Southern Sky Watch

August Skies

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.

August 3; Mars and the Moon close. August 4; Occultation of Saturn by the Moon. August 11, Moon at Perigee and Full Moon ("Super Moon"). August 18; Venus and Jupiter close. August 24; Moon at Apogee. August 24; crescent Moon close to Venus and Jupiter. August 25-27; Mars close to Saturn. August 27; crescent Moon close to Mercury. August 31; Moon close to Mars and Venus.

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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Clear crisp Winter nights are often the best for star gazing, with the broad sweep of the Milky Way arching across the sky. However, it gets very cold, so don't forget to rug up before doing any extended star watching. Dew formation can also mean some dampness, so a blanket or rug to sit on is a good idea, as well as a thermos of your favorite hot beverage. Winter sees our night skies dominated by the Southern Cross, sprawling Scorpio and Sagittarius, in which the heart of our galaxy hides, so it's well worth stepping out into the chill for an astronomical thrill.

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. 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 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 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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Coming events

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 reveals 101 Geysers.

Mars Curiosity Rover prepares for the comet.

Mars Express finds mysterious mounds.

The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter sees Curiosity.

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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.

C| First quarter on the 4th

O Full moon on the 11th
D Last quarter on the 17th
O New Moon is on the 25th

August 3; Mars and the Moon close. August 4; Occultation of Saturn by the Moon. August 11, Moon at Perigee and Full Moon ("Super Moon"). August 24; Moon at Apogee. August 24; crescent Moon close to Venus and Jupiter. August 25-27; Mars close to Saturn. August 27; crescent Moon close to Mercury. August 31; Moon close to Mars and Venus.

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.
morning sky, 6:30 am

The morning sky facing east in Melbourne on August 24 at 6:30 am AEST showing the the eastern horizon with Moon near Venus and Jupiter. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 6:30 am ACST Adelaide.

evening sky, 10:00 pm

The evening sky facing north-west in Melbourne on August 3 at 10:00 pm AEST showing the Moon and Mars close together. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 10:00 pm ACST Adelaide).

Mercury is in the evening sky late this month. By the 20th, Mercury is just under a handspan from the western horizon, half an hour after sunset. You will need a a clear level horizon to see it. On the morning of August 27 the thin crescent Moon is two fingerwidths above Mercury, but the pair are difficult to see in the twilight, although nearly two handspans above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. By the 30th, Mercury is just over two handspans from the western horizon half an hour after sunset.

Venus is now moving into the twilight in morning sky in August. In small telescopes it waxes in a "gibbous Moon" shape. On August 1 Venus is just under a handspan above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. Venus moves from Gemini into Cancer this month. On August 15 Venus is just under one handspan above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. Venus is approached by Jupiter late in the month. They are closest on the 18th and 19th, when Venus is less than a fingerwidth from Jupiter. On August 24 Venus is around a four fingerwidths from the crescent Moon, forming a triangle with Jupiter. This takes place low in the twilight with Venus just three fingerwidths above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise, and will require a clear, level horizon to see all three. On the 30th Venus is just under a fingerwidth above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise.

Mars is prominent in the early evening sky this month. Red (well, sort of orange) Mars continues to move slowly through the constellation of Virgo this month and enters Libra for a close approach to Saturn. On August 1 Mars is nearly five handspans above the western horizon at 10:00 pm local time. The Moon is close to Mars on the 3rd. By August 15th Mars is over 4 handspans above the western horizon at 10:00 pm local time. On the 25th to 27th Mars is just over 3 fingerwidths from Saturn. By the 30th, Mars is just over 3 handspans above the western horizon at 10:00 pm local time. On the 31st Mars, Saturn and the waxing Moon make a nice triangle.

