This month sees the planetary action all in the morning skies. But we have a "Super" Moon and the first total Lunar eclipse since 2015.
Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
January 2; Moon at Perigee ("Super Moon"). January 7; Jupiter and Mars very close. January 12; crescent Moon, Mars and Jupiter form a triangle. January 13; Saturn and Mercury close. January 15; Moon at Apogee. January 15; Thin crescent Moon close to Saturn and Mercury low in morning twilight. Jan 15-31; Asteroid Ceres visible in binoculars. January 29; variable star Mira at maximum brightness. January 31; "Blue" Moon and total Lunar Eclipse.
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 03/04/17: Despite solar maximum having passed, we are still getting occasional good auroral displays. The last week of March 2017 saw some impressive aurora displays from Tasmania, Victoria, SA and WA. September 2016 saw a series of good but transient aurora in Tasmania and southern Victoria. July 2015 saw a massive storm seen as far north as mid NSW, again clouded out for large parts of Australia. 17-19/3/2015, the St. Patrick's Day aurora, massive storm seen as far north as Southern Queensland. Unfortunately clouded out for large parts of Australia. 26/2/2015, yet another good set of aurora were seen from Tasmania. 9/2/2015 There was a series of very good auroral events during January, some were seen in NSW, Victoria, SA and WA as well as Tasmania. Last year saw some nice events and a coronal mass ejection from an M class flare hit us square on on March 17 2013. Aurora were detected as far north as the QLD border, with some really nice events in Tasmania, and here are some images from that event. The Sun is now at solar maximum, but has been rather quite so far apart from the odd event like the 17 March 2013 one and the 22 February 2014 and the January 2015 events (and of course the St. Patrick's Day Storm). Although we should be exiting solar maximum in 2016 we may see more aurora in the near future.
Auroral images and descriptions from past geomagnetic storms are now at the auroral image web page.
We are now at the tail end of solar maximum in 2016, and we can expect to see a reducing frequency of aurora. There have been some good displays in Tasmania recently (the St. Patrick's Day storm was a beauty, see as far north as NSW). Tasmania, King Island and Southern Victoria are the most likely places to see aurora. However, on September 24, 2005 there was a massive auroral storm seen as far as northern NSW (and the 22 February 2014 one was seen as far north as southern NSW). Naturally, the best views of any aurora will be away from the city and bright lights. Aurora occur when charged particles from the solar wind enter Earths outer atmosphere and interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms producing eerie displays of coloured lights. During solar maximum, which occurs every 11 years, the number and speed of the particles are higher, allowing them to penetrate the Earth's magnetic field at lower latitudes than normal. Observers in Tasmania are likely to see green glows or sheets of light in the southern sky. Observers in Southern Victoria are more likely to see a red glow in the southern sky, although more spectacular displays are possible.
The Astronomical Society of Tasmania has a webpage devoted to this phenomenon. The Australian IPS radio and space services covers Aurora and related phenomena in very great detail (too much if you don't know much about them) but has a nice education page. Flinders Uni also has real time magnetometer readings, however, this will probably not mean much to most people.
Aurora will generally follow solar flares by about 2 days, and a number of instruments are watching the sun for these outbursts. The solar minimum occurred in 2006 and persisted for some time. While sunspot numbers, and hence flare rates are increasing, sometimes months will go by without an alert, then you have three in a week. The space weather site at http://www.spaceweather.com gives notice of when solar winds likely to cause aurora will arrive. Alternatively, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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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1 January 2018; Mars three finger-widths from Jupiter in the morning skies
2 January 2018; Perigee ("Super") Moon
7 January 2018; Mars and Jupiter closest at 0.25 degrees.
12 January 2018; Crescent Moon, Mars and Jupiter form a triangle
13 January 2018; Mercury less than a finger-width from Saturn in the morning sky
15 January 2018; thin crescent Moon near Mercury and Saturn
27-31 January 2018; Asteroid Ceres visible in binoculars
31 January 2018; Blue Moon, Total Lunar Eclipse ~11pm AEST
8 February 2018; Waning Moon close to Jupiter in Morning sky
10 February 2018; Waning Moon close to Mars
13 February 2018; Crescent Moon close to Saturn
4 March 2018; Venus and Mercury very close, low in the evening twilight
7 March 2018; Moon close to Jupiter
10-11 March 2018; Moon close to Mars
11-12 March 2018; Moon close to Saturn
19 March 2018; thin crescent Moon close to Mercury and Venus in evening twilight
20 March 2018; Mars close to Triffid Nebula
1-3 April 2018; Mars and globular cluster M22 less than a finger-width apart in morning sky
2 April 2018; Mars and Saturn close, a finger-width apart
3 April 2018; Moon close to Jupiter in evening sky
15 April 2018; thin crescent Moon close to Mercury in morning twilight
18 April 2018; crescent Moon close to Venus in evening sky
30 April 2018; Moon close to Jupiter in evening sky
1-30 May 2018; Saturn within 2finger-widths of globular cluster M22, closest on the 15th
