This month the planetary action is mostly in the morning skies. Venus bright in the east with Jupiter and Saturn below it. Venus and Saturn are visited by the crescent Moon in quick succession. Saturn and Venus are closest at mid month. Lonely Mars graces the western evening sky but is visited by Uranus early in the month. Comet C/2018 Y1 may be visible in binoculars early in the month.
Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
February 1; Venus and the crescent Moon close in the morning. February 2; crescent Moon near to Saturn. February 5; Moon at Apogee. February 10-11; Mars close to the waxing Moon. February 12; Comet C/2018 Y1 at its brightest, may be visible in binoculars. February 13; Mars and Uranus close. February 19; Venus and Saturn at their closest. February 19; Moon at perigee (near perigee full Moon, so called "super Moon" 20th, best perigee/agpogee full Moon combination until 2032). February 28; waning Moon close to Jupiter.
Looking up at the stars is still a rewarding pursuit, despite the increasing light pollution in our major cities. The southern sky is full of interesting objects, many of which go unseen in the northern hemisphere. All you need for a good nights viewing is yourself, a good idea of where south and east are, and your hands. Optional extras are a small pair of binoculars, a torch with red cellophane taped over the business end and a note book. A great many tips for backyard astronomy may be found here, although many of them are more relevant to the northern hemisphere. A general article on amateur astronomy from New Scientist is here (may require subscription otherwise see the TASS site.).
This page is designed to give people a simple guide to the unaided eye sky. In the descriptions of planet and star positions, distances in the sky are given as "fingers width" and "hand span". This is the width of your hand (with all the fingers together as in making a "stop" sign, not bunched as a fist) or finger when extended a full arms length from you.
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Summer is here once more, and the beautiful constellations of Orion, Taurus and the magnificent rambling constellations of Carina, Puppis and Vela grace our skies again. The February school holidays will be an ideal time to head out somewhere dark and view the stars and planets at their best. Summer also means very long twilights in southern Australia, so you may have to wait to see these delights. Despite the warmth of the days, nights are often cool, so don't forget a light jumper before doing any extended star watching. A blanket or rug to sit on is a good idea. Some mosquito repellent will be a must.
While these pages are primarily intended for the use of people observing in Australia, non-Australian Southern Hemisphere observers will find most of the information here applies to them. The star information will be most helpful, when you correct your location for latitude (see the Stars section for appropriate location information). Most Moon phase, planet, comet and asteroid information will be very similar to what will be seen in New Zealand, South Africa and South America. Countries close to the equator (eg Indonesia) will have somewhat different southern and northern views, but the eastern and western views should be similar enough to get a good idea of what is going on.
Occultations, eclipses and aurora are highly location dependent, and it would be best to get a local almanac for these events. If there is no local almanac available, email me and I might be able to help you. I do try and give general info for occultations and eclipses in the Oceania area of the Southern Hemisphere.
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Aurora Alert UPDATED 28/08/18: Despite solar maximum having passed, we are 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. 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 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 at solar minimum,and is 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.
We are now deep in solar minimum, and we can expect to see few aurora. There have been some good displays in Tasmania in the recent past (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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject. This is the old aurora alert list, but with auroras rare even though we are at solar maximum (except for the occasional humdinger, like the September 2005 auroral event), it is doing double duty. Astroblog will have images when possible of these events soon after.
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2 January 2019; Venus close to crescent Moon in morning.
