This month most of the planetary action is the evening skies with Venus bright in the west, Jupiter at Opposition and Mars and Saturn in the evening skies. This is also a great time to view Mercury in the morning skies.
Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
May; Saturn and globular cluster M22 close, within a binocular field of view. May 4; Saturn and waning Moon close.. May 6; Moon and Mars close. May 6; Moon at Apogee. May 7-9; Eta Aquarids peak. May 9; Jupiter at opposition. May 14; Thin crescent Moon and Mercury close in the morning twilight. May 14-15; Mars close to the globular cluster M75. May 15; Saturn and M22 closest. May 17-18; Venus and the thin crescent Moon close in the evening twilight. May 18; Moon at perigee. May 21; Venus close to open cluster M35. May 27; Full Moon close to Jupiter.
Looking up at the stars is still a rewarding pursuit, despite the increasing light pollution in our major cities. The southern sky is full of interesting objects, many of which go unseen in the northern hemisphere. All you need for a good nights viewing is yourself, a good idea of where south and east are, and your hands. Optional extras are a small pair of binoculars, a torch with red cellophane taped over the business end and a note book. A great many tips for backyard astronomy may be found here, although many of them are more relevant to the northern hemisphere. A general article on amateur astronomy from New Scientist is here (May require subscription otherwise see the TASS site.).
This page is designed to give people a simple guide to the unaided eye sky. In the descriptions of planet and star positions, distances in the sky are given as "fingers width" and "hand span". This is the width of your hand (with all the fingers together as in making a "stop" sign, not bunched as a fist) or finger when extended a full arms length from you.
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Autumn has arrived again, and the nights are getting longer. People are dusting off the various spheroids of their preferred football code. Anyone at night time practice can take some time off to stare up at the Autumn skies and see the Milky Way, and the constellations of Carina, Puppis and Vela, blaze across our night sky. Orion the Hunter and his dog Canis major are also magnificent. You don't have to practice a football code to look at the stars, of course. Nights are often cool now, so don't forget a footy jumper before doing any extended star watching.
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 01/05/18: Despite solar maximum having passed, we are still getting occasional good auroral displays. April 20th 2018 saw an impressive display visible from NZ and Tasmania. 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 email@example.com with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject and I will send you an email alert of any likely auroral event (or other interesting sky phenomena). However, even a strong solar flare is no guarantee that you will be able to see aurora, but it does increase the probability. Still more alternatively, there are the facebook pages Aurora Australis Tasmania, Aurora Australis Tasmania NOW! and Aurora Australis all do discussions and alerts.
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Email alerts I try to update this page fairly regularly outside of the monthly postings. However sometimes things happen which I can't get in fast enough, or you forget to mark your calendar. If you would like to be alerted to or reminded of interesting astronomical or sky phenomena, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject. This is the old aurora alert list, but with auroras rare even though we are at solar maximum (except for the occasional humdinger, like the September 2005 auroral event), it is doing double duty. Astroblog will have images when possible of these events soon after.
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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 five 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 celebrates sol 2000.
Mars Express sees a possible supervolcano.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter finds Looks at the Phoenix landing site again.
The Juno mission sees Jupiter's north pole in infra-red.
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Last quarter on the 8th
Current Phase of the Moon.
New Moon is on the 15th
First quarter on the 22nd
Full moon on the 30th
May 4; Saturn and waning Moon close.. May 6; Moon and Mars close. May 6; Moon at Apogee. May 14; Thin crescent Moon and Mercury close in the morning twilight. May 17-18; Venus and the thin crescent Moon close in the evening twilight. May 18; Moon at perigee. May 27; Full Moon close to Jupiter.
An interactive calendar of the Moon's phases.
A view of the phase of the Moon for any date from 1800 A.D. to 2199, US based, so that the Moon is upside down with respect to us. The image above is from this source.
The phases of the Moon have been linked in the popular imagination to activities as diverse as madness and menstruation. However, careful study has shown that there are no such links. This web page outlines how the Moon is unconnected with a wide range of human activities.
