Southern Skywatch has been online for 16 years; yes, the competition will happen, eventually.
Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
November 3, Moon at Perigee. November 3, Mars and globular cluster M28 close. November 6, Mars and the globular cluster M22 close. November 15; Moon at Apogee; Jupiter close to crescent Moon, occultation of Omicron Leo. November 26, Mars and crescent moon close. Comet C/2012 K1 visible in binoculars in the evening.
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 naked 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 26/02/14: There was a very good auroral event on 22 February, seen in NSW, Victoria, SA and WA as well as Tasmania. Last year, 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 disappointing so far apart from the odd event like the 17 March one and the unexpected 22 February one. 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 solar maximum in 2014, and we can hope to see an increasing frequency of aurora, although it has been generally disappointing with some exceptions. There have been some good displays in Tasmania recently. Tasmania, King Island and Southern Victoria are the most likely places to see aurora. However, on August 24, 2005 there was a massive auroral storm seen as far as northern NSW (and the 22 February one this year was seen as far north as southern NSW). Naturally, the best views of any aurora will be away from the city and bright lights. Aurora occur when charged particles from the solar wind enter Earths outer atmosphere and interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms producing eerie displays of coloured lights. During solar maximum, which occurs every 11 years, the number and speed of the particles are higher, allowing them to penetrate the Earth's magnetic field at lower latitudes than normal. Observers in Tasmania are likely to see green glows or sheets of light in the southern sky. Observers in Southern Victoria are more likely to see a red glow in the southern sky, although more spectacular displays are possible.
The Astronomical Society of Tasmania has a webpage devoted to this phenomenon. The Australian IPS radio and space services covers Aurora and related phenomena in very great detail (too much if you don't know much about them) but has a nice education page. Flinders Uni also has real time magnetometer readings, however, this will probably not mean much to most people.
Aurora will generally follow solar flares by about 2 days, and a number of instruments are watching the sun for these outbursts. The solar minimum occurred in 2006 and persisted for some time. While sunspot numbers, and hence flare rates are increasing, sometimes months will go by without an alert, then you have three in a week. The space weather site at http://www.spaceweather.com gives notice of when solar winds likely to cause aurora will arrive. Alternatively, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject and I will send you an email alert of any likely auroral event (or other interesting sky phenomena). However, even a strong solar flare is no guarantee that you will be able to see aurora, but it does increase the probability. Still more alternatively, there are the facebook pages Aurora Australis Tasmania, Aurora Australis Tasmania NOW! and Aurora Australis all do discussions and alerts.
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Email alerts I try to update this page fairly regularly outside of the monthly postings. However sometimes things happen which I can't get in fast enough, or you forget to mark your calendar. If you would like to be alerted to or reminded of interesting astronomical or sky phenomena, send an email to email@example.com with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject. This is the old aurora alert list, but with auroras rare as we climb out solar minimum (except for the occasional humdinger, like the August 2005 auroral event), it is doing double duty. Astroblog will have images when possible of these events soon after.
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6 January 2014; Jupiter at opposition
15 January 2014; Moon Near Jupiter
23 January 2014; Moon Near Mars
26 January 2014; Moon Near Saturn
29 January 2014; Moon Near Venus
11 February 2014; Moon Near Jupiter
19 February 2014; Moon Near Mars
22 February 2014; Moon Near Saturn
22 February 2014; Ocultation of Saturn
26 February 2014; Moon Near Venus
28 February 2014; Moon Near Mercury
10 March 2014; Moon close to Jupiter
18 March 2014; Moon close to Mars
20-21 March 2014; Moon close to Saturn
27-28 March 2014; Moon close to Venus
29 March 2014; Moon close to Mercury
7 April 2014; Moon close to Jupiter
9 April 2014; Mars at opposition
14 April 2014; Moon close to Mars
15 April 2014; Total Lunar Eclipse
17 April 2014; Moon close to Saturn
26 April 2014; Moon close to Venus
29 April 2014; Annular eclipse of the Sun
4 May 2014; Moon and Jupiter close together.
7 May 2014; Eta Aquariid meter shower.
11 May 2014; Moon and Mars close together.
11 May 2014; Opposition of Saturn.
14 May 2014; Moon and Saturn close.
14 May 2014; Occultation of Saturn.
26 May 2014; Moon close to Venus
1 June 2014; Crescent Moon and Jupiter close together.
7-8 June 2014; Moon and Mars close together.
