Just realised Southern Skywatch has been online for 15 years; I feel a competition coming on! Lots of bright planet action this month and a solar eclipse.
Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
May 7-9, eta Aquariid meteor shower. May 10; annular eclipse of Sun. May 11; Crescent Moon close to Venus. May 12; Jupiter close to the crescent Moon. May 22; occultation of Spica, North-eastern Australia only. May 23; Moon near Saturn. May 26; Venus, Mercury and Jupiter close together. May 29; Venus, Mercury and Jupiter close again.
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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Autumn has arrived again, and the nights are getting longer. People are dusting off the various spheriods of their preferred football code. Anyone at night time practice can take some time off to stare up at the Autumn skies and see the Milky Way, and the constelations of Carina, Puppis and Vela, blaze across our night sky. Orion the Hunter and his dog Canis major are also magnificent. You don't have to practice a football code to look at the stars, of course. Nights are often cool now, so don't forget a footy jumper before doing any extended star watching.
While these pages are primarily intended for the use of people observing in Australia, non-Australian Southern Hemisphere observers will find most of the information here applies to them. The star information will be most helpful, when you correct your location for latitude (see the Stars section for appropriate location information). Most Moon phase, planet, comet and asteroid information will be very similar to what will be seen in New Zealand, South Africa and South America. Countries close to the equator (eg Indonesia) will have somewhat different southern and northern views, but the eastern and western views should be similar enough to get a good idea of what is going on.
Occultations, eclipses and aurora are highly location dependent, and it would be best to get a local almanac for these events. If there is no local almanac available, email me and I might be able to help you. I do try and give general info for occultations and eclipses in the Oceania area of the Southern Hemisphere.
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Aurora Alert UPDATED 01/04/13: A coronal mass ejection from an M class flare hit us square on on March 17. 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 still climbing towards solar maximum, but has been rather dissapointing so far apart from the odd event like the 17 March 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 slowly heading towards solar maxmum in mid 2013, and we can expect to see an increasing frequency of aurora. 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. 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 miniumin occured 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 2013; Occultation of Spica
7 January 2013; Moon Near Saturn
10-11 January 2013; Moon Near Venus
13 January 2013; Moon Near Mars
22 January 2013; Moon Near Jupiter
February 2013; Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon visible to the unaided eye
3 February 2013; Moon near Saturn
9-28 February 2013; Comet PanSTARRS visible in evening twilight
9 February 2013; Venus near moon in morning twilight
14 February 2013; Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon near small Magellanic Cloud
18 February 2013; Occultation of Jupiter
1-14 March 2013; Comet PanSTARRS visible in evening twilight
March 2013; Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon visible to the unaided eye
