Southern Sky Watch

April Skies

A very busy month this, an opposition of Mars, and two eclipses. 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.

Asteroids Vesta and Ceres bright enough to see easily in binoculars. April 6-7; Moon close to Jupiter. April 8; Moon at Apogee. April 9; Mars at opposition. April 14; Moon close to Mars and Spica. April 15; Total Lunar Eclipse. April 17; Moon close to Saturn. April 23, Moon at Perigee. April 26; crescent Moon close to Venus. April 29; Annular Eclipse of the Sun.

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 spheroids 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 constellations 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 maximum in 2014, and we can hope to see an increasing frequency of aurora, although it has been generally disappointing with some exceptions. Tasmania, King Island and Southern Victoria are the most likely places to see aurora. However, on August 24, 2005 there was a massive auroral storm seen as far as northern NSW (and the 22 February one this year was seen as far north as southern NSW). Naturally, the best views of any aurora will be away from the city and bright lights. Aurora occur when charged particles from the solar wind enter Earths outer atmosphere and interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms producing eerie displays of coloured lights. During solar maximum, which occurs every 11 years, the number and speed of the particles are higher, allowing them to penetrate the Earth's magnetic field at lower latitudes than normal. Observers in Tasmania are likely to see green glows or sheets of light in the southern sky. Observers in Southern Victoria are more likely to see a red glow in the southern sky, although more spectacular displays are possible.

The Astronomical Society of Tasmania has a webpage devoted to this phenomenon. The Australian IPS radio and space services covers Aurora and related phenomena in very great detail (too much if you don't know much about them) but has a nice education page. Flinders Uni also has real time magnetometer readings, however, this will probably not mean much to most people.

Aurora will generally follow solar flares by about 2 days, and a number of instruments are watching the sun for these outbursts. The solar minimum occurred in 2006 and persisted for some time. While sunspot numbers, and hence flare rates are increasing, sometimes months will go by without an alert, then you have three in a week. The space weather site at gives notice of when solar winds likely to cause aurora will arrive. Alternatively, send an email to with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject and I will send you an email alert of any likely auroral event (or other interesting sky phenomena). However, even a strong solar flare is no guarantee that you will be able to see aurora, but it does increase the probability. Still more alternatively, there are the facebook pages Aurora Australis Tasmania, Aurora Australis Tasmania NOW! and Aurora Australis all do discussions and alerts.

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Email alerts I try to update this page fairly regularly outside of the monthly postings. However sometimes things happen which I can't get in fast enough, or you forget to mark your calendar. If you would like to be alerted to or reminded of interesting astronomical or sky phenomena, send an email to with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject. This is the old aurora alert list, but with auroras rare as we climb out solar minimum (except for the occasional humdinger, like the August 2005 auroral event), it is doing double duty. Astroblog will have images when possible of these events soon after.

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Coming events

6 January 2014; Jupiter at opposition

15 January 2014; Moon Near Jupiter

23 January 2014; Moon Near Mars

26 January 2014; Moon Near Saturn

29 January 2014; Moon Near Venus

11 February 2014; Moon Near Jupiter

19 February 2014; Moon Near Mars

22 February 2014; Moon Near Saturn

22 February 2014; Ocultation of Saturn

26 February 2014; Moon Near Venus

28 February 2014; Moon Near Mercury

10 March 2014; Moon close to Jupiter

18 March 2014; Moon close to Mars

20-21 March 2014; Moon close to Saturn

27-28 March 2014; Moon close to Venus

29 March 2014; Moon close to Mercury

7 April 2014; Moon close to Jupiter

9 April 2014; Mars at opposition

14 April 2014; Moon close to Mars

15 April 2014; Total Lunar Eclipse

17 April 2014; Moon close to Saturn

26 April 2014; Moon close to Venus

29 April 2014; Annular eclipse of the Sun

4 May 2014; Moon and Jupiter close together.

7 May 2014; Eta 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 C/2013 A1 Siding Spring comes close to Mars

8 October 2014; Total Eclipse of the Moon.

18 October 2014; Moon close to Jupiter.

22 October 2014; Orionid meteor shower.

28 October 2014; Mars close to crescent Moon.

15 November 2014; Moon close to Jupiter.

26 November 2014; Moon close to Mars.

17 November 2014; Leonid Meteor Shower.

11-12 December 2014; Moon close to Jupiter.

