Southern Sky Watch

December Skies

This month the planetary action is mostly in the evening skies with three bright planets dominating the evening. The highlight the the month is the meeting of Jupiter and Saturn, where the two will seem to merge into one object. The pair dominate the early evening skies to the west while fading but still bright Mars dominates the northern skies. Venus is visible in the morning sky low twilight. There are several attractive planetary massings with the Moon.

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

In December three bright planets can be seen for most of the evening Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. Jupiter and Saturn come closer together over the month. December 13; crescent Moon close to Venus.. December 13; Moon at perigee. Morning December 14; Geminid meteor shower peaks. December 17; The crescent Moon close to the pair of Jupiter and Saturn, themselves very close in the evening twilight sky. December 21; Jupiter and Saturn spectacularly close close in the evening twilight sky. December 23-24; Waxing Moon near to Mars. December 25; Moon at Apogee.


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

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

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Coming events

Date Event
January
11 January 2020 Penumbral lunar eclipse in the morning, close to dawn.
21 January 2020 Crescent Moon and Mars close in the morning
23 January 2020 Crescent Moon and Jupiter close in the morning
27 January 2020 Venus and Neptune close
26 January 2020 Mercury close to the crescent moon in the evening twilight
28 January 2020 Venus close to the crescent moon in the evening
February
18 February 2020 Mars passes between the triffid and Lagoon Nebulae
19 February 2020 Waxing Moon close to Mars in the morning
20 February 2020 Waxing Moon extremely close to Jupiter in the morning
21 February 2020 Waxing Moon close to Saturn in the morning
27 February 2020 Waning Crescent Moon close to Venus
29 February 2020 Mars close to Globular cluster M22
March
1 March 2020 Mars still close to Globular cluster M22
8-9 March 2020 Venus close to Uranus (binocular only)
18 March 2020 Waning Crescent Moon forms a line with Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the morning sky
19 March 2020 Crescent Moon between Mars and Jupiter and Saturn
20 March 2020 Earth at Equinox
21 March 2020 Mars very close to Jupiter
22 March 2020 Mercury close to the crescent Moon in the morning
29March 2020 Venus close to the crescent Moon in the evening
April
1 April 2020 Saturn close to Mars in the morning sky
3-4 April 2020 Venus passes through the Pleiades cluster
4 April 2020 Mercury close to Neptune
8 April 2020 Perigee Full Moon ("super" Moon), 3:10 am
15 April 2020 waning Moon close to Jupiter in the morning sky
16 April 2020 waning Moon close to Saturn in the morning sky
22 April 2020 Crescent Moon close to Mercury in the morning sky
26-27 April 2020 Crescent Moon near Venus in the evening sky
May
5 May 2020 Eta Aquariid meteor shower
12 May 2020 Moon between Jupiter and Saturn in evening sky
15-16 May 2020 Mars near the waning Moon
22 May 2020 Mercury and Venus close
24 May 2020 Thin crescent Moon near Venus
June
6 June 2020 Penumbral lunar eclipse early morning near dawn
8 June 2020 Moon and Jupiter close in evening
9 June 2020 waning Moon and Saturn close in evening
13 June 2020 Moon and Mars close in morning
19 June 2020 Thin crescent Moon and Venus close in the morning twilight
July
5 July 2020 Jupiter close to the moon
6 July 2020 Moon and Saturn close
11 July 2020 Moon and Mars close in evening
12 July 2020 Moon close to bright star Aldebaran
14 July 2020 Jupiter at Opposition
17 July 2020 Thin crescent Moon near Venus in the morning
21 July 2020 Saturn at Opposition
29 July 2020 Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower
August
2 August 2020 Moon between Jupiter and Saturn
9 August 2020 Moon close to Mars
15-16 August 2020 Crescent Moon close to Venus
28 August 20 Asteroid Ceres at opposition (binoculars only)
29 August 2020 Moon between Jupiter and Saturn again
September
5-6 September 2020 Mars close to the Moon
14 September 2020 Venus and crescent Moon close in morning sky
19 September 2020 Crescent Moon and Mercury close forming triangle with Spica
20 September 2020 Variable star Mira at its brightest
22 September 2020 Mercury and bright star Spica very close
22 September 2020 Earth at Equinox
25 September 2020 Waxing Moon, Jupiter form a triangle with Saturn
30 September 2020 Venus close to bright star Regulus
October
2-3 October 2020 Mars and waning Moon close
3 October 2020 Venus and the bright star Regulus very close
14 October 2020 Venus and the crescent Moon close
14 October 2020 Mars at opposition
18 October 2020 Mercury and thin crescent Moon closeish in the evening twilight
21 October 2020 Orionid meteor shower
22 October 2020 Jupiter and waning Moon close
23 October 2020 Saturn and waning Moon close
31 October 2020 Blue Moon in WA.
November
1 November 2020 Apogee Full Moon (mini-Moon). In WA full Moon occurs before midnight but for all states apogee is on the early morning of the 1st.
13 November 2020 Thin crescent Moon close to Venus
14 November 2020 Thin crescent Moon close to Mercury
18 November 2020 Leonid Meteor Shower
19 November 2020 Crescent Moon and Jupiter close forming triangle with Saturn
24-25 November 2020 Waxing Moon close to Mars
30 November 2020 Penumbral Lunar eclipse, only seen from eastern states. Blue Moon of all states except WA. (see above)
December
13 December 2020 Venus and thin crescent Moon close
14 December 2020 Geminid Meteor shower (New Moon, good rates)
17 December 2020 Jupiter and Saturn spectacularly close with the thin crescent Moon close too.
21 December 2020 Jupiter and Saturn even more spectacularly close in a conjunction that will not be repeated for over a decade. The pair will easily be visible together in telescope eye pieces.
21 December 2020 Earth is at Solstice
23-24 December 2020 Waxing Moon close to Mars

