Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
December 3rd; Jupiter at Opposition. December 9; Asteroid Vesta at its brightest. December 10, 11; morning, crescent Moon close to Saturn. December 12; morning, Venus close to the crescent Moon. December 15; Mars near thin crescent Moon. December 16; asteroid Ceres at its brightest. December 13-15; Geminid meteor shower. December 25-26; Moon close to Jupiter.
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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Summer is here once more, and the beautiful constellations of Orion, Taurus and the magnificent rambling constellations of Carina, Puppis and Vela grace our skies again. The December school holidays will be an ideal time to head out somewhere dark and view the stars and planets at their best. Summer also means very long twilights in southern Australia, so you may have to wait to see these delights. Despite the warmth of the days, nights are often cool, so don't forget a light jumper before doing any extended star watching. A blanket or rug to sit on is a good idea. Some mosquito repellent will be a must.
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 05/09/12: A completely unexpected auroral event occured on 3 September 2012 (no images yet) like the one in July which occured as far north as South Australia, with some really nice events in Tasmania, and here are some more images from an event in July. The Sun is still climbing towrds solar maximum, so 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 2013, and we can expect to see an increasing frequency of aurora. Tasmania, King Island and Southern Victoria are the most likely places to see aurora. However, on August 24, 2005 there was a massive auroral storm seen as far as northern NSW. Naturally, the best views of any aurora will be away from the city and bright lights. Aurora occur when charged particles from the solar wind enter Earths outer atmosphere and interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms producing eerie displays of coloured lights. During solar maximum, which occurs every 11 years, the number and speed of the particles are higher, allowing them to penetrate the Earth's magnetic field at lower latitudes than normal. Observers in Tasmania are likely to see green glows or sheets of light in the southern sky. Observers in Southern Victoria are more likely to see a red glow in the southern sky, although more spectacular displays are possible.
The Astronomical Society of Tasmania has a webpage devoted to this phenomenon. The Australian IPS radio and space services covers Aurora and related phenomena in very great detail (too much if you don't know much about them) but has a nice education page. Flinders Uni also has real time magnetometer readings, however, this will probably not mean much to most people.
Aurora will generally follow solar flares by about 2 days, and a number of instruments are watching the sun for these outbursts. The solar miniumin occured in 2006 and persisted for some time. While sunspot numbers, and hence flare rates are increasing, sometimes months will go by without an alert, then you have three in a week. The space weather site at http://www.spaceweather.com gives notice of when solar winds likely to cause aurora will arrive. Alternatively, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject and I will send you an email alert of any likely auroral event (or other interesting sky phenomena). However, even a strong solar flare is no guarantee that you will be able to see aurora, but it does increase the probability. Still more alternatively, there are the facebook pages Aurora Australis Tasmania, Aurora Australis Tasmania NOW! and Aurora Australis all do discussions and alerts.
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Email alerts I try to update this page fairly regularly outside of the monthly postings. However sometimes things happen which I can't get in fast enough, or you forget to mark your calendar. If you would like to be alerted to or reminded of interesting astronomical or sky phenomena, send an email to email@example.com with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject. This is the old aurora alert list, but with auroras rare as we climb out solar minimum (except for the occasional humdinger, like the August 2005 auroral event), it is doing double duty. Astroblog will have images when possible of these events soon after.
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2 January 2012; Moon Near Jupiter
14 January 2012; Moon Near Mars
17 January 2012; Moon Near Saturn and Spica
27 January 2012; Crescent Moon Near Venus
10 February 2012; Moon close to Mars
12 February 2012; Moon close to Spica and Saturn
26 February 2012; Crescent Moon close to Venus
27 February 2012; Crescent Moon close to Jupiter
4 March 2012; Mars is at Opposition
8 March 2012; Moon close to Mars
11 March 2012; Moon close to Saturn
14 March 2012; Jupiter and Venus close together
26 March 2012; Crescent Moon close to Jupiter and Venus
3 April 2012, Moon close to Mars
7 April 2012, Moon close to Spica and Saturn
16 April 2012, Saturn at opposition
19 April 2012, Mercury and Crescent Moon close
23 April 2012, Jupiter close to crescent Moon
25 April 2012, Venus close to crescent Moon
1 May 2012, Moon and Mars close together.
4 May 2012, Moon, Spica and Saturn close together.
5 May 2012 Eta Aquarid meter shower.
23 May 2012, Venus and crescent Moon close together.
1 June 2012, Moon, Spica and Saturn close together.
4 June 2012, Partial Eclipse of the Moon.
6 June 2012, Transit of Venus.
17-18 June 2012, Jupiter and Venus close to thin crescent Moon, Venus forms an "eye" of the constellation of Taurus.
