A very busy month with an occulation and two (reasonably) bright comets.
Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
February Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon visible to the unaided eye. February 3; Moon near Saturn. February 15-28; Comet PanSTARRS visible in evening twilight. February 9; Venus near Crescent Moon in morning twilight (very difficult to see). February 12; Mars and Mercury near thin crescent Moon (very difficult to see). February 14; Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon near small Magellanic Cloud. February 18; Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon.
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.
[Astroblog Updated astronews and images at Astroblog!] [Weekly Sky ] [Astronomy Media Player] [Aurora Alert! Updated 12/3/12] [Coming events and Updates updated for 2012] [Out in Space ] [ The Moon] [Planets] [Meteors] [ Comets F6 Lemmon and L4 PANSTARRS] [ Occultations Jupiter Feb 18] [Eclipse No eclipses this month] [Variable Stars ] [Stars] [Star Maps] [Using the Maps] [Iridium Flares and the International Space Station pass predictions (via Heavens Above)] [Links ] [Charts, Books and Software for Astronomy] [Celestia scripts and add-ons Gliese 581] [Previous Months] [Feedback] [Ian's Astrophotography gallery Animation of Jupiter] [Email alert service] [Images of past aurora]
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 mid 2013, and we can expect to see an increasing frequency of aurora. Tasmania, King Island and Southern Victoria are the most likely places to see aurora. However, on August 24, 2005 there was a massive auroral storm seen as far as northern NSW. Naturally, the best views of any aurora will be away from the city and bright lights. Aurora occur when charged particles from the solar wind enter Earths outer atmosphere and interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms producing eerie displays of coloured lights. During solar maximum, which occurs every 11 years, the number and speed of the particles are higher, allowing them to penetrate the Earth's magnetic field at lower latitudes than normal. Observers in Tasmania are likely to see green glows or sheets of light in the southern sky. Observers in Southern Victoria are more likely to see a red glow in the southern sky, although more spectacular displays are possible.
The Astronomical Society of Tasmania has a webpage devoted to this phenomenon. The Australian IPS radio and space services covers Aurora and related phenomena in very great detail (too much if you don't know much about them) but has a nice education page. Flinders Uni also has real time magnetometer readings, however, this will probably not mean much to most people.
Aurora will generally follow solar flares by about 2 days, and a number of instruments are watching the sun for these outbursts. The solar miniumin occured in 2006 and persisted for some time. While sunspot numbers, and hence flare rates are increasing, sometimes months will go by without an alert, then you have three in a week. The space weather site at http://www.spaceweather.com gives notice of when solar winds likely to cause aurora will arrive. Alternatively, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject and I will send you an email alert of any likely auroral event (or other interesting sky phenomena). However, even a strong solar flare is no guarantee that you will be able to see aurora, but it does increase the probability. Still more alternatively, there are the facebook pages Aurora Australis Tasmania, Aurora Australis Tasmania NOW! and Aurora Australis all do discussions and alerts.
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Email alerts I try to update this page fairly regularly outside of the monthly postings. However sometimes things happen which I can't get in fast enough, or you forget to mark your calendar. If you would like to be alerted to or reminded of interesting astronomical or sky phenomena, send an email to email@example.com with "subscribe aurora alert" as the subject. This is the old aurora alert list, but with auroras rare as we climb out solar minimum (except for the occasional humdinger, like the August 2005 auroral event), it is doing double duty. Astroblog will have images when possible of these events soon after.
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6 January 2013; Occultation of Spica
7 January 2013; Moon Near Saturn
10-11 January 2013; Moon Near Venus
13 January 2013; Moon Near Mars
22 January 2013; Moon Near Jupiter
February 2013; Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon visible to the unaided eye
3 February 2013; Moon near Saturn
9-28 February 2013; Comet PanSTARRS visible in evening twilight
9 February 2013; Venus near moon in morning twilight
14 February 2013; Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon near small Magellanic Cloud
18 February 2013; Occultation of Jupiter
1-14 March 2013; Comet PanSTARRS visible in evening twilight
March 2013; Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon visible to the unaided eye
