Southern Sky Watch

September Skies

This month sees Saturn sink lower in the west.

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

September 14; Moon at Perigee. September 11; Jupiter and the bright star Spica at their closest. September 18; crescent Moon close to Venus, daylight occultation Venus. September 19; crescent Moon close to Mercury and Mars. September 20; Venus close to Regulus September 22; crescent Moon close to Jupiter, forming a triangle with Spica. September 23; Earth at equinox. September 26-27; waxing Moon close to Saturn. September 27; Moon at Apogee.

Looking up at the stars is still a rewarding pursuit, despite the increasing light pollution in our major cities. The southern sky is full of interesting objects, many of which go unseen in the northern hemisphere. All you need for a good nights viewing is yourself, a good idea of where south and east are, and your hands. Optional extras are a small pair of binoculars, a torch with red cellophane taped over the business end and a note book. A great many tips for backyard astronomy may be found here, although many of them are more relevant to the northern hemisphere. A general article on amateur astronomy from New Scientist is here (May require subscription otherwise see the TASS site.).

This page is designed to give people a simple guide to the unaided eye sky. In the descriptions of planet and star positions, distances in the sky are given as "fingers width" and "hand span". This is the width of your hand (with all the fingers together as in making a "stop" sign, not bunched as a fist) or finger when extended a full arms length from you.

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Spring is here! Spring brings the wattle flowers and a new round of interesting objects into view in the heavens. Scorpio and Sagittarius slowly leave our night skies to be replaced by Orion and its nebulae, and bright Sirius. The Southern Cross grazes the southern horizon before rising again in summer. It still gets very cold at night, so don't forget to rug up before doing any extended star watching. A blanket or rug to sit on is a good idea, as well as a thermos of your favorite hot beverage.

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

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

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Aurora Alert UPDATED 03/04/17: Despite solar maximum having passed, we are still getting occasional good auroral displays. The last week of March 2017 saw some impressive aurora displays from Tasmania, Victoria, SA and WA. September 2016 saw a series of good but transient aurora in Tasmania and southern Victoria. July 2015 saw a massive storm seen as far north as mid NSW, again clouded out for large parts of Australia. 17-19/3/2015, the St. Patrick's Day aurora, massive storm seen as far north as Southern Queensland. Unfortunately clouded out for large parts of Australia. 26/2/2015, yet another good set of aurora were seen from Tasmania. 9/2/2015 There was a series of very good auroral events during January, some were seen in NSW, Victoria, SA and WA as well as Tasmania. Last year saw some nice events and a coronal mass ejection from an M class flare hit us square on on March 17 2013. Aurora were detected as far north as the QLD border, with some really nice events in Tasmania, and here are some images from that event. The Sun is now at solar maximum, but has been rather quite so far apart from the odd event like the 17 March 2013 one and the 22 February 2014 and the January 2015 events (and of course the St. Patrick's Day Storm). Although we should be exiting solar maximum in 2016 we may see more aurora in the near future.

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

We are now at the tail end of solar maximum in 2016, and we can expect to see a reducing frequency of aurora. There have been some good displays in Tasmania recently (the St. Patrick's Day storm was a beauty, see as far north as NSW). Tasmania, King Island and Southern Victoria are the most likely places to see aurora. However, on September 24, 2005 there was a massive auroral storm seen as far as northern NSW (and the 22 February 2014 one was seen as far north as southern NSW). Naturally, the best views of any aurora will be away from the city and bright lights. Aurora occur when charged particles from the solar wind enter Earths outer atmosphere and interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms producing eerie displays of coloured lights. During solar maximum, which occurs every 11 years, the number and speed of the particles are higher, allowing them to penetrate the Earth's magnetic field at lower latitudes than normal. Observers in Tasmania are likely to see green glows or sheets of light in the southern sky. Observers in Southern Victoria are more likely to see a red glow in the southern sky, although more spectacular displays are possible.

