Southern Sky Watch

December Skies

This month the planetary action remains mostly in the evening skies, with 3 bright planets visible in the evening. Venus and Mercury climb higher in the evening skies but remain in the twilight. Opposition of Mars. The Geminid meteor Shower is impacted by the waning Moon. Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.

December 1; First Quarter Moon. December 2; the Moon is close to Jupiter. December 8; the Full Moon close to Mars. December 8; Mars at opposition. December 12; apogee Moon. Morning December 15; Geminid meteor shower peaks. December 16; Last Quarter Moon. December 22; Earth at Solstice. December 23; New Moon. December 24; Moon at perigee. December 24; the thin crescent moon forms a triangle with the Mercury and Venus. December 26; the crescent Moon is close to Saturn.December 28th-30; Mercury and Venus are less than 2° apart. December 29; the crescent Moon is close to Jupiter again. December 30; "Blue" First Quarter Moon.


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 twilight's 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 01/04/22: The new solar cycle (25) is starting to heat up, with some M and X class flares and some nice auroral displays in Tasmania and Southern Australia. This bodes well for the rest of the soar cycle. During solar minimum, we were still getting occasional good auroral displays. August 26th 2018 saw an impressive display visible from NZ and Tasmania despite the full Moon. The last week of March 2017 saw some impressive aurora displays from Tasmania, Victoria, SA and WA. October 2016 saw a series of good but transient aurora in Tasmania and southern Victoria. July 2015 saw a massive storm seen as far north as mid NSW, again clouded out for large parts of Australia. 17-19/3/2015, the St. Patrick's Day aurora, massive storm seen as far north as Southern Queensland. Unfortunately clouded out for large parts of Australia. 26/2/2015, yet another good set of aurora were seen from Tasmania. 9/2/2015 There was a series of very good auroral events during February, some were seen in NSW, Victoria, SA and WA as well as Tasmania. Last year saw some nice events and a coronal mass ejection from an M class flare hit us square on on March 17 2013. Aurora were detected as far north as the QLD border, with some really nice events in Tasmania, and here are some images from that event.

Auroral images and descriptions from past geomagnetic storms are now at the auroral image web page.

Naturally, the best views of any aurora will be away from the city and bright lights. Aurora occur when charged particles from the solar wind enter Earths outer atmosphere and interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms producing eerie displays of coloured lights. During solar maximum, which occurs every 11 years (and solar cycle 25 should peak around 2024-2025), the number and speed of the particles are higher, allowing them to penetrate the Earth's magnetic field at lower latitudes than normal. Observers in Tasmania are likely to see green glows or sheets of light in the southern sky. Observers in Southern Victoria are more likely to see a red glow in the southern sky, although more spectacular displays are possible.

The Astronomical Society of Tasmania has a webpage devoted to this phenomenon. The Australian IPS radio and space services covers Aurora and related phenomena in very great detail (too much if you don't know much about them) but has a nice education page. Flinders Uni also has real time magnetometer readings, however, this will probably not mean much to most people.

Aurora will generally follow solar flares by about 2 days, and a number of instruments are watching the sun for these outbursts. The solar minimum occurred in 2006 and persisted for some time. While sunspot numbers, and hence flare rates are increasing, sometimes months will go by without an alert, then you have three in a week. The space weather site at http://www.spaceweather.com gives notice of when solar winds likely to cause aurora will arrive. Alternatively, send an email to reynella@internode.on.net with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject and I will send you an email alert of any likely auroral event (or other interesting sky phenomena). However, even a strong solar flare is no guarantee that you will be able to see aurora, but it does increase the probability. Still more alternatively, there are the facebook pages Aurora Australis Tasmania, Aurora Australis Tasmania NOW! and Aurora Australis all do discussions and alerts.