15 December 2014; Geminid Meteor shower.

20 December 2014; Crescent Moon close to Saturn.

23 December 2014; Crescent Moon close to Venus and Mercury.

Out in Space

Cassini sees crescent Saturn.

Mars Curiosity Rover explores sandstone .

Mars Express sees lava flood plains.

The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter finds new channels on Mars.

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The Moon:

Current Phase of the Moon.
This is a JavaScript applet kindly supplied by Darren Osbourne. It shows the Moon as Southern Hemisphere viewers see it, and is upside down from the Northern Hemisphere perspective.

C| First quarter on the 7th

O Full moon on the 15th
D Last quarter on the 222nd
O New Moon is on the 29th
April 6-7; Moon close to Jupiter. April 8; Moon at Apogee. April 14; Moon close to Mars and Spica. April 15; Total Lunar Eclipse. April 17; Moon close to Saturn. April 23, Moon at Perigee. April 26; crescent Moon close to Venus. April 29; Annular Eclipse of the Sun.

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.
morning sky, 5:00 am

The morning sky facing east in Melbourne on April 26 at 5:00 am AEST showing the the eastern horizon with Moon near Venus. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 5:00 am ACDST Adelaide.

evening sky, 11:00 pm

The evening sky facing east in Melbourne on April 14 at 9:00 pm AEST 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 ACST Adelaide).

Mercury is visible early in the morning sky for the first week of this month, then it is lost to view in the latter half of the month. On the 1st, Mercury is nearly two handspans from the eastern horizon, an hour before sunrise. On the 15th, Mercury is a handspan from the eastern horizon, half an hour before sunrise, and quite difficult to see. After this is is lost in the twilight.

Venus is still prominent in early morning sky in April. In small telescopes it goes from a distinct "half-Moon" shape to a "gibbous Moon" shape. On April 1 Venus is over five handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. Venus is in Aquarius this month. On April 15 Venus is still just over 5 handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On April 26 Venus is around a handspan from the crescent Moon. On the 30th Venus is five handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.

Mars rises higher in the evening sky this month, and is at opposition on the 9th, when it is closest to Earth and brightest. This month is good for observing Mars in a telescope. Red (well, sort of orange) Mars moves slowly through the constellation of Virgo this month, never far from the bright star Spica. On April 1 Mars is nearly seven handspans above the eastern horizon at 10:00 pm local time. The Moon is close to Mars on the 14th, forming a triangle with Mars and Spica. By April 15th Mars is nearly 8 handspans above the north-eastern horizon at 10:00 pm local time. By the 30th, Mars is nearly ten handspans above the northern horizon at 10:00 pm local time.

Jupiter is prominent in the early evening sky this month. It continues to spend the month in Gemini. On April 1 Jupiter is nearly five handspans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On April 6-7 the waxing Moon is a handspan from Jupiter. On April 15 Jupiter is just over four handspans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. On April 30 Jupiter is just under four handspans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half after sunset.

In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiters Moons are always interesting, and there are a few interesting transits this month, the 5th and 12th are particularly good.

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

Times are AEDST, subtract 30 minutes for ACDST and 3 hours for AWST.Subtract 1 hour for standard time.
GRS = Great Red Spot. S = Shadow Transit, T = Transit