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Finding planets, even with the directions below, can sometimes be difficult if you are unfamiliar with the sky. However, the Moon is very obvious, and can be a guide to location of planets. Not only that, the combination of the Moon and bright planet(s) is often very beautiful. Thus the guide below gives the dates when the planets and the Moon are close together.
The eastern evening sky on Friday May 4 as seen from Adelaide at 23:00 ACST the waning Moon is close to Saturn, with Mars below.(similar views will be seen Australia wide just before midnight).
The eastern morning sky on May 14, 60 minutes before sunrise showing Mercury and the crescent Moon close close. (similar views will be seen Australia wide 60 minutes before sunrise).
The evening twilight sky facing west in Melbourne on May 17 at 60 minutes after sunset showing the crescent Moon and Venus above the horizon. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg May 17 at 60 minutes after sunset Adelaide).
Mercury is prominent in the morning skies in the first half of the month. This is the best time this year to see Mercury in the morning sky. On May 1 Mercury is just over two hand-spans above the horizon 60 minutes before Sunrise. On May 14, the crescent Moon and Mercury are close together in the morning sky. On the 15th Mercury is just under two hand-spans above the horizon 60 minutes before Sunrise. After this mercury rapidly heads towards the horizon. On May 30, Mercury is just over a two finger-widths above the horizon 30 minutes before Sunrise.
Venus continues to climbs slowly into the evening sky by during May and by the end of the month will be prominent after full dark. On May 1 Venus is almost two hand-spans above the horizon 30 minutes after Sunset. It is a hand-span below the bright red star Aldebaran. On May 14 Venus passes between the stars that form the horns of Taurus the bull. On May 15, Venus is just over under two hand-spans above the horizon 60 minutes after Sunset. On May 18, Venus, and the thin crescent Moon are close together. On May 21 Venus is half a finger-width from the open cluster M35, this is best seen in binoculars. On May 28 Venus is almost on top of the brightish star Mebsuta (gamma Geminorum). On May 30, Venus is just under two hand-spans above the horizon 90 minutes after Sunset.
Mars climbs higher in the evening skies this month, but is still best telescopically in the morning. It is in some interesting binocular territory in Sagittarius then moves into Capricornius in the second half of the month. At the beginning of the month Mars is not far from Saturn but continues to move away over the month. On May 1 Mars is rising about 10:00 pm local time, but is still just over 13 hand-spans from the northern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. On May 6 the waxing Moon is just under a hand-span from Mars. On May 15 Mars is around 2 hand-spans above the eastern horizon at 11:00 pm local time and is at its highest above the northern horizon around 5 am local time. At this time it is is half a fingerwidth from the dim, magnitude 8 globular cluster M75, best seen in small to medium telescopes. On the 30th Mars is just above 3 handspans above the eastern horrizon at 11:00 pm local time, and is higest above the northern horizon at around 4:00 am local time.
Jupiter is at opposition, when it is biggest and brightest as seen from Earth this month, it is excellent in the late evening sky.
On May 1, Jupiter is eight hand-spans above the eastern horizon 10:00 pm AEST (similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia at the equivalent local time, eg 11 pm AWST) and is highest above the northern horizon around 1 am local time. Jupiter is rising around sunset (almost directly opposite the setting Venus) and it is best for telescopic observation in the late evening. Jupiter is in Libra all month. On May 9 Jupiter is at opposition, when it is biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. On May 15, Jupiter is over 3 hand-spans above the eastern horizon 90 minutes after sunset, and is highest above the northern horizon about midnight. On May 27 and 28 the near full Moon is close to Jupiter. Jupiter will also be close to alpha Librae (Zubenelgenubi) at this time. By May 30, Jupiter is five hand-spans above the eastern horizon 90 minutes after sunset, and is digests above the northern horizon at around 10:30 pm local time.