2 March 2013; Moon close to Saturn
11 March 2013; Moon close to Mercuy
18 March 2013; Moon close to Jupiter
21 March 2013; Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon at peak brightness
29 March 2013; Moon close to Saturn
8 April 2013, Moon close to Mercuury
14 April 2013, Moon close to Jupiter
26 April 2013, Partial Lunar Eclipse
28 April 2013, Saturn at opposition
5 May 2013 Eta Aquarid meter shower.
10 May 2013;Annular eclipse of the Sun
23 May 2013, Moon and Saturn close.
26 May 2013, Venus, Mercury and Jupiter close together.
29 May 2013, Venus, Mercury and Jupiter close together.
7 June 2013, Crescent Moon and Mars close together.
10 June 2013, Crescent Moon, Venus and Mercury close together.
19 June 2013, Moon and Saturn close.
21 June 2013, Mercury and Venus close.
30 June 2013, "Blue" first quarter Moon.
6 July 2013, Crescent Moon and Mars close.
7 July 2013, Crescent Moon and Jupiter close.
10 July 2013, Venus and crescent Moon close.
17 July 2013, Saturn and Moon close.
22 July 2013, Evening, Venus and Regulus closee.
22 July 2013, Morning, Mars and Jupiter close.
4 August 2013, Jupiter and thin crescent Moon close.
5 August 2013, Mars, Mercury and thin crescent Moon close.
10 August 2013, Venus and crescent Moon close.
13 August 2013, Staurn and Moon close.
1 September 2013, Crescent Moon close to Jupiter.
2 September 2013, Crescent Moon close to Mars.
6 September 2013, Crescent Moon close to Mercury.
6 September 2013, Venus and Spica close.
8 September 2013, Crescent Moon close to Venus.
25 September 2013, Mercury and Spica close.
1 October 2013, Crescent Moon and Mars close.
7 October 2013, Mercury, Saturn and Crescent Moon close.
8 October 2013, Venus close to crescent Moon.
16 October 2013, Mars close to Regulus.
17 October 2013, Venus close to Antares.
21 October 2013, Orionid meteor shower.
22 October 2013, Orionid meteor shower.
26 October 2013, Jupiter close to Moon.
7 November 2013, Crescent Moon close to Venus.
10-20 November 2013, Venus crosses Sagittarius.
17 November 2013, Leonid Meteor Shower.
22 November 2013, Moon close to Jupiter.
26 November 2013, Saturn and Mercury close.
28 November 2013, Crescent Moon close to Mars.
1 December 2013, Crescent Moon close to Saturn.
2 December 2013, Crescent Moon close to Mercury.
6 December 2013, Crescent Moon close to Venus.
13 December 2013, Geminid Meteor shower.
26 December 2013, Mars and Moon close.
29 December 2013, Saturn and Crescent Moon close.
Out in Space
Cassini sees the shifting dunes of Titan.
Mars Curiosity Rover prepares for drilling .
The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter images thawing dry ice and groovy action on Mars.
Mercury MESSENGER finds new evidence for water ice on Mercury.
The Dawn mission sees Vesta's dark materials.
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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
February 3; Moon near Saturn. February 9; Venus near Crescent Moon in morning twilight (very difficult to see). February 12; Mars and Mercury near thin crescent Moon (very difficult to see). February 18; Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon.
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 February 9 at 5:45 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 5:15 am ACDST Adelaide.
The evening sky facing north in Melbourne on February 18 at 11:00 pm AEDST showing Jupiter near the Moon. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 11:00 pm ACDST Adelaide, see the occultation section for more details).
Mercury is returns to the evening sky this month. However, it remains low to the horizon and will be very difficult to see. On the 1st, Mercury is just a fingerwidth from the eastern horizon, half an hour before sunrise. On February 12 Mercury is close to Mars and the thin crescent Moon. This will be very diffcult to see without a clear, level horizon like the ocean, even then, you may need binoculars to see the planets in the twilight. On the 15th, Mercury is three fingerwidths from the eastern horizon, half an hour before sunrise. On the 17th 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. By the 28th, Mercury is lost to view.
Venus leaves the morning sky by mid month, returning to the evening sky in May. It starts the month very low on the horzion and is far difficult to observe. On February 1 Venus is just over a handspan above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On February 9 Venus is around a handspan from the crescent Moon, this will be difficult to see in the twilight unless you have a very flat, level horizon like the ocean. On February 15 Venus is just under a handspan above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise. On February 28 Venus is just over a fingerwidth above the eastern horizon half an hour before sunrise.
