Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
April 8-9; Crescent Moon close to Mercury. April 14-15; Jupiter close to the crescent Moon. April 25-26; Moon near Saturn. April 26; morning, partial Lunar Eclipse. April 26; Occultation of Alpha Librae. April 28; Saturn at opposition (when it is biggest and brightest as seen from Earth).
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 thinks Saturn is a junk shop.
Mars Curiosity Rover finds more evidence for the action of water on Mars .
The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter finds buried flood channels.
Mercury MESSENGER has a brilliant scallable map of Mercury.
The Dawn mission sees Vesta's north pole.
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Last quarter on the 3rd
Current Phase of the Moon.
New Moon is on the 10th
First quarter on the 18th
Full moon on the 26th
April 8-9; Crescent Moon close to Mercury. April 14-15; Jupiter close to the crescent Moon. April 25-26; Moon near Saturn. April 26; morning, partial Lunar eclipse. April 26; Occultation of Alpha Librae.
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 April 8 at 5:30 am AEDST showing the the eastern horizon with crescent Moon near Mercury. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 6:30 am ACDST Adelaide.
The evening sky facing north-west in Melbourne on April 18 at 7:00 pm AEDST showing Jupiter near the Moon. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 7:00 pm ACDST Adelaide).
Mercury is prominent in the morning sky until the middle of this month, and will be the best time to see Mercury in the morning this year. On the 1st, Mercury is just over 2 handspans from the eastern horizon, an hour before sunrise. On April 8 Mercury is close to the thin crescent Moon. On the 15th, Mercury is two handspans from the eastern horizon, an hour before sunrise. On the 30th, Mercury over a handpans from the eastern horizon, half an hour before sunrise.
Venus is too close to the Sun to see this month, returning to the evening sky in May.
Mars is too close to the Sun to see this month, and will return to the morning sky in June.
Jupiter was at opposition on December 3 2012, when it was closest and brightest as seen from Earth. It is still the brightest object above the north-western horizon in the early evening, below the Hyades cluster, making a rather attractive sight before seeting later in the evening. On April 1 Jupiter is just under three handspans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On April 15 Jupiter is 2 handspans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On April 14 and 15 the crescent Moon is very close to Jupiter. On April 30 Jupiter is just over a handspan above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset.
In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiters Moons are always interesting, on April 9 and 16 there are a series of excelent transits of Jupiters Moons.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 Tue 2 Apr 19:41 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 2 Apr 19:47 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Wed 3 Apr 19:40 Gan: Disappears into Eclipse Wed 3 Apr 22:07 Gan: Reappears from Eclipse Thu 4 Apr 21:21 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 8 Apr 21:10 Io : Disappears into Occultation Tue 9 Apr 19:30 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Tue 9 Apr 20:31 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 9 Apr 20:38 Io : Transit Ends S Tue 9 Apr 21:43 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Wed 10 Apr 19:16 Eur: Transit Ends S Wed 10 Apr 19:21 Gan: Disappears into Occultation S Wed 10 Apr 21:22 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Sun 14 Apr 19:41 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 16 Apr 20:26 Io : Transit Begins T Tue 16 Apr 21:20 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 16 Apr 21:26 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Wed 17 Apr 19:33 Eur: Transit Begins T Wed 17 Apr 20:50 Io : Reappears from Eclipse T Fri 19 Apr 18:50 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Fri 19 Apr 18:51 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 21 Apr 20:21 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends Sun 21 Apr 20:30 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 24 Apr 19:40 Io : Disappears into Occultation Thu 25 Apr 19:10 Io : Transit Ends S Thu 25 Apr 20:03 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Fri 26 Apr 19:41 GRS: Crosses Central MeridianSaturn is at opposition this month, when it is biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. 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. On April 1 Saturn is just under 5 handspans above the eastern horizon at 10 pm local time. On April 15 Saturn is just under 7 handspans above the eastern horizon at 10 pm local time. On the 25th and 26th the Moon is close to Saturn. On APril 28 Saturn will be at opposition. On April 30 Saturn is just over 9 handspans above the eastern 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 22/04/2013 Lyrids 18 0.25
The figure ZHR is zenithal hourly rate. This is the number of meteors that a single observer would see per hour if the shower's "point of origin", or radiant, were at the zenith and the sky were dark enough for 6.5-magnitude stars to be visible to the naked eye. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the lower the figure, the darker the sky.