In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter's Moons are always interesting. There are some nice transits coming up this month.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 Tue 1 May 0:39 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Tue 1 May 3:14 Eur: Reappears from Occultation Tue 1 May 19:01 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 2 May 4:56 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 2 May 18:46 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Wed 2 May 19:08 Eur: Transit Begins ST Wed 2 May 21:01 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends T Wed 2 May 21:17 Eur: Transit Ends Thu 3 May 0:47 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 3 May 5:31 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Thu 3 May 5:41 Io : Transit Begins ST Thu 3 May 19:16 Gan: Reappears from Occultation Thu 3 May 20:39 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 4 May 2:39 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Fri 4 May 4:56 Io : Reappears from Occultation Fri 4 May 6:34 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 5 May 0:00 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Sat 5 May 0:07 Io : Transit Begins ST Sat 5 May 2:10 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Sat 5 May 2:15 Io : Transit Ends Sat 5 May 2:25 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 5 May 21:07 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Sat 5 May 22:17 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 5 May 23:22 Io : Reappears from Occultation Sun 6 May 18:08 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 6 May 18:28 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Sun 6 May 18:33 Io : Transit Begins ST Sun 6 May 20:38 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Sun 6 May 20:41 Io : Transit Ends Mon 7 May 4:03 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 7 May 7:10 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins S Mon 7 May 17:48 Io : Reappears from Occultation Mon 7 May 23:54 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 8 May 3:14 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Tue 8 May 5:29 Eur: Reappears from Ecl & Occ Tue 8 May 19:46 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 9 May 5:41 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 9 May 21:21 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Wed 9 May 21:23 Eur: Transit Begins ST Wed 9 May 23:32 Eur: Transit Ends S Wed 9 May 23:36 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Thu 10 May 1:32 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 10 May 21:17 Gan: Disappears into Eclipse Thu 10 May 21:24 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 10 May 23:00 Gan: Reappears from Eclipse Fri 11 May 4:31 Io : Disappears into Occultation Fri 11 May 6:43 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Fri 11 May 18:46 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Sat 12 May 1:51 Io : Transit Begins T Sat 12 May 1:54 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Sat 12 May 3:10 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 12 May 3:59 Io : Transit Ends S Sat 12 May 4:04 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Sat 12 May 22:57 Io : Disappears into Occultation Sat 12 May 23:02 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 13 May 1:11 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Sun 13 May 18:53 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 13 May 20:17 Io : Transit Begins T Sun 13 May 20:22 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Sun 13 May 22:25 Io : Transit Ends S Sun 13 May 22:32 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Mon 14 May 4:48 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 14 May 17:23 Io : Disappears into Occultation Mon 14 May 19:40 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Tue 15 May 0:39 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 15 May 5:35 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Tue 15 May 20:31 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 16 May 6:26 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 16 May 23:37 Eur: Transit Begins T Wed 16 May 23:57 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Thu 17 May 1:47 Eur: Transit Ends S Thu 17 May 2:12 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Thu 17 May 2:17 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 17 May 22:09 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 18 May 0:40 Gan: Disappears into Occultation Fri 18 May 2:59 Gan: Reappears from Eclipse Fri 18 May 6:15 Io : Disappears into Occultation Fri 18 May 18:00 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 18 May 18:42 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Fri 18 May 21:21 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Sat 19 May 3:35 Io : Transit Begins T Sat 19 May 3:48 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Sat 19 May 3:55 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 19 May 5:43 Io : Transit Ends S Sat 19 May 5:58 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Sat 19 May 23:47 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 20 May 0:41 Io : Disappears into Occultation Sun 20 May 3:06 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Sun 20 May 19:38 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 20 May 22:01 Io : Transit Begins T Sun 20 May 22:16 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Mon 21 May 0:09 Io : Transit Ends S Mon 21 May 0:26 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Mon 21 May 5:33 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 21 May 19:07 Io : Disappears into Occultation Mon 21 May 21:34 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Tue 22 May 1:25 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 22 May 18:35 Io : Transit Ends S Tue 22 May 18:55 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Tue 22 May 21:16 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 24 May 1:53 Eur: Transit Begins T Thu 24 May 2:33 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Thu 24 May 3:03 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 24 May 4:03 Eur: Transit Ends S Thu 24 May 4:48 