3-4 January 2019; Crescent Moon and Jupiter close
4 January 2019; Crescent Moon near Mercury
12-13 January 2019; waxing Moon and Mars close
14 January 2019; Mercury a bit over a finger-width from Saturn low in the morning twilight
21 January 2019; Perigee Full Moon ("super" Moon, strictly at its biggest on the morning of the 22nd)
23 January 2019; Venus and Jupiter close in the morning
31 January 2019; Crescent Moon and Jupiter close again
1 February 2019; Crescent Moon close to Venus in the morning sky
2-3 February 2019; Crescent Moon close to Saturn in the morning
10 February 2019; Waxing Moon close to Mars
12-13 February 2019; Uranus close to Mars (binocular viewing)
20 February 2019; Perigee Full Moon ("super" Moon, strictly at its biggest on the evening of the 19th)
28 February 2019; Waning Moon close to Jupiter
2 March 2019; Crescent Moon close to Saturn in the morning
3 March 2019; Crescent Moon close to Venus in the morning sky
11 March 2019; Crescent Moon close to Mars
30 March 2019; Waning Moon close to Saturn
2-3 April 2019; Crescent Moon close to Venus in the morning sky
3 April 2019; Crescent Moon close to Mercury in the morning sky
9 April 2019; Moon close to Mars in evening sky
23 April 2019; waning Moon close to Jupiter in the evening sky
25 April 2019; Occultation of Saturn by the Moon, very low on horizon
4-25 May 2019; Asteroid Ceres visible in binoculars (opposition on 28th)
3 May 2019; Crescent Moon close to Venus in the morning sky
6 May 2019; Eta Aquariid meteor shower
8 May 2019; Crescent Moon close to Mars
19 May 2019; Venus and Uranus a finger-width apart in the morning twilight (binoculars)
20 May 2019; Jupiter near waning Moon
22 May 2019; Waning Moon close to Saturn
1-29 June 2019; Asteroid Ceres visible in binoculars 2 June 2019; Crescent Moon and Venus close in twilight
4 June 2019; Crescent Moon and Mercury close
5 June 2019; Crescent Moon and Mars close
11 June 2019; Jupiter at Opposition
16 June 2019; Jupiter and Full Moon close
19 June 2019; Moon and Saturn close
4 July 2019; Mercury close to Crescent Moon and Mars in the twilight
10 July 2019; Saturn at Opposition
13-14 July 2019; Moon and Jupiter close
16 July 2019; Moon and Saturn close
16-17 July 2019; Partial Lunar Eclipse, early morning, really only visible from WA and a bit in the Central states
30 July 2019; Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower
31 July 2019; Mercury close to thin crescent moon low in twilight
2 August 2019; Crescent Moon close to Mars low in the twilight
10 August 2019; Moon close to Jupiter
12 August 2019; Moon close to Saturn, Occultation seen on East coast only
6 September 2019; Waxing Moon and Jupiter close
8-9 September 2019; Saturn close to Moon, Occultation in northern and Western Australia
13 September 2019; Apogee Full Moon (mini-Moon)
29 September 2019; Mercury close to bright star Spica
30 September 2019; Crescent Moon close to Spica and Mercury with Venus below
3-5 October 2019; Venus and the bright star Spica close
4 October 2019; Jupiter and waxing Moon close
6 October 2019; Saturn and waxing Moon close
22 October 2019; Orionid meteor shower
24 October 2019; Variable star Mira at its brightest
29 October 2019; Mercury, Venus and Crescent Moon close
31 October 2019; Jupiter and waxing Moon close
2 November 2019; waxing Moon close to Saturn
9 November 2019; Jupiter crescent Moon close
11 November 2019; Crescent Moon and Saturn close
12 November 2019; Asteroid Vesta at opposition, potentially (just) visible with the unaided eye
17 November 2019; Leonid Meteor Shower
24 November 2019; Jupiter and Venus just two finger-widths apart
25 November 2019; the Crescent Moon, Mars and Mercury form a triangle in the dawn sky
28-29 November 2019; the Crescent Moon, Jupiter and Venus form a line in the evening twilight
2 December 2019; Venus close to the globular cluster M22 in the evening twilight (binocular)
11 December 2019; Venus and Saturn two finger-widths apart
15 December 2019; Geminid Meteor shower (full Moon, poor rates)
23 December 2019; Crescent Moon close to Mars in morning sky
26 December 2019; Partial Eclipse of the Sun, visible only in northern Australia
27 December 2019; Crescent Moon close to Saturn in the evening twilight
29 December 2019; Crescent Moon close to Venus in the evening sky
Out in Space
Mars Curiosity Rover says goodbye to Vera Rubin Ridge .
Mars Express sees a winter wonderland on Mars.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sees Opportunity to emerge from the dust storm.