21 June 2012, Mercury and Crescent Moon close.
26 June 2012, Mars close to the Moon.
28 June 2012, Spica and Saturn close to Moon.
1-9 July 2012, Venus and Jupiter close to Aldebaran.
2-4 July 2012, Mercury close to Beehive cluster.
15 July 2012, Jupiter and crescent Moon close.
16 July 2012, Venus and crescent Moon close.
20 July 2012, Mercury and thin crescent Moon close.
24 July 2012, Mars and crescent Moon close.
12 August 2012, Jupiter and thin crescent Moon close.
14 August 2012, Venus and thin crescent Moon close.
14 August 2012, Saturn, Mars and Spica form a line.
16 August 2012, Thin crescent Moon and Mercury close.
22 August 2012, Crescent Moon, Saturn, Spica and Mars close.
31 August 2012, "Blue" Moon.
9 September 2012, Moon close to Jupiter.
13 September 2012, Moon close to Venus.
18 September 2012, Saturn and the thin crescent Moon close.
20 September 2012, Mars and the crescent Moon close.
4 October 2012, Venus and Regulus close.
6 October 2012, (morning) Occultation/Graze of Jupiter and Moon.
13 October 2012, Venus close to crescent Moon.
15-25 October 2012, Mars close to Antares.
17 October 2012, Mercury close to crescent Moon.
18 October 2012, Mars close to crescent Moon.
22 October 2012, Orionid meteor shower.
11 November 2012, Leonid Meteor Shower.
12 November 2012, Crescent Moon close to Venus.
13 November 2012, Crescent Moon close to Saturn.
14 November 2012, Total Solar Eclipse.
18 November 2012, Venus, Spica and Saturn close.
16 November 2012, Crescent Moon close to Mars.
27 November 2012, Saturn close to Venus.
28 November 2012, Moon close to Jupiter.
3 December 2012, Opposition of Jupiter.
11 December 2012, Crescent Moon close to Saturn.
12 December 2012, Crescent Moon close to Venus and Mercury.
14 December 2012, Geminid Meteor shower.
15 December 2012, Mars and Crescent Moon close.
25 December 2012, Jupiter and Moon close.
Out in Space
Cassini sees swirling storms on Saturn.
Mars Curiosity Rover sees Rocknest .
The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter images a mighty sandstorm.
Mercury MESSENGER finds evidence of ice at Mercurys poles.
The Dawn mission sees Vesta in the rear view mirror.
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Last quarter on the 7th
Current Phase of the Moon.
New Moon is on the 13th
First quarter on the 20th
Full moon on the 28th
December 10, 11; morning, crescent Moon close to Saturn. December 12; morning, Venus close to the crescent Moon. December 15; Mars near thin crescent Moon. December 25-26; Moon close to Jupiter.
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 December 12 at 5:15 am AEDST showing the the eastern horizon with crescent Moon near Venus. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 5:30 am ACDST Adelaide.
The evening sky facing west in Melbourne on December 15 at 9:00 pm AEDST showing Mars near the crescent Moon. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 8:30 pm ACDST Adelaide).
Mercury is in the morning sky this month. On the 1st, Mercury is just under a handspan from the eastern horizon, half an hour before sunrise. On the 5th Mercury will be furthest from the Sun, but its low angle to the horizon means it is difficult to observe and you require a clear, level eastern horizon to see it. On the 12th, the thin cresent Moon is between Mercury and Venus. On the 15th, Mercury is a handspan from the eastern horizon, half an hour before sunrise. By the 31st, Mercury is three fingerwidths from the eastern horizon, half an hour before sunrise.
