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.
"Blue" new Moon this month! Asteroid Vesta bright enough to see easily in binoculars. March 10; Moon close to Jupiter. March 12; Moon at Apogee. March 18; Moon close to Mars and Spica. March 20-21; Moon close to Saturn. March 27-28; crescent Moon close to Venus. March 28, Moon at Perigee. March 29; crescent Moon close to Mercury.
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 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 dissapointing 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 maxmum in 2014, and we can hope to see an increasing frequency of aurora, although it has been generally disapointing 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 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 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 Aquarid 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 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 sees the dance of the auroras.
Mars Curiosity Rover sees the Earth and Moon .
Mars Express ten years of observations.
The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter finds more evidence of water flows on Mars.
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New Moon is on the 1st
Current Phase of the Moon.
First quarter on the 8th
Full moon on the 17th
Last quarter on the 24th
New Moon is on the 31st
"Blue" new Moon this month! March 10; Moon close to Jupiter. March 12; Moon at Apogee. March 18; Moon close to Mars and Spica. March 20-21; Moon close to Saturn. March 27-28; crescent Moon close to Venus. March 28, Moon at Perigee. March 29; crescent Moon close to Mercury.
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 morning sky facing east in Melbourne on March 27 at 6:00 am AEDST showing the the eastern horizon with Moon near Venus and Mercury below. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 5:30 am ACDST Adelaide.
The evening sky facing east in Melbourne on March 18 at 11:00 pm AEDST showing the Moon and Mars close together. Saturn and the minor planets Vesta and Ceres are below Mars (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 11:00 pm ACDST Adelaide).
Mercury is at its best in the morning sky this month. On the 1st, Mercury is one and a half handspans from the eastern horizon, an hour before sunrise. On the 14th Mercury is the furthest from the Sun, and will head towards the horizon after this date. On the 15th, Mercury is almost two handspans from the eastern horizon, an hour before sunrise. On the 29th, Mercury is a handspan from the thin crescent Moon. By the 31st, Mercury is still nearly two handspans from the eastern horizon, an hour before sunrise.
Venus slowly rises in early morning sky in March, in small telescopes it goes from a prominent crescent to a distinct "half-Moon" shape. On March 1 Venus is over four handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. Venus moves from Sagittarius into the constellations of Capricorn and Aquarius this month. On March 15 Venus is just over 5 handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On March 23 Venus is at its greatest elongation from the Sun. On March 27-28 Venus is around a handspan from the crescent Moon. On the 31st Venus is over three handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.
Earth is at equinox on Friday, 21 March. At this time the day and night are equal lenght.
Mars rises higher in the evening sky this month, while it is still prominent in the morning sky. Red (well, sort of orange) Mars moves slowly through the constellation of Virgo this month, never far from the bright star Spica. On March 1 Mars is nearly two handspans above the eastern horizon above the eastern horizon 11:00 pm local daylight saving time. By March 15th Mars is nearly four handspans above the eastern horizon 11:0 pm local daylight saving time. The Moon is close to Mars on the 18th, forming a triangle with Mars and Spica. By the 31st, Mars is nearly six handspans above the eastern horizon above the eastern horizon 11:00 pm local daylight saving time.
Jupiter remains prominent in the evening sky this month. It continues to spend the month in Gemini. On March 1 Jupiter is rising above the north-eastern horizon at twilight and is nearly five handspans above the northern horizon at 10 pm local daylight saving time. On March 10 the waxing Moon is a handspan from Jupiter. On March 15 Jupiter is just under five handspans above the northern horizon at 10 pm local daylight saving time. On March 31 Jupiter is just under four handspans above the north-eastern horizon at 10 pm local daylight saving time.