4 May 2018; Moon close to Saturn.
6 May 2018; Moon close to Mars.
6 May 2018; Eta Aquariid meteor shower.
9 May 2018; Jupiter at opposition.
14-15 May 2018; Mars less than half a finger-width from globular cluster M75.
17-18 May 2018; crescent Moon close to Venus.
21 May 2018; Venus close to M35.
27 May 2018; Moon close to Jupiter.
1 June 2018; Moon and Saturn close.
3 June 2018; Moon and Mars close.
16 June 2018; Crescent Moon near Venus.
19 June 2018; Asteroid Vesta at opposition, potentially visible with the unaided eye.
20 June 2018; Venus in the Beehive cluster.
21 June 2018; crescent Moon and Venus close.
23 June 2018; Moon and Jupiter close.
27 June 2018; Saturn at opposition.
28 June 2018; Saturn close to the Moon.
1 July 2018; Mars and Moon close.
4 July 2018; Mercury close to Beehive cluster.
13 July 2018; Partial Eclipse of the sun, visible only southern SA and VIC.
15 July 2018; thin crescent Moon and Mercury close in the twilight.
16 July 2018; crescent Moon and Venus close.
21 July 2018; Moon and Jupiter close.
25 July 2018; Moon and Saturn close.
27 July 2018; Mars at Opposition, the best since 2003.
28 July 2018; Total Lunar Eclipse, early morning.
30 July 2018; Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower.
14 August 2018; Crescent Moon close to Venus.
17 August 2018; Moon close to Jupiter.
21 August 2018; Moon close to Saturn.
30 August 2018; Saturn close to Triffid Nebula.
1-2 September 2018; Venus and Spica close.
12-13 September 2018; Crescent Moon close to Venus.
14 September 2018; crescent Moon close to Jupiter.
18 September 2018; Moon close to Saturn.
20 September 2018; Moon and Mars close.
10-20 October 2018; All 5 ove bright planets visible in early evening sky.
10 October 2018; Mercury and Crescent Moon close.
11 October 2018; crescent Moon near Venus
12 October 2018; crescent Moon close to Jupiter.
15 October 2018; Moon close to Saturn.
16 October 2018; Venus and Mercury close.
18 October 2018; Moon close to Mars.
22 October 2018; Orionid meteor shower.
28 October 2018; Mercury and Jupiter close.
9 November 2018; Jupiter crescent Moon close.
11 November 2018; Crescent Moon and Saturn close.
16 November 2018; Moon close to Mars.
17 November 2018; Leonid Meteor Shower.
26 November 2018; Variable star Mira at its brightest
1-20 December 2018; Comet 46P potentially visible to the unaided eye.
4 December 2018; Crescent Moon close to Venus in morning twilight.
9 December 2018; Crescent Moon close to Saturn in evening twilight.
15 December 2018; Geminid Meteor shower.
14-15 December 2018; Moon close to Mars.
22 December 2018; Jupiter and Mercury very close in dawn sky.
Out in Space
Mars Curiosity Rover climbs Vera Rubin Ridge.
Mars Express sees high altitude clouds.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter finds clues to the cradle of life.
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Full moon on the 2nd
Current Phase of the Moon.
Last quarter on the 9th
New Moon is on the 17th
First quarter on the 25th
Full moon on the 31st
January 2; Moon at Perigee ("Super Moon"). January 12; crescent Moon, Mars and Jupiter form a triangle. . January 15; Moon at Apogee. January 15; Thin crescent Moon close to Saturn and Mercury low in morning twilight. January 31; "Blue" Moon and total Lunar Eclipse.
An interactive calendar of the Moon's phases.
A view of the phase of the Moon for any date from 1800 A.D. to 2199, US based, so that the Moon is upside down with respect to us. The image above is from this source.
The phases of the Moon have been linked in the popular imagination to activities as diverse as madness and menstruation. However, careful study has shown that there are no such links. This web page outlines how the Moon is unconnected with a wide range of human activities.