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

Aurora will generally follow solar flares by about 2 days, and a number of instruments are watching the sun for these outbursts. The solar minimum occurred in 2006 and persisted for some time. While sunspot numbers, and hence flare rates are increasing, sometimes months will go by without an alert, then you have three in a week. The space weather site at gives notice of when solar winds likely to cause aurora will arrive. Alternatively, send an email to 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 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 2017; crescent Moon Near Venus

3 January 2017; crescent Moon near Mars

18 January 2017; opposition of Vesta

19 January 2017; Moon near Jupiter

25 January 2017; Moon close to Saturn

26 January 2017; Moon close to Mercury

31 January 2017; Moon close to Venus, forming line with Mars

1 February 2017; Moon close to Mars, forming line with Venus

11 February 2017; Comet 45P closest to Earth, possibly visible in binoculars

15 February 2017; Moon close to Jupiter

21 February 2017; Moon near Saturn

23 February 2017; Variable star Mira at its brightest

1 March 2017; Moon close to Mars and Venus, making a triangle

2 March 2017; Moon close to Mars, making a line with Venus

14-15 March 2017; Moon close to Jupiter

20 March 2017; Moon close to Saturn

29 March 2017; Moon close to Mercury

30-31 March 2017; Moon close to Mars

8 April 2017; opposition of Jupiter

10-11 April 2017; Moon close to Jupiter

16 April 2017; Moon close to Saturn

24 April 2017; crescent Moon close to Venus in morning sky

1-15 May 2017; Comet 41P visible in the morning sky in binoculars

6 May 2017; Eta Aquariid meteor shower.

7-8 May 2017; Moon near Jupiter.

13 May 2017; Moon close to Saturn.

23 May 2017; crescent Mon close to Venus.

4 June 2017; Moon and Jupiter close.

1-25 June 2017; Comet C/2015 V2 Johnson potentially visible in binoculars.

9-10 June 2017; Moon near Saturn.

15 June 2017; Opposition of Saturn.

21 June 2017; crescent Moon and Venus close.

1 July 2017; Jupiter and Moon close.

7 July 2017; Saturn and Moon close.

21 July 2017; crescent Moon and Venus close.

25 July 2017; thin crescent Moon and Mercury very close, low in the twilight.

29 July 2017; Moon and Jupiter close.

30 July 2017; Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower.

3 August 2017; Moon close to Saturn.

8 August 2017; Partial eclipse of the Moon in the early morning.

19 August 2017; Crescent Moon close to Venus.

25 August 2017; Jupiter and Crescent Moon close, forming a shallow triangle with Spica.

5-16 September 2017; Jupiter and Spica close.

15 September 2017; Crescent Moon close to Venus.

19 September 2017; crescent Moon forms triangle with Mars and Mercury low in the twilight.

22 September 2017; Moon close to Jupiter, forming triangle with Spica.

27 September 2017; Moon and Saturn close.

30 September 2017; Moon and Mars close.

6 October 2017; Venus and Mars very close low in the twilight.

17 October 2017; Mars close to crescent Moon. Forms line with Venus

18 October 2017; Venus close to crescent Moon, forming triangle with Mars.

22 October 2017; Orionid meteor shower.

24 October 2017; crescent Moon close to Saturn.

13 November 2017; Venus and Jupiter very close in the twilight.

13 November 2017; Mercury and Antares close in the twilight.

15 November 2017; crescent Moon close to Mars.

17 November 2017; Leonid Meteor Shower.

17 November 2017; crescent Moon close to Venus and Jupiter in the twilight.

21 November 2017; Crescent Moon close to Saturn.

28 November 2017; Mercury close to Saturn.

14 December 2017; Crescent Moon close to Mars.

15 December 2017; Geminid Meteor shower.

15 December 2017; Crescent Moon close to Jupiter.

31 December 2017; Mars and Jupiter close.

31 December 2017; asteroid Ceres potentially visible in binoculars.

Out in Space

Cassini begins ito prepare for its final dive.

Mars Curiosity Rover is almost 5 years on Mars.

Mars Express Helps track a solar flare.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sees Earth and the Moon.

Dawn climbs to a higher orbit.

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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 Full moon on the 6th
D Last quarter on the 13th
O New Moon is on the 20th
C| First quarter on the 28th

September 14; Moon at Perigee. September 11; Jupiter and the bright star Spica at their closest. September 18; crescent Moon close to Venus, daylight occultation Venus. September 19; crescent Moon close to Mercury and Mars. September 20; Venus close to Regulus September 22; crescent Moon close to Jupiter, forming a triangle with Spica. September 23; Earth at equinox. September 26-27; waxing Moon close to Saturn. September 27; Moon at Apogee.

An interactive calendar of the Moon's phases.

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

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

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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, 9:16 pm

The evening sky facing north-west in Melbourne on September 22 at 60 minutes after sunset showing the crescent Moon close to Jupiter and Spica. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg September 22 at 60 minutes after sunset Adelaide).

evening sky, 9:00 pm

The eastern morning sky on September 18 an hour before sunrise showing Venus and the Moon. (similar views will be seen Australia wide an hour before sunrise).

morning sky, 5:56 am

The eastern morning sky on September 19 half an hour before sunrise showing Mars, Mercury and the Moon. (similar views will be seen Australia wide an hour before sunrise).