10 June 2014; Moon and Saturn close.
25 June 2014; Crescent Moon and Venus close.
26 June 2014; Crescent Moon near Mercury.
29 June 2014; Crescent Moon near Jupiter.
6 July 2014; Moon, Spica and Mars close.
8 July 2014; Moon and Saturn close.
13 July 2014; Mars and star Spica closest.
24 July 2014; Venus and crescent Moon close.
25 July 2014; Mercury and crescent Moon close.
3 August 2014; Mars and waxing Moon close.
4 August 2014; Occultation of Saturn by Moon.
18 August 2014; Venus and Jupiter close.
24 August 2014; Venus and crescent Moon close.
25 August 2014; Mars and Saturn close.
27 August 2014; Mercury and crescent Moon close.
31 August 2014; Saturn and Moon close.
September: Comets C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS and C/2103 V5 Oukaimaden (just) visible to the unaided eye
1 September 2014; Moon close to Mars.
20 September 2014; Mercury and Spica close.
20-21 September 2014; Moon close to Jupiter.
26 September 2014; Crescent Moon close to Mercury and Spica.
28 September 2014; Moon and Saturn close.
29 September 2014; Moon and Mars close.
October: Comets C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS and C/2103 V5 Oukaimaden (just) visible to the unaided eye, comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring comes close to Mars
8 October 2014; Total Eclipse of the Moon.
18 October 2014; Moon close to Jupiter.
22 October 2014; Orionid meteor shower.
28 October 2014; Mars close to crescent Moon.
15 November 2014; Moon close to Jupiter.
26 November 2014; Moon close to Mars.
17 November 2014; Leonid Meteor Shower.
11-12 December 2014; Moon close to Jupiter.
15 December 2014; Geminid Meteor shower.
20 December 2014; Crescent Moon close to Saturn.
23 December 2014; Crescent Moon close to Venus and Mercury.
Out in Space
Cassini watches sunny Titan seas.
Mars Curiosity Rover looks for comet Siding Spring.
Mars Express watches comet Siding SPring.
The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter takes a spectrum of comet Siding Spring.
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Full moon on the 7th
Current Phase of the Moon.
Last quarter on the 15th
New Moon is on the 22nd
First quarter on the 29th
November 3, Moon at Perigee. November 15; Moon at Apogee; Jupiter close to crescent Moon. November 26, Mars and crescent moon close.
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 morning sky facing east in Melbourne on November 15 at 5:00 am AEST showing the the eastern horizon with Moon near Jupiter. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 5:00 am ACST Adelaide.
The evening sky facing west in Melbourne on November 26 at 10:00 pm AEDST showing the Moon and Mars close together. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 10:00 pm ACDST Adelaide).
Mercury is in the morning sky this month. However, it never rises high enough from the horizon to be easily visible.
Venus is now lost in the twilight. It will reappear in the evening sky in early December. It might be just glimpsed in the last week of November low in the western twilight if you have a flat, unobstructed horizon.
Mars is still prominent in the early evening sky this month. Red (well, sort of orange) Mars remains in the constellation of Sagittarius passing though some beautiful sky. On November 1 Mars is just over 5 hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On the 3rd Mars is less than a finger-width from the faint globular cluster M28. On the 6th Mars is less than a finger-width from the brighter classic globular cluster M22, this will look nice in binoculars. By November 15th Mars is still just over 5 hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On the 26th Mars is close to crescent Moon. By the 30th, Mars is just under 5 hand-spans above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset.
Jupiter continues to climb higher in the morning sky this month. Jupiter is in Leo. On November 1 Jupiter is over four hand spans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On November 15 Jupiter just over five hand-spans above the north-eastern horizon an hour before sunrise and Jupiter is around a hand-span from the Last Quarter Moon. On November 30 Jupiter is over six hand-spans above the north-eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.