2 March 2013; Moon close to Saturn
11 March 2013; Moon close to Mercuy
18 March 2013; Moon close to Jupiter
21 March 2013; Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon at peak brightness
29 March 2013; Moon close to Saturn
8 April 2013, Moon close to Mercuury
14 April 2013, Moon close to Jupiter
26 April 2013, Partial Lunar Eclipse
28 April 2013, Saturn at opposition
5 May 2013 Eta Aquarid meter shower.
10 May 2013;Annular eclipse of the Sun
23 May 2013, Moon and Saturn close.
26 May 2013, Venus, Mercury and Jupiter close together.
29 May 2013, Venus, Mercury and Jupiter close together.
7 June 2013, Crescent Moon and Mars close together.
10 June 2013, Crescent Moon, Venus and Mercury close together.
19 June 2013, Moon and Saturn close.
21 June 2013, Mercury and Venus close.
30 June 2013, "Blue" first quarter Moon.
6 July 2013, Crescent Moon and Mars close.
7 July 2013, Crescent Moon and Jupiter close.
10 July 2013, Venus and crescent Moon close.
17 July 2013, Saturn and Moon close.
22 July 2013, Evening, Venus and Regulus closee.
22 July 2013, Morning, Mars and Jupiter close.
4 August 2013, Jupiter and thin crescent Moon close.
5 August 2013, Mars, Mercury and thin crescent Moon close.
10 August 2013, Venus and crescent Moon close.
13 August 2013, Staurn and Moon close.
1 September 2013, Crescent Moon close to Jupiter.
2 September 2013, Crescent Moon close to Mars.
6 September 2013, Crescent Moon close to Mercury.
6 September 2013, Venus and Spica close.
8 September 2013, Crescent Moon close to Venus.
25 September 2013, Mercury and Spica close.
1 October 2013, Crescent Moon and Mars close.
7 October 2013, Mercury, Saturn and Crescent Moon close.
8 October 2013, Venus close to crescent Moon.
16 October 2013, Mars close to Regulus.
17 October 2013, Venus close to Antares.
21 October 2013, Orionid meteor shower.
22 October 2013, Orionid meteor shower.
26 October 2013, Jupiter close to Moon.
7 November 2013, Crescent Moon close to Venus.
10-20 November 2013, Venus crosses Sagittarius.
17 November 2013, Leonid Meteor Shower.
22 November 2013, Moon close to Jupiter.
26 November 2013, Saturn and Mercury close.
28 November 2013, Crescent Moon close to Mars.
1 December 2013, Crescent Moon close to Saturn.
2 December 2013, Crescent Moon close to Mercury.
6 December 2013, Crescent Moon close to Venus.
13 December 2013, Geminid Meteor shower.
26 December 2013, Mars and Moon close.
29 December 2013, Saturn and Crescent Moon close.
Out in Space
Cassini watches Saturn's polar vortex.
Mars Curiosity Rover makes a huge panorama of Mount Sharp .
The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter watches a parachute flap in the wind.
Mercury MESSENGER has taken an extreme close-up.
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Last quarter on the 2nd
Current Phase of the Moon.
New Moon is on the 10th
First quarter on the 18th
Full moon on the 25th
May 10; annular eclipse of Sun. May 11; Crescent Moon close to Venus. May 12; Jupiter close to the crescent Moon. May 22; occultation of Spica, North-eastern Australia only. May 23; Moon near Saturn.
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 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 evening sky facing west in Melbourne on May 12 at 5:45 pm AEST showing the the western horizon with crescent Moon near Jupiter and Venus. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 5:45 pm ACST Adelaide.
The evening sky facing west in Melbourne on May 26 at 5:45 pm AEST showing Jupiter, Venus and Mercury close together. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 5:45 pm ACST Adelaide).
Mercury returns to the evening sky late this month, and joins the bright planets Jupiter and Venus. The planet will be quite low, and diffict to spot without c a clear level horizon. On the 26th and 27th, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter are close together, and fall within a circle 3 fingerwidths in diameter. Mercury remains close to Jupiter and Venus for the rest of the month. On the 31st, Mercury is just over a handpan from the western horizon, half an hour before sunrise, and forms a straight line with Venus and Jupiter.
Venus returns to the evening sky in May. It starts the month very low on the horzion and is far difficult to observe. On May 1 Venus is just on the western horizon half an hour after sunset. On May 11 Venus is around two fingerwidths from the crescent Moon, this will be difficult to see in the twilight unless you have a very flat, level horizon like the ocean. On May 12 the crescent Moon is between Venus and Jupiter. On May 15 Venus is just two fingerwidths above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. Venus approaches Jupiter, and is itself approached by Mercury in the latter half of the Month. On May 26 and 27 Venus, Jupiter and Mercury are close together. On the 28th Venus and Jupiter are just a fingerwith apart. On the 31st Venus is a handspan above the western horizon half an hour after sunset, forming a straight line with Jupiter and Mercury.
Mars is too close to the Sun to see this month, and will return to the morning sky in June.
Jupiter is now very low to the western horizon. It is now between the horns of Taurus the bull to the right the Hyades cluster, making a rather attractive sight before setting. Over the Month Jupiter sinks towards the horizon, meeting up with Venus and Mercury as they rise. On May 1 Jupiter is just under three handspans above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. On May 12 the crescent Moon is very close to Jupiter, with Venus below it. On May 15 Jupiter is just under 2 handspans above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. On May 26 and 27 Venus, Jupter and Mercury are close together. On the 28th Venus and Jupiter are just a fingerwith apart. On May 31 Jupiter is just under a handspan above the western horizon half an hour after sunset,and forms a line with Venus and Mercury.