Mercury returns to the morning sky this month, however, Mercury never gets far above the horizon. On the 19th Mercury, the crescent Moon and Mars are close together barely a finger-width above the eastern horizon half and hour before sunrise. Even with a clear, level horizon binoculars may be needed to see this.

Venus is still visible in the early twilight as it edges closer to the horizon this month. In a telescope Venus is a distinct "gibbous-Moon" shape. On the 1st Venus is a hand-span above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. Venus moves through cancer coming close to Delta Cancerii (less than half a finger-width)on the 3rd. Venus ends the month in Leo. By September 15 Venus is just under two hand-spans above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On September 18 the crescent Moon is just a finger width from Venus. There is also a daytime occultation of Venus on the 18th. Only experienced observers should try for this given the proximity of the Sun. On the 20th Venus is half a finger-width from the bright star Regulus, alpha Leonis. On the 30th Venus is a hand-span above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise.

Mars enters the morning skies this month, but is difficult to see until months end. On the 19th Mars, the crescent Moon and Mercury are close together barely a finger-width above the eastern horizon half and hour before sunrise. Even with a clear, level horizon binoculars may be needed to see this. On the 30th Mars is just under a hand-span from the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise, three finger-widths below Venus.

Jupiter was at opposition in May, but is still good viewing in the early evening for the first half of the month. After this is is too low to the horizon for telescopic viewing. At the beginning of September Jupiter is close to the bright star Spica, alpha Virginis, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. Over the Month Jupiter heads towards Spica, and is closest on the 11th, when it is three finger-widths from the star.

On September 1, Jupiter is just over five hand-spans above the eastern horizon an hour after sunset. On September 15, Jupiter is three hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour after sunset. On September 22 Jupiter is a hand-span from the crescent Moon, and Jupiter, Spica and the crescent Moon form a triangle. On September 30, Jupiter is just over a hand-span above the eastern horizon an hour after sunset.

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

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

Fri	1	Sep	18:39	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	1	Sep	20:32	Io : Disappears into Occultation
Sat	2	Sep	18:33	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Sat	2	Sep	19:53	Io : Transit Ends                 S
Sat	2	Sep	20:43	Io : Shadow Transit Ends
Sun	3	Sep	18:04	Io : Reappears from Eclipse
Sun	3	Sep	20:18	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	4	Sep	20:03	Eur: Disappears into Occultation
Tue	5	Sep	18:16	Gan: Shadow Transit Ends
Wed	6	Sep	19:12	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends
Fri	8	Sep	19:28	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	9	Sep	19:42	Io : Transit Begins               T
Sat	9	Sep	20:27	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Sun	10	Sep	19:59	Io : Reappears from Eclipse
Tue	12	Sep	19:35	Gan: Transit Ends
Tue	12	Sep	20:11	Gan: Shadow Transit Begins        S
Wed	13	Sep	18:38	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	13	Sep	19:28	Eur: Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Wed	13	Sep	20:28	Eur: Transit Ends                 S
Fri	15	Sep	20:17	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	17	Sep	19:04	Io : Disappears into Occultation
Mon	18	Sep	18:24	Io : Transit Ends                 S
Mon	18	Sep	19:01	Io : Shadow Transit Ends
Wed	20	Sep	19:27	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	22	Sep	18:33	Eur: Reappears from Eclipse
Mon	25	Sep	18:38	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	25	Sep	18:45	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST

Saturn was at opposition in June, but remains an excellent telescopic object most of this month. Saturn is easily recognized as the brightest object below the distinctive side-on "question-mark" of Scorpius the Scorpion in the northern sky, then north-western sky. During September Saturn is just above the dark dust lanes that mark the heart of the milky way. On September 1 Saturn is just over twelve hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset and is highest above the northern horizon at 7 pm local time. On September 3 Saturn is just under a hand-span from the waxing Moon. On September 15 Saturn is is just eleven hand-spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset and is highest above the northern horizon at 6 pm local time (entering twilight). On September 26-27 the Moon is close to Saturn. On September 30 Saturn is just over nine hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset.

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Iridium Flares, the International Space Station and other satellites

See this amazing site for images of the space station taken through a telescope.

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.

new See an Iridium Flare 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:

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 

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.

There are no major meteor showers this month.

You can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 5 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2 per hour during the evening. The evening rates will be reduced during the times around the full Moon due to interference by the Moons light.

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

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

Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.

A Cool Fact about meteor speeds

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

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There are no unaided eye comets visible at the moment.

