Southern Sky Watch

January Skies

This month the planetary action is mostly in the morning skies. Venus bright in the east with Mercury and jupiter below it Saturn returns late in the month to the morning skies. Lonely Mars graces the western evening sky. Venus and Jupiter close. comet46P low in the north early in the month.

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

January 2; Venus and the crescent Moon close in the morning. January 3-4; crescent Moon close to Jupiter. January 4; crescent Moon near to Mercury. January 9; Moon at Apogee. January 1-12 Comet 46P bright(ish) but really only visible in northern Australia. January 12-13; Mars close to the waxing Moon. January 14, Saturn and Mercury low in the morning twilight (difficult). January 22; Moon at perigee (near perigee full Moon, so called "super Moon" 21st). January 23; Jupiter and Venus close.


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 January school holidays will be an ideal time to head out somewhere dark and view the stars and planets at their best. Summer also means very long twilights in southern Australia, so you may have to wait to see these delights. Despite the warmth of the days, nights are often cool, so don't forget a light jumper before doing any extended star watching. A blanket or rug to sit on is a good idea. Some mosquito repellent will be a must.


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

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

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Aurora Alert UPDATED 28/08/18: Despite solar maximum having passed, we are still getting occasional good auroral displays. August 26th 2018 saw an impressive display visible from NZ and Tasmania despite the full Moon. The last week of March 2017 saw some impressive aurora displays from Tasmania, Victoria, SA and WA. September 2016 saw a series of good but transient aurora in Tasmania and southern Victoria. July 2015 saw a massive storm seen as far north as mid NSW, again clouded out for large parts of Australia. 17-19/3/2015, the St. Patrick's Day aurora, massive storm seen as far north as Southern Queensland. Unfortunately clouded out for large parts of Australia. 26/2/2015, yet another good set of aurora were seen from Tasmania. 9/2/2015 There was a series of very good auroral events during 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 minimum,and is rather quiet we may see more aurora in the near future.

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

We are now deep in solar minimum, and we can expect to see few aurora. There have been some good displays in Tasmania in the recent past (the St. Patrick's Day storm was a beauty, see as far north as NSW). Tasmania, King Island and Southern Victoria are the most likely places to see aurora. However, on September 24, 2005 there was a massive auroral storm seen as far as northern NSW (and the 22 February 2014 one was seen as far north as southern NSW). Naturally, the best views of any aurora will be away from the city and bright lights. Aurora occur when charged particles from the solar wind enter Earths outer atmosphere and interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms producing eerie displays of coloured lights. During solar maximum, which occurs every 11 years, the number and speed of the particles are higher, allowing them to penetrate the Earth's magnetic field at lower latitudes than normal. Observers in Tasmania are likely to see green glows or sheets of light in the southern sky. Observers in Southern Victoria are more likely to see a red glow in the southern sky, although more spectacular displays are possible.

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

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

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

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Coming events

2 January 2019; Venus close to crescent Moon in morning.

3-4 January 2019; Crescent Moon and Jupiter close

4 January 2019; Crescent Moon near Mercury

12-13 January 2019; waxing Moon and Mars close

14 January 2019; Mercury a bit over a finger-width from Saturn low in the morning twilight

21 January 2019; Perigee Full Moon ("super" Moon, strictly at its biggest on the morning of the 22nd)

23 January 2019; Venus and Jupiter close in the morning

31 January 2019; Crescent Moon and Jupiter close again

1 February 2019; Crescent Moon close to Venus in the morning sky

2-3 February 2019; Crescent Moon close to Saturn in the morning

10 February 2019; Waxing Moon close to Mars

12-13 February 2019; Uranus close to Mars (binocular viewing)

20 February 2019; Perigee Full Moon ("super" Moon, strictly at its biggest on the evening of the 19th)

28 February 2019; Waning Moon close to Jupiter

2 March 2019; Crescent Moon close to Saturn in the morning

3 March 2019; Crescent Moon close to Venus in the morning sky

11 March 2019; Crescent Moon close to Mars

30 March 2019; Waning Moon close to Saturn

2-3 April 2019; Crescent Moon close to Venus in the morning sky

3 April 2019; Crescent Moon close to Mercury in the morning sky

9 April 2019; Moon close to Mars in evening sky

23 April 2019; waning Moon close to Jupiter in the evening sky

25 April 2019; Occultation of Saturn by the Moon, very low on horizon

4-25 May 2019; Asteroid Ceres visible in binoculars (opposition on 28th)