Mars is very low to the horizon in the evening twilight, and will be very difficult to see. It will be lost to view from mid month. Red (well, sort of orange) Mars is in Aquarius. On February 1 Mars is just under a handspan above the western horizon half an hour after sunset. On February 12 Mars is close to Mercury and the thin crescent Moon. This will be very diffcult to see without a clear, level horizon like the ocean, even then, you may need binoculars to see the planets in the twilight. By February 15th Mars is two fingerwidths above the western horizon an half hour after sunset. By the 28th, Mars is just a fingerwidth above the western horizon half an hour after sunset.
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 northern horizon, below the Hyades cluster, making a rather attractive sight. On February 1 Jupiter is five handspans above the northern horizon at 10 pm local time. On February 15 Jupiter is about 4 handspans above the north-western horizon at 10 pm local time. On February 18 the waxing Moon is very close to Jupiter and occults it in several states. This will be an amazing spetacle, as the moon covers Ganymeade, Jupiter, Io, Clallisto and then Europa (for details see the occultation section.). On February 28 Jupiter is three handspans above the north-western horizon at 10 pm local time.
In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiters Moons are always interesting, on February 6 and 13 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 Mon 4 Feb 0:33 Eur: Reappears from Occultation Mon 4 Feb 0:37 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Tue 5 Feb 0:54 Io : Transit Begins T Tue 5 Feb 22:00 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Tue 5 Feb 22:13 Io : Disappears into Occultation Tue 5 Feb 23:08 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 6 Feb 20:37 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Wed 6 Feb 21:33 Io : Transit Ends S Wed 6 Feb 22:49 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Fri 8 Feb 0:47 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 8 Feb 20:37 Gan: Transit Begins T Fri 8 Feb 20:39 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Fri 8 Feb 22:50 Gan: Transit Ends Sun 10 Feb 22:17 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 11 Feb 0:38 Eur: Disappears into Occultation Tue 12 Feb 22:03 Eur: Transit Ends Tue 12 Feb 22:10 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Tue 12 Feb 23:56 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 13 Feb 0:05 Io : Disappears into Occultation S Wed 13 Feb 0:36 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends Wed 13 Feb 21:15 Io : Transit Begins T Wed 13 Feb 22:33 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Wed 13 Feb 23:27 Io : Transit Ends S Thu 14 Feb 0:45 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Thu 14 Feb 22:02 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Fri 15 Feb 21:26 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sat 16 Feb 0:28 Gan: Transit Begins T Sun 17 Feb 23:05 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 19 Feb 21:56 Gan: Reappears from Eclipse Tue 19 Feb 22:09 Eur: Transit Begins T Wed 20 Feb 0:35 Eur: Transit Ends Wed 20 Feb 20:36 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 20 Feb 23:09 Io : Transit Begins T Thu 21 Feb 0:29 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Thu 21 Feb 20:27 Io : Disappears into Occultation Thu 21 Feb 21:40 Eur: Reappears from Eclipse Thu 21 Feb 23:57 Io : Reappears from Eclipse Fri 22 Feb 21:10 Io : Shadow Transit Ends Fri 22 Feb 22:15 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 24 Feb 23:54 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 26 Feb 20:34 Gan: Reappears from Occultation Tue 26 Feb 23:37 Gan: Disappears into Eclipse Wed 27 Feb 21:24 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Thu 28 Feb 21:36 Eur: Reappears from Occultation Thu 28 Feb 21:51 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Thu 28 Feb 22:22 Io : Disappears into OccultationSaturn enters the evening sky this month, but is best for telescopic observation in the early morning. Saturn spends the month in Libra. On February 1 Saturn is just under nine handspans above the north-eastern horizon, an hour and a half before sunrise. On February 3 the Moon is close to Saturn. On February 15 Saturn is just under 11 handspans above the northern horizon, an hour and a half before sunrise. On February 31 Saturn is eleven handspans above the northern horizon, an hour and a half before sunrise.
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Iridium Flares, the International Space Station and other satellites
See this amazing site for images of the space station taken through a telescope.