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Email alerts

I try to update this page fairly regularly outside of the monthly postings. However sometimes things happen which I can't get in fast enough, or you forget to mark your calendar. If you would like to be alerted to or reminded of interesting astronomical or sky phenomena, send an email to reynella@internode.on.net with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject. This is the old aurora alert list, but with auroras rare even though we are heading towards solar maximum (except for the occasional humdinger, like the September 2005 auroral event), it is doing double duty. I am running the list via MailChimp, and no personal data is harvested or passed on to third parties. Astroblog will have images when possible of these events soon after.

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Coming events

Special events are bolded

Date Event
January
1 January 2022 Occultation of Mars
4 January 2022 Earth at Perihelion
4 January 2022 Crescent Moon, Mercury, and Saturn close low in the evening twilight
6 January 2022 Jupiter and Crescent Moon close
30 January 2022 Crescent Moon forms a triangle with Mars and Venus 
February
2 February 2022 Mars close to M28
3 February 2022 Jupiter close to the thin crescent Moon low in the twilight
6 February 2022Mars near globular cluster M22
13 February 2022 Mercury, Mars and Venus form a triangle in the morning sky.
27-28 February 2022 Crescent Moon, Mars and Venus form a triangle in the morning sky.
March
1 March 2022 Mercury, Saturn and thin crescent Moon form a triangle in the morning twilight
3 March 2022 Mercury very close (0.6 degrees) from Saturn in morning twilight
21 March 2022Earth at Equinox, Five bright planets visible in the morning twilight, Jupiter and Mercury close in the morning twilight.
28 March 2022Crescent Moon, Saturn, Venus and Mars from a close massing in the morning twilight with the Moon above
29 March 2022 Crescent Moon, Saturn, Venus and Mars from a close massing in the morning twilight with the Moon below
31 March 2022Thin crescent Moon close to Jupiter low in the morning twilight
April
All April 2022 Four bright planets in the morning sky Moon in the morning sky
5 April 2022 Saturn and Mars very close (0.3 degrees apart) in the morning sky
13 April 2022 Jupiter close to Neptune in the morning sky
26 April 2022 Mars close to the crescent Moon in the morning sky
27-28 April 2022 Crescent Moon close to Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky
28 April 2022 Venus and Neptune in close conjunction (< 30 arc minutes) in the morning sky
May
1  May 2022 Venus and Jupiter very close in the morning sky (0.2 degrees apart)
6-7 May 2022 Eta Aquariid meteor shower
22 May 2022
Waning Moon above Saturn
25 May 2022Mars, Jupiter and waning Moon form a triangle in morning sky
27 May 2022 Crescent Moon above Venus
30 May 2022 Mars and Jupiter very close in the morning sky (0.6 degrees apart)
June
1 June 2022 Mars and Jupiter very close in the morning sky (1.0 degrees apart)
18 June 2022 Saturn near waning Moon low in the late evening sky
14 June 2022 Perigee Full Moon ("super Moon")
21 June 2022 Earth at solstice
22 June 2022 Mercury in head of Hyades near Aldebaran in morning sky, waning Moon near Jupiter
26 June 2022 Crescent  Moon between Venus and Pleiades in the morning sky
27 June 2022 Crescent  Moon near Mercury in the morning sky
July
1 July 2022 Venus close to Aldebaran in the morning, forming a second eye for Taurus the Bull
4 July 2022 Earth at aphelion
14 July 2022Syzygy Perigee full moon ("super Moon") closest of year
15 July 2022
Moon close to Saturn
19 July
Moon close to Jupiter
22 July 2022 Waning crescent Moon close to Mars (within binocular field)
26 July 2022 Venus near crescent Moon in the morning twilight
29-30 July 2022 Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower
30 July 2022 Mercury close to crescent moon in western evening twilight
31 July
Mars and Uranus 2 degrees apart (in same binocular field)
August
1-3 August 2022 Mars and Uranus less than  2 degrees apart (in same binocular filed)
4 August 2022 Mercury very close to Regulus (0.7 degrees) in the evening twilight
12 August 2022 Saturn close to Full Moon (perigee "super" Moon)
15 August 2022 Saturn at opposition
15 August 2022 Jupiter close to Waning Moon (1 degree)
20 August 2022 Mars near Moon in Morning
22 August 2022 Jupiter near Moon
29 August 2022 Mercury near thin crescent Moon in evening sky, Mars between Pleiades and Hyades in the morning sky
September
3 September 2022 Mars forms second "eye" in Taurus the Bull with Aldebaran in morning sky
8 September 2022 Waxing moon close to Saturn in evening sky
11 September 2022 Waning Moon close to Jupiter in evening sky
23 September 2022 Earth at Equinox
27 September 2022 Jupiter at Opposition
October
5 October 2022 Saturn and waxing Moon close in evening sky
8 October 2022 Jupiter and waxing Moon close in evening sky
14 October 2022 Mars and the waxing Moon close in evening sky
21-22 October 2022 Orionid meteor shower
November
2 November 2022 Waxing Moon near Saturn in evening sky
4-5 December 2022Waxing Moon near Jupiter in evening sky
8 November 2022 Total Lunar Eclipse
11 November 2022 Waxing Moon near Mars in evening sky
18 November 2022Leonid Meteor Shower
December
2 December 2022 Jupiter and waxing Moon close
8 December 2022 Mars at opposition and close to Full Moon
14 December 2022
Geminid Meteor shower in the morning (waning Moon close this year)
22 December 2022 Earth is at Solstice
24 December 2022 Venus and Mercury and thin crescent Moon are close in evening twilight.
26 December
Saturn near crescent Moon
28-30 December 2022 Venus and Mercury at their closest in evening twilight.
29 December 2022 Jupiter close (1 degree) from the waning Moon in evening