Venus is in the morning sky low on the horzion. It spends most of the month in Libra before moving into Scorpius, and then Ophiuchus. As the month progresses Venus comes closer to the horizon. Venus forms a nice line up with Saturn and Mercury, atlthough it is difficult to observe in the twilight. On December 1 Venus is two handspan aboves the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On December 12 Venus is less than a handspan from the crescent Moon, with the Moon being between Venus and Mercury. On December 15 Venus is still just under two handspans above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. Venus is a distinct gibbous shape in even small telescopes. On December 15 Venus is just under two handspans from Saturn. On December 31 Venus is just over a handspan above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise.
Earth is at solistice on Friday, 21 December. At this time the day is longest.
Mars was at opposition on March 4th, when it was at its biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. It is now rather unpreposessing telescopically, but can still be reasonably easily seen as the bright red object above the western horizon. Red (well, sort of orange) Mars starts the month in Sagitarius then crosses to Capriconius. On December 1 Mars is just over handspans above the western horizon an hour after sunset. By December 15th Mars is a handspan above the western horizon an hour after sunset. On the 15th Mars is a handspan from the crescent Moon. By the 31st, Mars is very difficult to see in the twilight, just a handspan above the western horizon an hour after sunset. Mars is quite small in all but the most serious telescopes, due to this being a poor opposition.
Jupiter is at opposition on December 3, when it is closest and brightest as seen from Earth. At this time it is visible all night long. It is the brightest object above the north-eastern horizon, below the Hyades cluster, making a rather attractive sight. On December 1 Jupiter is three handspans above the north-eastern horizon at 10 pm local time. On December 15 Jupiter is four handspans above the noth-eastern horizon at 10 pm local time. On December 25 and 26 the waxing Moon is close to Jupiter. On December 31 Jupiter is six handspans above the northern horizon at 10 pm local time.
In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiters Moons are always interesting, on December 6, 11 and 28 are a series of excelent eclipses and 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 Sun 2 Dec 0:59 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Sun 2 Dec 3:26 Eur: Reappears from Occultation Sun 2 Dec 4:39 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 2 Dec 23:32 Gan: Disappears into Eclipse Mon 3 Dec 0:30 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 3 Dec 1:38 Gan: Reappears from Eclipse Mon 3 Dec 22:31 Eur: Transit Ends S Mon 3 Dec 22:34 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Wed 5 Dec 2:08 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 5 Dec 3:18 Io : Transit Begins T Wed 5 Dec 3:20 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Wed 5 Dec 5:28 Io : Transit Ends S Wed 5 Dec 5:31 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Wed 5 Dec 21:59 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 6 Dec 0:37 Io : Disappears into Occultation Thu 6 Dec 2:52 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Thu 6 Dec 21:43 Io : Transit Begins T Thu 6 Dec 21:48 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Thu 6 Dec 23:53 Io : Transit Ends S Thu 6 Dec 23:59 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Fri 7 Dec 3:46 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 7 Dec 21:20 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Fri 7 Dec 23:37 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 9 Dec 3:19 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Sun 9 Dec 5:24 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 10 Dec 1:15 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 10 Dec 2:57 Gan: Disappears into Occultation Mon 10 Dec 21:07 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 10 Dec 22:24 Eur: Transit Begins T Mon 10 Dec 22:46 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Tue 11 Dec 0:45 Eur: Transit Ends S Tue 11 Dec 1:10 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Wed 12 Dec 2:53 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 12 Dec 5:01 Io : Transit Begins T Wed 12 Dec 5:14 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Wed 12 Dec 22:44 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 13 Dec 2:21 Io : Disappears into Occultation Thu 13 Dec 4:46 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Thu 13 Dec 23:27 Io : Transit Begins T Thu 13 Dec 23:43 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Fri 14 Dec 1:37 Io : Transit Ends S Fri 14 Dec 1:54 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Fri 14 Dec 4:31 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 14 Dec 20:47 Io : Disappears into Occultation Fri 14 Dec 23:15 