In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiters Moons are always interesting, and there are a few interesting transits this month, the 10th and 20th are particularly good.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 Sat 1 Mar 21:06 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Sun 2 Mar 2:05 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Sun 2 Mar 20:37 Gan: Transit Begins T Sun 2 Mar 23:48 Gan: Transit Ends Mon 3 Mar 1:08 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins S Mon 3 Mar 1:20 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 3 Mar 21:12 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 3 Mar 21:13 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Mon 3 Mar 21:23 Cal: Disappears into Eclipse Tue 4 Mar 1:14 Cal: Reappears from Eclipse Tue 4 Mar 1:43 Io : Disappears into Occultation Tue 4 Mar 22:50 Io : Transit Begins T Tue 4 Mar 23:59 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Wed 5 Mar 1:06 Io : Transit Ends S Wed 5 Mar 20:11 Io : Disappears into Occultation Wed 5 Mar 22:50 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 5 Mar 23:36 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Thu 6 Mar 20:45 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Sat 8 Mar 0:29 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 8 Mar 20:21 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 8 Mar 23:34 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Mon 10 Mar 0:20 Gan: Transit Begins T Mon 10 Mar 21:06 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Mon 10 Mar 21:23 Eur: Transit Ends S Mon 10 Mar 21:59 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 10 Mar 23:49 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Tue 11 Mar 20:54 Cal: Transit Begins T Wed 12 Mar 0:23 Cal: Transit Ends Wed 12 Mar 0:42 Io : Transit Begins T Wed 12 Mar 22:02 Io : Disappears into Occultation Wed 12 Mar 23:38 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 13 Mar 1:31 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Thu 13 Mar 20:24 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Thu 13 Mar 21:26 Io : Transit Ends S Thu 13 Mar 22:27 Gan: Reappears from Eclipse S Thu 13 Mar 22:40 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Fri 14 Mar 20:00 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Sat 15 Mar 1:17 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 15 Mar 21:08 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 17 Mar 21:12 Eur: Transit Begins T Mon 17 Mar 22:47 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 17 Mar 23:41 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Mon 17 Mar 23:53 Eur: Transit Ends S Wed 19 Mar 20:39 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Wed 19 Mar 23:55 Io : Disappears into Occultation Thu 20 Mar 0:26 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 20 Mar 20:17 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 20 Mar 21:03 Io : Transit Begins T Thu 20 Mar 21:13 Gan: Reappears from Occultation T Thu 20 Mar 22:19 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Thu 20 Mar 23:08 Gan: Disappears into Eclipse ST Thu 20 Mar 23:19 Io : Transit Ends S Fri 21 Mar 0:36 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Fri 21 Mar 21:55 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Sat 22 Mar 21:56 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 24 Mar 23:35 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 24 Mar 23:45 Eur: Transit Begins T Tue 25 Mar 19:26 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 26 Mar 23:17 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Thu 27 Mar 21:05 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 27 Mar 21:55 Gan: Disappears into Occultation Thu 27 Mar 22:57 Io : Transit Begins T Fri 28 Mar 0:14 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Fri 28 Mar 20:17 Io : Disappears into Occultation Fri 28 Mar 23:50 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Sat 29 Mar 19:42 Io : Transit Ends S Sat 29 Mar 21:00 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Sat 29 Mar 22:44 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 31 Mar 20:29 Gan: Shadow Transit EndsSaturn is climbing higher in the morning sky this month, and is visible in the late evening. Saturn is now easy to view in telescopes in the morning as it is reasonably high above the horizon before twilight. Saturn spends the month in Libra. On March 1 Saturn is 11 handspans above the northern horizon an hour before sunrise. On March 15 Saturn is 11 handspans above the northern horizon an hour before sunrise. On March 20-21 the Moon is close to Saturn. By March 31 Saturn is just over 9 handspans above the north-western horizon an hour before sunrise.
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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
The figure ZHR is zenithal hourly rate. This is the number of meteors that a single observer would see per hour if the shower's "point of origin", or radiant, were at the zenith and the sky were dark enough for 6.5-magnitude stars to be visible to the naked eye. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the lower the figure, the darker the sky.
There are no significant showers this month.
Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 10 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 radiotelescopes is here.
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The asteroid 4 Vesta is easily visible in binoculars this month, reaching unaided eye threshold by the end of the month. It is shadowed by the asteroid 1 Ceres.