Out in Space

Mars Curiosity Rover Reaches Long-Awaited Salty Region.

Mars Express has a close encounter with Phobos.

The NASA wants help with Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images to spot clouds.

The newest rover, Perseverance Investigates Geologically Rich Mars Terrain.

The Juno mission Citizen Scientists Enhance New Europa Images From NASA’s Juno.

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The Moon:

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

C| First quarter on the 1st
O Full Moon on the 8th
D Last quarter on the 16th
O New Moon is on the 23rd
C| First quarter on the 30th

December 1; First Quarter Moon. December 2; the Moon is close to Jupiter. December 8; the Full Moon close to Mars. December 12; apogee Moon. December 16; Last Quarter Moon. December 22; Earth at Solstice. December 23; New Moon. December 24; Moon at perigee. December 24; the thin crescent moon forms a triangle with the Mercury and Venus. December 26; the crescent Moon is close to Saturn. December 29; the crescent Moon is close to Jupiter again. December 30; "Blue" First Quarter Moon.

An interactive calendar of the Moon's phases.

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

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

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Planets:

Finding planets, even with the directions below, can sometimes be difficult if you are unfamiliar with the sky. However, the Moon is very obvious, and can be a guide to location of planets. Not only that, the combination of the Moon and bright planet(s) is often very beautiful. Thus the guide below gives the dates when the planets and the Moon are close together.
Evening sky on Thursday December 8 as seen from Adelaide at 22:06 ACDST pm ACDST(90 minutes after sunset).

Evening sky on Thursday December 8 as seen from Adelaide at 22:06 ACDST pm ACDST(90 minutes after sunset). Mars is at opposition, when is at its biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. The Full Moon is just below. The inset is the telescopic view at this time. Mars is below the bright red star Aldebaran and the distinctive "V" shape of the Hyades cluster. It is also close to the iconic constellation of Orion with it's distinctive belt and Mars, Aldebaran and the red star Betelgeuse form a triangle. Similar views will be seen from the rest of Australia at the equivalent local time (90 minutes after sunset).

Evening sky on Saturday December 24 as seen from Adelaide at 21:00 pm ACST.