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Thu 24 May 22:54 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 25 May 3:56 Gan: Disappears into Occultation Fri 25 May 5:14 Gan: Reappears from Occultation Fri 25 May 5:15 Gan: Disappears into Eclipse Fri 25 May 18:45 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 25 May 20:57 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Fri 25 May 23:56 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Sat 26 May 4:41 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 26 May 5:19 Io : Transit Begins T Sat 26 May 5:42 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Sun 27 May 0:32 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 27 May 2:25 Io : Disappears into Occultation Sun 27 May 5:00 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Sun 27 May 18:06 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Sun 27 May 20:23 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 27 May 23:45 Io : Transit Begins T Mon 28 May 0:11 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Mon 28 May 1:54 Io : Transit Ends S Mon 28 May 2:20 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Mon 28 May 17:25 Gan: Transit Begins T Mon 28 May 18:46 Gan: Transit Ends Mon 28 May 19:05 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins S Mon 28 May 20:47 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends Mon 28 May 20:52 Io : Disappears into Occultation Mon 28 May 23:29 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Tue 29 May 2:10 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 29 May 18:11 Io : Transit Begins T Tue 29 May 18:39 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Tue 29 May 20:20 Io : Transit Ends S Tue 29 May 20:49 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Tue 29 May 22:01 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 30 May 17:53 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 30 May 17:57 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Thu 31 May 3:48 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 31 May 4:09 Eur: Transit Begins T Thu 31 May 5:09 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Thu 31 May 23:39 GRS: Crosses Central MeridianSaturn rises higher in the evening skies and is now a worthwhile telescopic target, although but is best in the early morning skies this month. On May 1 Saturn rises at 9 pm local time, it is one and a half hand-spans above the eastern horizon at 10 pm local time and is highest above the northern horizon at around 4 am local time. During the the month Saturn and the globular cluster M22 are visible together in binoculars and are within two finger-widths of each other for most of the month. Saturn is closest to M22 on the 15th. On May 4 and the morning of the 5th the waning Moon is just under a hand-span from Saturn. On the 15th Saturn rises at around 8 pm local time, is just over 3 hand-spans above the eastern horizon at 10 pm local time and is highest above the northern horizon at around 3:30 am local time. On the 30th Saturn rises at around 7 pm local time, is just over 5 hand-spans above the eastern horizon at 10 pm local time and is highest above the northern horizon at around 2:30 am local time.
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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 6/05/2018 eta-Aquariids 40 0.5
Morning sky on Wednesday May 7 looking east as seen from Adelaide at 5:00 am local time in South Australia showing the eta Aquariid meteor shower radiant. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local timeThe 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. In practise, you will never see this many meteors as the radiant will be some distance from the Zenith. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the lower the figure, the darker the sky.
Although the actual peak is on the morning of the 6th (Australian time), for Australia the best time to see the eta-Aquariids is in the early mornings of May 7, 8 and 9, between around 4 and 5 am, when Aquarius is fairly high above the horizon. You may see between 1-3 meteors every 5 minutes at this time. The radiant of the shower is about five hand-spans up from the eastern horizon, and three hand-spans to the left of due east at 4 am. A map of the radiant at 5 am is here (aquarids.gif). The waning Moon will interfere with meteor rates this year.
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.A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.
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No interesting naked-eye occultations this month.
No significant eclipses this month.
Find local sunrise/sunset and twilight times for your city or location (courtesy of Heavens Above).
Use either the drop down box for the listed cities, or type in your latitude, longitude and city in the boxes below.
Type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
While most stars seem to shine with a constant brightness, there are some that undergo regular, dramatic change in brightness. The classic variables are Mira and Algol. Algol is currently not visible and Mira is too close to the horizon for easy observation.
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The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEST in Melbourne on May 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 May 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.
During May, the Milky Way is a spectacular sight as it arches across the sky.
Scorpio is now sufficiently high in the sky to be properly appreciated. It is a very distinctive constellation looking somewhat like the hook shown in the "use no hooks" cartoons on boxes. Facing due East, going up about eight hand-spans you will see six bright stars forming a T, with the tail of the "T" nearly parallel to the horizon and a curved "tail" of stars. The bright red giant star Antares (Alpha Scorpius, the middle star in the three stars forming the tail of the T) is quite prominent. The area around Scorpio is quite rewarding in binoculars, and there is a small but pretty globular cluster about one finger-width above and to the north of Antares (between Antares and the leading star of the tail of the T). It can be hard to see in city conditions.