A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.

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Daytime Occultation of Venus by the Moon 18 September.

evening sky, 8:30 pm

The Moon at 09:48 am ACST in Adelaide on Monday 18 September just before the Moon covers Venus.

WARNING! This daytime occultation occurs close to the Sun and should be attempted by experienced observers only. The Moon will be just 28 degrees (under 5 hand-spans)from the Sun. Exposure to the Sun through a telescope eye-piece can result in instant blindness. Any observation should be carried out with the sun blocked from view by a building or similar large, obscuring object with no possibility of the sun being accidentally observed.

On the morning of Monday 18 September Venus is occulted by the thin crescent Moon as seen from the most of Australia. The Moon is a very obvious signpost for where to look and Venus should be sufficiently bright to be seen near the Moon even in daylight. Start watching about half an hour before hand to get set up and familiar with the sky. This is a daytime occultation requiring a small telescope or binoculars and extreme caution and attention to Sun safety.

Venus will appear to "wink out" as it goes behind the bright limb of the Moon, reappearance will be harder to see as you have to be looking just at the right moment.

The occultation occurs in the early morning with the Moon will be reasonably high above the northern horizon. The Moon is three days before new and you may need binoculars to find it, hence the nee for extreme care with the sun. The Moon is also a ready signpost to Venus. It is advisable to set up and practise on the Moon in the morning twilight before the event, so you are familiar with your telescope set-up. Set up at least half an hour ahead of time so that you can be sure everything is working well and you can watch the entire event comfortably (trying to focus your telescope moments before the occultation will cause a lot of unnecessary stress). Venus will be clearly visible in a telescope or binoculars near the Moon. Again, the Sun will be close by, so only experienced observers who can block out the Sun should attempt this.

PlaceDisappears Bright Limb Reappears Dark Limb
Adelaide ACST 09:58 11:15
Brisbane AEST 10:47 12:20
Canberra AEST 10:47 12:12
Darwin ACST 08:58 10:41
Hobart AEST 10:57 11:58
Melbourne AEST 10:44 12:00
Perth AWST 07:41 08:33
Sydney AEST 10:49 12:17



No significant eclipses this month.

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

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

Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:


Variable Stars:

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

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evening sky, 10:00 pm

The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEST in Melbourne on September 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 September 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 east, the faint constellation of Erandius, the river, straddles the the horizon and meanders upwards and southwards to where brightest star, Achernar, points to the small Magellanic cloud.

To the left is Cetus, the whale. Beta Ceti is a modestly bright star six hand-spans above the horizon, the rest of Cetus is relatively faint. Mira, Omicron Ceti (O on the maps) is a variable star with a period of about 332 days.

Cetus also hosts a nearby sun like star. Tau Ceti is 11.4 light years away from earth, looking 10 hand-spans up from east and two to the left is magnitude 2 Deneb Kaitos, beta Ceti. Two hand-spans below and slightly to the left is eta Ceti, two hand-spans to the right of eta Ceti, forming a triangle with eta and beta, is Tau Ceti.

Five hand-spans to the left of Cetus is Pisces, a rather nondescript constellation.

Continuing on to the zenith we find bright Fomalhaut, alpha star of Piscis Austrinus. Next to Fomalhaut is Grus, the crane, with a distinctive, battered cross-like shape.

Looking westward from the zenith, about four hand-spans down and three to the right is the battered triangle of Capricornius, the Water Goat. Of interest as well is alpha Capricorni, the brightish star at top left hand corner of the triangle that is Capricorn. This is a naked eye double star.

About mid-sky, directly west is the distinctive "teapot" shape of Sagittarius, the archer. The "teapot" is upside down, the "spout" is pointing south-west, its "handle" north-east, and its "lid" points down to the right (north-eastern horizon). This constellations panoply of clusters and nebula are still easily seen.

M24, an open cluster about two finger-widths to the right and slightly down from the "lid" of the teapot should be visible to the naked eye, just above this and slightly to the left by about a hand span is a number of open clusters and a patch of luminosity that marks the lagoon nebula. M22, a globular cluster, is close to the lid (between and about a finger-widths left of the two stars that make the bottom of the lid), should be visible as a dim, fuzzy star on a dark night. Between these clusters and the "lid" itself runs the Great Sagittarius Star-cloud. The center of our galaxy lies in Sagittarius, and on a dark night, the traceries of the Milky Way and its dust clouds are particularly beautiful. A high definition map of Sagittarius can be found here.

Continuing on west, the rambling constellation of Ophiuchus occupies the space between Sagittarius and the western horizon.