In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiters Moons are always interesting, but with Jupiter so close to the horizon, observing them in the early twilight will be difficult.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 Thu 2 May 17:59 Io : Transit Begins T Thu 2 May 18:46 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Fri 3 May 18:09 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Fri 3 May 18:42 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 3 May 19:02 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Wed 8 May 17:52 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 12 May 17:33 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Sun 12 May 18:48 Eur: Transit Ends S Wed 15 May 18:42 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 18 May 18:46 Io : Transit Ends S Mon 20 May 17:52 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 21 May 17:41 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Sun 26 May 18:22 Io : Reappears from EclipseSaturn is just past opposition this month, but it is still big and bright. Saturn will be visible all night long and will be excellent to view in telescopes all through this month. Saturn spends the month in Libra. Saturn and the bright stars Antares and Arcturus form a broad triangle in the sky. Saturns golden colour distiguishes it from it from white Spica, orange Arcturus and red Aldebaran; the other bright objects in the north-eastern to northern sky near Saturn. On May 1 Saturn is 9 handspans above the northern horizon at 10 pm local time. On May 15 Saturn is 10 handspans above the northern horizon at 10 pm local time. On the 23rd the Moon is three fingerwidths from Saturn. On May 31 Saturn is just over 10 handspans above the northern horizon at 10 pm local time.
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Iridium Flares, the International Space Station and other satellites
See this amazing site for images of the space station taken through a telescope.
Iridium flares add a bit of spectacle to the night sky. The Iridium satellite network was set up to give global phone coverage, so an Iridium satellite is almost always over head. Occasionally, one of the antenna of the satellites is aligned so that it reflects the sun towards an observer, giving a brilliant flare, often out-shining Venus. However, the visibility of Iridium flares is VERY dependent on observer position, so you need a prediction for your spot within about 30 km. Hence I'm referring you to a web site for predictions rather than doing it myself.
See an Irridium Flare at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box
- Heavens above, an excellent site. You need to choose your location or manually enter a longitude and latitude (once done the site remembers this). Predicts Iridium Flare occurrence, and gives the visibility the space shuttle, the International space station and heaps of other satellites. I find this the most useful site.
Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
See the International Space Station at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box
Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
Another site, JPASS, doesn't do Iridium flares, but is very cool and does the International Space Station, and many other satellites. However, although the output is flashy, it's harder to use than heavens above.
- The JPASS site from NASA.
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Date Meteor Shower ZHR Illumination 6/05/2013 eta-Aquarids 65 0.25
Morning sky on Wednesday May 8 looking east as seen from Adelaide at 5:00 am local time in South Australia showing the eta Aquariid meteor shower radiant, the crescent Moon, Uranus and comet Lemmon. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local timeThe figure ZHR is zenithal hourly rate. This is the number of meteors that a single observer would see per hour if the shower's "point of origin", or radiant, were at the zenith and the sky were dark enough for 6.5-magnitude stars to be visible to the naked eye. In practise, you will never see this many meteors as the radiant will be some distnce from the Zenith. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the lower the figure, the darker the sky.
Although the actual peak is on 6th at 13:00 AEST, for Australia the best time to see the eta-Aquarids is in the early morning of May 8 and 9, between around 4 and 5 am, when Aquarius is fairly high above the horizon and the crescent Moon is low (on the 7th the Moon significantly interferes with seeing the meteors, but it may still be worth watching). You may see between 1-3 meteors every 3 minutes at this time. The radiant of the shower is about five handspans up from the eastern horizon, and three handspans to the left of due east at 4 am. A map of the radiant at 5 am is here (aquarids.gif). The waning crescent Moon will interfere a little bit with this meteor shower on the 8th, but not enough to significantly reduce the rates.
Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 8 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 3 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 radiotelescopes 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 Spica by the Moon May 22.
The evening sky facing north-east in Darwin on May 22 at 19:00 pm ACST showing the waxing Moon just about to cover Spica (alpha Virginis). (similar views will be seen from other locations north of Bundaberg at a similar local time eg 20:05 AEST Cairns). The inset shows a telescopic veiw of the Moon at 19:00 ACST, with Spica about to go behind the Moon.