Evening sky on Saturday December 24 as seen from Adelaide at 21:00 pm ACST (30 minutes after sunset). The thin crescent Moon, Venus and Mercury are close together low in the twilight above the western horizon. Similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia at the equivalent local time (30 minutes after sunset).

Evening sky on Thursday December 29 as seen from Adelaide at 22:18 pm ACST (30 minutes after sunset)

Evening sky on Thursday December 29 as seen from Adelaide at 22:18 pm ACST. (90 minutes after sunset). Jupiter and the crescent Moon are close together with Saturn below. Similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia at the equivalent local time (90 minutes after sunset), click to embiggen.

Mercury climbs higher in the evening sky this month, the low angle of the ecliptic means it never gets really although it gets out of the worst of the twilight glow into nautical twilight. In the first week of the moth you will need a clear, level horizon like the ocean and binoculars to see it there after it is easier. Mercury is at its highest on the 22nd. Venus is below Mercury for most of the Month. On the 24th the thin crescent moon form a triangle with the pair (look around 45 minutes after sunset) and on the 28th to 30th Mercury and Venus are less than 2° apart.

On the 1st Mercury is just under a hand-span from the western horizon half an hour after sunset. On the 15th Mercury is just under two hand-spans from the western horizon half an hour after sunset. By the 30th Mercury just under a hand-span from the western horizon half an hour after sunset.

Venus climbs higher in the evening sky this month, as with Mercury, the low angle of the ecliptic means it never gets really high although it gets out of the worst of the twilight glow. Venus is below Mercury for most of the Month, and shares its encounter with the Moon. On the 28th to 30th Mercury and Venus are less than 2° apart.

On the 1st Venus is 3 finger-widths from the western horizon half an hour after sunset. On the 15th Venus is just under a hand-span from the western horizon half an hour after sunset. By the 30th Venus just over a hand-span from the western horizon half an hour after sunset.

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

Mars is at opposition this Month when it is biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. Mars is in the readily unrecognizable constellation of Taurus the Bull. At opposition Mars is below the bright red star Aldebaran and the distinctive "V" shape of the Hyades cluster. It is also close to the iconic constellation of Orion with it's distinctive belt and Mars, Aldebaran and the red star Betelgeuse form a triangle. Mars will head towards the beautiful cluster the Pleiades during December ad the first half of January, then moves aback down the Horns of the Bull. Mars is now visible all night.

On the 8th Mars is at opposition around 4° from the full moon (very obvious as the brightest object near the moon), mid power binocular fields will just fit the pair in. Unlike Jupiter and Saturn, Mars's increases and decreases in size substantially over the weeks, at opposition it is 17.06 arc seconds in diameter, even modest amateur telescopes should see surface makings (not in great detail though). By the end of the month mars has shrunk to 15 arc seconds, much harder to resolve in modest instruments. This is the best opposition until 2033.

On December 1 Mars is just under one and a half hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and half after sunset. On December 15 Mars is just under four hand-spans above the north-eastern horizon an hour and half after sunset. By the 30th, Mars is just under five hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and half after sunset.

Jupiter rises before the sky is fully dark and is lowering in the north-western evening sky. It is an excellent telescopic object in the early to late evening. Jupiter was at opposition, when it is biggest and brightest as seen from Earth on September the 27th. Jupiter is visible the whole evening setting after midnight.

On the 2nd Jupiter below the waxing Moon, and then again on the 29th Jupiter is 1° from the crescent moon, fitting into the field of view of mid-range binoculars and wide field telescope eye pieces.

On the 1st Jupiter is just under eight hand-spans from the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On the 15th Jupiter is just under seven hand-spans from the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. By the 30th it is just under five hand-spans from the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset.

In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter's Moons are always interesting. See the table below.



