans along and up from the False Cross.

Vela and Puppis (to the left and below Carina respectively) are also beginning to clear the horizon, and in the coming weeks their collection of clusters will be more apparent.

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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 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.

PNG Maps

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

PDF Maps

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

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

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

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[ December Skies] [ January Skies] [ February Skies] [ March Skies] [ April Skies] [ May Skies] [ June Skies] [ July Skies] [ August Skies] [ September Skies] [ October Skies] [ November Skies]
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Cheers! And good star gazing!


updated

Ian's Astrophotography Gallery

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

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Links

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

Stellarium, the free photorealistic sky chart that I use for my general charts, is now available in a web version, it is not as versatile as the desktop version, but handy if you are out and about. it Runs under a variety of browsers on standard PC's, Chromebooks and iPads. https://stellarium-web.org/

The is also a mobile Stellarium version, but it costs money (around $13, not much, but still).

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

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

I use a combination of a 1962 star chart, the Australian Astronomy 2021 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2021 almanac. It is more helpful for planetary/comet/asteroidal observations and eclipses than for double stars, clusters galaxies etc, but is an excellent resource for Australian observers and anyone who would like to seriously follow the planets in Australia should have this almanac. It has easy to follow month-by-month summary information, as well as detailed charts, tables and whole sky maps. It is easily navigated. The Almanac is often in big bookstores or optical shops, or email info@quasarastronomy.com.au to purchase a copy directly for those outside major population centres. The Australian Astronomy almanac comes out in around November for the following year, and is now approx $30.

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

For detailed chart drawing and timing of events, as well as satellite track predictions I feed the information from the almanac into the 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, If anyone does still wish to buy a copy of SkyMap Pro 12, please email Chris Marriott at "skymap62@gmail.com".

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

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

Other highly recommended Sky charting packages (win95/98/2000/XP/Win7-10 sorry) are:
Cartes du Ciel at https://www.ap-i.net/skychart//en/start (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at
http://stellarium.sourceforge.net/ (FREE) stunning photorealistic program, but requires a grunty PC.
Celestron Sky Portal https://www.celestron.com/pages/skyportal-mobile-app is a good free mobile phone/tablet app
Sky Safari https://skysafariastronomy.com/ is another nice mobile astronomy app, but the Apple app store want to sell me Skysafari 6 rather than the freeware Sky Safari 5 (currently available on Google play).
TheSkyVarious packages from $49 US to $249 US
Stary Night various versions from $50 US for the basic pack (10 day trial of the basic pack at http://www.siennasoft.com/english/downloads.shtml) up to eye watering $250 USD versions.
Earth Centered Universe $88 AUD (shareware version at http://www.nova-astro.com/)
On the other hand a standard Sky Atlas for serious observing (much handier than carting a computer with you) such as Norton's Star Atlas can range from $35 to $90.

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

This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2021 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 2021 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: Friday, 3 December, 2021, 11:30:13 PM


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