The waxing Moon passes in front of the bright star Spica in the constellation of Virgo on the evening of May 22. Spica is a bright white visible to the unaided eye (magnitude 1). The occultation will only be seen from north-eastern Australia, anywhere north of a line running just below Darwin to Bundaderg. Every where else will see Spica dramatically close to the Moon (In Adelaide and Alice Springs the Moon is less than half a lunar diameter from Spica, and in Brisbane it floats just above the surface, almost grazing). Nambour sees a graze starting at 20:01 AEST.
From Darwin the star disappears behind the dark limb of the Moon at 19:17 ACST, and reapppears at 19:43 ACST. From Rockhampton the star disappears behind the dark limb of the Moon at 20:35 AEST, and reapppears at 21:11 AEST. From Cairns and Townsville the star disappears behind the dark limb of the Moon at 20:05 AEST, and reapppears at 21:07 AEST.
With the Moon nearly Full, this event is really best seen with binoculars or a small telescope (especially for the reappearance of the star on the bright limb of the Moon). 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 occulattion to watch the star dissapear (so you are not mucking around with equiment at the last moment).
Annular Solar Eclipse May 10:
Annular Eclipse as seen from Tennant Creek at maximum eclipse, 8:07 am ACST. Simulated in Celestia.
On the morning of May 10, there will be an annular Solar eclipse. In an annular eclipse the Moon does not completely cover the Sun, and the Sun forms a thin ring around the Moon at maximum eclipse depth.
The annular eclipse will be seen from a thin strip in WA, the Northern Territory and remote far north Queensland. Everywhere else will see a partial eclipse of varying depth, the north-east coast of Australia having the best views. The eclipse starts shortly after sunrise. In places along the annular eclipse path, such as Tennant Creek (NT) and Musgrave Roadhouse (QLD), viewers will see a thin rim of Sun around the moon.
Elsewhere viewers will see between 13% (Hobart) - 83% (Cairns) of the Sun covered by the Moon.
A diagram showing eclipse times in Universal Time is here, and an interactive map of the path is here. Click on the map for local timings of the eclipse.
Do NOT look directly at the Sun! Do not use so called filters. Over exposed film, smoked glass etc. used as filters are NOT, repeat NOT safe. Only special solar-rated viewing spectacles from astronomical suppliers should be used (for one example see here), they may cost a bit, but your eyesight is without price. Never use eyepiece filters for telescopes. These can crack at inopportune times and destroy your eyesight. In the annular eclipse path, as there is always some of the solar disk visible, at no time is it safe to view the eclipse with the unaided eye.
The easiest and cheapest way to observe this event is by making a pinhole in a stiff square of cardboard and projecting the image of the Sun onto a flat surface. You are basically making a simple pinhole camera, which will reveal the changes to the Suns outline quite satisfactorily. A card with a 1 mm hole should be projected onto a surface (eg white paper, or a white wall) about 20 cm away, a 5 mm hole should be projected onto a surface 1 to 1.5 meters away.
You need to create a reasonable sized image, so you need a fair distance between the pinhole and the surface you project the image on. This will mean the image is going to be fairly dim, so you also need some sort of sun shield to keep in image in shadow. I use the longest available postpac postal tube, with alfoil over the top (and the pinhole in the alfoil), and wide ring of stiff cardboard to ensure that the image of the sun is projected into a dark area. This link will show you several methods to make pinhole projection systems.
You can also use binocular and telescopic projection systems. This link will show you how to make safe solar viewing and telescope projection systems. Here is my step by step guide to making a binocular projection system, and a guide to aiming your binoculars or telescope when you can't actually look at the Sun. And this is the projection system I use with my refractor telescope.
Remember, do NOT look directly at the Sun, as irreparable eye damage or blindness can occur (see this video for a graphic demonstration).