Iridium flares add a bit of spectacle to the night sky. The Iridium satellite network was set up to give global phone coverage, so an Iridium satellite is almost always over head. Occasionally, one of the antenna of the satellites is aligned so that it reflects the sun towards an observer, giving a brilliant flare, often out-shining Venus. However, the visibility of Iridium flares is VERY dependent on observer position, so you need a prediction for your spot within about 30 km. Hence I'm referring you to a web site for predictions rather than doing it myself.
See an Irridium Flare at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box
- Heavens above, an excellent site. You need to choose your location or manually enter a longitude and latitude (once done the site remembers this). Predicts Iridium Flare occurrence, and gives the visibility the space shuttle, the International space station and heaps of other satellites. I find this the most useful site.
Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
See the International Space Station at your Location. Courtesy of Heavens above. Choose your location from the drop down box
Or type in Your Latitude and Longitude in decimal format eg Darwin is -12.461 130.840 , to find your Lat Long go to this site.
Another site, JPASS, doesn't do Iridium flares, but is very cool and does the International Space Station, and many other satellites. However, although the output is flashy, it's harder to use than heavens above.
- The JPASS site from NASA.
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Date Meteor Shower ZHR Illumination
The figure ZHR is zenithal hourly rate. This is the number of meteors that a single observer would see per hour if the shower's "point of origin", or radiant, were at the zenith and the sky were dark enough for 6.5-magnitude stars to be visible to the naked eye. Illumination gives an idea of how dark the sky is, the lower the figure, the darker the sky.
There are no significant showers this month.
Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 10 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2 per hour during the evening. The evening rates will be reduced during the times around the full Moon due to interference by the Moons light.
A good page describing meteor watching is at the Sky Publications site.
The Meteor Section of the Astronomical Society of Victoria has some good information on meteor watching too.
Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.
A Cool Fact about meteor speeds
A good page on detecting meteors using home made radiotelescopes is here.
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We have two comets that will be visible to the uniaded eye (with some difficulty). C/2012 F6 Lemmon and C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS.
Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon is visible in the evening above the southern horizon. It is currently brightening faster than expected, and may reach the threshold for unaided eye observation late January/early February. You will need to be under dark skies to see it with the unaided eye in early February, but it should be readily visible with binoculars, even if it will only be a fuzzy dot. As the month progresses it will brighten towards its predicted maximum magnitude of 3 (about as bright as delta Crucis, the fourth brightest star in the Southern Cross, but fuzzier). Despite being bright enough to see with the unaided eye, it may be difficult to spot initially without binoculars (especially early in the month). A spotters map is available here and a binocular map is is available here. The comet is moving through some very beautiful southern sky scenery. On Friday February 14 comet Lemmon passes close to the Small Magellanic cloud and the bright open cluster 47 Tucanae, a spectacular sight, especially under dark country skies.
Comet C/2011 L4 PANNSTARRS will be above the eastern horizon from around 9 February, but will be near-impossible to see until around the 15th. Originally predicted to be a very bright magnitude -2 (as bright as Jupiter), it has been downgraded to magnitude 2 (between gamma and delta Crucis in brightness). Although this comet will be reasonably bright, it is very low to the horizon in the twight skies, and will be very difficult to spot without a clear, level horizon (like the ocean), and possibly binoculars. It is too early to say anything about a posible tail yet, but unlike Comet 2006 P1 McNaught, which had a spectacular tail reaching deep into the sky, the tail of C/2011 L4 PANNSTARRS is likely to be nearly parallel to the horizon, and so will be difficult to spot. So it may be a fizzer, or it may surpirse us all, we won't know if we don't look. A spotters chart is available here for the morning and here for the evening. A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.
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Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon February 18.
The Moon at 11:00 pm ACDST in Adelaide on February 18 just before the Moon covers Jupiter.
On the evening of Monday February 18 Jupiter is either grazed or occulted by the Moon as seen from the Southern states of Australia. Elsewhere in Australia the Moon is very close to Jupiter and well worth watching.
The occultation/grazes occurs in late in the evening, unlike last years which was in daylight (except in Perth, where the occultation starts in the twilight, times given below). This should be easily seen with the unaided eye, but as the Moon covers the bright moons Ganymede Callisto, Europa and Io it is best seen with a telescope or binoculars. Binoculars work best if you can attach them to a tripod or somthings sturdy so they won't wobble around.