Out in Space

Mars Curiosity Rover Takes a Selfie With 'Mary Anning' on the Red Planet .

Mars Express sees Craters and collapse on Mars.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is using AI to find new craters on Mars.

The Juno mission indicates 'Sprites' or 'Elves' Frolic in 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.

D Last quarter on the 8th
O New Moon is on the 15th
C| First quarter on the 22nd
O Full moon on the 30th

December 13; crescent Moon close to Venus.. December 13; Moon at perigee. December 17; The crescent Moon close to the pair of Jupiter and Saturn, themselves very close in the evening twilight sky. December 23-24; Waxing Moon near to Mars. December 25; Moon at Apogee.

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.
morning sky, 5:05 am

The morning sky facing east in Adelaide on on Sunday December 13 as seen from Adelaide at 5:05 ACDST, 45 minutes before sunrise, Venus is close to the crescent Moon. (similar views will be seen Australia wide 45 minutes before sunrise)

evening sky, 21:33 pm

The evening sky facing west in Adelaide on Thursday December 17 at 21:33 ACDST, 60 minutes after sunset. The crescent Moon forms a triangle with Jupiter and Saturn. (similar views will be seen Australia wide at the equivalent local time, 60 minutes after sunset).

evening sky, 21:35 pm

The evening sky facing west in Adelaide on Monday December 21 at 21:43 ACDST, 60 minutes after sunset. Jupiter and Saturn are spectacularly close, the inset is a telescopic view of the pair. (similar views will be seen Australia wide at the equivalent local time, 60 minutes after sunset).

evening sky, 22:16 pm

The evening sky facing north-west in Adelaide on Friday December 24 at 22:16 ACDST (90 minutes after sunset), The waxing Moon is close to Mars. (similar views will be seen Australia wide at the equivalent local time, 90 minutes after sunset).

Mercury is low in the morning sky this month and never realy gets much above the horizon, remaining low in the twilight.

Venus continues to descend in the morning sky and is now visible low in the twilight. In even small telescopes Venus is a "nearly Full Moon" shape for most of the month. On the 1st Venus is is three finger-widths above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On the 13th Venus and the crescent Moon close. By the 15th Venus is almost two hand-spans above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the 30th Venus is still almost two hand-spans above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise.

Earthis at solstice on Monday the 21st, when the day is longest.

Mars is easily visible in the norhern evening sky. Continues to dim this month as it as it has passed Opposition on the 14th of October. On the 1st Mars is highest in the sky due north at around 21:30 am local time. On the 15th Mars is is highest in the sky due north half an hour after sunset and seven hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On the evening of the 23rd and 24th the waxing Moon is near Mars. On the 30th Mars is six hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset.

Jupiter is in the evening twilight western sky. Jupiter was at opposition in July. It is now low in the north western evening sky near Saturn. As the month progresses Jupiter and Saturn come closer, starting roughly 3 finger-widths apart and having a spectacular close conjunction on the 21st, where the pair will look like one object to the unaided eye. Jupiter is a decent telescopic object in the very early evening.

On the 1st Jupiter is 3 hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars from a line in the evening sky. On the 15th Jupiter is just under two hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour after sunset. On the 17th Jupiter, the crescent Moon and Saturn form a narrow triangle in the evening sky, with Jupiter just two finger-widths from the Moon and Jupiter and Saturn half a finger-width apart. On the 21st Jupiter and Saturn are a mere 6 minutes of arc apart (the moon is around 30 minutes of arc wide and your finger 690 minutes of arc, one degree wide. The pair will be visible together in high power telescope lenses. On the 30th Jupiter is four finger-widths above the north-western horizon an hour after sunset.