Just below Scorpio and to the right is Sagittarius, this constellation is particularly good for binocular viewing, but will only be far enough above the horizon later in the month.
To the left by one hand-span and slightly higher is a broad triangle of stars that marks Libra, the balance. To the left of Libra and around two hand-spans up and three hand-spans left is bright white Spica, the brightest start in the constellation of Virgo. Spica marks to top right-hand corner of a rectangular group of stars that marks out the body of Virgo, the virgin.
Looking now to the right of Scorpio, about a hand-span away from the curved tail is a small squarish constellation Ara, another hand-span again brings you to the edge of the large, but dim, constellation of Pavo. Delta Pavonis, about another hand-span away, is one of the handful of sun-like stars within 20 light years of Earth that might have terrestrial planets in its habitable zone.
Directly above Virgo by four hand-spans is the long rambling constellation Hydra, and crater the cup with its distinct, but upside down, cup shape. Three hand-spans above Spica is the kite shape of Corvus the crow. Hydra has a nice open cluster, M48, near its head (about 6 hand-spans to the right of Spica) that is quite attractive in binoculars, four hand-spans above Spica is a nice globular cluster, just visible to the naked eye, but best in binoculars. About four hand-spans above Spica and about one to the right is M83, a galaxy which can easily be seen in small binoculars on a dark night.
Five hand-spans to left of Virgo, is Leo, with the sickle of Leo, an upside down question mark with bright Regulus (alpha Leonis) at the end of the "handle", being quite clear. Cancer, which contains the attractive "Beehive" cluster, is 4 hand-spans to the left of the sickle of Leo.
3 hand-spans up from the western 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.
Just above Canis Major is a battered group of stars that forms Puppis, the poop deck of the former constellation Argo Navis, through which comet H1 Lee is passing. Just below the Zenith is Vela, the sail of that same ship. When, Argo Navis was broken up into Puppis, Vela and Carina (the keel) in 1750, they forgot to assign alpha and beta stars to Vela, and it's brightest star is 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". A high definition map of Vela is here.
To the left of Vela, is Carina (the keel). A high definition map of this region is here. Looking almost anywhere in the area stretching between Canis major and the Southern Cross will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area two hand-spans to the right of the Southern Cross, between it and the false cross, is particularly rich. Here you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars in Carina. Smaller and less spectacular than their northern counterparts, they still look very nice in binoculars. Four finger-widths to the left of 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 right of the Southern Cross is the False Cross, just below the False Cross is a good open cluster, just visible to the naked eye, and very nice in binoculars. One hand-span to the left of the False Cross is another rich open cluster, again, very nice in binoculars. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star 8 hand-spans from the south-Western horizon .
Facing due South, three hand-spans to the left and eleven hand-spans up are Alpha and beta Centauri the so called "pointers", with Alpha being the yellow star which is closest to the horizon, and Beta the blue white star a hand-span above and a little to the right. 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.
Slightly to the right again, and following a line through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, 15 hand-spans above the horizon at about the 12 o'clock position on a clock. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.
Just below the Southern Cross is the coal sack. This dark area against the glow of the milky way represents a large dust cloud and is clearly visible in dark skies. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just below Beta Crucis, the southernmost bright star in the Cross at the moment. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly.
Returning to Alpha Centauri, a hand-span from this star to the left and a hand-span up is a small star, half a hand span up (and about a hand-span to the left) is a fuzzy star, this is omega Centauri (5139 on the eastern sky map), a globular cluster of stars which is quite spectacular in good binoculars, and more spectacular than 47 Tucana (see below). Another hand-span to the left and about two fingers down is Centaurus A, a very radio bright galaxy (5128 on the map). You need a dark night and binoculars (at least 10 x 30) to see it, but it is one of the few galaxies you can see in the southern hemisphere (outside of the small and large Magellanic clouds) without a telescope.