At mid graze/occulation, the Moon will be quite low to the horizon, so if you are using a telescope, make sure it has a clear horizon and can travel down reasonably well. It is advisable to set up and practise on the Moon and Jupiter a day or so before the event, so you are familar with your telescope set-up. Set up at least haldf an hour ahead of time so that you can be sure everything is working well and you can watch the entire event confortably (trying to foucus you telescope on Jupiter momnts before the occulataion will cause a lot of unnecessary stress).
As a bonus, may places will see the occultation of the 5th magnitude star Omega Tauri before the main event.
Place Disappears Dark Limb Reappears Bright Limb Adelaide 23:00 ACDST 23:37 ACDST Brisbane Close Approach - Canberra Graze Nearby - Darwin Close Approach - Hobart 23:21 AEDST 00:13 (19th) AEDST Melbourne 23:33 AEDST 00:10 (19th) AEDST Perth 19:39 AWST 20:45 AWST Sydney Close Approach -
More cities can be found at the IOTA site (UT times only).
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 February 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 February 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.
Face east, just above the north eastern horizon is Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, which is just rising above the horizon. Directly east, above the horizon by 4 handspans is Hydra, and to the south east is the distinct wine-glass shape of Crater, the Cup.
About 13 handspans up from due east is Puppis, the poop deck of the form constellation of Argo Navis, the argonauts ship. The Milky Way passes through Puppis (and its companion constellations Vela and Carina), and there are several rather beautiful clusters worth looking at in binoculars.
Directly to the left of Vela is Canis Major. The bright white star 3 handspans left of due east 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 handspans 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.
To the left of Sirius by about four handspans and almost due north 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 Orionis), a red giant star.
To the left of and below Orion's belt by about 4 handspans is Alderbaran (alpha Tauri), another red giant which forms the base of the V shaped group of stars called the Hyades, which forms the head of Taurus. Further to the left and down again by 2 handspans from Alderbaran is a faint, but pretty, compact cluster of stars called the Pleiades (the seven sisters). The Pleiades are particularly beautiful through binoculars.
To the right of and below Orion's belt by around 8 handspans are bright Castor and Pollux, the brightest stars of Gemini.
Directly below Orion's belt by around 9 handspans, and just a handspan from the northern horizon is Capella, the brightest star of Auguia, the Charioteer.
Facing east, and Puppis again, to the left of Puppis is Vela and Carina, the sail and keel of Argo Navis. When Argo Navis was broken up into Puppis, Vela and Carina in 1750, they forgot to assign alpha and beta stars to Vela, and its brightest star 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" (about 7 hand spans above the southern horizon). A high definition map of Vela is here.
Carina (the keel of the former constellation Argo Navis) is a little further to the left of Vela. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star sitting 3 handspan from due east and 14 handspans above the south-eastern horizon (and about 3 handspans up from the False Cross). 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 is particularly rich. The False Cross is 3 handspans below Canopus, four handspans up from the Southern Cross and, nine handspans from the southern horizon. Just to the left of the False Cross is a good open cluster. Between the False Cross and the Southern Cross you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars, with theta Carina two handspans up from Acrux in the Southern Cross. 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.
Continuing down from Vela and Carina, following the Milky Way, we come to the Southern Cross.
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-east, with bright Acrux on the end of the axis away from the horizon). Beta and delta Crucis form the cross piece of the cross. Just to the right of 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 to the right of 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.
Continuing down and south from the cross we come to the bright, distinctive alpha and beta Centauri, the so-called "pointers". They are a little over two handspans from the south-eastern horizon, with alpha being the yellow star which is closest to the horizon, and beta the blue white star just above and to the left. Most of the rest of Centarus, the Centaur, is too close to the Horizon to be seen properly. Later in the month however, omega Centauri, a naked eye globular cluster three handspans to the left of alpha Centauri, should be high enough to view properly. It is the object marked 5139 on the eastern sky map. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.
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 sunlike stars and a red dwarf, Proxima Centauri, which is the closest of the triple stars to earth.
Directly above the southern horizon by 11 handspans 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.
To the left of this by 4 handspans and down by 3 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 western sky 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.
To the left, about two handspans from the south western horizon is Fomalhaut, alpha Piscinus Austrinis.