Times are ACDST, add 30 minutes for AEDST and subtract 2.5 hours for AWST. adjust for daylight savings as necessary.
Moons, Sat I= Io, II = Europa, III = Ganymede, IV = Callisto

Jupiter Events from 01 December 2022 to 31 December 2022

Date   Time (LMT)  Sat Event 
1, Dec, 01:52:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
1, Dec, 09:43:00 PM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
1, Dec, 09:46:00 PM, III,Transit start
1, Dec, 09:53:00 PM, II,Shadow transit end
2, Dec, 12:40:00 AM, III,Transit end
2, Dec, 03:05:00 AM, III,Shadow transit start
3, Dec, 03:31:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
3, Dec, 11:22:00 PM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
5, Dec, 03:34:00 AM, I,Occultation disappearance
5, Dec, 05:10:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
6, Dec, 12:50:00 AM, I,Transit start
6, Dec, 01:01:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
6, Dec, 02:10:00 AM, I,Shadow transit start
6, Dec, 03:05:00 AM, I,Transit end
6, Dec, 04:23:00 AM, I,Shadow transit end
6, Dec, 08:53:00 PM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
6, Dec, 10:02:00 PM, I,Occultation disappearance
7, Dec, 12:55:00 AM, II,Occultation disappearance
7, Dec, 01:33:00 AM, I,Eclipse reappearance
7, Dec, 03:29:00 AM, II,Occultation reappearance
7, Dec, 03:38:00 AM, II,Eclipse disappearance
7, Dec, 09:33:00 PM, I,Transit end
7, Dec, 10:52:00 PM, I,Shadow transit end
8, Dec, 02:40:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
8, Dec, 09:55:00 PM, II,Transit end
8, Dec, 10:01:00 PM, II,Shadow transit start
8, Dec, 10:31:00 PM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
9, Dec, 12:29:00 AM, II,Shadow transit end
9, Dec, 01:38:00 AM, III,Transit start
9, Dec, 04:33:00 AM, III,Transit end
10, Dec, 04:19:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
11, Dec, 12:10:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
12, Dec, 08:58:00 PM, III,Eclipse disappearance
12, Dec, 11:36:00 PM, III,Eclipse reappearance
13, Dec, 01:49:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
13, Dec, 02:45:00 AM, I,Transit start
13, Dec, 04:06:00 AM, I,Shadow transit start
13, Dec, 04:59:00 AM, I,Transit end
13, Dec, 09:41:00 PM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
13, Dec, 11:56:00 PM, I,Occultation disappearance
14, Dec, 03:29:00 AM, I,Eclipse reappearance
14, Dec, 03:30:00 AM, II,Occultation disappearance
14, Dec, 09:13:00 PM, I,Transit start
14, Dec, 10:35:00 PM, I,Shadow transit start
14, Dec, 11:28:00 PM, I,Transit end
15, Dec, 12:48:00 AM, I,Shadow transit end
15, Dec, 03:28:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
15, Dec, 09:55:00 PM, II,Transit start
15, Dec, 09:58:00 PM, I,Eclipse reappearance
15, Dec, 11:19:00 PM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
16, Dec, 12:28:00 AM, II,Transit end
16, Dec, 12:37:00 AM, II,Shadow transit start
16, Dec, 03:05:00 AM, II,Shadow transit end
17, Dec, 05:07:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
17, Dec, 10:05:00 PM, II,Eclipse reappearance
18, Dec, 12:58:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
19, Dec, 10:20:00 PM, III,Occultation reappearance
20, Dec, 01:01:00 AM, III,Eclipse disappearance
20, Dec, 02:37:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
20, Dec, 03:38:00 AM, III,Eclipse reappearance
20, Dec, 04:40:00 AM, I,Transit start
20, Dec, 10:29:00 PM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
21, Dec, 01:51:00 AM, I,Occultation disappearance
21, Dec, 05:24:00 AM, I,Eclipse reappearance
21, Dec, 11:09:00 PM, I,Transit start
22, Dec, 12:32:00 AM, I,Shadow transit start
22, Dec, 01:23:00 AM, I,Transit end
22, Dec, 02:44:00 AM, I,Shadow transit end
22, Dec, 04:16:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
23, Dec, 12:08:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
23, Dec, 12:30:00 AM, II,Transit start
23, Dec, 03:03:00 AM, II,Transit end
23, Dec, 03:14:00 AM, II,Shadow transit start
23, Dec, 09:13:00 PM, I,Shadow transit end
24, Dec, 10:02:00 PM, II,Occultation reappearance
24, Dec, 10:15:00 PM, II,Eclipse disappearance
25, Dec, 12:44:00 AM, II,Eclipse reappearance
25, Dec, 01:47:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
25, Dec, 09:38:00 PM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
26, Dec, 11:27:00 PM, III,Occultation disappearance
27, Dec, 02:23:00 AM, III,Occultation reappearance
27, Dec, 03:26:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
27, Dec, 05:04:00 AM, III,Eclipse disappearance
27, Dec, 11:18:00 PM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
28, Dec, 03:47:00 AM, I,Occultation disappearance
29, Dec, 01:05:00 AM, I,Transit start
29, Dec, 02:27:00 AM, I,Shadow transit start
29, Dec, 03:20:00 AM, I,Transit end
29, Dec, 04:40:00 AM, I,Shadow transit end
29, Dec, 05:05:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
29, Dec, 10:16:00 PM, I,Occultation disappearance
30, Dec, 12:57:00 AM, n/a,Great Red Spot transit
30, Dec, 01:48:00 AM, I,Eclipse reappearance
30, Dec, 03:08:00 AM, II,Transit start
30, Dec, 09:49:00 PM, I,Transit end
30, Dec, 09:52:00 PM, III,Shadow transit end
30, Dec, 11:09:00 PM, I,Shadow transit end
31, Dec, 10:07:00 PM, II,Occultation disappearance