3 May 2019; Crescent Moon close to Venus in the morning sky

6 May 2019; Eta Aquariid meteor shower

8 May 2019; Crescent Moon close to Mars

19 May 2019; Venus and Uranus a finger-width apart in the morning twilight (binoculars)

20 May 2019; Jupiter near waning Moon

22 May 2019; Waning Moon close to Saturn

1-29 June 2019; Asteroid Ceres visible in binoculars 2 June 2019; Crescent Moon and Venus close in twilight

4 June 2019; Crescent Moon and Mercury close

5 June 2019; Crescent Moon and Mars close

11 June 2019; Jupiter at Opposition

16 June 2019; Jupiter and Full Moon close

19 June 2019; Moon and Saturn close

4 July 2019; Mercury close to Crescent Moon and Mars in the twilight

10 July 2019; Saturn at Opposition

13-14 July 2019; Moon and Jupiter close

16 July 2019; Moon and Saturn close

16-17 July 2019; Partial Lunar Eclipse, early morning, really only visible from WA and a bit in the Central states

30 July 2019; Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower

31 July 2019; Mercury close to thin crescent moon low in twilight

2 August 2019; Crescent Moon close to Mars low in the twilight

10 August 2019; Moon close to Jupiter

12 August 2019; Moon close to Saturn, Occultation seen on East coast only

6 September 2019; Waxing Moon and Jupiter close

8-9 September 2019; Saturn close to Moon, Occultation in northern and Western Australia

13 September 2019; Apogee Full Moon (mini-Moon)

29 September 2019; Mercury close to bright star Spica

30 September 2019; Crescent Moon close to Spica and Mercury with Venus below

3-5 October 2019; Venus and the bright star Spica close

4 October 2019; Jupiter and waxing Moon close

6 October 2019; Saturn and waxing Moon close

22 October 2019; Orionid meteor shower

24 October 2019; Variable star Mira at its brightest

29 October 2019; Mercury, Venus and Crescent Moon close

31 October 2019; Jupiter and waxing Moon close

2 November 2019; waxing Moon close to Saturn

9 November 2019; Jupiter crescent Moon close

11 November 2019; Crescent Moon and Saturn close

12 November 2019; Asteroid Vesta at opposition, potentially (just) visible with the unaided eye

17 November 2019; Leonid Meteor Shower

24 November 2019; Jupiter and Venus just two finger-widths apart

25 November 2019; the Crescent Moon, Mars and Mercury form a triangle in the dawn sky

28-29 November 2019; the Crescent Moon, Jupiter and Venus form a line in the evening twilight

2 December 2019; Venus close to the globular cluster M22 in the evening twilight (binocular)

11 December 2019; Venus and Saturn two finger-widths apart

15 December 2019; Geminid Meteor shower (full Moon, poor rates)

23 December 2019; Crescent Moon close to Mars in morning sky

26 December 2019; Partial Eclipse of the Sun, visible only in northern Australia

27 December 2019; Crescent Moon close to Saturn in the evening twilight

29 December 2019; Crescent Moon close to Venus in the evening sky


Out in Space

Mars Curiosity Rover continues its journey .

Mars Express sees the processes that shape the surface of Mars.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sees Opportunity to emerge from the dust storm.

The Juno mission detects train waves in Jupiter's atmosphere.

more exciting images from an Asteroid.

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The Moon:

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

O New Moon is on the 6th
C| First quarter on the 14th
O Full moon on the 21st
D Last quarter on the 28th

January 2; Venus and the crescent Moon close in the morning. January 3-4; crescent Moon close to Jupiter. January 4; crescent Moon near to Mercury. January 9; Moon at Apogee. January 12-13; Mars close to the waxing Moon. January 22; Moon at perigee (near perigee full Moon, so called "super Moon" 21st).