Directly to the left of Ophiuchus is the distinctive "hook" shape of Scorpio, the scorpion, stretches down towards the western horizon. Going up from the south-western horizon by about two hand-spans you will see six bright stars forming a T, with the tail of the "T" nearly perpendicular 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, and will be especially difficult to see this close to the horizon. A high definition map of Scorpio is here. Just before the point where the tail curves around is a series of star clusters that make up the so-called false comet. The illusion of a comet is quite strong in small binoculars as well, but in stronger binoculars the clusters are quite clear.

Returning to the Zenith and working towards the northern horizon. 6 hand-spans down from the zenith is the faint but rambling constellation of Aquarius.

12 hand-spans down from the Zenith (and six above the northern horizon) is the start of the constellation Pegasus, the winged horse. The distinctive box shape of the main constellation lies around three hand-spans to the right of due north.

At the same level as Pegasus, but seven hand-spans to the left is the three bright stars that mark Aquila, the Eagle, with the brightest, white Altair, being in the center.

Continuing down towards the northern horizon, the next bright star is just a hand-span above the horizon, and three hand-spans to the left of due north. This is Deneb, alpha star of Cygnus, the swan. The rest of the constellation forms a wide but distinctive inverted cross above Deneb with the long axis pointing west, almost parallel to the horizon.

Now return to the zenith and go South. Directly south below Grus brings you to the edge of the dim constellation of Tucana, the Toucan. About four hand-spans below the zenith, directly on due north, is Alpha Tucana. Just below Tucana and about a hand-span and a half to the left 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 alpha Tucana by around three hand-spans is Peacock, alpha Pavonis, is a reasonably bright magnitude 2 star that heads the large, but dim, constellation of Pavo the Peacock. Delta Pavonis, about two hand-spans below and one to the left of alpha Pavonis, is one of the handful of sun-like stars within 20 light-years of Earth that might have terrestrial planets in its habitable zone.

To the right of and some what below Delta Pavonis by about 4 hand-spans is the boxy shape of Ara, the Altar.

To the left of alpha Tucana by 5 hand-spans is Ankaa, alpha Phoenicis, of the constellation of the Phoenix, another relatively non-descript constellation.

To the left of alpha Tucana by 5 hand-spans and down by about one is bright Achernar, alpha Erandius.

Continuing directly down from alpha Tucana by four hand-spans is Octans, the octant (a navigating instrument the was the forerunner of the sextant). Octans houses the south celestial pole, and the faint Sigma Octanis, the South Polar star, which is the southern equivalent of Polaris. At magnitude 5.5 you will be stretched to see it under city conditions, but it is six hand-spans directly below alpha Tucana, forming the apex of an inverted triangle with two other faint stars (tau and chi Octanis).

Directly below Octans by around three hand-spans is the faint Chameleon, a narrow "kite" of four stars with the long axis parallel to the horizon. To the left of Chameleon by a little over 3 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 right of Chameleon by around five hand-spans are the bright, distinctive alpha and beta Centauri, the so called "pointers", 4 hand-spans from the south-west horizon, with alpha being the yellow star which is furthest from the horizon, and beta the blue white star below. Between these stars and Chameleon lies the faint constellation Musca the fly. Between the pointers and Pavo lie the dim triangular constellations of Trianglum and Circinus (the compass). 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 south through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, two hand-spans below and to the left the pointers (one and a half hand-spans from beta Centauri to beta Crucis) and two hand-spans above the horizon at about the 5 o'clock position on a clock. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.

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

Just on the southern horizon, almost due south is Carina (the keel of the former constellation Argo Navis). Its position makes viewing the many spectacular clusters in this constellation difficult or impossible. However, bright Canopus is now two hand-spans from the south-eastern horizon, almost directly below the large Magellanic cloud, and will continue to rise in the following weeks.

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

PDF Maps

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

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

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

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[December Skies][January Skies] [February Skies] [March Skies] [April Skies] [May Skies] [July Skies] [August Skies]
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Cheers! And good star gazing!


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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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 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 2017 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2017 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 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 $28.

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 this is approximately 640 Kb zipped.

A shareware version of the win95 only version 5.0 is here

Other highly recommended Sky charting packages (win95/98/2000/XP/Win7-10 sorry) are:
Cartes du Ciel at (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at (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 up.
Earth Centered Universe $88 AUD (shareware version at
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 dowload. 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 2017 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 2017 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: e-mail Ian with any suggestions
Created: Wednesday, 1 April 1998, 11:22:13 PM
Last Updated: Thursday, 10 September 2017, 11:30:13 PM

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