Saturn is visible in the early evening sky setting just around 11 pm in the early part of the month and around 9 pm by the end of the month. Saturn was at opposition on the 15th of August and is visible above the western sky when the sky is fully dark. Saturn will be high enough for good telescopic observation in the early evening when the sky is full dark. Saturn forms a line with delta and gamma Capricorn. On December 26; the crescent Moon is close to Saturn.

On the 1st Saturn is just under six hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On the 15th Saturn is just over three hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On the 30th Saturn is just under two hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half 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:
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Meteor showers:

Date        	Meteor Shower       ZHR  Illumination 
 7/12/2022  Puppids-Velids      10     Full Moon   
14/12/2022  Geminids            150    Last Quarter Moon             
22/12/2022 Ursids               10    New 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, 0:30 am

Geminid radiant seen facing north in the southern Hemisphere at 0:30 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. Unfortunately, the 75% illuminated waning Moon is close to the radiant. So, the best time is on the morning of the 15th, when the Moon is further away. As the radiant doesn't rise until before midnight (daylight saving time) in most of Australia, and the Moon rises around 1:00 am you will still have to disturb your sleep for this one. Northern Australians should see a meteor every 2 to 3 minutes under dark skies in the early morning of the 15th between 23:30 pm (14th) and 2:00 am local time (15th). Obviously under suburban skies you will see fewer. 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. This year Moonlight interferes with the peak and the days leading up to the peak, so the best rates are on the morning of the 15th. Australians should see a meteor every 3-4 minutes under dark skies in the early morning of the 15th, between 23:30pm(14th)-2:00am local time (15th).

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.

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Comets:

There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment.

A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.

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Occultations:

No interesting naked-eye occultations this month.

 


Eclipse:

No significant eclipses this month.

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

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

Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:

 


Variable Stars:

While most stars seem to shine with a constant brightness, there are some that undergo regular, dramatic change in brightness. The classic variables are Mira and Algol. Mira should have reached its maximum on July 16, and now is no longer visible to the unaided eye.

evening sky, 10:00 pm

Algol at 2:39 am ACDST on 9 December. Algol is indicated by the circle. Click image to embiggen.