The Juno mission science mission is halfway complete.
more exciting images from an Asteroid.
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New Moon is on the 5th
Current Phase of the Moon.
First quarter on the 13th
Full moon on the 20th
Last quarter on the 26th
February 1; Venus and the crescent Moon close in the morning. February 2; crescent Moon near to Saturn. February 5; Moon at Apogee. February 10-11; Mars close to the waxing Moon. February 19; Moon at perigee (near perigee full Moon, so called "super Moon" 20th, this year is the best perigee/agpogee full Moon combination until 2032). February 28; waning Moon close to Jupiter.
An interactive calendar of the Moon's phases.
A view of the phase of the Moon for any date from 1800 A.D. to 2199, US based, so that the Moon is upside down with respect to us. The image above is from this source.
The phases of the Moon have been linked in the popular imagination to activities as diverse as madness and menstruation. However, careful study has shown that there are no such links. This web page outlines how the Moon is unconnected with a wide range of human activities.
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Finding planets, even with the directions below, can sometimes be difficult if you are unfamiliar with the sky. However, the Moon is very obvious, and can be a guide to location of planets. Not only that, the combination of the Moon and bright planet(s) is often very beautiful. Thus the guide below gives the dates when the planets and the Moon are close together.
The the morning sky on Friday February 1 facing east as seen from Adelaide at 5:11 ACDST 90 minutes before sunrise, Venus and the crescent Moon are close. (The inset shows the telescopic view of Venus, Jupiter and Saturn at this time, similar views will be seen Australia wide 90 minutes minutes before sunrise).
The evening sky facing west on Sunday February 10 facing west as seen from Adelaide at 21:48 ACDST 90 minutes after sunset, the waxing Moon is close to Mars. The inset shows the binocular view of Mars and Uranus on the 13th (similar views will be seen Australia wide 90 minutes minutes after sunset).
The the morning sky facing east in Adelaide on February 19 at 5:22 ACDST 90 minutes before sunrise. Saturn and Venus are close (just over a finger-widths apart. The inset shows the binocular view of the pair at this time. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time 90 minutes before sunrise).
Mercury is low in the evening sky deep in the twilight, even at highest it never gets more than 3 finger-widths above the horizon 30 minutes after sunset.
Venus is high in the the morning sky this month, with Jupiter above and Saturn below. Venus and Saturn come closer over the month and are closest mid month. Venus is a distinct gibbous shape all month. On February 1 Venus is just over three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. On February 1, Venus and the thin crescent Moon are less than a hand-span apart. In the first two weeks of the moth Venus is close to some nice clusters and Nebulae, On the 2nd it is in binocular range of of the open cluster M23, then on the 6th it is in binocular range of the Lagoon and Triffid nebulae, then on the 1 th it is in binocular range to the bright globular cluster M22 On February 15, Venus is still just over three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. On February 19 Venus and Saturn are a finger-width apart. By February 28, Venus remains just over three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise.
Mars is still obvious but is substantially dimer and small and is a challenging telescope object this month. Mars spends most of the time in Pisces this month. On February 1 Mars is just under 3 hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On 10 and 11 February Mars and the waxing Moon are close. On February 13 Mars and Uranus are a finger-width apart. On February 15 Mars is just over 2 hand-spans above the western horizon at hour and a half after sunset. On the 28th Mars is just two hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset.
Jupiter, climbs higher in the the morning sky this month, and comes close to Venus towards the end of the Month.
Jupiter remains in Ophiuchus this month. February 1, Jupiter is nearly four hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. On February 15, Jupiter is just over under seven hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. By February 28, Jupiter is nearly nine hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. At this time the waning Moon is a three finger-widths from Jupiter.