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Finding planets, even with the directions below, can sometimes be difficult if you are unfamiliar with the sky. However, the Moon is very obvious, and can be a guide to location of planets. Not only that, the combination of the Moon and bright planet(s) is often very beautiful. Thus the guide below gives the dates when the planets and the Moon are close together.
The eastern morning sky on January 7 60 minutes before sunrise showing Mars and Jupiter at their closest. (similar views will be seen Australia wide 60 minutes before sunrise).
The eastern morning sky on January 12 60 minutes before sunrise showing Mars, Jupiter and the Moon forming a triangle. (similar views will be seen Australia wide 60 minutes before sunrise).
The eastern morning sky on January 13 60 minutes before sunrise showing showing Mercury and Saturn at their closest. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg January 13 at 60 minutes before sunrise Adelaide).
Mercury climbs higher in the morning twilight this month. On the 1st Mercury is nearly two hand-spans above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. Mercury climbs towards Saturn over the coming weeks. On the 13th the pair are just under a finger-width apart. By the 15th Mercury is visible just under a hand-span from the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. At this time the thin crescent Moon, Saturn and Mercury form a triangle. Mercury sinks back to the horizon and on the 30th Mercury is a hand-span above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise.
Venus is lost in the glow of twilight and will return as the "evening star" in early 2018.
Earth is at perihelion on 3 January when it is closest to the Sun. Mars rises still higher in the morning skies this month. On January 1 Mars Mars is just over four hand-spans from the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise and is three finger-widths above the bright star alpha2 Librae and nearly 4 finger-widths from Jupiter. Over the first part of the month Mars moves towards alpha2 Librae (Zubenelgenubi) and Jupiter. Between the 2nd and 4th Mars and Zubenelgenubi are visible together in low power telescope eyepieces. Mars then leaves Zubenelgenubi behind and closes in on Jupiter. On the 5th Mars and Jupiter are visible together in low power telescope eye pieces, ahead of their spectacular conjunction on the 7th, when they are less than a quarter of a finger-width apart. On January 12 the crescent Moon is just under a hand-span from Mars, forming a triangle with Jupiter. On January 15 Mars is just under a seven hand-spans from the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On the 30th Mars is just eight hand-spans from the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.
Jupiter climbs higher in the morning sky this month.
On January 1, Jupiter is just four hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise and is a finger-width from alpha2 Librae and nearly 4 finger-widths from Mars. Over the month Jupiter comes closer to Mars. On the 5th Mars and Jupiter are visible together in low power telescope eye pieces, ahead of their spectacular conjunction on the 7th, when they are less than a quarter of a finger-width apart. On January 12 the crescent Moon is just under a hand-span from Mars, forming a triangle with Jupiter. On January 15, Jupiter is seven hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. By January 30, Jupiter is nine hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.
In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter's Moons are always interesting.This table was created using The Planets 2.02 a free program available from http://www.cpac.org.uk Times are AEST, subtract 30 minutes for ACST and 3 hours for AWST. Add one hour for Daylight Saving time. GRS = Great Red Spot. S = Shadow Transit, T = Transit Mon 1 Jan 3:52 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Mon 1 Jan 4:52 Io : Transit Begins ST Mon 1 Jan 6:03 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Tue 2 Jan 3:07 Gan: Disappears into Occultation T Tue 2 Jan 4:17 Io : Reappears from Occultation T Tue 2 Jan 4:30 Eur: Transit Ends Tue 2 Jan 4:50 Gan: Reappears from Occultation Wed 3 Jan 2:51 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 5 Jan 4:29 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 7 Jan 6:08 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 8 Jan 5:46 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Tue 9 Jan 2:50 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Tue 9 Jan 2:58 Gan: Disappears into Eclipse S Tue 9 Jan 3:01 Io : Disappears into Eclipse S Tue 9 Jan 4:47 Gan: Reappears from Eclipse S Tue 9 Jan 4:57 Eur: Transit Begins ST Tue 9 Jan 5:06 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends T Tue 9 Jan 6:14 Io : Reappears from Occultation T Wed 10 Jan 2:25 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Wed 10 Jan 3:30 Io : Transit Ends Wed 10 Jan 3:38 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 12 Jan 5:17 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 15 Jan 2:47 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 16 Jan 4:54 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Tue 16 Jan 5:23 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Wed 17 Jan 2:08 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Wed 17 Jan 3:17 Io : Transit Begins ST Wed 17 Jan 4:18 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Wed 17 Jan 4:25 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 17 Jan 5:27 Io : Transit Ends Thu 18 Jan 2:21 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Thu 18 Jan 2:26 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Thu 18 Jan 2:39 Io : Reappears from Occultation Thu 18 Jan 4:40 Eur: Reappears from Occultation Fri 19 Jan 6:04 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 20 Jan 1:55 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 20 Jan 3:05 Gan: Transit Ends Mon 22 Jan 3:34 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 24 Jan 4:01 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Wed 24 Jan 5:13 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 24 Jan 5:13 Io : Transit Begins ST Wed 24 Jan 6:12 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Thu 25 Jan 2:40 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Thu 25 Jan 4:35 Io : Reappears from Occultation Thu 25 Jan 4:57 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Thu 25 Jan 5:08 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Fri 26 Jan 1:52 Io : Transit Ends Sat 27 Jan 1:48 Eur: Transit Ends S Sat 27 Jan 2:28 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends Sat 27 Jan 2:43 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 27 Jan 5:41 Gan: Transit Begins T Mon 29 Jan 4:21 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 31 Jan 5:55 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Wed 31 Jan 6:00 GRS: Crosses Central MeridianSaturn enters the morning skies late this month. S On January 1 Saturn is just a finger-width above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On the 12th Saturn and Mercury are less than a finger-width apart. By January 15 Saturn is visible just over a hand-span from the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. At this time the thin crescent Moon, Saturn and Mercury form a triangle. On the 30th Saturn is three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.