Four hand-spans straight up from south, and half a hand-span to the right of due south, is the extended nebulosity of the Small Magellanic cloud, one 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, a spectacular globular cluster that is very nice through binoculars. Recent evidence suggests that 47 tucana was a dwarf galaxy that was captured by our own and stripped of most of its stars, leaving the current globular core.
Up six hand spans from due south and four hand-spans to the right is the Large Magellanic cloud, the largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies. Binoculars will reveal a rather attractive nebula near it, the Tarantula nebula.
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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 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.
GIF MapsA view of the Eastern May sky at 10.00pm AEST on 1 May can be downloaded here (maysky_e.png 30 Kb) and a view of the western May sky can be downloaded here (maysky_w.png 30 Kb). These are more compact files but don't have a lot of resolution.
PDF MapsHigh Resolution PDF files can be obtained for the eastern (110 Kb) and the western (110 Kb) horizon maps.
The Zenith Map (110 Kb) shows you the whole sky. You will need to face the one of the compass points, then hold the map with the appropriate compass point on the map at the bottom of the page.
You will need a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat or GhostView to view and print them. They look slightly worse on-screen than the PNG files, but print much better and come with legends.
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[December Skies] [January Skies] [February Skies] [March Skies] Return to Menu
Cheers! And good star gazing!
Ian's Astrophotography GallerySome of the photographs/images I have taken in recent years of astronomical phenomena that may be of interest.
- Partial Lunar eclipse. Partial Lunar eclipse, July 5, 2001
- My Solar eclipse report. Pictures from the Dec 4, 2002 solar eclipse in South Australia
- Transit of Mercury pictures! 7 May 2003
- Images of the partial solar eclipse 24 Nov 2003
- Transit of Venus July 8 2004 report
- Images of Jupiter, taken, after an enormous struggle, with my webcam, April 2005
- Mosaics of the Moon, more fun with my webcam, April-May 2005
- Animation of Sunrise on the Moon November 2006
- Animation of A shadow Transit on Jupiter May 2007
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- OnLine Astronomical Societies in Australia, from the Astronomical Society of New South Wales Inc.
- Astronomical Society of Australia
- Mornington Peninsula Astronomy Society
- Astronomy Guild of Australia
- Ice in Space
- A clickable star map for Victoria
- Monthly free Star maps. High quality, monthly maps for Southern and Northern Skies, has lists of interesting objects. Requires Adobe Acrobat to print.
- Gordon Garradd's Astronomy Page
- Peter Enzerinks Astronomy page - Web based telescope/eyepiece calculator and other southern sky tidbits.
- Buying a telescope in Australia, lots of helpful hints.
- Anglo-Australian Observatory
- MSSSO - Mt Stromlo and Siding Springs Observatory
- ATNF - Australian Telescope National Facility
- Parks Radio telescope facility
- Spaceguard Australia the proposed search for Near Earth Objects including meteroids.
- Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
- Star Class, Astronomy Education
- Information about Aboriginal astronomy.
- Australian weather forecasts
- Sky and Space, Australia's Astronomy magazine.
- Planetary Society, Australian Volunteers events diary.
- Australian Astronomy
Astronomy for Kids
- Adelaide Planetarium
- Canberra Planetarium and Observatory
- Launceston Planetarium
- Science Centre and Planetarium (Wollongong)
- Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
- Perth Observatory and Planetarium
- Museum of Victoria Planetarium, Skynotes Index
- The Cosmos Centre in Charleville
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Star Child NASA space information for kis 5-13.
- Interactive site on the Sun, good kids resources
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Astronomy for Kids
- Astronomy for Kids (different site to the one above, and a bit simple, but lots of good images).
- Kids astronomy information from Astronomy Magazine
- SEDS, home of the Nine Planets Tour, and much much more
- The Planetary Society
- Center for Backyard Astrophysics
- Amateur Radio Telescopes
- International Occulation Timing Society
- Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy pages (very educational)
- SKY Online - Your Astronomy Source on the World Wide Web
- Astronomy Magazine
- Stellar distances
- Space Weather site (with Meteor counts)
- Near Earth Object home page (also follows comets, including LINEAR S4 and meteor showers)
- A 3D map of satellites orbiting the Earth in real time! Simply amazing!