In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter's Moons are always interesting.This table was created using The Planets 2.02 a free program available from http://www.cpac.org.uk Times are AEST, subtract 30 minutes for ACST and 3 hours for AWST. Add one hour for Daylight Saving time. GRS = Great Red Spot. S = Shadow Transit, T = Transit Sat 2 Feb 3:52 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 2 Feb 5:16 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Mon 4 Feb 2:18 Eur: Transit Begins ST Mon 4 Feb 2:36 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends T Mon 4 Feb 4:41 Eur: Transit Ends Mon 4 Feb 5:07 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Mon 4 Feb 5:31 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 5 Feb 2:16 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Tue 5 Feb 3:20 Io : Transit Begins ST Tue 5 Feb 4:27 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Tue 5 Feb 5:32 Io : Transit Ends Wed 6 Feb 2:49 Io : Reappears from Occultation Thu 7 Feb 3:01 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 7 Feb 4:27 Gan: Disappears into Eclipse Sat 9 Feb 4:40 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 11 Feb 2:48 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Mon 11 Feb 4:59 Eur: Transit Begins ST Mon 11 Feb 5:09 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends T Tue 12 Feb 2:10 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 12 Feb 4:10 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Tue 12 Feb 5:18 Io : Transit Begins ST Wed 13 Feb 1:28 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Wed 13 Feb 1:52 Eur: Reappears from Occultation Wed 13 Feb 4:46 Io : Reappears from Occultation Thu 14 Feb 1:59 Io : Transit Ends Thu 14 Feb 3:49 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 16 Feb 5:27 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 17 Feb 1:19 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 18 Feb 2:51 Gan: Transit Begins T Mon 18 Feb 5:00 Gan: Transit Ends Mon 18 Feb 5:21 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Tue 19 Feb 2:57 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 20 Feb 2:08 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Wed 20 Feb 2:09 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Wed 20 Feb 3:21 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Wed 20 Feb 4:34 Eur: Reappears from Occultation Thu 21 Feb 0:32 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Thu 21 Feb 1:44 Io : Transit Begins ST Thu 21 Feb 2:43 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Thu 21 Feb 3:56 Io : Transit Ends Thu 21 Feb 4:36 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 22 Feb 1:12 Io : Reappears from Occultation Sun 24 Feb 2:06 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 25 Feb 2:06 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins S Mon 25 Feb 4:10 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends Tue 26 Feb 3:45 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 27 Feb 2:21 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Wed 27 Feb 4:44 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Wed 27 Feb 4:50 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Wed 27 Feb 5:14 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Thu 28 Feb 2:25 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Thu 28 Feb 3:40 Io : Transit Begins ST Thu 28 Feb 4:37 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Thu 28 Feb 5:23 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 28 Feb 5:52 Io : Transit EndsSaturn climbs higher in the morning sky this month, first chasing then catching Venus. On February 1 is just under a hand-span above the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. On February 15, Saturn is just othree hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. On the 18th Saturn and Venus are just under a finger-width apart. On the 28th Saturn is just five hand-spans above the eastern 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.
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.
- Heavens above, an excellent site. You need to choose your location or manually enter a longitude and latitude it gives the visibility of the International space station and heaps of other satellites. I find this the most useful site.
See the International Space Station at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box
Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
Another site, JPASS, doesn't do Iridium flares, but is very cool and does the International Space Station, and many other satellites. However, although the output is flashy, it's harder to use than heavens above.
- The JPASS site from NASA.
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Date Meteor Shower ZHR Illumination
The figure ZHR is zenithal hourly rate. This is the number of meteors that a single observer would see per hour if the shower's "point of origin", or radiant, were at the zenith and the sky were dark enough for 6.5-magnitude stars to be visible to the naked eye. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the lower the figure, the darker the sky.
There are no significant showers this month.
Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 10 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2 per hour during the evening. The evening rates will be reduced during the times around the full Moon due to interference by the Moons light.
A good page describing meteor watching is at the Sky Publications site.
The Meteor Section of the Astronomical Society of Victoria has some good information on meteor watching too.
Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.
A Cool Fact about meteor speeds
A good page on detecting meteors using home made radio-telescopes is here.
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There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment. Comet C/2018 Y1 should be at its peak on 12 February, at magnitude 6.5, bright enough to see in binoculars
Comet C/2018 Y1 as seen looking north-east from Adelaide at midnight ACST on Tuesday the 12th of February, when the comet is brightest. Similar views will be seen in elsewhere in Australia at the equivalent local time.C/2018 Y1 currently in the constellation Virgo but will move rapidly into Leo. It is brightening and should be visible in binoculars by early February. It is currently magnitude 8 and may peak at magnitude 6.5 when it is 0.3 AU from Eart on the 12th. Its fuzzy, diffuse nature means it will be difficult to spot under suburban conditions.