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Iridium Flares, the International Space Station and other satellites
See this amazing site for images of the space station taken through a telescope.
Iridium flares add a bit of spectacle to the night sky. The Iridium satellite network was set up to give global phone coverage, so an Iridium satellite is almost always over head. Occasionally, one of the antenna of the satellites is aligned so that it reflects the sun towards an observer, giving a brilliant flare, often out-shining Venus. However, the visibility of Iridium flares is VERY dependent on observer position, so you need a prediction for your spot within about 30 km. Hence I'm referring you to a web site for predictions rather than doing it myself.
See an Iridium Flare at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box
- Heavens above, an excellent site. You need to choose your location or manually enter a longitude and latitude (once done the site remembers this). Predicts Iridium Flare occurrence, and gives the visibility the space shuttle, the International space station and heaps of other satellites. I find this the most useful site.
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.
See the International Space Station at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box
Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
Another site, JPASS, doesn't do Iridium flares, but is very cool and does the International Space Station, and many other satellites. However, although the output is flashy, it's harder to use than heavens above.
- The JPASS site from NASA.
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Date Meteor Shower ZHR Illumination 4/1/2018 Quadrantids 120 Full Moon
The figure ZHR is zenithal hourly rate. This is the number of meteors that a single observer would see per hour if the shower's "point of origin", or radiant, were at the zenith and the sky were dark enough for 6.5-magnitude stars to be visible to the naked eye. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the lower the figure, the darker the sky.
The Quadrantids are a relatively reliable northern hemisphere shower, whose radiant lies below the horizon. They are difficult to see, but one can be rewarded by the (rare) sight of meteors shooting up above the horizon. The best time is to view between 4.00 am and 5.00 am, looking to the north east. A spotters map is here. The map shows the view to the east at 4.00 am (AEDST, 3.00 am AEST). This year there will be significant interference from Moonlight.
Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 6 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2 per hour during the evening. The evening rates will be reduced during the times around the full Moon due to interference by the Moons light.
A good page describing meteor watching is at the Sky Publications site.
The Meteor Section of the Astronomical Society of Victoria has some good information on meteor watching too.
Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.
A Cool Fact about meteor speeds
A good page on detecting meteors using home made radio-telescopes is here.
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There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment. The asteroid Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system, currently being orbited by the Dawn spacecraft, will be visible in binoculars from around mid month.
Black and white binocular chart suitable for printing (click to embiggen and print). The large circle represents the field of view of 10x50 binoculars. The small that of a 4" Newtonian telescope with a 24 mm eyepiece. Use the horizon charts for orientation first.
The asteroid 1 Ceres is relativel easily visible in binoculars form around the middle of this month, it brightens during this time but there is significant interference from Moonlight by the end of the month.
Vesta is relatively easy to find. It is above the northern horizon at astronomical twilight in the morning, and is just below Kappa Leo. The brightish star the is the tip of the sickle of Leo (see charts, if you centre your binoculars on Kappa Leo from Mid Month Ceres will be just below it). You may need to watch night to night as the asteroid moves to be sure of its identity..
A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.
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No interesting naked-eye occultations this month.
Total Lunar Eclipse January 31, 2018:
Evening sky on January 31 looking east as seen from Adelaide at 22:51 ACDST, about half way to totality. Similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia at the equivalent local time. (click to embiggen). The darkening of the Moon will be readily visible.