Tue	1	Apr	19:15	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	2	Apr	19:31	Eur: Disappears into Occultation
Thu	3	Apr	20:54	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	4	Apr	19:55	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends
Fri	4	Apr	21:12	Io : Disappears into Occultation
Sat	5	Apr	18:21	Io : Transit Begins               T
Sat	5	Apr	19:39	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Sat	5	Apr	20:23	Cal: Disappears into Occultation  ST
Sat	5	Apr	20:37	Io : Transit Ends                 S
Sat	5	Apr	21:56	Io : Shadow Transit Ends
Sat	5	Apr	22:33	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	6	Apr	18:24	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	6	Apr	19:14	Io : Reappears from Eclipse
Mon	7	Apr	18:12	Gan: Transit Ends
Mon	7	Apr	20:09	Gan: Shadow Transit Begins        S
Tue	8	Apr	20:03	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Wed	9	Apr	22:10	Eur: Disappears into Occultation
Thu	10	Apr	21:42	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	11	Apr	19:46	Eur: Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Fri	11	Apr	19:56	Eur: Transit Ends                 S
Fri	11	Apr	22:30	Eur: Shadow Transit Ends
Sat	12	Apr	20:17	Io : Transit Begins               T
Sat	12	Apr	21:34	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Sat	12	Apr	22:33	Io : Transit Ends                 S
Sun	13	Apr	19:13	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	13	Apr	21:09	Io : Reappears from Eclipse
Mon	14	Apr	18:20	Io : Shadow Transit Ends
Mon	14	Apr	19:03	Gan: Transit Begins               T
Mon	14	Apr	19:16	Cal: Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Mon	14	Apr	22:17	Gan: Transit Ends                 S
Tue	15	Apr	20:52	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	18	Apr	18:23	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	18	Apr	19:53	Eur: Transit Begins               T
Sat	19	Apr	22:14	Io : Transit Begins               T
Sun	20	Apr	19:29	Eur: Reappears from Eclipse
Sun	20	Apr	19:34	Io : Disappears into Occultation
Sun	20	Apr	20:02	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Mon	21	Apr	17:59	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Mon	21	Apr	19:00	Io : Transit Ends                 S
Mon	21	Apr	20:16	Io : Shadow Transit Ends
Tue	22	Apr	18:44	Cal: Reappears from Occultation
Tue	22	Apr	21:41	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	25	Apr	18:07	Gan: Disappears into Eclipse
Fri	25	Apr	19:11	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Fri	25	Apr	21:31	Gan: Reappears from Eclipse
Sun	27	Apr	20:51	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian
Sun	27	Apr	21:31	Io : Disappears into Occultation
Mon	28	Apr	18:42	Io : Transit Begins               T
Mon	28	Apr	19:54	Io : Shadow Transit Begins        ST
Mon	28	Apr	20:59	Io : Transit Ends                 S
Tue	29	Apr	19:28	Io : Reappears from Eclipse
Wed	30	Apr	18:21	GRS: Crosses Central Meridian

Saturn is climbing higher in the evening sky this month, although it is visible in the early morning. Saturn is now easy to view in telescopes in the late evening as it is reasonably high above the horizon before twilight. Saturn spends the month in Libra, forming a triangle with the two brightest stars of that constellation. On April 1 Saturn is over 3 handspans above the eastern horizon at 10:00 pm local time. On April 15 Saturn is 5 handspans above the eastern horizon at 10:00 pm local time. On April 17 the Moon is close to Saturn. By April 31 Saturn is just over seven handspans above the eastern horizon at 10:00 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.

new See an Iridium Flare at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box

Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:

See the International Space Station at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box

Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:
Another site, JPASS, doesn't do Iridium flares, but is very cool and does the International Space Station, and many other satellites. However, although the output is flashy, it's harder to use than heavens above.

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Meteor showers:

Date        	Meteor Shower       ZHR  Illumination 
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 radio-telescopes is here.

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evening sky, 11.30 pm
The asteroid 4 Vesta is easily visible in binoculars this month, reaching unaided eye threshold at the beginning 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 at opposition on April 13, reaching a magnitude of 5.7, and is above magnitude 6 for most of the month. Under dark sky conditions it is (just) visible to the unaided eye. Vesta 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 end of the month Vesta is magnitude 6.0, just at unaided eye threshold under dark skies. The evening sky map in the Planet's section shows the locations of the two asteroids, and a higher magnification map suitable for printing for Vesta using binoculars is just above (click on the image for a bigger version).

Ceres is at opposition on April 15, it starts the month at magnitude 7.1 and reaches magnitude 7.0. 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 7.1

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.



Annular Solar Eclipse April 29:

Partial Eclipse, 5:00 pm Annular Eclipse as seen from Sydney near maximum eclipse, 5:15 am AEST. Simulated in Celestia.

On the evening of April 29, 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. From Australia though, we only get to See a partial eclipse.

Viewers will see between 64% (Hobart) - 4% (Darwin) of the Sun covered by the Moon, with southern Australia favoured (the opposite of last years annular eclipse). The partial solar eclipse occurs close to sunset and in some places such as Sydney and Brisbane the Sun sets during maximum partial eclipse (see table below). This is an excellent opportunity of get dramatic images of the "Crescent" sun setting. You will, however, need a flat, unobstructed horizon to see the eclipse at its best.