Algol is a classic variable star, but is usually hard to see from the southern hemisphere. Algol is now visible in the evening (low on the north-eastern horizon from around 9:00 pm). You may need to observe it over a couple of nights to be confident you can see it fade from magnitude 2.1 to magnitude 3.4 (from about as bright as Delta Crucis to about as bright as epislon Crucis, the third and fourth brightest stars of the Southern cross). There are two eclipse visible this month.

Minima Algol (ACDST)
12/02/2022 @ 01:11 am
12/04/2022 @ 10:00 pm

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Stars:

evening sky, 10:00 pm

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

All descriptions here are based on the view from Melbourne at 10.00 pm AEST on 1 December and assumes a fairly level horizon. Starset occurs progressively earlier each day, so these descriptions are valid for 9.00 pm on the 15th and 8.00pm AEST on the 30th Readers from other time zones should see roughly the same views at 10.00 pm local time. Corrections for cities other than Melbourne are given below.

How do I find east, west, north and south?

Facing east, the faint constellation of Monocerous (the Unicorn) is just on the horizon.

At around three hand-spans from the eastern horizon are the constellations of Taurus, the bull, Orion the hunter and Canis major, Orion's hunting dog. Three hands-pans left of due east is the distinctive saucepan shape of Orion's belt. The handle of the saucepan is Orion's sword, which contains some good naked eye open clusters, and the final star in the handle hosts the famous Orion nebula, which is visible to the naked eye under clear skies. Directly above the handle of the saucepan is bright Rigel (beta Orionis). Directly below the saucepan is the bright reddish Betelgeuse (alpha Orinonis), a red giant star.

To the left of Orion's belt by about 4 hand-spans is Aldebaran (alpha Tauri), another red giant which forms the base of the V shaped group of stars called the Hyades, which forms the head of Taurus. Further to the left again by about two hand-spans is a faint, but pretty, compact cluster of stars called the Pleiades (the seven sisters, even though eight can be seen on a dark night with good eyesight). The Pleiades are particularly beautiful through binoculars.

To the right of Orion's belt by about 4 hand-spans is the bright white star Sirius (alpha Canis Majoris), the brightest star in the sky. The constellation of Canis Majoris has a number of open clusters that are well worth exploring with binoculars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hand-span further down and three to the left is the extended nebulosity of the Large Magellanic cloud, the largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies. Binoculars will reveal a rather attractive nebula near it, the Tarantula nebula.

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

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

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

Alpha Centauri is the closest star to our sun at around 4 light years. However, recent measurements with the Hippacaros satellite put the system 300 million kilometres further away than previously thought. Alpha Centauri is actually a triple star, consisting of two sun-like stars and a red dwarf, Proxima Centauri, which is the closest of the triple stars to earth.

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

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

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

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

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Sky Maps

How to use the maps

      map viewsky view

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

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

PNG Maps

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

PDF Maps

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

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

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

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


updated

Ian's Astrophotography Gallery

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

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Links

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

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

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

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

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

I use a combination of a 1962 star chart, the Australian Astronomy 2022 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2022 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 December for the following year, and is now approx $30.

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

For detailed chart drawing and timing of events, as well as satellite track predictions I feed the information from the almanac into the SkyMap Pro 11.0, planetarium program. This is a very handy program which prints maps of every possible orientation and scale. The maps on this page are produced by SkyMap. An update to SkyMap 12.0 which handles Windows 10 is now available, If anyone does still wish to buy a copy of SkyMap Pro 12, please email Chris Marriott at "skymap62@gmail.com".

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

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

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

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

This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2022 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 2022 Ian Musgrave, except the "Southern Sky Watch" logo, as well as any other ABC logo used on this page, is © copyright of the ABC. Sky maps are generated with SkyMap Pro 11.0 .

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

* Email: reynella@internode.on.net e-mail Ian with any suggestions
Created: Wednesday, 1 April 1998, 11:22:13 PM
Last Updated: Friday, 9 December, 2022, 11:30:13 PM


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