At its brightest it is just below Regulus so will be relatively easy to find. On the 13th it is almost on top of eta Leonis, so should be very easy to spot. 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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No interesting naked-eye occultations this month.
No significant eclipses this month.
Find local sunrise/sunset and twilight times for your city or location (courtesy of Heavens Above).
Use either the drop down box for the listed cities, or type in your latitude, longitude and city in the boxes below.
Type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
While most stars seem to shine with a constant brightness, there are some that undergo regular, dramatic change in brightness. The classic variables are Mira and Algol. Algol is currently not visible and Mira is past maximum and is not readily visible.
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The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEST in Melbourne on February 1 (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 10:00 pm ACST Adelaide).
All descriptions here are based on the view from Melbourne at 10.00 pm AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on 1 February and assumes a fairly level horizon. Starset occurs progressively earlier each day, so these descriptions are valid for 9.00 pm on the 15th and 8.00pm on the 30th. Readers from other time zones should see roughly the same views at 10.00 pm local time. Corrections for cities other than Melbourne are given below.
How do I find east, west, north and south?
- Readers in Adelaide and Auckland should see roughly the same views at the local equivalent of 10.00 pm AEST.
- Readers in Hobart and Christchurch must decrease descriptions to the North by about five finger widths and increase those to the south by the same amount.
- Readers in Sydney, Fremantle, Perth, Santiago and Capetown should add 3 finger widths to the northern descriptions, and subtract 3 finger widths to the south.
- Readers in Brisbane, Alice Springs, Rio deJanerio and Johannesburg must adjust North/South descriptions by two hand spans.
- Readers in Darwin, Cairns, Brazilia, La Paz, Lusaka and Lima must adjust North/South descriptions by about 4-5 hand spans.
Face east, just above the north eastern horizon is Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, which is just rising above the horizon. Directly east, above the horizon by 4 hand-spans is Hydra, and to the south east is the distinct wine-glass shape of Crater, the Cup.
About 13 hand-spans up from due east is Puppis, the poop deck of the form constellation of Argo Navis, the Argonaut's ship. The Milky Way passes through Puppis (and its companion constellations Vela and Carina), and there are several rather beautiful clusters worth looking at in binoculars.
Directly to the left of Vela is Canis Major. The bright white star 3 hand-spans left of due east is Sirius (alpha Canis Majoris), the brightest star in the sky. The constellation of Canis Majoris has a number of open clusters that are well worth exploring with binoculars, Most of these lie two hand-spans to the right of Sirius, amongst the V shaped group of stars that marks the tail of Canis Major. Below Sirius by two hand spans, and one hand-span to the right is M47. This cluster is quite nice in binoculars.
To the left of Sirius by about four hand-spans and almost due north is the distinctive saucepan shape of Orion's belt. The handle of the saucepan is Orion's sword, which contains some good naked eye open clusters, and the final star in the handle hosts the famous Orion nebula, which is visible to the naked eye under clear skies. Directly above the handle of the saucepan is bright Rigel (beta Orionis). Directly below the saucepan is the bright reddish Betelgeuse (alpha Orionis), a red giant star.
To the left of and below Orion's belt by about 4 hand-spans is Aldebaran (alpha Tauri), another red giant which forms the base of the V shaped group of stars called the Hyades, which forms the head of Taurus. Further to the left and down again by 2 hand-spans from Aldebaran is a faint, but pretty, compact cluster of stars called the Pleiades (the seven sisters). The Pleiades are particularly beautiful through binoculars.
To the right of and below Orion's belt by around 8 hand-spans are bright Castor and Pollux, the brightest stars of Gemini.
Directly below Orion's belt by around 9 hand-spans, and just a hand-span from the northern horizon is Capella, the brightest star of Auguia, the Charioteer.