This table was created using The Planets 2.02 a free program available from http://www.cpac.org.uk Times are AEDST, subtract 30 minutes for ACDST and 3 hours for AWST. Subtract 1 hour for standard time. GRS = Great Red Spot. S = Shadow Transit, T = Transit Mon 1 Nov 2:59 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 2 Nov 4:02 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 2 Nov 5:19 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Tue 4 Nov 5:01 Eur: Transit Ends Tue 4 Nov 5:41 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 4 Nov 5:53 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Wed 5 Nov 3:02 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Thu 6 Nov 3:54 Io : Transit Ends Fri 7 Nov 3:11 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 9 Nov 4:49 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 9 Nov 5:19 Gan: Transit Ends Mon 10 Nov 3:50 Cal: Disappears into Eclipse Tue 11 Nov 4:43 Eur: Transit Begins ST Tue 11 Nov 5:03 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends T Wed 12 Nov 4:56 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Thu 13 Nov 2:32 Eur: Reappears from Occultation S Thu 13 Nov 3:30 Io : Transit Begins ST Thu 13 Nov 4:32 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Thu 13 Nov 5:48 Io : Transit Ends Fri 14 Nov 2:59 Io : Reappears from Occultation Fri 14 Nov 3:57 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 16 Nov 4:11 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends Sun 16 Nov 5:36 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 16 Nov 5:39 Gan: Transit Begins T Tue 18 Nov 4:45 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Wed 19 Nov 2:08 Cal: Transit Begins T Wed 19 Nov 3:05 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 20 Nov 4:08 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Thu 20 Nov 5:04 Eur: Reappears from Occultation S Thu 20 Nov 5:23 Io : Transit Begins ST Fri 21 Nov 4:44 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 21 Nov 4:52 Io : Reappears from Occultation Sat 22 Nov 2:08 Io : Transit Ends Sun 23 Nov 4:32 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins S Mon 24 Nov 2:13 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 26 Nov 3:51 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 27 Nov 2:16 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Thu 27 Nov 2:41 Cal: Reappears from Eclipse Thu 27 Nov 3:08 Gan: Reappears from Occultation Thu 27 Nov 6:01 Io : Shadow Transit Begins S Fri 28 Nov 3:11 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Fri 28 Nov 5:30 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 29 Nov 1:42 Io : Transit Begins STT Sat 29 Nov 2:03 Eur: Transit Ends ST Sat 29 Nov 2:47 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Sat 29 Nov 4:00 Io : Transit EndsSaturn is lost in the twilight this month.
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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 5/11/2014 Taurids 5 0.75 17/11/2014 Leonids 15 0.25
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.
Morning sky facing north-east at 3:00 pm AEDST on 18 November, the Leonid radiant is indicated with a cross.
The Taurids are a small shower produced by the debris from comet Enke. The shower originates just above the upturned V of the Hyades (see eastern horizon map). The best time to watch is around midnight. This year moonlight interferes with the Taurids, and you are unlikely to see anything.
For this years Leonids the waning crescent Moon is not far from the radiant. As well, this year there are low rates, you will be unlikely to see anything substantial (although there may be short bursts of higher rates). The best time to observe in Australia is the morning of the 18th between 3 and 4 am (daylight saving time). The Radiant (where the meteors appear to come from) is in the Sickle of Leo, see the map above. Orion and the Hyades will be visible, with Jupiter low in the east near the sickle of Leo. So it will be a quite nice morning, even if there are only a few meteors.
Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 6 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2 per hour during the evening. The evening rates will be reduced during the times around the full Moon due to interference by the Moons light.
A good page describing meteor watching is at the Sky Publications site.
The Meteor Section of the Astronomical Society of Victoria has some good information on meteor watching too.
Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.
A Cool Fact about meteor speeds
A good page on detecting meteors using home made radio-telescopes is here.
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Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS on November 1 at 11:30 pm local time.There are currently no comets observable with the unaided eye. However, C/2012 K1 may be visible in binoculars.
C/2012 K1 LINEAR is brightening in the sky. The comet has entered the evening sky and is passing the star Canopus heading towards Achernar. It is brightest when it is closest to Earth, on November 6, but the nearly full Moon will make observation difficult.It will be better later in the month, even though the comet will be fading. Binoculars or small telescopes should show it as a small fuzzy patch with maybe the hint of a tail. A B&W spotters map is available here and a binocular map is here , the large circle is the approximate field of view of 10x50 binoculars.A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.
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Occultation of Omicron Leo by the Moon, November 15.
The evening sky facing east in Perth on November 15 at 2:48pm AWST showing the Last Quarter Moon just about to cover Omicron Leo. (similar views will be seen from other central and western locations at a similar local time eg 3:54 ACST Darwin). The inset shows a telescopic view of the Moon at 2:45 am AWST, with Omicron Leo about to go behind the Moon.