The asteroids Vesta and Ceres are visible in binoculars below Mars in the constellation of Virgo. Vesta is magnitude 6.6 at the begining of the month but it will be easily seen in binoculars, even in suburban locations. You can see Vesta move over successive nights, so why not try your hand at sketching what you see in binoculars.By the ebnd of the month Vesta is magnitude 6.0, just at unaided eye threshold under dark skies. The evening sky map in the Planest section shows the lcoation of the two asteroids, and a higher magnification map suitable for printing for Vesta using binoculars is just above.
Ceres starts the month at magnitude 7.7. This is reasonably easily seen in strong binoculars (10x50's and up). Like Vesta, you can still follow it's movement. By the end of the month it is magnitude 7.2
There are currently no comets observable with the unaided eye. A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.
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No interesting naked-eye occultations this month.
No significant eclipses this month.
Find local sunrise/sunset and twilight times for your city or location (courtesy of Heavens Above).
Use either the drop down box for the listed cities, or type in your latitude, longitude and city in the boxes below.
Type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
While most stars seem to shine with a constant brightness, there are some that undergo regular, dramatic change in brightness. The classic variables Mira and Algol are currently unobservable.
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The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEDST in Melbourne on March 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 March 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.
Facing west, Cetus, the whale, lies on the horizon.
The mid sky is dominated by the rambling constellation Erandius, the river, and bright Achernar, alpha Eridanus. Achernar is the 9th brightest star in the sky, and is a blue supergiant. Epsilon erandi is notable for being the 10th closest star to our solar system. A sun-like star, epsilon erandi has recently been discovered to have a dust disk which may indicate the presence of planets.
Directly on the eastern horizon is the constellation of Virgo, this will become clearer during the month.
Directly above Virgo is the long rambling contellation Hydra, and crater the cup with its distinct, but upside down, cup shape.
Five handpsans to left of Virgo, and up by five handspans is Leo, with the sickle of Leo being quite clear. Cancer, which contains the attractive "Beehive" cluster, is 3 handspans above and 5 handspans to the left of the sickle of Leo.
The rectangle of Gemini is 6 handspans to the left of Regulus and two handspans up. The bright stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux form an attarctive pair less than a handspan apart.
The constellations of Tarus, the bull, Orion the hunter and Canis major, Orion's hunting dog are now in the mid-north western sky.
13 handspans from the horizon just under the Zenith and slightly north west 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 handspand 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.
Slightly to the right of Sirius and below by about four handspans is the distinctive saucepan shape of Orions belt. The handle of the saucepan is Orions sword, which contains some good naked eye open clusters, and the final star in the handle hosts the famous Orion nebula, which is visible to the naked eye under clear skies. Directly above the handle of the saucepan is bright Rigel (beta Orionis). Directly below the saucepan is the bright redish Betelgeuse (alpha Orinonis), a red giant star.
To the right of Orions belt and below by about 4 handspans is Alderbran (alpha Tauri), another red giant which forms the base of the V shaped group of stars called the Hyades, which forms the head of Taurus. Further to the left again is a faint, but pretty, compact cluster of stars called the Pleiades (the seven sisters). The Pleiades are particularly beautiful through binoculars.
Facing directly north, Auriga, the Charioteer is disapearing below the horizon. Four handspans up is Gemini, with bright Castor and Pollux just to the right.
Facing due South, five handspans to the left and five 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 somewhat to the left. To the left again, and following a line through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, seven handspans above the horizon at about the 9 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 slightly up is a small star, another hand span on 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 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.
Eight handspans straight up, and eight handspans to the right of due south (or two handspans down and three left of Achenar), 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.
Up twelve hand spans from due south and five 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.
Above the south-eastern horizon the constellations Vela, Pupis and Carina are now high enough to appreciate their spectacular collections of nebula and clusters. Puppis is nearly at the zenith. A high definition map of this region is here. Looking almost anywhere in the area streching between Canis major and the Southern Cross will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area two handspans up from the Southern Cross and two handspans to the left 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 handspans up from the Southern Cross and one handspans to the left 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), the second brightest star in the sky, is 11 handspans from the southern horizon above the main band of stars.
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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 March sky at 10.00pm AEDST on 1 March can be downloaded here (marsky_e.gif 30 Kb) and a view of the western March sky can be downloaded here (marsky_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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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 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.
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: Thursday, 27 February 2014, 11:30:13 PM