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Sat 15 Dec 0:22 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 17 Dec 2:01 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 17 Dec 21:52 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 18 Dec 0:38 Eur: Transit Begins T Tue 18 Dec 1:22 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Tue 18 Dec 3:00 Eur: Transit Ends S Tue 18 Dec 3:47 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Wed 19 Dec 3:39 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 19 Dec 21:56 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Wed 19 Dec 23:30 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 20 Dec 4:05 Io : Disappears into Occultation Thu 20 Dec 21:38 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins ST Thu 20 Dec 21:52 Gan: Transit Ends S Thu 20 Dec 23:47 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends Fri 21 Dec 1:11 Io : Transit Begins T Fri 21 Dec 1:38 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Fri 21 Dec 3:22 Io : Transit Ends S Fri 21 Dec 3:49 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Fri 21 Dec 22:31 Io : Disappears into Occultation Sat 22 Dec 1:08 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 22 Dec 1:10 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Sat 22 Dec 20:59 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 22 Dec 21:48 Io : Transit Ends S Sat 22 Dec 22:18 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Mon 24 Dec 2:46 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 24 Dec 22:37 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 25 Dec 2:53 Eur: Transit Begins T Tue 25 Dec 3:58 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins ST Wed 26 Dec 4:24 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 26 Dec 20:57 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Thu 27 Dec 0:15 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 27 Dec 0:33 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Thu 27 Dec 23:15 Gan: Transit Begins T Fri 28 Dec 1:14 Gan: Transit Ends Fri 28 Dec 1:39 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins S Fri 28 Dec 2:56 Io : Transit Begins ST Fri 28 Dec 3:33 Io : Shadow Transit Begins SST Fri 28 Dec 3:49 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends ST Sat 29 Dec 0:16 Io : Disappears into Occultation Sat 29 Dec 1:53 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 29 Dec 3:05 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Sat 29 Dec 21:23 Io : Transit Begins T Sat 29 Dec 21:45 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 29 Dec 22:02 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Sat 29 Dec 23:33 Io : Transit Ends S Sun 30 Dec 0:13 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Sun 30 Dec 21:34 Io : Reappears from EclipseSaturn is in the morning sky this month. Saturn starts the month in Virgo, then crosses to Libra. On December 1 Saturn is just over two handspans above the eastern horizon, half an hour before Sunrise. On December 10 and December 11 the crescent Moon is close to Saturn. On the 11th the Moon is between Saturn and Venus. On December 15 Saturn is just under four handspans above the eastern horizon, half an hour before Sunrise. On December 31 Saturn is just under six handspans above the eastern horizon, half 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 6/12/2011 Puppids-Velids 10 0.5 13/12/2011 Geminids 120 0.75 22/12/2011 Ursids 12 0.00
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 Puppids-Velids are a modest southern meteor shower (roughly a meteor every four minutes) that doesn't require you getting up too late to see, although meteors are always best in the early morning. At midnight, AEDST (11.00 pm AEST) the radiant is 9 handspans up from, and 6 handspans to the left of, due east. This is roughly a handspan below and to the left of the False Cross. A spotters map is here. Moonlight interferes badly this year.
Geminid radiant seen facing north in the southern Hemisphere at 3:00 am daylight saving time, December 14.
The Geminids are a fairly reliable meteor shower, with rates of about a meteor per minute at their best. This is an excellent year for Geminids, with no moonlight interference. The radiant doesn't rise until just before midnight (daylight saving time) in most of Australia, so you will have to disturb your sleep for this one. At 1.00 am in the morning AEDST (midnight, AEST) Castor (alpha Geminorum) is about two handspans above the horizon and 10 handspans to the left of due north. Pollux, the other twin, is less than a handspan to the left again. The radiant is just below Castor. A spotters map is here. Unlike the Leonids, where there is a very narrow peak of high activity, the Geminids have a broad peak and will show good activity well before and after the peak, and on the day before and after. The peak is predicted to be around 11.00 am (AEST) on the 14th, during daylight. However, Australians should see a meteor every two minutes under dark skies in the early morning of the 14th, between 2:00 am and 4:00 am.
Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 6 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 asteroids Vesta and Ceres reach opposition, when they are brightest, in Taurus in December. Vesta is magnitude 6.4 on December 9. This is just below the limit of observation for most people, but it will be easily seen in binoculars, even in suburban locations, not too far from some nice clusters. You can see Vesta move over successive nights, so why not try your hand at sketching what you see in binoculars. A spotters map for Vesta and Ceres is here, and a higher magnification map suitable for Vesta using binoculars is here.
Ceres reaches opposition on December 18, at magnitude 6.7. this is also easily seen in binoculars, although Ceres is not as in as interesting territory as Vesta, you can still follow it's movement.
The Dawn spacecraft has left Vesta and is heading for Ceres as I write.
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. The exception is Brisbane, which sees magnitude 3.0 Zeta Taurii reappear on the Moon's bright limb at 6:49 pm AEST.
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 December 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 December 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 east, the faint constellation of Monocerous (the Unicorn) is just on the horizon.
At around three handspans from the eastern horizon are the constellations of Taurus, the bull, Orion the hunter and Canis major, Orion's hunting dog. Three handspans left of due east is the distinctive saucepan shape of Orion's belt. The handle of the saucepan is Orion's 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.
To the left of Orions belt 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 Tarus. Further to the left again by about two handspans is a faint, but pretty, compact cluster of stars called the Pleiades (the seven sisters, even though eight can be seen on a dark night with good eyesight). The Pleiades are particularly beautiful through binoculars.
To the right of Orion's belt by about 4 handspans is the bright white star 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.
About 6 handspans up from due east is the small constellation of Lepus, the Hare.
Above this again, is the faint constellation of Erandius, the river, which starts near bright Rigel and meanders upwards and southwards to where its brightest star, Achenar, points to the small mangellanic cloud.
Continuing on to the zenith we find the faint constellations Sculptor and Phoneix.
Due west, bright Fomalhaut, alpha star of Piscis Austrinus is 5 handspans below the Zenith (and 12 handspans above the western horizon). Three handspans to the left of Fomalhaut is Grus, the crane, with a distinctive, battered cross-like shape.
About five handspans down from Fomalhaut is the battered triangle of Capricornius, the Water Goat, currently hosting Uranus and Neptune. Of interest as well is alpha Capricornii, (eight handspans below Fomalhaut and 4 handspans from the horizon) the brightish star at bottom left hand corner of the triangle that is Capricorn. This is a naked eye double star.
Returning to the Zenith and working towards the northern horizon; five hand spans below the zenith (and 12 handspans from the northern horizon) is Cetus, the whale, which stretches down and right. Beta Ceti is a modestly bright star 4 handspans below and a handspan left of the zenith, the rest of Cetus is relatively faint. Mira, Omicron Ceti (O on the maps) is a variable star with a period of about 332 days. Mira is currently around magnitude 5.0 and is start brightening for a maximum in late December.
Cetus also hosts a nearby sun like star. Tau Ceti is 11.4 light years away from earth, looking 12 handspans up from east and three to the left is magnitude 2 Deneb Kaitos, beta Ceti. Two handspans below and slightly to the left is eta Ceti, two handspans to the right of eta Ceti, forming a triangle with eta and beta, is Tau Ceti.
Three handspans below Cetus is Pisces, a rather non-descript constellation, despite its importance in the Zodiac.
Continuing down Mirach (beta Andromedae) is 14 handspans from the zenith, and three handspans from the northern horizon. One handspan below and half a handspan to the left of Mirach is the Andromeda galaxy (also 1 handspan to the left of due north and two above the horizon), one of the local group of galaxies and very similar to our own, at magnitude 3.2 it should be easily visible to the naked eye under dark skies as a fuzzy star. The binocular view should be excellent.
A handspan to the right and a handspan up from Mirach is M33, the pinwheel galaxy, also a member of the local group. At magnitude 5.7 and relatively close to the horizon, this galaxy is a challenge to see with the naked eye, but is easily found in small binoculars.
To the left of Mirach by two handspans, and up by one is Alpheratz, (alpha Andromedae) the bottom right hand star of the "great square" of the constellation Pegasus, the winged horse. The stars that make distinctive box shape of the main constellation lies around three handspans to the left of and up from (and 4 across from) Alpheratz.