The Last Quarter Moon passes in front of the moderately bright Omicron Leo in the constellation of Leo on the morning of November 15. Omicron Leo is a brightish white star visible to the unaided eye (magnitude 3.5). The occultation will be seen from Western Australia and Central Australia.
From Perth the star disappears behind the bright limb of the Moon at 2:48 AWST, and reappears from the dark limb at 3:31 AWST.
From Hobart the star disappears behind the bright limb of the Moon at 3:54 ACST, and reappears from the dark limb at 5:29 ACST (in twilight).
From Adelaide the star disappears behind the bright limb at 5:58 ACDST, this is quite deep in the twilight and so will be a bit tricky to see.
With the Moon at Last Quarter, this event is really best seen with binoculars or a small telescope (especially for the reappearance of the star in the twilight in Darwin). If you have a tripod or other stand for your binoculars, it will be much easier to observe. Set up about half an hour before the occultation to watch the star disappear (so you are not mucking around with equipment at the last moment).
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 Mira and Algol are currently unobservable.
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The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEDST in Melbourne on November 1 (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 10:00 pm ACDST Adelaide).
All descriptions here are based on the view from Melbourne at 10.00 pm AEDST (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on 1 November 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 AEDST.
- Readers in Hobart and Christchurch must decrease descriptions to the North by about five finger widths and increase those to the south by the same amount.
- Readers in Sydney, Fremantle, Perth, Santiago and Capetown should add 3 finger widths to the northern descriptions, and subtract 3 finger widths to the south.
- Readers in Brisbane, Alice Springs, Rio deJanerio and Johannesburg must adjust North/South descriptions by two hand spans.
- Readers in Darwin, Cairns, Brazilia, La Paz, Lusaka and Lima must adjust North/South descriptions by about 4-5 hand spans.
Facing east, Orion is just beginning to rise above the horizon. Above this, the faint constellation of Erandius, the river, straddles the horizon and meanders upwards and southwards to where brightest star, Achernar, points to the small Magellanic cloud.
Eight hand spans up and four to the left of east Cetus, the whale, with its bottom parts bracketed by Jupiter and Saturn. Beta Ceti is a modestly bright star twelve 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 12 hand spans up from east and three to the left is magnitude 2 Deneb Kaitos, beta Ceti. Two hand spans below and slightly to the left is eta Ceti, two hand spans to the right of eta Ceti, forming a triangle with eta and beta, is Tau Ceti.
Five hand spans to the left of Cetus is Pisces, a rather nondescript constellation, despite its importance in the Zodiac.
Continuing on to the zenith we find the faint Sculptor and Phoenix. Slightly to the west of the zenith is 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 five hand spans down from Fomalhaut is the battered triangle of Capricornius, the Water Goat, currently hosting Neptune. Of interest as well is alpha Capricorni, the brightish star at bottom left hand corner of the triangle that is Capricorn. This is a naked eye double star.
About mid-sky, almost 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 Starcloud. 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 Ophiucus sits on the western horizon.
Directly to the left the distinctive "hook" shape of Scorpio, the scorpion, stretches down towards the western horizon. Going up from the south-western horizon by about a hand spans you will see three bright stars forming a line 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 near the horizon) is quite prominent. The area around Scorpio is normally quite rewarding in binoculars, but this close to the horizon it will be difficult to see anything of interest. 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. 5 hand spans down from Fomalhaut is the faint but rambling constellation of Aquarius.
10 hand spans down from the Zenith (9 from Fomalhaut and seven above the northern horizon) is the star that forms the upper left hand corner of the "great square" of the constellation Pegasus, the winged horse. The stars that make distinctive box shape of the main constellation lies around three hand spans to the right of and down from (and 4 across from) the top left most star.
Two hand spans below and one hand span to the right of the bottom right hand star of the great square (Alpheratz, alpha Andromedae) is the Andromeda galaxy (also 3 hand spans to the right of due north and two above the horizon), one of the local group of galaxies and very similar to our own, at magnitude 3.2 it should be easily visible to the naked eye under dark skies as a fuzzy star. The binocular view should be excellent.
Three hand spans diagonally down from Alpheratz is beta Andromedae. A hand span to the right and three finger widths up is M33, the pinwheel galaxy, also a member of the local group. At magnitude 5.7 and relatively close to the horizon, this galaxy is a challenge to see with the naked eye, but is easily found in small binoculars.