Jupiter returns to the morning sky late this month, and has a close approach to Venus. On August 15 Jupiter is still lost in the twilight. Jupiter approaches Venus late in the month. They are closest on the 18th and 19th, when Venus is less than a fingerwidth from Jupiter. The pair are just under a handspan from the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise and will require a clear, level horizon to see. On August 24 Jupiter is around a four fingerwidths from the crescent Moon, forming a triangle with Venus. This takes place low in the twilight, and will require a clear, level horizon to see all three. On August 30 Jupiter is just over a handspan above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise.

This table was created using The Planets 2.02 a free program available from

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

Thu	14	Aug	6:40	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sat	23	Aug	6:22	Eur: Reappears from Occultation
Tue	26	Aug	6:38	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	27	Aug	6:45	Io : Shadow Transit Ends          T
Fri	29	Aug	6:14	Gan: Transit Begins               ST
Sun	31	Aug	5:48	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian

Saturn was at opposition (when it is biggest and brightest as seen from Earth) last month, but is still easily seen in the evening sky. Saturn is now easy to view in telescopes in the evening as it is reasonably high above the horizon after twilight. Saturn spends the month in Libra. On August 1 Saturn is just over seven handspans above the western horizon at 10:00 pm local time. On August 4 the Moon is close to Saturn, occulting it from most of Australia in the early evening. On August 15 Saturn is nearly five handspans above the western horizon at 10:00 pm local time. By August 30 Saturn is a little under three handspans above the western horizon at 10:00 pm local time. On the 31st Mars, Saturn and the waxing Moon make a nice triangle.

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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 
 6/08/2014  iota-Aquarids        8   0.05         
12/08/2014  Perseids            100    0.95         
21/08/2014  alpha-Cygnids        3   0.5         

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.

Sadly, the Perseids are very low on the horizon in Australia and for all of us south of Brisbane, the radiant (where the meteors appear to originate in the sky) will be below the horizon. While the ZHR is around 100, Australian observers in the North should expect to see 6-7 meteors per hour under clear conditions. On August the 12th and 13th, between around 3.30 am and 5.30 am (yes, that's right, bleeding cold morning time), go out and face North. The meteor shower will be between two to three handspans from the horizon. A map showing the location of the meteor radiant as seen facing north from Brisbane at 4.00 am is here. (also useful for Alice Springs and Darwin, Townsville etc. where the radiant is higher). This year the Perseids maximum is during the Full Moon, which will significantly interfere with meteor rates..

The Perseids are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which has a 135 year orbit around the sun. The best Perseid showers were in 1991 and 1992, when Swift Tuttle was at perihelion (the closest approach to the sun) at 1 AU from the Sun, around 400 meteors per hour were seen. Swift Tuttle is now much further out.

Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 12 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2-4 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 currently no comets observable with the unaided eye. A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.

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Occultation of Saturn by the Moon 4 August.

evening sky, 8:30 pm

The Moon at 8:30 pm ACST in Adelaide on Monday 4 August just before the Moon covers Saturn. Saturns' giant moon Titan is just about to go behind the Moon.

On the evening of Monday 4 August Saturn is occulted by the Moon as seen from the most of Australia (and all of New Zealand). This is the third of these rare occulations, and is under reasonable dark skies, with the Moon at first Quarter, so its light does not drown out Saturn so much. The Moon is a very obvious signpost for where to look and Saturn will be the brightest object near the Moon. Start watching about half an hour before hand to get set up and familiar with the sky. Although this event is easily seen with the unaided eye (Saturn will appear to "wink out" as it goes behind the dark limb of the Moon, reappearance will be harder to see), it is best seen in a small telescope so you can see the ringed world in detail as it vanishes behind the Moon. Saturn's moon Titan will be occulted before Saturn, so you can see the Moon occult a moon.

The occultation occurs in the early evening with the Moon will be reasonably high above the north-west horizon, a good time to show the kids this. The Moon easily visible and a ready signpost to Saturn. It is advisable to set up and practise on the Moon a day or so 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 on Saturn moments before the occultation will cause a lot of unnecessary stress). Saturn will be clearly visible in a telescope or binoculars near the Moon.