Almost 5 handspans up from due west is Deneb Kaitos, beta Ceti, brightest star of Cetus the whale, which stretches off to the right. Mira, Omicron Ceti (O on the maps) is a variable star with a period of about 332 days. Mira is currently not visible to the naked eye.
Cetus also hosts a nearby sun like star. Tau Ceti is 11.4 light years away from earth. From beta Ceti, Two handspans to the right is eta Ceti, two handspans from eta Ceti, forming a triangle with eta and beta, is Tau Ceti.
Continuing up from beta Ceti by around 9 handspans is the rambling, faint constellation of Erandius, the river. Bright Achenar is about 8 handspans up and to the left from beta Ceti (around 9 from the south western horizon).
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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 February sky at 10.00pm AEDST on 1 February can be downloaded here (febsky_e.gif 30 Kb) and a view of the western February sky can be downloaded here (febsky_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] Return to Menu
Cheers! And good star gazing!
Ian's Astrophotography GallerySome of the photographs/images I have taken in recent years of astronomical phenomena that may be of interest.
- Partial Lunar eclipse. Partial Lunar eclipse, July 5, 2001
- My Solar eclipse report. Pictures from the Dec 4, 2002 solar eclipse in South Australia
- Transit of Mercury pictures! 7 May 2003
- Images of the partial solar eclipse 24 Nov 2003
- Transit of Venus June 8 2004 report
- Images of Jupiter, taken, after an enormous struggle, with my webcam, April 2005
- Mosaics of the Moon, more fun with my webcam, April-May 2005
- Animation of Sunrise on the Moon November 2006
- Animation of A shadow Transit on Jupiter May 2007
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- OnLine Astronomical Societies in Australia, from the Astronomical Society of New South Wales Inc.
- Astronomical Society of Australia
- Mornington Peninsula Astronomy Society
- Astronomy Guild of Australia
- Ice in Space
- A clickable star map for Victoria
- Monthly free Star maps. High quality, monthly maps for Southern and Northern Skies, has lists of interesting objects. Requires Adobe Acrobat to print.
- Gordon Garradd's Astronomy Page
- Peter Enzerinks Astronomy page - Web based telescope/eyepiece calculator and other southern sky tidbits.
- Buying a telescope in Australia, lots of helpful hints.
- Anglo-Australian Observatory
- MSSSO - Mt Stromlo and Siding Springs Observatory
- ATNF - Australian Telescope National Facility
- Parks Radio telescope facility
- Spaceguard Australia the proposed search for Near Earth Objects including meteroids.
- Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
- Star Class, Astronomy Education
- Information about Aboriginal astronomy.
- Australian weather forecasts
- Sky and Space, Australia's Astronomy magazine.
- Planetary Society, Australian Volunteers events diary.
- Australian Astronomy
Astronomy for Kids
- Adelaide Planetarium
- Canberra Planetarium and Observatory
- Launceston Planetarium
- Science Centre and Planetarium (Wollongong)
- Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
- Perth Observatory and Planetarium
- Museum of Victoria Planetarium, Skynotes Index
- The Cosmos Centre in Charleville
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Star Child NASA space information for kis 5-13.
- Interactive site on the Sun, good kids resources
- ABC Space for Kids, Games, information and more.
- Astronomy for Kids
- Astronomy for Kids (different site to the one above, and a bit simple, but lots of good images).
- Kids astronomy information from Astronomy Magazine
- SEDS, home of the Nine Planets Tour, and much much more
- The Planetary Society
- Center for Backyard Astrophysics
- Amateur Radio Telescopes
- International Occulation Timing Society
- Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy pages (very educational)
- SKY Online - Your Astronomy Source on the World Wide Web
- Astronomy Magazine
- Stellar distances
- Space Weather site (with Meteor counts)
- Near Earth Object home page (also follows comets, including LINEAR S4 and meteor showers)
- A 3D map of satellites orbiting the Earth in real time! Simply amazing!
- The Anglo Australian Observatories 3D virtual tour through a 3D map of the Cosmos. Mind Blowing!
- Views of extrasolar planets seen from the Southern sky, stunning Java-driven map with heaps of (complex) info.
- Stellarium, free (but large) photorealistic sky charting software. What I use for the horizon views.
- Celestia, free 3D space travel software, see the Earth from Mars, see the Moon of EL62, see Saturn rise on Titan.