A table showing eclipse times for more Australian cities in Universal Time is here, and a map of the path is here.

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. 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) 3:25 pm 4:37 pm sets 51
Alice Springs (ACST) 3:44 pm 4:47 pm 5:54 pm 26
Brisbane (AEST) 4:31 pm 5:17 pm set 24
Cairns (AEST) 4:25 pm 5:01 pm sets 10
Canberra (AEST) 4:05 pm 5:12 pm set pm 46
Darwin (ACST) 4:21 pm 4:55 pm 5:28 pm 4
Hobart (AEST) 3:51 pm 5:00 pm set pm 64
Melbourne (AEST) 3:58 pm 5:07 pm set pm 55
Perth (AWST) 1:17 pm 2:42 pm 3:59 pm 49
Sydney (AEST) 4:14 pm 5;15 pm set 41
Townsville (AEST) 4:49 pm 5:30 pm set 10


Total Lunar Eclipse April 15, 2014:

Lunar Eclipse, 6:30 pm

Eastern horizon as seen from Sydney at 6:30 pm AEST (left panel) and Adelaide at 6:00 pm ACST (right panel) on April 15. The Moon has just come out of total eclipse.

On the early evening of 15 April there there be a total eclipse of the Moon. The 15 April eclipse occurs mostly at twilight in the eastern and central states (Western Australia misses out entirely). Although most of it occurs in the twilight, it will still be interesting to watch. The eclipsed Moon at twilight has an entirely different look to a normal rising Moon with the pearly light replaced with a coppery-red glow.

For the East Coast the eclipse begins at 3:58 pm AEST, maximum eclipse is at 5:48 pm, Moon Rise between 5:27-5:49 pm (see twilight/sunset calculator below), Sunset around 5:54 pm, total eclipse ends at 6:25 pm and the eclipse finishes at 7:33 pm

For the Central states the eclipse begins at 3:28 pm ACST, maximum eclipse is at 5:16 pm, Moon Rise around 5:48 pm (see twilight/sunset calculator below), Sunset around 5:50 pm, total eclipse ends at 5:54 pm and the eclipse finishes at 7:03 pm

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.

Latitude: Longitude: City Time Zone:


Variable Stars:

While most stars seem to shine with a constant brightness, there are some that undergo regular, dramatic change in brightness. The classic variables Mira and Algol are currently unobservable.

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evening sky, 10:00 pm

The southern evening sky at 10:00 pm AEDST in Melbourne on 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 from other time zones should see roughly the same views at 10.00 pm local time. Corrections for cities other than Melbourne are given below.

How do I find east, west, north and south?

At the beginning 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 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.

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 attractive 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 reddish 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 stretching 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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Sky Maps

How to use the maps

      map viewsky view

Comparison of a section of a skymap showing the Southern Cross (Crux) and pointers, with the appearance of the night sky. The map and sky are for September 1 at 10.00 pm, facing south. Both show approximately 30 degrees (5 handspans) of sky just above the horizon

The maps look a little busy, as they cover all sky from horizon to zenith. The grid lines are navigational helpers; each horizontal or vertical line covers 30 degrees of arc (the gridlines in the illustration show 15 degrees of arc), which is roughly five handspans (where a handspan is the width of your hand, held flat light a "stop" sign at arms length). As you can see from the way the lines bunch up. The map is a little distorted, due to trying to project a spherical surface on a flat surface. The horizon is the lowest curved line on the map (for technical software reasons I can't block things out below the Horizon). Constellations are linked by lines and their names are in italics. Stars are shown as circles of varying size, the bigger the circle the brighter the star. The stars are named with their Bayer letter (eg a - alpha, the brightest star in a constellation, a Crucis is the brightest star in Crux). Variable stars are shown as hollow circles, double stars are marked with a line (eg a, b and g Crucis are all double stars, that look quite beautiful in a small telescope). Clusters and Nebula brighter than magnitude 6.0 are marked as broken circles (eg the Jewel box cluster next to b Crucis above which is best viewed in binoculars or a telescope) and squares respectively. To find Crux for example, locate Crux on the appropriate map (eg see the illustration above). Holding the Map, face either east or west (depending on the map), then use the grid lines to determine how far over and up you should look, then look for the Crux pattern in that part of the Sky.