Facing east, and Puppis again, to the left of Puppis is Vela and Carina, the sail and keel of Argo Navis. When Argo Navis was broken up into Puppis, Vela and Carina in 1750, they forgot to assign alpha and beta stars to Vela, and its brightest star at magnitude 1.5 is Gamma Velorum. Gama Velorum is a double star which may be resolved in good binoculars. The Milky Way passes through Vela, and there are many open clusters which can be seen with binoculars or the naked eye. One of the best of these is NGC2547, a little below gamma Velorum. Vela is also home to the spectacular Gum nebula (which can only be seen in telescopic photographs), and the second pulsar to be observed optically. Kappa and delta Velorum, with iota and epsilon Carina, make the "false cross" (about 7 hand spans above the southern horizon). A high definition map of Vela is here.
Carina (the keel of the former constellation Argo Navis) is a little further to the left of Vela. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star sitting 3 hand-span from due east and 14 hand-spans above the south-eastern horizon (and about 3 hand-spans up from the False Cross). A high definition map of this region is here. It is now far enough from the horizon to appreciate its many faint objects. Looking almost anywhere in the area of Carina will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area between the Southern Cross and the false cross is particularly rich. The False Cross is 3 hand-spans below Canopus, four hand-spans up from the Southern Cross and, nine hand-spans from the southern horizon. Just to the left of the False Cross is a good open cluster. Between the False Cross and the Southern Cross you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars, with theta Carina two hand-spans up from Acrux in the Southern Cross. Smaller and less spectacular than their northern counterparts, they still look very nice in binoculars. Four finger-widths below the Southern Pleiades are two rich open clusters, and the barely visible star Eta Carina. Eta Carina's spectacular nebula is only dimly seen in binoculars.
Continuing down from Vela and Carina, following the Milky Way, we come to the Southern Cross.
The Southern Cross is, as expected, a cross shaped formation with Acrux (alpha Crucis) and gamma Crucis forming the long axis of the cross (pointing down to the south-east, with bright Acrux on the end of the axis away from the horizon). Beta and delta Crucis form the cross piece of the cross. Just to the right of Acrux is the Coal Sack. This dark area against the glow of the Milky Way represents a large dust cloud and is usually clearly visible in dark skies, but will be hard to see this close to the horizon. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just to the right of Beta Crucis. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly, and is unlikely to be good viewing this close to the horizon.
Continuing down and south from the cross we come to the bright, distinctive alpha and beta Centauri, the so-called "pointers". They are a little over two hand-spans from the south-eastern horizon, with alpha being the yellow star which is closest to the horizon, and beta the blue white star just above and to the left. Most of the rest of Centarus, the Centaur, is too close to the Horizon to be seen properly. Later in the month however, omega Centauri, a naked eye globular cluster three hand-spans to the left of alpha Centauri, should be high enough to view properly. It is the object marked 5139 on the eastern sky map. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.
Alpha Centauri is the closest star to our sun at around 4 light years. However, recent measurements with the Hippacaros satellite put the system 300 million kilometres further away than previously thought. Alpha Centauri is actually a triple star, consisting of two sun-like stars and a red dwarf, Proxima Centauri, which is the closest of the triple stars to earth.
Directly above the southern horizon by 11 hand-spans is the extended nebulosity of the Large Magellanic cloud, the largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies. Binoculars will reveal a rather attractive nebula near it, the Tarantula nebula.
To the left of this by 4 hand-spans and down by 3 hand-spans is the Small Magellanic cloud, the second largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies to the Milky Way. This feature is best viewed on a dark night, away from the city. In this nebulosity is what looks to be a fuzzy star; this is 47 Tucana (marked 104 on the western sky map), a spectacular globular cluster that is very nice through binoculars. To the right of the Small Magellanic Cloud by about 4 hand-spans is the dim constellation of Tucana, the Toucan, the parent constellation of 47 Tucana.
To the left, about two hand-spans from the south western horizon is Fomalhaut, alpha Piscinus Austrinis.
Almost 5 hand-spans up from due west is Deneb Kaitos, beta Ceti, brightest star of Cetus the whale, which stretches off to the right. Mira, Omicron Ceti (O on the maps) is a variable star with a period of about 332 days. Mira is currently not visible to the naked eye.