City Eclipse Start Mid Eclipse Eclipse End % Sun covered Adelaide (ACST) 7:09 am 8:15 am 9:22 am 38 Alice Springs (ACST) below horizon 8:07 am 9:31 am 79 Brisbane (AEST) 7:41 am 8:58 am 10:28 am 40 Cairns (AEST) 7:28 am 8:49 am 10:27 am 83 Canberra (AEST) 7:50 am 8:55 am 10:10 am 26 Darwin (ACST) below horizon 8:07 am 9:28 am 68 Hobart (AEST) 8:06 am 8:59 am 9:57 am 13 Melbourne (AEST) 7:50 am 8:52 am 10:02 am 25 Musgrave Roadhouse (AEST) 7:26 am 8:47 am 9:29 am 99 Perth (AWST) below horizon below horizon 7:45 am - Rockhampton (AEST) 7:34 am 8:54 am 10:30 am 56 Sydney (AEST) 7:50 am 8:57 am 10:14 am 27 Tennant Creek (ACST) 6:57 am 8:07 am 9:28 am 99 Townsville (AEST) 7:29 am 8:49 am 9:28 am 74
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 May 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 May and assumes a fairly level horizon. Starset occurs progressively earlier each day, so these descriptions are valid for 9.00 pm on the 15th and 8.00pm on the 30th. Readers fom 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.
During May, the Milky Way is still a spectacular sight as it arches across the sky, but it will progressively leave the zenith.
Scorpio is now sufficiently high in the sky to be properly appreciated. It is a very distinctive constellation looking somewhat like the hook shown in the "use no hooks" cartoons on boxes. Facing due East, going up about eight handspans you will see six bright stars forming a T, with the tail of the "T" nearly parallel to the horizon and a curved "tail" of stars. The bright red giant star Antares (Alpha Scorpius, the middle star in the three stars forming the tail of the T) is quite prominent. The area around Scorpio is quite rewarding in binoculars, and there is a small but pretty globular cluster about one 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.
Just below Scorpio and to the right is Sagittarius, this constellation is particularly good for binocular viewing, but will only be far enough above the horizon later in the month.
To the left by one handspan and slightly higher is a broad triangle of stars that marks Libra, the balance. To the left of Libra and around two handspans up and three handspans left is bright white Spica, the brightest start in the constellation of Virgo. Spica marks to top righthand corner of a rectangular group of stars that marks out the body of Virgo, the virgin.
Looking now to the right of Scorpio, about a handspan away from the curved tail is a small squarish constellation Ara, another handspan again brings you to the edge of the large, but dim, constellation of Pavo. Delta Pavonis, about another handspan away, is one of the handful of sunlike stars within 20 light years of Earth that might have terrestrial planets in its habitable zone.
Directly above Virgo by four handspans is the long rambling constellation Hydra, and crater the cup with its distinct, but upside down, cup shape. Three handspans above Spica is the kite shape of Corvus the crow. Hydra has a nice open cluster, M48, near its head (about 6 handspans to the right of Spica) that is quite attractive in binoculars, four handspans above Spica is a nice globular cluster, just visible to the naked eye, but best in binoculars. About four handspans above Spica and about one to the right is M83, a galaxy which can easily be seen in small binoculars on a dark night.
Five handpsans to left of Virgo, is Leo, with the sickle of Leo, an upside down question mark with bright Regulus (alpha Leonis) at the end of the "handle", being quite clear. Cancer, which contains the attractive "Beehive" cluster, is 4 handspans to the left of the sickle of Leo.
3 handspans up from the western horizon is Canis major. The bright white star is Sirius (alpha Canis Majoris), the brightest star in the sky. The constellation of Canis Majoris has a number of open clusters that are well worth exploring with binoculars, Most of these lie two handspands to the right of Sirius, amongst the V shaped group of stars that marks the tail of Canis major. Below Sirius by two hand spans, and one handspan to the right is M47. This cluster is quite nice in binoculars.
Just above Canis Major is a battered group of stars that forms Puppis, the poop deck of the former constellation Argo Navis, through which comet H1 Lee is passing. Just below the Zenith is Vela, the sail of that same ship. When, Argo Navis was broken up into Puppis, Vela and Carina (the keel) in 1750, they forgot to assign alpha and beta stars to Vela, and it's brightest star is at magnitude 1.5 is Gamma Velorum. Gama Velorum is a double star which may be resolved in good binoculars. The milky way passes through Vela, and there are many open clusters which can be seen with binoculars or the naked eye. One of the best of these is NGC2547, a little below gamma Velorum. Vela is also home to the spectacular Gum nebula (which can only be seen in telescopic photographs), and the second pulsar to be observed optically. Kappa and delta Velorum, with iota and epsilon Carina, make the "false cross". A high definition map of Vela is here.