At almost the same level as Pegasus, but and 9 hand spans to the left of the great square is the three bright stars that mark Aquila, the Eagle, with the brightest, white Altair, being in the center.
Now return to the zenith and go South. Directly south (a little to the left of Grus and below) brings you to the edge of the dim constellation of Tucana, the Toucan. About three hand spans below the zenith, directly on due south, is gamma Tucana, to the right by one hand span and slightly below is alpha Tucana. Just below gamma Tucana by 3 hand spans and about a hand span 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 and slightly below is Peacock, alpha Pavonis, a reasonably bright magnitude 2 star that heads the large, but dim, constellation of Pavo the Peacock. Delta Pavonis, about one and a half 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 somewhat 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 and above 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 is bright Achernar, alpha Erandius.
Continuing directly down from gamma Tucana by four hand spans is Octans, the octant (a navigating instrument the was the fore runner 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 gamma 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 and a little to the left 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 four hand spans is Triangulum. Directly below triangulum are the bright, distinctive alpha and beta Centauri, the so called "pointers", three 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 and to the left. Between these stars and Chameleon lies the faint constellation Musca the fly. Between the pointers and Pavo lie the dim triangular constellations of triangulum and Circinus (the compass). Most of the rest of Centarus, the Centaur, is too close to, or below, the Horizon to be seen properly.
Alpha Centauri is the closest star to our sun at around 4 light years. However, recent measurements with the Hippacaros satellite put the system 300 million 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 between the 5 o'clock and 6 o'clock position on a clock. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.
The Southern Cross is, as expected, a cross shaped formation with Acrux (alpha Crucis) and gamma Crucis forming the long axis of the cross (pointing down to the south-west, with bright Acrux on the end of the axis away from the horizon). Beta and delta Crucis, now nearly horizontal, form the cross piece of the cross. Just to the right Acrux is the coal sack. This dark area against the glow of the milky way represents a large dust cloud and is usually clearly visible in dark skies, but will be hard to see this close to the horizon. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just above Beta Crucis. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly, and is unlikely to be good viewing this close to the horizon.
Just above the southern horizon, to the left of due south is Carina (the keel of the former constellation Argo Navis). A high definition map of this region is here. Although close to the horizon, with many faint objects obscured, looking almost anywhere in the area of Carina will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area between the Southern Cross and the false cross (which is just above the south-eastern horizon), is particularly rich. Here you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars in Carina. Smaller and less spectacular than their northern counterparts, they still look very nice in binoculars. Four finger widths below the Southern Pleiades are two rich open clusters, and the barely visible star Eta Carina. Eta Carina's spectacular nebula is only dimly seen in binoculars. Five hand spans to the left of the Southern Cross is the False Cross, two hand spans from the southern horizon. Just to the left of the False Cross is a good open cluster, normally just visible to the naked eye but hard to see this close to the horizon. Still very nice in binoculars though. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star sitting just four hand spans above the south-eastern horizon .
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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 November 1 at 10.00 pm, facing south. Both show approximately 30 degrees (5 handspans) 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 handspans (where a handspan 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 November sky at 10.00pm AEDST on 1 November can be downloaded here (novsky_e.png 30 Kb) and a view of the western November sky can be downloaded here (novsky_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 GIF files, but print much better and come with legends.
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Cheers! And good star gazing!
Ian's Astrophotography GallerySome of the photographs/images I have taken in recent years of astronomical phenomena that may be of interest.
- Partial Lunar eclipse. Partial Lunar eclipse, July 5, 2001
- My Solar eclipse report. Pictures from the Dec 4, 2002 solar eclipse in South Australia
- Transit of Mercury pictures! 7 May 2003
- Images of the partial solar eclipse 24 Nov 2003
- Transit of Venus July 8 2004 report
- Images of Jupiter, taken, after an enormous struggle, with my webcam, April 2005
- Mosaics of the Moon, more fun with my webcam, April-May 2005
- Animation of Sunrise on the Moon November 2006
- Animation of A shadow Transit on Jupiter May 2007
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- OnLine Astronomical Societies in Australia, from the Astronomical Society of New South Wales Inc.
- Astronomical Society of Australia
- Mornington Peninsula Astronomy Society
- Astronomy Guild of Australia
- Ice in Space
- A clickable star map for Victoria
- Monthly free Star maps. High quality, monthly maps for Southern and Northern Skies, has lists of interesting objects. Requires Adobe Acrobat to print.