Cetus also hosts a nearby sun like star. Tau Ceti is 11.4 light years away from earth. From beta Ceti, Two hand-spans to the right is eta Ceti, two hand-spans from eta Ceti, forming a triangle with eta and beta, is Tau Ceti.
Continuing up from beta Ceti by around 9 hand-spans is the rambling, faint constellation of Eridanus, the river. Bright Achernar is about 8 hand-spans up and to the left from beta Ceti (around 9 from the south western horizon).
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How to use the maps
Comparison of a section of a skymap showing the Southern Cross (Crux) and pointers, with the appearance of the night sky. The map and sky are for February 1 at 10.00 pm, facing south. Both show approximately 30 degrees (5 hand-spans) of sky just above the horizon
The maps look a little busy, as they cover all sky from horizon to zenith. The grid lines are navigational helpers; each horizontal or vertical line covers 30 degrees of arc (the gridlines in the illustration show 15 degrees of arc), which is roughly five hand-spans (where a hand-span is the width of your hand, held flat light a "stop" sign at arms length). As you can see from the way the lines bunch up. The map is a little distorted, due to trying to project a spherical surface on a flat surface. The horizon is the lowest curved line on the map (for technical software reasons I can't block things out below the Horizon). Constellations are linked by lines and their names are in italics. Stars are shown as circles of varying size, the bigger the circle the brighter the star. The stars are named with their Bayer letter (eg a - alpha, the brightest star in a constellation, a Crucis is the brightest star in Crux). Variable stars are shown as hollow circles, double stars are marked with a line (eg a, b and g Crucis are all double stars, that look quite beautiful in a small telescope). Clusters and Nebula brighter than magnitude 6.0 are marked as broken circles (eg. the Jewel box cluster next to b Crucis above which is best viewed in binoculars or a telescope) and squares respectively. To find Crux for example, locate Crux on the appropriate map (eg. see the illustration above). Holding the Map, face either east or west (depending on the map), then use the grid lines to determine how far over and up you should look, then look for the Crux pattern in that part of the Sky.
GIF MapsA view of the Eastern February sky at 10.00pm AEST on 1 February can be downloaded here (febsky_e.png 30 Kb) and a view of the western February sky can be downloaded here (febsky_w.png 30 Kb). These are more compact files but don't have a lot of resolution.
PDF MapsHigh Resolution PDF files can be obtained for the eastern (110 Kb) and the western (110 Kb) horizon maps.
The Zenith Map (110 Kb) shows you the whole sky. You will need to face the one of the compass points, then hold the map with the appropriate compass point on the map at the bottom of the page.
You will need a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat or GhostView to view and print them. They look slightly worse on-screen than the PNG files, but print much better and come with legends.
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[ December Skies] [ January Skies] Return to Menu
Cheers! And good star gazing!
Ian's Astrophotography GallerySome of the photographs/images I have taken in recent years of astronomical phenomena that may be of interest.
- Partial Lunar eclipse. Partial Lunar eclipse, July 5, 2001
- My Solar eclipse report. Pictures from the Dec 4, 2002 solar eclipse in South Australia
- Transit of Mercury pictures! 7 May 2003
- Images of the partial solar eclipse 24 Nov 2003
- Transit of Venus July 8 2004 report
- Images of Jupiter, taken, after an enormous struggle, with my webcam, April 2005
- Mosaics of the Moon, more fun with my webcam, April-May 2005
- Animation of Sunrise on the Moon November 2006
- Animation of A shadow Transit on Jupiter May 2007
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- OnLine Astronomical Societies in Australia, from the Astronomical Society of New South Wales Inc.
- Astronomical Society of Australia
- Mornington Peninsula Astronomy Society
- Astronomy Guild of Australia
- Ice in Space
- A clickable star map for Victoria
- Monthly free Star maps. High quality, monthly maps for Southern and Northern Skies, has lists of interesting objects. Requires Adobe Acrobat to print.