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, 5:15 am

The the morning sky on Wednesday January 2 facing east as seen from Adelaide at 5:15 ACDST 45 minutes before sunrise, Venus and the crescent Moon are close. (The inset shows the telescopic view of Venus at this time, similar views will be seen Australia wide 45 minutes minutes before sunrise).

evening sky, 21:18 pm

The evening sky facing west on Sunday January 13 facing west as seen from Adelaide at 21:18 ACDST 90 minutes after sunset, the nearly last quarter Moon is close to Mars. (similar views will be seen Australia wide 90 minutes minutes after sunset).

morning sky, 5:11 am

The the morning sky facing east in Adelaide on January 23 at 5:11 ACDST 60 minutes before sunrise. Jupiter and Venus are close (just over 2 finger-widths apart. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time 60 minutes before sunrise).

Mercury is low in the morning sky below Jupiter and is lost to view after mid-month. On January 1, Mercury is just over a hand-span above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On January 4 the thin cresent Moon is between Jupiter and Mercury. January 15, Mercury is just over a three finger-widths above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. At this time its is close to Saturn but you will need binoculars and a flat unobscured horizon to see the pair. After this Mercury is lost to view in the twilight glow.

Venus climbs higher the the morning sky this month, with Jupiter coming close towards the end of the month. Venus is a distinct "half Moon" shape shape in telescopes at the beginning of the month and is gibbous by the end of the month. On January 1 Venus is just over three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On January 2, crescent Venus and the thin crescent Moon are less than a hand-span apart. On January 15, Venus is just under three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. On January 23 Venus and Jupiter are less than two finger-widths apart. By January 30, Venus is just over three hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise.

Earth is at perihelion on 3 January when it is closest to the Sun.

Mars is still obvious but is substantially dimming and shrinking and is a challenging telescope object this month. Mars spends most of the time in Pisces this month. On January 1 Mars is just above 5 hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On January 13 Mars and the waxing Moon are close. On January 15 Mars is 4 hand-spans above the western horizon at hour and a half after sunset. On the 30th Mars is just under 3 hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset.

Jupiter, climbs higher in the the morning sky this month, and comes close to Venus towards the end of the Month.

Jupiter is in Ophiuchus at the start of the month then moves into Sagittarius. January 1, Jupiter is nearly a hand-span above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On january 3 and 4 the crescent Moon is a hand-span from Jupiter. On January 15, Jupiter is just over two hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. On January 23, Jupiter and Venus are less than two finger-widths apart. By January 30, Jupiter is nearly four hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour abd a half 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

Thu	3	Jan	5:19	Eur:	Transit Ends	
Fri	4	Jan	5:48	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Sat	5	Jan	4:05	Io :	Disappears into Eclipse	
Sun	6	Jan	4:05	Io :	Transit Ends                 T	
Sun	6	Jan	4:06	Gan:	Transit Ends	
Wed	9	Jan	4:58	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Thu	10	Jan	4:18	Eur:	Shadow Transit Begins        S	
Thu	10	Jan	5:43	Eur:	Transit Begins               ST	
Sat	12	Jan	5:59	Io :	Disappears into Eclipse	
Sun	13	Jan	3:53	Io :	Transit Begins               SST	
Sun	13	Jan	5:18	Io :	Shadow Transit Ends          T	
Sun	13	Jan	5:18	Gan:	Shadow Transit Ends          T	
Sun	13	Jan	6:05	Io :	Transit Ends	
Mon	14	Jan	4:07	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Wed	16	Jan	5:46	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Sat	19	Jan	5:11	Eur:	Reappears from Occultation	
Sun	20	Jan	5:01	Io :	Shadow Transit Begins        S	
Sun	20	Jan	5:53	Io :	Transit Begins               ST	
Mon	21	Jan	4:55	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Mon	21	Jan	5:24	Io :	Reappears from Occultation	
Thu	24	Jan	3:18	Gan:	Reappears from Occultation	
Sat	26	Jan	3:41	Eur:	Disappears into Eclipse	
Sat	26	Jan	4:05	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Mon	28	Jan	2:58	Eur:	Transit Ends	
Mon	28	Jan	4:14	Io :	Disappears into Eclipse	
Mon	28	Jan	5:43	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Tue	29	Jan	3:34	Io :	Shadow Transit Ends          T	
Tue	29	Jan	4:33	Io :	Transit Ends	
Thu	31	Jan	3:14	GRS:	Crosses Central Meridian	
Thu	31	Jan	3:30	Gan:	Reappears from Eclipse	
Thu	31	Jan	5:29	Gan:	Disappears into Occultation	

Saturn resturns to the morning sky late in the month. On January 15, Saturn is just over a three finger-widths above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. At this time it is close to Mercury but you will need binoculars and a flat unobscured horizon to see the pair. On the 30th Saturn is just under two hand-spans above the eastern horizon half 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.