In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter's Moons are always interesting. December 21, when Jupiter and Saturn are at their closest, is particularly good.



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

Jupiter Events from 01 Aug 2020 to 31 Aug 2020
Time (LMT) Sat Event 
Wed	2	Dec	23:17	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Fri	4	Dec	21:47	Eur: Disappears into Occultation	
Sat	5	Dec	20:48	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Sun	6	Dec	20:51	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends	
Sun	6	Dec	21:00	Io : Transit Begins               T	
Sun	6	Dec	21:53	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST	
Sun	6	Dec	23:17	Io : Transit Ends                 S	
Mon	7	Dec	21:21	Io : Reappears from Eclipse	
Mon	7	Dec	22:27	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Sat	12	Dec	21:37	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Sun	13	Dec	20:35	Eur: Shadow Transit Begins        ST	
Sun	13	Dec	21:52	Eur: Transit Ends                 S	
Sun	13	Dec	23:01	Io : Transit Begins               ST	
Tue	15	Dec	20:55	Cal: Reappears from Occultation	
Thu	17	Dec	20:47	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Fri	18	Dec	20:54	Gan: Disappears into Occultation	
Sat	19	Dec	22:27	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Sun	20	Dec	21:50	Eur: Transit Begins               T	
Mon	21	Dec	22:14	Io : Disappears into Occultation	
Tue	22	Dec	20:53	Eur: Reappears from Eclipse       ST	
Tue	22	Dec	21:49	Io : Transit Ends                 S	
Tue	22	Dec	22:28	Io : Shadow Transit Ends	
Thu	24	Dec	21:37	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Tue	29	Dec	20:47	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian	
Tue	29	Dec	21:15	Gan: Shadow Transit Ends	
Tue	29	Dec	21:34	Io : Transit Begins               T	
Tue	29	Dec	22:05	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST	
Wed	30	Dec	21:36	Io : Reappears from Eclipse	

Saturn, like Jupiter, is low in the western evening sky. Saturn is near Jupiter and the two willl have a specturla conjunction this month. Saturn was opposition in July, when it was biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. Saturn is still a decent telescopic object in the very early evening.

On December 1 Saturn is just over 3 hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset, three finger-widths from Jupiter. On December 15, Saturn is two hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour after sunset. On the 17th Jupiter, the crescent Moon and Saturn form a narrow triangle in the evening sky, with Jupiter just two finger-widths from the Moon and Jupiter and Saturn half a finger-width apart. On the 21st Jupiter and Saturn are a mere 6 minutes of arc apart (the moon is around 30 minutes of arc wide and your finger 690 minutes of arc, one degree wide. The pair will be visible together in high power telescope lenses. By December 30, Saturn is three finger-widths above the north-western horizon an hour after sunset.

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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, doesn't do Iridium flares, but is very cool and does the International Space Station, and many other satellites. However, although the output is flashy, it's harder to use than heavens above.

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Meteor showers:

Date        	Meteor Shower       ZHR  Illumination 
 7/12/2020  Puppids-Velids      10     last Quarter Moon   
14/12/2020  Geminids            120    New Moon              
22/12/2020 Ursids               10    First Quarter 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 interfere significantly.

morning sky, 4:00 am

Geminid radiant seen facing north in the southern Hemisphere at 4:00 am daylight saving time, December 15.

The Geminids are a fairly reliable meteor shower, with rates of about a meteor per minute at their best. This is a good year for Geminids, as the New Moon will not interfere. 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. Australians should see a meteor every 1-2 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.

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

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

Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.

A Cool Fact about meteor speeds

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

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Comets:

There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment.

A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.

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Occultations:

No interesting naked-eye occultations this month.

 


Eclipse:

No significant eclipses this month.

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

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

Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:

 


Variable Stars:

While most stars seem to shine with a constant brightness, there are some that undergo regular, dramatic change in brightness. The classic variables are Mira and Algol. Algol is currently not visible. Mira reached maximum on September 20 2020 and is now just at unaided eye visibility.

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Stars:

evening sky, 10:00 pm

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

All descriptions here are based on the view from Melbourne at 10.00 pm AEDST 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 AEDST 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 December 1 at 10.00 pm, facing south. Both show approximately 30 degrees (5 hand-spans) of sky just above the horizon

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

GIF Maps

A view of the Eastern 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 (aroun $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 2020 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2020 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 $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 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 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 (see links above).

This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2020 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 2020 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: Sunday, 29 November 2020, 11:30:13 PM


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