On the evening of January 31, continiuing into the morning of 1 February there is a total eclipse of the Moon, this is the first total Lunar eclipse since September 2015. This is a nice deep eclipse, and though you have to stay up late to see it go to totality, it is well worth it. It is still school holidays, so let the kids stay up late to watch. You may even see the Beehive cluster become visible to the unaided eye next to the Moon during totality.All of Australia will see this Total eclipse from start to finish.
For the East Coast Moon the eclipse begins at 22:48 AEDST (21:48 AEST), maximum eclipse is at 00:30 AEDST 1st (23:30 AEST), the eclipse ends at 2:12 AEDST (1:12 AEST) on the 1st
For the Central states the eclipse begins at 22:18 ACDST (21:18 ACST), maximum eclipse is at 24:00 ACDST (23:00 ACST) , the eclipse ends at 1:42 ACDST (12:42 ACDST) on the 1st
For Western Australia the eclipse begins at 19:48 AWST, maximum eclipse is at 21:30 AWST , the eclipse ends at 23:12 AWST
See here for a map and contact timings in UT for sites outside Australia
Find local sunrise/sunset and twilight times for your city or location (courtesy of Heavens Above).
Use either the drop down box for the listed cities, or type in your latitude, longitude and city in the boxes below.
Type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
While most stars seem to shine with a constant brightness, there are some that undergo regular, dramatic change in brightness. The classic variables are Mira and Algol. Algol is currently rising in the early morning. Mira should be brightening in the lead up to its predicted maximum of 3.4 on 29 January. It is now readily visible to the unaided eye and should remain so to the end of January and well worth following over the coming weeks as it brightens.
Cetus looking north-west at 10:00 pm AEDST on 15 January, Mira is indicated by the circle.
Mira (omicron ceti), a star in the constellation of Cetus the whale, is a long period pulsating red giant and changes brightness from below naked eye visibility to a peak of round magnitude 2 (roughly as bright as beta Crucis in the Southern Cross) in around 330 days. Mira is predicted to peak with maximum of 3.4 around 29 January. Mira may be seen above the northern horizon from Astronomical twilight (and hour and a half after sunset, see above diagram) and is higherst around 23:00, Mira is currently be visible to the unaided eye and may be brightest from mid to late January.
Algol at 10:00 pm AEDST on 15 January.
Algol is another classic variable star, but is usually hard to see from the southern hemisphere. Algol is higest shortly after astronomical twilight, ie when the sky is ully datk and sets aroun midnight. This month we have one chance to see Algol dim and brighten under reasonable circumstances (Times AEDST).
Minima Algol 01/04/2018 @ 10:47 pm (best time, Algol at almost maximal height)
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The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEST in Melbourne on January 1 (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 10:00 pm ACST Adelaide).
All descriptions here are based on the view from Melbourne at 10.00 pm AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on 1 January and assumes a fairly level horizon. Starset occurs progressively earlier each day, so these descriptions are valid for 9.00 pm on the 15th and 8.00pm on the 30th. Readers from other time zones should see roughly the same views at 10.00 pm local time. Corrections for cities other than Melbourne are given below.
How do I find east, west, north and south?
- Readers in Adelaide and Auckland should see roughly the same views at the local equivalent of 10.00 pm AEST.
- Readers in Hobart and Christchurch must decrease descriptions to the North by about five finger widths and increase those to the south by the same amount.
- Readers in Sydney, Fremantle, Perth, Santiago and Capetown should add 3 finger widths to the northern descriptions, and subtract 3 finger widths to the south.
- Readers in Brisbane, Alice Springs, Rio deJanerio and Johannesburg must adjust North/South descriptions by two hand spans.
- Readers in Darwin, Cairns, Brazilia, La Paz, Lusaka and Lima must adjust North/South descriptions by about 4-5 hand spans.
Facing west, the battered triangle of Capricorn, the Goat, is 3 hand-spans left of west, almost directly on the horizon. To the right by 3 hand spans and up by two hand-spans is Aquarius.
6 hand-spans up from the western horizon and three hand spans to the left is bright Fomalhaut, the main star of Piscinis Austrinus, the southern fish. Further off to the left is the battered cross of Grus the crane.
The faint constellation of Cetus, the whale is just below the zenith stretching from the west to south-west.
The Zenith is dominated by the rambling constellation Eridanus, the river, and bright Achernar, alpha Eridanus. Achernar is the 9th brightest star in the sky, and is a blue supergiant. Epsilon Eridani is notable for being the 10th closest star to our solar system. A sun-like star, epsilon Eridani has recently been discovered to have a dust disk which may indicate the presence of planets.