PlaceDisappears Dark Limb Reappears Bright Limb
Adelaide ACST 20:33 21:28
Brisbane AEST 21:19 22:27
Canberra AEST 21:22 22:07
Darwin ACST 20:07 21:19
Hobart AEST 21:35 Titan Graze -
Melbourne AEST 21:24 21:52
Perth AWST 18:15 19:17
Sydney AEST 21:22 22:13



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 Mira and Algol are currently unobservable.

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evening sky, 10:00 pm

The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEDST in Melbourne on August 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 August 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?

At the begining of August, the Milky Way is a spectacular sight as it arches across the sky in the early evening.

Facing east, the constellation of Cetus, the Whale, is just coming over the horizon. Five handspans up from the eastern horizon and one handspan to the left is the faint but rambling constellation of Aquarius. Six handspans up and one to the right is bright Fomalhaut, Alpha star of Piscis Austrinus.

Eight handspans above the horizon and one to the left of east is the battered triangle of Capricornius, the Water Goat, currently hosting Uranus and Neptune. 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.

Straddling the Zenith is the distinctive "teapot" shape of Sagitarius, the archer. The "teapots" spout is pointing east, its handle west, and its lid points to the left (north). This constellations panoply of clusters and nebula reach full prominence. M24, an open cluster about two fingerwidths 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 fingerwidths 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 Sagitarius Starcloud. The center of our galaxy lies in Sagitarius, and on a dark night, the traceries of the Milky Way and its dust clouds are particularly beautiful. A high definition map of Sagitarius can be found here.

From the Zenith continuing on west, the distinctive "hook" shape of Scorpio, the scorpion, stretches down towards the western horizon. Going up from the western horizon by about twelve handspans (or down from the zenith by 5) 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 fingerwidth 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. 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.

Directly below the "T" of Scorpio by one handspan is a broad triangle of stars that marks Libra, the balance. Alpha librae (with the amazing name Zubenelgenubi) is the brightest star and apex of the triangle pointed at Spica, is almost midway between Spica and Antares. This star is a wide binary, and those with good eye sight and dark skies can usual see both components. Beta Librae (Zubeneschamali) is the next brightest star in the triangle and closest to the horizon. Four fingerwidths to the left of Beta Librae is delta librae, this dim star (magnitude 4.9) is an eclipsing variable, where a dim star orbiting a brighter star eclipses the brighter star, causing a fall in perceived brightness. Delta librae dims and brightens by one whole magnitude every 2.3 days, and is a good (if dim) naked eye variable. Libra also hosts the star HD 141569 (roughly a handspan below beta Librae, but at 7th magnitude invisible to the naked eye), which has a dust disk with dark lanes which may indicate planets.

Underneath alpha Librae by around four handspans and to the left by one handspan is bright white Spica, the brightest start in the constellation of Virgo. Spica marks the top right-hand corner of a rectangular group of stars that marks out the body of Virgo, the virgin. Virgo is now grazing the western horizon.

Six handspans to the right of Spica is bright orange Arcturus, alpha star of the constellation of Bootes, the herdsman.

Directly to the left of Virgo by three handspans is the kite shape of Corvus the crow,

Returning to the Zenith and working towards the Northern horizon. Ten hanspans down from the Zenith (and 8 above the northern horizon) and two to the left is Rasalhague, alpha star of Ophiuchus, a large rambling constellation. A similar distance from the Zenith and 5 handspans to the right is the three bright stars that mark Aquilla, the Eagle, with the brightest, white Altair, being in the center.

Continuing down towards the northern horizon, the next bright star is white Vega, alpha Lyrae (the Lyre), three handspans from the horizon. Below and to the right of Vega, just above the horizon is bright Deneb, alpha star of Cygnus, the swan. In the norther hemisphere, Vega, Altair and Deneb make a prominent triangle in the night sky. Here their closeness to the horizon dims the splendor somewhat.