- Gordon Garradd's Astronomy Page
- Peter Enzerinks Astronomy page - Web based telescope/eyepiece calculator and other southern sky tidbits.
- Buying a telescope in Australia, lots of helpful hints.
- Anglo-Australian Observatory
- MSSSO - Mt Stromlo and Siding Springs Observatory
- ATNF - Australian Telescope National Facility
- Parks Radio telescope facility
- Spaceguard Australia the proposed search for Near Earth Objects including meteroids.
- Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
- Star Class, Astronomy Education
- Information about Aboriginal astronomy.
- Australian weather forecasts
- Sky and Space, Australia's Astronomy magazine.
- Planetary Society, Australian Volunteers events diary.
- Australian Astronomy
Astronomy for Kids
- Adelaide Planetarium
- Canberra Planetarium and Observatory
- Launceston Planetarium
- Science Centre and Planetarium (Wollongong)
- Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
- Perth Observatory and Planetarium
- Museum of Victoria Planetarium, Skynotes Index
- The Cosmos Centre in Charleville
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Star Child NASA space information for kis 5-13.
- Interactive site on the Sun, good kids resources
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Astronomy for Kids
- Astronomy for Kids (different site to the one above, and a bit simple, but lots of good images).
- Kids astronomy information from Astronomy Magazine
- SEDS, home of the Nine Planets Tour, and much much more
- The Planetary Society
- Center for Backyard Astrophysics
- Amateur Radio Telescopes
- International Occulation Timing Society
- Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy pages (very educational)
- SKY Online - Your Astronomy Source on the World Wide Web
- Astronomy Magazine
- Stellar distances
- Space Weather site (with Meteor counts)
- Near Earth Object home page (also follows comets, including LINEAR S4 and meteor showers)
- A 3D map of satellites orbiting the Earth in real time! Simply amazing!
- The Anglo Australian Observatories 3D virtual tour through a 3D map of the Cosmos. Mind Blowing!
- Views of extrasolar planets seen from the Southern sky, stunning Java-driven map with heaps of (complex) info.
- Stellarium, free (but large) photorealistic sky charting software. What I use for the horizon views.
- Celestia, free 3D space travel software, see the Earth from Mars, see the Moon of EL62, see Saturn rise on Titan.
- Ian's Celestia resources. Save these files into the "Extras" directory
- Script to show Conjunctions of Earth from Mars.
- Definition File for asteroid 87 Sylvia and her two moons (see story here).
- Definition File for Pluto's two new Moons P1 and P2.
- Definition file for three Neptunian extrasolar planets of HD 69830.
- Asteroid 2004 VD17, which will not hit the Earth.
- Definition file for Comet 2006/P1 McNaught
- Definition file for for the Gliese 581 system that contains the most Earth-like world yet.
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Charts, Books and Software for AstronomyIf you would like to have charts available all the time, rather than relying on mine, for between $2-$20 you can pick up a planisphere from a newsagent or bookshop (or for a bit more you can get fancy ones from Australian Geographic, the ABC shop or the other Australian Geographic look alike shop, or the Wilderness Society, or even a binocular/ optical store). The planisphere won't give you position of the planets, so you will need to get the planet rise/set times. These can be found in most serious newspapers (the Age, the Australian, SMH etc. The Australian is probably the best bet for budding amateurs). The combination of planisphere and rise/set times is the best value for beginners though, if you are not too worried about identifying star clusters in your binoculars.
Touring the Universe through Binoculars Atlas is now freeware http://www.philharrington.net/tuba.htm it can print observing charts, but has a few annoying quirks. These include having no horizon line, and moving about is a bit irritating.
I use a combination of a 1962 star chart, the Australian Astronomy 2019 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2019 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 email@example.com 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 $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/Win7-10 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 download. 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 2019 almanac. For any budding astronomers out there, it is fantastic value and no, I don't have any commercial interest in it, but I did win bronze in their website Olympics).
This page can be used freely for any non-commercial purpose but please attribute it correctly. However, see the disclaimer.
Ian with any suggestions
Created: Wednesday, 1 April 1998, 11:22:13 PM
Last Updated: Friday, 7 December 2018, 11:30:13 PM