The Lyrids are a northern shower, but can be observed by most mainland Australians. The best time to observe the Lyrids is in the morning between 2.00-5.00 am. However, the Lyrids low rates, combined with their closeness to the horizon, mean that few meteors are likely to be seen. To see the Lyrids, look to the north in the morning sky. About two handspans above the northern horizon is the bright, blue-white star alpha Lyra, the brightest star near the northern horizon. The Lyrid radiant is just above it and to the left by around a handspan.
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 Alpha Librae by the Moon, April 26.
The morning sky facing north-east in Adelaide on April 26 at 19:00 pm ACST showing the full Moon just about to cover Alpha Librae,(indicated by circle). (similar views will be seen from other locations at a similar local time eg 20:01 pm AEST Brisbane. The inset shows a telescopic viw of the Moon at 19:30 ACST, with alpha1 (the dim star) and alpha2 Librae about to go benind the Moon.The waning Moon passes in front of the bright star Alpha Librae (which rejoices in the name Zubenelgenubi) in the constellation of the Libra the balance on the evening of Aprl 26. Alpha Librae is a double star with both stars visible to the unaided eye (magnitude 3 and 5 components). The times shown in the table below are for the bright component ofthe double star, but the 5th magnitude star dissapears and reappears 5 minutes earlier.
With the Moon Full, this event is really best seen with binoculars or a small telescope (especially for the disappearance 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).
City Disappears behind bright limb Reappears from dark limb Australia Adelaide (ACST) 19:41 20:30 Brisbane (AEST) 20:01 21:05 Canberra (AEST) 20:12 21:11 Darwin (ACST) -- 20:03 Alice Springs (ACST) 19:18 20:14 Townsville (AEST) 19:58 20:47 Hobart (AEST) 20:29 21:14 Melbourne (AEST) 20:17 21:08 Perth (AWST) -- 18:48 --> Sydney (AEST) 20:10 21:12
Partial Lunar Eclipse April 26, 2013:
North-western horizon as seen from Adelaide at 5:30 am ACST on April 26. The Moon is near mid-eclipse, but only a faint darkening will be seen.
On the early morning of 26 April there there be a partial eclipse of the Moon. This is a very poor eclipse, with only a small bite take out of the Moon's northern edge. WA has the best view, while the east coast sees the eclipse in various stages of twilight, and may be quite difficult to see. Mid-eclipse is 6:07 am AEST (deep in twilight), 5:37 am ACST and 4:07 am AWST.
See here for a map and contact timings in UT for sites outside Australia
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 April 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 April 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.
At the begining of April, the Milky Way is a spectacular sight as it arches across the sky.
Just 4 handspans above the eastern horizon is the triangle of faint stars that make up Libra, the balance. To the right and closer to the horizon is the distinctive hook shape of Scorpio, the scorpion, which will become prominent in the later months. To the left of Libra and around two handspans up and three handspans left is bright white Spica, the brightest start in the contstellation of Virgo. Spica marks to top righthand corner of a rectangular group of stars that marks out the body of Virgo, the virgin.
Directly above Virgo by about four handspans are the long rambling contellation 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.
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 5 handspans to the left of the sickle of Leo.
The rectangle of Gemini is 6 handspans to the left of Regulus and 4 handspans down (just two handspans above the horizon). The bright stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux form an attarctive pair less than a handspan apart.
To the left again of Gemini, and just above the western Horizon by two 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.
4 handspans up from the belt of Orion 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.
Just above Canis Major is a battered group of stars that forms Puppis, the poop deck of the former constellation Argo Navis. At the very 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 its 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.
Just below Vela, to the south, is Carina (the keel). 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 Peliades" 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 Peliades are two rich open clusters, and the barely visible star Eta Carina. Eta Carina's spectacular nebula is only dimly seen in binoculars. Two handspans below the zenith to the south 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 9 handspans from the south-westen horizon .
Facing due South, five handspans to the left and ten 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. Slightly to the right again, and following a line through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, twelve handspans above the horizon at about the 11 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 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.
Up ten 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.
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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 April sky at 10.00pm AEDST on 1 April can be downloaded here (aprsky_e.gif 30 Kb) and a view of the western April sky can be downloaded here (aprsky_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 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 email@example.com 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: Tuesday, 22 January 2013, 11:30:13 PM