GIF Maps

A view of the Eastern 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 Maps

High Resolution PDF files can be obtained for the eastern (110 Kb) and the western (110 Kb) horizon maps.

The Zenith Map (110 Kb) shows you the whole sky. You will need to face the one of the compass points, then hold the map with the appropriate compass point on the map at the bottom of the page.

You will need a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat or GhostView to view and print them. They look slightly worse on-screen than the GIF files, 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 Gallery

Some of the photographs/images I have taken in recent years of astronomical phenomena that may be of interest.

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Societies: Australian Resources: Australian Planetariums: updated Astronomy for Kids International Resources: Stunning sites: Useful programs:
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Charts, Books and Software for Astronomy

If you would like to have charts available all the time, rather than relying on mine, for between $2-$20 you can pick up a planisphere from a newsagent or bookshop (or for a bit more you can get fancy ones from Australian Geographic, the ABC shop or the other Australian Geographic look alike shop, or the Wilderness Society, or even a binocular/ optical store). The planisphere won't give you position of the planets, so you will need to get the planet rise/set times. These can be found in most serious newspapers (the Age, the Australian, SMH etc. The Australian is probably the best bet for budding amateurs). The combination of planisphere and rise/set times is the best value for beginners though, if you are not too worried about identifying star clusters in your binoculars.

Or, for $19.95 US, you can have the Touring the Universe through Binoculars Atlas which can print observing charts, but has a few annoying quirks. These include having no horizon line, and the planets are shown in the wrong places.

I use a combination of a 1962 star chart, the Australian Astronomy 2013 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2014 almanac. It is more helpful for planetary/comet/asteroidal observations and eclipses than for double stars, clusters galaxies etc, but is an excellent resource for Australian observers and anyone who would like to seriously follow the planets in Australia should have this almanac. It has easy to follow month-by-month summary information, as well as detailed charts, tables and whole sky maps. It is easily navigated. The Almanac is often in big bookstores or optical shops, or email to purchase a copy directly for those outside major population centres. The Australian Astronomy almanac comes out in around November for the following year, and is now approx $28.

Sky and Telescope now also do an Australian version of their magazine.

For detailed chart drawing and timing of events, as well as satellite track predictions I feed the information from the almanac into the $150 AUD SkyMap Pro 11.0 , planetarium program. This is a very handy program which prints maps of every possible orientation and scale. The maps on this page are produced by SkyMap.

A shareware version of SkyMap that runs on windows 3.x, and win95 can be found here this is approximately 640 Kb zipped.

A shareware version of the win95 only version 5.0 is here

Other highly recommended Sky charting packages (win95/98/2000/XP sorry) are:
Cartes du Ciel at (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at (FREE) stunning photorealistic program, but requires a grunty PC.
TheSkyVarious packages from $49 US to $249 US
Stary Night various versions from $49 us for the basic pack (10 day trial of the basic pack at up.
Earth Centered Universe $88 AUD (shareware version at
On the other hand a standard Sky Atlas for serious observing (much handier than carting a computer with you) such as Norton's Star Atlas can range from $35 to $90.

In these days of Handheld devices (smart phones and tablets), there is a plethora of sky charting apps you can take into the field with you. I use GoogleSky for android and a cut down version of Stellarium for iPad, my most used handheld app is Heavens Above for Android, for watching Iridium flares and ISS passes. This is one app that has changed my astronomical life. There are many more, many free or less than 1 AUD to dowload.

This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2014 almanac. For any budding astronomers out there, it is fantastic value and no, I don't have any commercial interest in it, but I did win bronze in their website Olympics).

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Link to the Lab's 'In Space' gateway Link to the Lab's home page
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This page is provided by Ian Musgrave and is © copyright 2014 Ian Musgrave, except the meteor tables which are from the Astronomical Society of New South Wales Inc and the "Southern Sky Watch" logo, as well as any other ABC logo used on this page, is © copyright of the ABC. Sky maps are generated with SkyMap Pro 11.0 .

This page can be used freely for any non-commercial purpose but please attribute it correctly. However, see the disclaimer.

* Email: e-mail Ian with any suggestions
Created: Wednesday, 1 April 1998, 11:22:13 PM
Last Updated: Friday, 28 March 2014, 11:30:13 PM

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