- Ian's Celestia resources. Save these files into the "Extras" directory
- Script to show Conjunctions of Earth from Mars.
- Definition File for asteroid 87 Sylvia and her two moons (see story here).
- Definition File for Pluto's two new Moons P1 and P2.
- Definition file for three Neptunian extrasolar planets of HD 69830.
- Asteroid 2004 VD17, which will not hit the Earth.
- Definition file for Comet 2006/P1 McNaught
- Definition file for for the Gliese 581 system that contains the most Earth-like world yet.
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Charts, Books and Software for AstronomyIf you would like to have charts available all the time, rather than relying on mine, for between $2-$20 you can pick up a planisphere from a newsagent or bookshop (or for a bit more you can get fancy ones from Australian Geographic, the ABC shop or the other Australian Geographic look alike shop, or the Wilderness Society, or even a binocular/ optical store). The planisphere won't give you position of the planets, so you will need to get the planet rise/set times. These can be found in most serious newspapers (the Age, the Australian, SMH etc. The Australian is probably the best bet for budding amateurs). The combination of planisphere and rise/set times is the best value for beginners though, if you are not too worried about identifying star clusters in your binoculars.
Or, for $19.95 US, you can have the Touring the Universe through Binoculars Atlas http://www.philharrington.net/tuba.htm which can print observing charts, but has a few annoying quirks. These include having no horizon line, and the planets are shown in the wrong places.
I use a combination of a 1962 star chart, the Australian Astronomy 2013 almanac and SkyMap Pro 11.0 . I highly recommend the Australian Astronomy 2013 almanac. It is more helpful for planetary/comet/asteroidal observations and eclipses than for double stars, clusters galaxies etc, but is an excellent resource for Australian observers and anyone who would like to seriously follow the planets in Australia should have this almanac. It has easy to follow month-by-month summary information, as well as detailed charts, tables and whole sky maps. It is easily navigated. The Almanac is often in big bookstores or optical shops, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase a copy directly for those outside major population centres. The Australian Astronomy almanac comes out in around November for the following year, and is now approx $28.
Sky and Telescope now also do an Australian version of their magazine.
For detailed chart drawing and timing of events, as well as satellite track predictions I feed the information from the almanac into the $150 AUD SkyMap Pro 11.0 , planetarium program. This is a very handy program which prints maps of every possible orientation and scale. The maps on this page are produced by SkyMap.
A shareware version of SkyMap that runs on windows 3.x, and win95 can be found here http://www.winsite.com/info/pc/win3/desktop/skymp21a.zip this is approximately 640 Kb zipped.
A shareware version of the win95 only version 5.0 is here http://www.download.net.au/cgi-bin/dl?13607
Other highly recommended Sky charting packages (win95/98/2000/XP sorry) are:
Cartes du Ciel at http://www.stargazing.net/astropc/ (FREE) a bit messy to install but very good.
Stellarium at http://stellarium.sourceforge.net/ (FREE) stunning photorealistic program, but requires grunty PC and OpenGL.
TheSkyVarious packages from $49 US to $249 US
Stary Night various versions from $49 us for the basic pack (10 day trial of the basic pack at http://www.siennasoft.com/english/downloads.shtml) up.
Earth Centered Universe $88 AUD (shareware version at http://www.nova-astro.com/)
On the other hand a standard Sky Atlas for serious observing (much handier than carting a computer with you) such as Norton's Star Atlas can range from $35 to $90.
In these days of Handheld devices (smart phones and tablets), there is a plethora of sky charting apps you can take into the field with you. I use GoogleSky for android and a cut down version of Stellarium for iPad, my most used handheld app is heavens Above for Android, for watching Iridium flares and ISS passes. This is one app that has changed my astronomical life. There are many more, many free or less than 1 AUD to dowload.
This is not meant to be a product endorsement of any kind (outside of the Australian Astronomy 2013 almanac. For any budding astronomers out there, it is fantastic value and no, I don't have any commercial interest in it, but I did win bronze in their website Olympics).
This page can be used freely for any non-commercial purpose but please attribute it correctly. However, see the disclaimer.
Ian with any suggestions
Created: Wednesday, 1 April 1998, 11:22:13 PM
Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2013, 11:30:13 PM