- Gordon Garradd's Astronomy Page
- Peter Enzerinks Astronomy page - Web based telescope/eyepiece calculator and other southern sky tidbits.
- Buying a telescope in Australia, lots of helpful hints.
- Anglo-Australian Observatory
- MSSSO - Mt Stromlo and Siding Springs Observatory
- ATNF - Australian Telescope National Facility
- Parks Radio telescope facility
- Spaceguard Australia the proposed search for Near Earth Objects including meteroids.
- Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
- Star Class, Astronomy Education
- Information about Aboriginal astronomy.
- Australian weather forecasts
- Sky and Space, Australia's Astronomy magazine.
- Planetary Society, Australian Volunteers events diary.
- Australian Astronomy
Astronomy for Kids
- Adelaide Planetarium
- Canberra Planetarium and Observatory
- Launceston Planetarium
- Science Centre and Planetarium (Wollongong)
- Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
- Perth Observatory and Planetarium
- Museum of Victoria Planetarium, Skynotes Index
- The Cosmos Centre in Charleville
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Star Child NASA space information for kis 5-13.
- Interactive site on the Sun, good kids resources
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Astronomy for Kids
- Astronomy for Kids (different site to the one above, and a bit simple, but lots of good images).
- Kids astronomy information from Astronomy Magazine
- SEDS, home of the Nine Planets Tour, and much much more
- The Planetary Society
- Center for Backyard Astrophysics
- Amateur Radio Telescopes
- International Occulation Timing Society
- Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy pages (very educational)
- SKY Online - Your Astronomy Source on the World Wide Web
- Astronomy Magazine
- Stellar distances
- Space Weather site (with Meteor counts)
- Near Earth Object home page (also follows comets, including LINEAR S4 and meteor showers)
- A 3D map of satellites orbiting the Earth in real time! Simply amazing!
- The Anglo Australian Observatories 3D virtual tour through a 3D map of the Cosmos. Mind Blowing!
- Views of extrasolar planets seen from the Southern sky, stunning Java-driven map with heaps of (complex) info.
- Stellarium, free (but large) photorealistic sky charting software. What I use for the horizon views.
- Celestia, free 3D space travel software, see the Earth from Mars, see the Moon of EL62, see Saturn rise on Titan.
- Ian's Celestia resources. Save these files into the "Extras" directory
- Script to show Conjunctions of Earth from Mars.
- Definition File for asteroid 87 Sylvia and her two moons (see story here).
- Definition File for Pluto's two new Moons P1 and P2.
- Definition file for three Neptunian extrasolar planets of HD 69830.
- Asteroid 2004 VD17, which will not hit the Earth.
- Definition file for Comet 2006/P1 McNaught
- Definition file for for the Gliese 581 system that contains the most Earth-like world yet.
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Charts, Books and Software for AstronomyIf you would like to have charts available all the time, rather than relying on mine, for between $2-$20 you can pick up a planisphere from a newsagent or bookshop (or for a bit more you can get fancy ones from Australian Geographic, the ABC shop or the other Australian Geographic look alike shop, or the Wilderness Society, or even a binocular/ optical store). The planisphere won't give you position of the planets, so you will need to get the planet rise/set times. These can be found in most serious newspapers (the Age, the Australian, SMH etc. The Australian is probably the best bet for budding amateurs). The combination of planisphere and rise/set times is the best value for beginners though, if you are not too worried about identifying star clusters in your binoculars.
Or, for $19.95 US, you can have the Touring the Universe through Binoculars Atlas http://www.philharrington.net/tuba.htm which can print observing charts, but has a few annoying quirks. These include having no horizon line, and the planets are shown in the wrong places.
I use a combination of a 1962 star chart, the Australian Astronomy 2013 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2014 almanac. It is more helpful for planetary/comet/asteroidal observations and eclipses than for double stars, clusters galaxies etc, but is an excellent resource for Australian observers and anyone who would like to seriously follow the planets in Australia should have this almanac. It has easy to follow month-by-month summary information, as well as detailed charts, tables and whole sky maps. It is easily navigated. The Almanac is often in big bookstores or optical shops, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase a copy directly for those outside major population centres. The Australian Astronomy almanac comes out in around November for the following year, and is now approx $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.
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 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 Handheld 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 handheld 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 2014 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: Saturday, 1 November 2014, 11:30:13 PM