- The Anglo Australian Observatories 3D virtual tour through a 3D map of the Cosmos. Mind Blowing!
- Views of extrasolar planets seen from the Southern sky, stunning Java-driven map with heaps of (complex) info.
- Stellarium, free (but large) photorealistic sky charting software. What I use for the horizon views.
- Celestia, free 3D space travel software, see the Earth from Mars, see the Moon of EL62, see Saturn rise on Titan.
- Ian's Celestia resources. Save these files into the "Extras" directory
- Script to show Conjunctions of Earth from Mars.
- Definition File for asteroid 87 Sylvia and her two moons (see story here).
- Definition File for Pluto's two new Moons P1 and P2.
- Definition file for three Neptunian extrasolar planets of HD 69830.
- Asteroid 2004 VD17, which will not hit the Earth.
- Definition file for Comet 2006/P1 McNaught
- Definition file for for the Gliese 581 system that contains the most Earth-like world yet.
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Charts, Books and Software for AstronomyIf you would like to have charts available all the time, rather than relying on mine, for between $2-$20 you can pick up a planisphere from a newsagent or bookshop (or for a bit more you can get fancy ones from Australian Geographic, the ABC shop or the other Australian Geographic look alike shop, or the Wilderness Society, or even a binocular/ optical store). The planisphere won't give you position of the planets, so you will need to get the planet rise/set times. These can be found in most serious newspapers (the Age, the Australian, SMH etc. The Australian is probably the best bet for budding amateurs). The combination of planisphere and rise/set times is the best value for beginners though, if you are not too worried about identifying star clusters in your binoculars.
Touring the Universe through Binoculars Atlas is now freeware http://www.philharrington.net/tuba.htm it can print observing charts, but has a few annoying quirks. These include having no horizon line, and moving about is a bit irritating.
I use a combination of a 1962 star chart, the Australian Astronomy 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 email@example.com to purchase a copy directly for those outside major population centres. The Australian Astronomy almanac comes out in around November for the following year, and is now approx $30.
Sky and Telescope now also do an Australian version of their magazine.
For detailed chart drawing and timing of events, as well as satellite track predictions I feed the information from the almanac into the $150 AUD SkyMap Pro 11.0 , planetarium program. This is a very handy program which prints maps of every possible orientation and scale. The maps on this page are produced by SkyMap. An update to SkyMap 12.0 which handles Windows 10 is now available.
A shareware version of SkyMap that runs on windows 3.x, and win95 can be found here http://www.winsite.com/info/pc/win3/desktop/skymp21a.zip this is approximately 640 Kb zipped.
A shareware version of the win95 only version 5.0 is here http://www.download.net.au/cgi-bin/dl?13607
Other highly recommended Sky charting packages (win95/98/2000/XP/Win7-10 sorry) are:
Cartes du Ciel at http://www.stargazing.net/astropc/ (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at http://stellarium.sourceforge.net/ (FREE) stunning photorealistic program, but requires a grunty PC.
TheSkyVarious packages from $49 US to $249 US
Stary Night various versions from $49 US for the basic pack (10 day trial of the basic pack at http://www.siennasoft.com/english/downloads.shtml) up.
Earth Centered Universe $88 AUD (shareware version at http://www.nova-astro.com/)
On the other hand a standard Sky Atlas for serious observing (much handier than carting a computer with you) such as Norton's Star Atlas can range from $35 to $90.
In these days of hand-held devices (smart phones and tablets), there is a plethora of sky charting apps you can take into the field with you. I use GoogleSky for android and a cut down version of Stellarium for iPad, my most used hand-held app is Heavens Above for Android, for watching Iridium flares and ISS passes. This is one app that has changed my astronomical life. There are many more, many free or less than 1 AUD to download. Celestron has a great free planetarium app (although big at 154 Mb) for Android, iPhone and iPad, SkyPortal.
This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 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: Friday, 1 May 2018, 11:30:13 PM