Now return to the zenith and go South. Directly south by four handspans and slightly to the left is Achenar, alpha Erandius.
Directly south again by about three handspans is the Small Magellanic cloud, the second largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies to the Milky Way. This feature is best viewed on a dark night, away from the city. In this nebulosity is what looks to be a fuzzy star, this is 47 Tucana (marked 104 on the map), a spectacular globular cluster that is very nice through binoculars. To the right of the Small Magellanic Cloud by about 4 handspans is the dim constellation of Tucana, the Toucan, the parent constellation of 47 Tucana.
A handspan further down and three to the left is the extended nebulosity of the Large Magellanic cloud, the largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies. Binoculars will reveal a rather attractive nebula near it, the Tarantula nebula.
Continuing directly down from the Magellanic cloud by about 3 handspans (about 6 from Achenar) and about one handspan right is Octans, the octant (a navigating instrument the was the forerunner of the sextant). Octans houses the south celestial pole, and the faint Sigma Octanis, the South Polar star, which is the southern equivalent of Polaris. At magnitude 5.5 you will be stretched to see it under city conditions, but it is six handspans below and slightly to the left of Achenar, forming the right angle of a triangle with two other faint stars (tau and chi Octanis).
Slightly below and to the right of Octans by around one handspan is the faint Chameleon, a narrow "kite" of four stars with the long axis nearly parallel to the horizon.
Moving down by another two handspans is Musca, the fly, and to the right of that by around three handspans is Triangulum. Directly below triangulum are the bright, distinctive alpha and beta Centauri, the so called "pointers", two handspans from the southern horizon, with alpha being the yellow star which is furthest from the horizon, and beta the blue white star below and to the left. Most of the rest of Centarus, the Centaur, is too close to, or below, the Horizon to be seen properly.
Alpha Centauri is the closest star to our sun at around 4 light years. However, recent measurements with the Hippacaros satellite put the system 300 million kilometres further away than previously thought. Alpha centauri is actually a triple star, consisting of two sun-like stars and a red dwarf, Proxima centauri, which is the closest of the triple stars to earth.
Returning to alpha Centauri, following a line south through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, one and a half handspans from beta Centauri to beta Crucis, and one handspan above the horizon between the 6 o'clock and 7 o'clock position on a clock. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.
The Southern Cross is, as expected, a cross shaped formation with Acrux (alpha Crucis) and gamma Crucis forming the long axis of the cross (pointing down to the south-west, with bright Acrux on the end of the axis away from the horizon). Beta and delta Crucis, now nearly horizontal, form the cross piece of the cross. Just to the right Acrux is the coal sack. This dark area against the glow of the Milky Way represents a large dust cloud and is usually clearly visible in dark skies, but will be hard to see this close to the horizon. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just above Beta Crucis. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly, and is unlikely to be good viewing this close to the horizon.
Rising above the south-eastern horizon, to the left of due south is Carina (the keel of the former constellation Argo Navis). A high definition map of this region is here. It is now far enough from the horizon to appreciate its many faint objects. Looking almost anywhere in the area of Carina will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area between the Southern Cross and the false cross (which is just above the south-eastern horizon), is particularly rich. Here you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars, with theta Carina one handspan up, and two handspans to the left of Acrux. Smaller and less spectacular than their northern counterparts, they still look very nice in binoculars. Four fingerwidths below the Southern Pleiades are two rich open clusters, and the barely visible star Eta Carina. Eta Carina's spectacular nebula is only dimly seen in binoculars. Five handspans to the left of the Southern Cross is the False Cross, three handspans from the southern horizon. Just to the left of the False Cross is a good open cluster, normally just visible to the naked eye but hard to see this close to the horizon. Still very nice in binoculars though. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star sitting seven handspans above the south-eastern horizon (and about 4 handspans along and up from the False Cross.
Vela and Puppis (to the left and below Carina respectively) are also beginning to clear the horizon, and in the coming weeks their collection of clusters will be more aparent.