On the eastern horizon are the constellations of Hydra, directly east, and rectangle of Gemini, 6 hand-spans to the left. The bright stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, will not clear the Horizon until about an hour later.
The constellations of Taurus, the bull, Orion the hunter and Canis major, Orion's hunting dog are now well above the horizon, and will be magnificent viewing later in the month, when the moon has waned.
Directly east, 8 hand-spans from the horizon is Canis Major. The bright white star is Sirius (alpha Canis Majoris), the brightest star in the sky. The constellation of Canis Majoris has a number of open clusters that are well worth exploring with binoculars, Most of these lie two hand-spans to the right of Sirius, amongst the V shaped group of stars that marks the tail of Canis Major. Below Sirius by two hand spans, and one hand-span to the right is M47. This cluster is quite nice in binoculars.
To the left of Sirius by about four hand-spans is the distinctive saucepan shape of Orion's belt. The handle of the saucepan is Orion's sword, which contains some good naked eye open clusters, and the final star in the handle hosts the famous Orion nebula, which is visible to the naked eye under clear skies. Directly above the handle of the saucepan is bright Rigel (beta Orionis). Directly below the saucepan is the bright reddish Betelgeuse (alpha Orionis), a red giant star.
To the left of 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 is a faint, but pretty, compact cluster of stars called the Pleiades (the seven sisters). The Pleiades are particularly beautiful through binoculars.
Facing directly north, about three hand-spans up is Perseus. Six hand-spans up is the Pleiades. The large square of stars that forms Pegasus, the flying horse is six hand-spans to your left on the north-western horizon. Andromeda, and the famous Andromeda galaxy, is two hand-spans below the bottom right hand star of the square, and one hand span to the right, near a faint star. Andromeda is best seen through binoculars or a small telescope on a dark night. However, as Andromeda is so close to the horizon, it may be difficult to see anything.
Looking south, the bright, distinctive alpha and beta Centauri, the so called "pointers", are 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 Centaurus, 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 kilometers 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 east through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, one and a half hand-spans from beta Centauri to beta Crucis, and two hand-spans above the horizon between the 7 o'clock and 8 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-east, with bright Acrux on the end of the axis away from the horizon). Beta and delta Crucis, forming a nearly horizontal line, form the cross piece of the cross. Just to the right of Acrux is the coal sack. This dark area against the glow of the milky way represents a large dust cloud and is usually clearly visible in dark skies, but will be hard to see this close to the horizon. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just 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.
Above and to the left of the Southern Cross 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 two hand-spans up, and one hand-span 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. Two hand-spans to the left and four hand-spans up from the Southern Cross is the False Cross, seven hand-spans from the southern horizon. Just to the left of the False Cross is a good open cluster. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star sitting 11 hand-spans above the south-eastern horizon (and about 4 hand-spans up from the False Cross.
Vela, the sail of Argo Navis, and Puppis, the poop deck, (to the left and below Carina respectively) are now well above the horizon and their collection of clusters are quite visible now. When, Argo Navis was broken up into Puppis, Vela and Carina in 1750, they forgot to assign alpha and beta stars to Vela, and its brightest star at magnitude 1.5 is Gamma Velorum. Gama Velorum is a double star which may be resolved in good binoculars. The Milky Way passes through Vela, and there are many open clusters which can be seen with binoculars or the naked eye. One of the best of these is NGC2547, a little below gamma Velorum. Vela is also home to the spectacular Gum nebula (which can only be seen in telescopic photographs), and the second pulsar to be observed optically. Kappa and delta Velorum, with iota and epsilon Carina, make the "false cross" (about 7 hand spans above the southern horizon). A high definition map of Vela is here.
To the left of the false Cross by about a hand-span is a good collection of the open clusters to be found in Vela, and two hand-spans further along brings you to another collection of clusters in Puppis.
Directly above the southern horizon by 11 hand-spans is the extended nebulosity of the Large Magellanic cloud, the largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies. Binoculars will reveal a rather attractive nebula near it, the Tarantula nebula.
To the left of this by 4 hand-spans 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.