To the left of Vela, is Carina (the keel). A high definition map of this region is here. Looking almost anywhere in the area stretching between Canis major and the Southern Cross will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area two handspans 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 to the left of the Southern Pleiades are two rich open clusters, and the barely visible star Eta Carina. Eta Carina's spectacular nebula is only dimly seen in binoculars. Five hand spans to the right of the Southern Cross is the False Cross, just below the False Cross is a good open cluster, just visible to the naked eye, and very nice in binoculars. One handspan to the left of the False Cross is another rich open cluster, again, very nice in binoculars. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star 8 handspans from the south-westen horizon .
Facing due South, three handspans to the left and eleven handspans up are Alpha and beta Centauri the so called "pointers", with Alpha being the yellow star which is closest to the horizon, and Beta the blue white star a handspan above and a little to the right. Alpha centauri is the closest star to our sun at around 4 light years. However, recent measurements with the Hippacaros satellite put the system 300 million kilometers further away than previously thought. Alpha centauri is actually a triple star, consisting of two sunlike stars and a red dwarf, Proxima centauri, which is the closest of the triple stars to earth.
Slightly to the right again, and following a line through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, 15 handspans above the horizon at about the 12 o'clock position on a clock. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.
Just below the Southern Cross is the coal sack. This dark area against the glow of the milky way represents a large dust cloud and is clearly visible in dark skies. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just below Beta Crucis, the southernmost bright star in the Cross at the moment. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly.
Returning to Alpha Centauri, a handspan from this star to the left and a handspan up is a small star, half a hand span up (and about a handspan to the left) is a fuzzy star, this is omega Centauri (5139 on the eastern sky map), a globular cluster of stars which is quite spectacular in good binoculars, and more spectacular than 47 Tucana (see below). Another handspan to the left and about two fingers down is Centaurus A, a very radio bright galaxy (5128 on the map). You need a dark night and binoculars (at least 10 x 30) to see it, but it is one of the few galaxies you can see in the southern hemisphere (outside of the small and large Mangellanic clouds) without a telescope.
Four handspans straight up from south, and half a handspan to the right of due south, is the extended nebulosity of the Small Magellanic cloud, one of the dwarf satellite galaxies to the Milky Way. This feature is best viewed on a dark night, away from the city. In this nebulosity is what looks to be a fuzzy star, this is 47 Tucana, a spectacular globular cluster that is very nice through binoculars. Recent evidence suggests that 47 tucana was a dwarf galaxy that was captured by our own and stripped of most of its stars, leaving the current globular core.
Up six hand spans from due south and four handspans to the right is the Large Magellanic cloud, the largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies. Binoculars will reveal a rather attractive nebula near it, the Tarantula nebula.
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How to use the maps
Comparison of a section of a skymap showing the Southern Cross (Crux) and pointers, with the appearance of the night sky. The map and sky are for 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 MapsA view of the Eastern May sky at 10.00pm AEDST on 1 May can be downloaded here (maysky_e.gif 30 Kb) and a view of the western May sky can be downloaded here (maysky_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 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, especially as Acrobat 3.0-4.0 can only display them side on, but print much better and come with legends. However, Acrobat 4.05 and higher can display them in the proper orientation.
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[December Skies] [January Skies] [February Skies] [March Skies] [April Skies] Return to Menu
Cheers! And good star gazing!
Ian's Astrophotography GallerySome of the photographs/images I have taken in recent years of astronomical phenomena that may be of interest.
- Partial Lunar eclipse. Partial Lunar eclipse, July 5, 2001
- My Solar eclipse report. Pictures from the Dec 4, 2002 solar eclipse in South Australia
- Transit of Mercury pictures! 7 May 2003
- Images of the partial solar eclipse 24 Nov 2003
- Transit of Venus June 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 2013 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 grunty PC and OpenGL.
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.
This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2013 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: Wednesday, 1 May 2013, 11:30:13 PM