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


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

Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:
Another site, JPASS, doesn't do Iridium flares, but is very cool and does the International Space Station, and many other satellites. However, although the output is flashy, it's harder to use than heavens above.

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Meteor showers:

Date        	Meteor Shower       ZHR  Illumination 
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.

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

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

Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.

A Cool Fact about meteor speeds

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

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Comets:

There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment. Comet 46P is visible in binoculars but is very low and effectively only visible from northern Australia for a couple of weeks.

evening sky, 22.00 pm

Comet 46P as seen looking north from Darwin at 1:07 ACST on Tuesday the 1st of January, when the comet is at its highest. Similar views will be seen in northern Australia (basically anywhere north of the latitude of Rockhampton, the tropic of Capricorn) at the equivalent local time.

Comet 46P currently in the constellation Lynx but will move rapidly into Ursa Major. It is fading bot still is visible in binoculars and is currently magnitude 5. However, although relatively bright, its fuzzy, diffuse nature means it will be difficult to spot with the unaided eye under suburban conditions. Even under dark sky conditions it will be a faint fuzzy smear. In the new year it is only visible in northern Australia, anywhere on or above the topic of Capricorn.

It is not near any obvious guide stars until the 11th when the comet is within a binocular field of the star omicron Ursa Majoris (see charts). A black and white spotters chart suitable for printing is here . A B&W chart suitable for binoculars is available here , the large circle is the approximate field of view of 10x50 binoculars.

A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.

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Occultations:

No interesting naked-eye occultations this month.


 


Eclipse:

No significant eclipses this month.

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

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

Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:

 


Variable Stars:

While most stars seem to shine with a constant brightness, there are some that undergo regular, dramatic change in brightness. The classic variables are Mira and Algol. Algol is currently not visible and Mira is past maximum and is not readily visible.

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Stars:

evening sky, 10:00 pm

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?

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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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 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 Maps

A 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 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]
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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

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 2019 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2019 almanac. It is more helpful for planetary/comet/asteroidal observations and eclipses than for double stars, clusters galaxies etc, but is an excellent resource for Australian observers and anyone who would like to seriously follow the planets in Australia should have this almanac. It has easy to follow month-by-month summary information, as well as detailed charts, tables and whole sky maps. It is easily navigated. The Almanac is often in big bookstores or optical shops, or email info@quasarastronomy.com.au to purchase a copy directly for those outside major population centres. The Australian Astronomy almanac comes out in around November for the following year, and is now approx $30.

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

For detailed chart drawing and timing of events, as well as satellite track predictions I feed the information from the almanac into the $150 AUD SkyMap Pro 11.0 , planetarium program. This is a very handy program which prints maps of every possible orientation and scale. The maps on this page are produced by SkyMap. An update to SkyMap 12.0 which handles Windows 10 is now available.

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

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

Other highly recommended Sky charting packages (win95/98/2000/XP/Win7-10 sorry) are:
Cartes du Ciel at http://www.stargazing.net/astropc/ (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at
http://stellarium.sourceforge.net/ (FREE) stunning photorealistic program, but requires a grunty PC.
TheSkyVarious packages from $49 US to $249 US
Stary Night various versions from $49 US for the basic pack (10 day trial of the basic pack at http://www.siennasoft.com/english/downloads.shtml) up.
Earth Centered Universe $88 AUD (shareware version at http://www.nova-astro.com/)
On the other hand a standard Sky Atlas for serious observing (much handier than carting a computer with you) such as Norton's Star Atlas can range from $35 to $90.

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

This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2019 almanac. For any budding astronomers out there, it is fantastic value and no, I don't have any commercial interest in it, but I did win bronze in their website Olympics).

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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 2019 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, 7 December 2018, 11:30:13 PM


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