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How to use the maps
Comparison of a section of a skymap showing the Southern Cross (Crux) and pointers, with the appearance of the night sky. The map and sky are for January 1 at 10.00 pm, facing south. Both show approximately 30 degrees (5 hand-spans) of sky just above the horizon
The maps look a little busy, as they cover all sky from horizon to zenith. The grid lines are navigational helpers; each horizontal or vertical line covers 30 degrees of arc (the gridlines in the illustration show 15 degrees of arc), which is roughly five hand-spans (where a hand-span is the width of your hand, held flat light a "stop" sign at arms length). As you can see from the way the lines bunch up. The map is a little distorted, due to trying to project a spherical surface on a flat surface. The horizon is the lowest curved line on the map (for technical software reasons I can't block things out below the Horizon). Constellations are linked by lines and their names are in italics. Stars are shown as circles of varying size, the bigger the circle the brighter the star. The stars are named with their Bayer letter (eg a - alpha, the brightest star in a constellation, a Crucis is the brightest star in Crux). Variable stars are shown as hollow circles, double stars are marked with a line (eg a, b and g Crucis are all double stars, that look quite beautiful in a small telescope). Clusters and Nebula brighter than magnitude 6.0 are marked as broken circles (eg. the Jewel box cluster next to b Crucis above which is best viewed in binoculars or a telescope) and squares respectively. To find Crux for example, locate Crux on the appropriate map (eg. see the illustration above). Holding the Map, face either east or west (depending on the map), then use the grid lines to determine how far over and up you should look, then look for the Crux pattern in that part of the Sky.
GIF MapsA view of the Eastern January sky at 10.00pm AEST on 1 January can be downloaded here (jansky_e.png 30 Kb) and a view of the western January sky can be downloaded here (jansky_w.png 30 Kb). These are more compact files but don't have a lot of resolution.
PDF MapsHigh Resolution PDF files can be obtained for the eastern (110 Kb) and the western (110 Kb) horizon maps.
The Zenith Map (110 Kb) shows you the whole sky. You will need to face the one of the compass points, then hold the map with the appropriate compass point on the map at the bottom of the page.
You will need a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat or GhostView to view and print them. They look slightly worse on-screen than the PNG files, but print much better and come with legends.
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Cheers! And good star gazing!
Ian's Astrophotography GallerySome of the photographs/images I have taken in recent years of astronomical phenomena that may be of interest.
- Partial Lunar eclipse. Partial Lunar eclipse, July 5, 2001
- My Solar eclipse report. Pictures from the Dec 4, 2002 solar eclipse in South Australia
- Transit of Mercury pictures! 7 May 2003
- Images of the partial solar eclipse 24 Nov 2003
- Transit of Venus July 8 2004 report
- Images of Jupiter, taken, after an enormous struggle, with my webcam, April 2005
- Mosaics of the Moon, more fun with my webcam, April-May 2005
- Animation of Sunrise on the Moon November 2006
- Animation of A shadow Transit on Jupiter May 2007
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- OnLine Astronomical Societies in Australia, from the Astronomical Society of New South Wales Inc.
- Astronomical Society of Australia
- Mornington Peninsula Astronomy Society
- Astronomy Guild of Australia
- Ice in Space
- A clickable star map for Victoria
- Monthly free Star maps. High quality, monthly maps for Southern and Northern Skies, has lists of interesting objects. Requires Adobe Acrobat to print.
- Gordon Garradd's Astronomy Page
- Peter Enzerinks Astronomy page - Web based telescope/eyepiece calculator and other southern sky tidbits.
- Buying a telescope in Australia, lots of helpful hints.
- Anglo-Australian Observatory
- MSSSO - Mt Stromlo and Siding Springs Observatory
- ATNF - Australian Telescope National Facility
- Parks Radio telescope facility
- Spaceguard Australia the proposed search for Near Earth Objects including meteroids.
- Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
- Star Class, Astronomy Education
- Information about Aboriginal astronomy.
- Australian weather forecasts
- Sky and Space, Australia's Astronomy magazine.
- Planetary Society, Australian Volunteers events diary.
- Australian Astronomy
Astronomy for Kids
- Adelaide Planetarium
- Canberra Planetarium and Observatory
- Launceston Planetarium
- Science Centre and Planetarium (Wollongong)
- Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
- Perth Observatory and Planetarium
- Museum of Victoria Planetarium, Skynotes Index
- The Cosmos Centre in Charleville
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Star Child NASA space information for kis 5-13.
- Interactive site on the Sun, good kids resources
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Astronomy for Kids
- Astronomy for Kids (different site to the one above, and a bit simple, but lots of good images).