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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 December sky at 10.00pm AEDST on 1 December can be downloaded here (decsky_e.gif 30 Kb) and a view of the western December sky can be downloaded here (decsky_w.gif 30 Kb). These are more compact files but don't have a lot of resolution.
If you wish to print the GIF maps directly from Netscape you must set the printer in landscape mode and you must set the margins to 0 cm (yes, that's right, 0 cm) or the maps will not print correctly.
PDF MapsHigh Resolution PDF files can be obtained for the eastern (110 Kb) and the western (110 Kb) horizon maps.
The Zenith Map (110 Kb) shows you the whole sky. You will need to face the one of the compass points, then hold the map with the appropriate compass point on the map at the bottom of the page.
You will need a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat or GhostView to view and print them. They look slightly worse on-screen than the GIF files, especially as Acrobat 3.0-4.0 can only display them side on, but print much better and come with legends. However, Acrobat 4.05 and higher can display them in the proper orientation.
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[December Skies] [January Skies] [February Skies] [March Skies] [April Skies] [May Skies] [June Skies] [July Skies] [August Skies] [September Skies] [October Skies] [November Skies] Return to Menu
Cheers! And good star gazing!
Ian's Astrophotography GallerySome of the photographs/images I have taken in recent years of astronomical phenomena that may be of interest.
- Partial Lunar eclipse. Partial Lunar eclipse, July 5, 2001
- My Solar eclipse report. Pictures from the Dec 4, 2002 solar eclipse in South Australia
- Transit of Mercury pictures! 7 May 2003
- Images of the partial solar eclipse 24 Nov 2003
- Transit of Venus June 8 2004 report
- Images of Jupiter, taken, after an enormous struggle, with my webcam, April 2005
- Mosaics of the Moon, more fun with my webcam, April-May 2005
- Animation of Sunrise on the Moon November 2006
- Animation of A shadow Transit on Jupiter May 2007
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- OnLine Astronomical Societies in Australia, from the Astronomical Society of New South Wales Inc.
- Astronomical Society of Australia
- Mornington Peninsula Astronomy Society
- Astronomy Guild of Australia
- Ice in Space
- A clickable star map for Victoria
- Monthly free Star maps. High quality, monthly maps for Southern and Northern Skies, has lists of interesting objects. Requires Adobe Acrobat to print.
- Gordon Garradd's Astronomy Page
- Peter Enzerinks Astronomy page - Web based telescope/eyepiece calculator and other southern sky tidbits.
- Buying a telescope in Australia, lots of helpful hints.
- Anglo-Australian Observatory
- MSSSO - Mt Stromlo and Siding Springs Observatory
- ATNF - Australian Telescope National Facility
- Parks Radio telescope facility
- Spaceguard Australia the proposed search for Near Earth Objects including meteroids.
- Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
- Star Class, Astronomy Education
- Information about Aboriginal astronomy.
- Australian weather forecasts
- Sky and Space, Australia's Astronomy magazine.
- Planetary Society, Australian Volunteers events diary.
- Australian Astronomy
Astronomy for Kids
- Adelaide Planetarium
- Canberra Planetarium and Observatory
- Launceston Planetarium
- Science Centre and Planetarium (Wollongong)
- Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
- Perth Observatory and Planetarium
- Museum of Victoria Planetarium, Skynotes Index
- The Cosmos Centre in Charleville
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Star Child NASA space information for kis 5-13.
- Interactive site on the Sun, good kids resources
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Astronomy for Kids
- Astronomy for Kids (different site to the one above, and a bit simple, but lots of good images).
- Kids astronomy information from Astronomy Magazine
- SEDS, home of the Nine Planets Tour, and much much more
- The Planetary Society
- Center for Backyard Astrophysics
- Amateur Radio Telescopes
- International Occulation Timing Society
- Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy pages (very educational)
- SKY Online - Your Astronomy Source on the World Wide Web
- Astronomy Magazine
- Stellar distances
- Space Weather site (with Meteor counts)
- Near Earth Object home page (also follows comets, including LINEAR S4 and meteor showers)
- A 3D map of satellites orbiting the Earth in real time! Simply amazing!