Between Altair, Arcturus, and Spica are a number of dim constellations, including Hercules. Hercules is almost mid way between Altair and Arcturus, and a reasonably prominent box shape just to the left of Vega marks the centre of the constellation.

Now return to the Zenith and go South. Directly south of the teapot of Sagittarius by about two fingerwidths, is the a delicate arc of stars, Corona Australis, the Southern Crown. About three handspans away from the Zenith and between due south and the curved tail of Scorpio is a small squarish constellation Ara. Another handspan south again brings you to the edge of the large, but dim, constellation of Pavo the Peacock. Peacock, alpha Pavonis, is a reasonably bright magnitude 2 star and lies three handspans left of due south. Delta Pavonis, about two handspans below and two handspans to the right 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 Pavo by about 5 handspans is alpha and beta Centauri, the so called "pointers", with Alpha being the yellow star which is furthest from the horizon, and Beta the blue white star below and slightly to the right. Between these stars and Pavo lie the dim constellations of trianglum and Circinus (the compass).

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 sunlike stars and a red dwarf, Proxima centauri, which is the closest of the triple stars to earth.

Two handspan from alpha Centauri to the right and a little down is a small star, about a handspan to the right again is a fuzzy star, this is omega Centauri (5139 on the map), a globular cluster of stars which is quite spectacular in good binoculars, and more spectacular than 47 Tucana (see below). Another handspan to the right 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 Mangellanic clouds) without a telescope.

Returning to alpha Centauri, following a line south east through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, two handspans below the pointers and 6 handspans above the horizon at about the 3 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 (running parallel to the horizon, with bright Acrux on the westerly end of the axis). Beta and delta Crucis, now running north-south, form the cross piece of the cross. Just above and 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 clearly visible in dark skies. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just to the left of Beta Crucis, the uppermost bright star in the Cross at the moment. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly.

Just below the Southern Cross is Carina (the keel of the former constellation Argo Navis). A high definition map of this region is here. Looking almost anywhere in the area stretching between Sagittarius and Vela/Carina will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area two handspans below and slightly 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 fingerwidths 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 below and two to the left of the Southern Cross is the False Cross, now only two handspans from the 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 on the south-eastern horizon .

Just below Carina, sitting on the horizon is Vela, the sail of Argo Navis. When, Argo Navis was broken up into Puppis, Vela and Carina in 1750, they forgot to assign alpha and beta stars to Vela, and its brightest star at magnitude 1.5 is Gamma Velorum, now below the horizon. Most of Velas best sights are either below the horizon, or too close to be seen well. Kappa and delta Velorum, with iota and epsilon Carina, make the "false cross" (about 2 hand spans above the south-western horizon). A high definition map of Vela is here.

Three handspans straight up from south, and just to the left 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.

Six handspans up from the southern horizon and three 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, a spectacular globular cluster that is very nice through binoculars.

To the left of the Small Magellanic cloud is the dim, nondescript constellation of Tucana, the Toucan itself, then another 6 handspans further left near bright Fomalhaut is the battered cross of Gruss the crane.

Four handspans from the south-eastern horizon, in an area otherwise devoid of bright stars is magnitude 0.5 Achernar, alpha Eridani, lead star in the constellation of the river, which will soon ramble across the southern skies.

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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 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 Maps

A view of the Eastern August sky at 10.00pm AEDST on 1 August can be downloaded here (augsky_e.gif 30 Kb) and a view of the western August sky can be downloaded here (augsky_w.gif 30 Kb). These are more compact files but don't have a lot of resolution.

If you wish to print the GIF maps directly from Netscape you must set the printer in landscape mode and you must set the margins to 0 cm (yes, that's right, 0 cm) or the maps will not print correctly.

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 GIF files, but print much better and come with legends.

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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.

Or, for $19.95 US, you can have the Touring the Universe through Binoculars Atlas 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 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 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 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 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).

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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 2014 Ian Musgrave, except the meteor tables which are from the Astronomical Society of New South Wales Inc and 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: Friday, 30 August 2014, 11:30:13 PM

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