- Kids astronomy information from Astronomy Magazine
- SEDS, home of the Nine Planets Tour, and much much more
- The Planetary Society
- Center for Backyard Astrophysics
- Amateur Radio Telescopes
- International Occulation Timing Society
- Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy pages (very educational)
- SKY Online - Your Astronomy Source on the World Wide Web
- Astronomy Magazine
- Stellar distances
- Space Weather site (with Meteor counts)
- Near Earth Object home page (also follows comets, including LINEAR S4 and meteor showers)
- A 3D map of satellites orbiting the Earth in real time! Simply amazing!
- The Anglo Australian Observatories 3D virtual tour through a 3D map of the Cosmos. Mind Blowing!
- Views of extrasolar planets seen from the Southern sky, stunning Java-driven map with heaps of (complex) info.
- Stellarium, free (but large) photorealistic sky charting software. What I use for the horizon views.
- Celestia, free 3D space travel software, see the Earth from Mars, see the Moon of EL62, see Saturn rise on Titan.
- Ian's Celestia resources. Save these files into the "Extras" directory
- Script to show Conjunctions of Earth from Mars.
- Definition File for asteroid 87 Sylvia and her two moons (see story here).
- Definition File for Pluto's two new Moons P1 and P2.
- Definition file for three Neptunian extrasolar planets of HD 69830.
- Asteroid 2004 VD17, which will not hit the Earth.
- Definition file for Comet 2006/P1 McNaught
- Definition file for for the Gliese 581 system that contains the most Earth-like world yet.
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Charts, Books and Software for AstronomyIf you would like to have charts available all the time, rather than relying on mine, for between $2-$20 you can pick up a planisphere from a newsagent or bookshop (or for a bit more you can get fancy ones from Australian Geographic, the ABC shop or the other Australian Geographic look alike shop, or the Wilderness Society, or even a binocular/ optical store). The planisphere won't give you position of the planets, so you will need to get the planet rise/set times. These can be found in most serious newspapers (the Age, the Australian, SMH etc. The Australian is probably the best bet for budding amateurs). The combination of planisphere and rise/set times is the best value for beginners though, if you are not too worried about identifying star clusters in your binoculars.
Touring the Universe through Binoculars Atlas is now freeware http://www.philharrington.net/tuba.htm it can print observing charts, but has a few annoying quirks. These include having no horizon line, and moving about is a bit irritating.
I use a combination of a 1962 star chart, the Australian Astronomy 2018 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2018 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 firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase a copy directly for those outside major population centres. The Australian Astronomy almanac comes out in around November for the following year, and is now approx $30.
Sky and Telescope now also do an Australian version of their magazine.
For detailed chart drawing and timing of events, as well as satellite track predictions I feed the information from the almanac into the $150 AUD SkyMap Pro 11.0 , planetarium program. This is a very handy program which prints maps of every possible orientation and scale. The maps on this page are produced by SkyMap. An update to SkyMap 12.0 which handles Windows 10 is now available.
A shareware version of SkyMap that runs on windows 3.x, and win95 can be found here http://www.winsite.com/info/pc/win3/desktop/skymp21a.zip this is approximately 640 Kb zipped.
A shareware version of the win95 only version 5.0 is here http://www.download.net.au/cgi-bin/dl?13607
Other highly recommended Sky charting packages (win95/98/2000/XP/Win7-10 sorry) are:
Cartes du Ciel at http://www.stargazing.net/astropc/ (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at http://stellarium.sourceforge.net/ (FREE) stunning photorealistic program, but requires a grunty PC.
TheSkyVarious packages from $49 US to $249 US
Stary Night various versions from $49 US for the basic pack (10 day trial of the basic pack at http://www.siennasoft.com/english/downloads.shtml) up.
Earth Centered Universe $88 AUD (shareware version at http://www.nova-astro.com/)
On the other hand a standard Sky Atlas for serious observing (much handier than carting a computer with you) such as Norton's Star Atlas can range from $35 to $90.
In these days of hand-held devices (smart phones and tablets), there is a plethora of sky charting apps you can take into the field with you. I use GoogleSky for android and a cut down version of Stellarium for iPad, my most used hand-held app is Heavens Above for Android, for watching Iridium flares and ISS passes. This is one app that has changed my astronomical life. There are many more, many free or less than 1 AUD to download. Celestron has a great free planetarium app (although big at 154 Mb) for Android, iPhone and iPad, SkyPortal.
This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2018 almanac. For any budding astronomers out there, it is fantastic value and no, I don't have any commercial interest in it, but I did win bronze in their website Olympics).
This page can be used freely for any non-commercial purpose but please attribute it correctly. However, see the disclaimer.
Ian with any suggestions
Created: Wednesday, 1 April 1998, 11:22:13 PM
Last Updated: Sunday, 28 November 2017, 11:30:13 PM