- The Anglo Australian Observatories 3D virtual tour through a 3D map of the Cosmos. Mind Blowing!
- Views of extrasolar planets seen from the Southern sky, stunning Java-driven map with heaps of (complex) info.
- Stellarium, free (but large) photorealistic sky charting software. What I use for the horizon views.
- Celestia, free 3D space travel software, see the Earth from Mars, see the Moon of EL62, see Saturn rise on Titan.
- Ian's Celestia resources. Save these files into the "Extras" directory
- Script to show Conjunctions of Earth from Mars.
- Definition File for asteroid 87 Sylvia and her two moons (see story here).
- Definition File for Pluto's two new Moons P1 and P2.
- Definition file for three Neptunian extrasolar planets of HD 69830.
- Asteroid 2004 VD17, which will not hit the Earth.
- Definition file for Comet 2006/P1 McNaught
- Definition file for for the Gliese 581 system that contains the most Earth-like world yet.
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Charts, Books and Software for AstronomyIf you would like to have charts available all the time, rather than relying on mine, for between $2-$20 you can pick up a planisphere from a newsagent or bookshop (or for a bit more you can get fancy ones from Australian Geographic, the ABC shop or the other Australian Geographic look alike shop, or the Wilderness Society, or even a binocular/ optical store). The planisphere won't give you position of the planets, so you will need to get the planet rise/set times. These can be found in most serious newspapers (the Age, the Australian, SMH etc. The Australian is probably the best bet for budding amateurs). The combination of planisphere and rise/set times is the best value for beginners though, if you are not too worried about identifying star clusters in your binoculars.
Or, for $19.95 US, you can have the Touring the Universe through Binoculars Atlas http://www.philharrington.net/tuba.htm which can print observing charts, but has a few annoying quirks. These include having no horizon line, and the planets are shown in the wrong places.
I use a combination of a 1962 star chart, the Australian Astronomy 2012 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2012 almanac. It is more helpful for planetary/comet/asteroidal observations and eclipses than for double stars, clusters galaxies etc, but is an excellent resource for Australian observers and anyone who would like to seriously follow the planets in Australia should have this almanac. It has easy to follow month-by-month summary information, as well as detailed charts, tables and whole sky maps. It is easily navigated. The Almanac is often in big bookstores or optical shops, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase a copy directly for those outside major population centres. The Australian Astronomy almanac comes out in around November for the following year, and is now approx $28.
Sky and Telescope now also do an Australian version of their magazine.
For detailed chart drawing and timing of events, as well as satellite track predictions I feed the information from the almanac into the $150 AUD SkyMap Pro 11.0 , planetarium program. This is a very handy program which prints maps of every possible orientation and scale. The maps on this page are produced by SkyMap.
A shareware version of SkyMap that runs on windows 3.x, and win95 can be found here http://www.winsite.com/info/pc/win3/desktop/skymp21a.zip this is approximately 640 Kb zipped.
A shareware version of the win95 only version 5.0 is here http://www.download.net.au/cgi-bin/dl?13607
Other highly recommended Sky charting packages (win95/98/2000/XP sorry) are:
Cartes du Ciel at http://www.stargazing.net/astropc/ (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at http://stellarium.sourceforge.net/ (FREE) stunning photorealistic program, but requires grunty PC and OpenGL.
TheSkyVarious packages from $49 US to $249 US
Stary Night various versions from $49 us for the basic pack (10 day trial of the basic pack at http://www.siennasoft.com/english/downloads.shtml) up.
Earth Centered Universe $88 AUD (shareware version at http://www.nova-astro.com/)
On the other hand a standard Sky Atlas for serious observing (much handier than carting a computer with you) such as Norton's Star Atlas can range from $35 to $90.
In these days of Handheld devices (smart phones and tablets), there is a plethora of sky charting apps you can take into the field with you. I use GoogleSky for android and a cut down version of Stellarium for iPad, my most used handheld app is heavens Above for Android, for watching Iridium flares and ISS passes. This is one app that has changed my astronomical life. There are many more, many free or less than 1 AUD to dowload.
This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2012 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, 3 November 2012, 11:30:13 PM