Useful info for visitors from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
July 1; Jupiter and Venus close, forming a straight line with the bright red star Aldebaran. July 8-11, Venus close to Aldebaran (closest on 9th), July 15; morning, Jupiter close to the crescent Moon. July 16, morning, Venus close to the crescent Moon and Aldebaran. July 20; thin crescent Moon close to Mercury. July 24 and 25; Waxing Moon close to Mars. July 25; Waxing Moon forms triangle with Spica and Saturn, with Mars close by. July 28, occultation of Omicron Scorpii 1 and 2.
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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Clear crisp Winter nights are often the best for star gazing, with the broad sweep of the Milky Way arching across the sky. However, it gets very cold, so don't forget to rug up before doing any extended star watching. Dew formation can also mean some dampness, so a blanket or rug to sit on is a good idea, as well as a thermos of your favorite hot beverage. Winter sees our night skies dominated by the Southern Cross, sprawling Scorpio and Sagittarius, in which the heart of our galaxy hides, so it's well worth stepping out into the chill for an astronomical thrill.
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 18/06/12: A completely unexpected auroral event occured as far north as South Australia, with some really nice events in Tasmanian. The Sun is still cilimbing towrds solar maximum, so we may see more auroa in the near future.
Auroral images and descriptions from past geomagnetic storms are now at the auroral image web page.
We are slowly climbing out of solar minimum, 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.
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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 stunning ring shadows.
The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter watches dunes blowing in the wind.
Mercury MESSENGER finds volcanic vents on Mercury.
The Dawn mission produces a video of Vesta in colour.
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Full moon on the 4th
Current Phase of the Moon.
Last quarter on the 11th
New Moon is on the 19th
First quarter on the 26th
July 15; morning, Jupiter close to the crescent Moon. July 16; morning, Venus close to the crescent Moon and Aldebaran. July 20; thin crescent Moon close to Mercury. July 24 and 25; Waxing Moon close to Mars. July 25; Waxing Moon forms triangle with Spica and Saturn, with Mars close by.
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 July 15 at 6:30 am AEST showing Jupiter, Venus, the thin Crescent Moon and the Hyades above the eastern horizon. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 6:30 am ACST Adelaide.
The evening sky facing west in Melbourne on July 20 at 5:45 pm AEST showing Mercury and the crescent Moon close to the horizon. (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 5:45 pm ACST Adelaide).
Mercury is high in the evening sky at the begining of the month. On the 1st, Mercury is nearly two handspans above the western horizon an hour after sunset. On the 15th, Mercury is over a handspan above the western horizon an hour after sunset. On the 20th Mercury and the thin Crescent Moon are a handspan apart, but you will need a level clear horizon to see this. By the 30th, Mercury is lost in the twight.
Venus is now easily visible in the morning sky. On July 1 Venus is two handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise, between Jupiter and the bright star Aldebaran. Bwteen the 8th and 11th Venus is within a fingerwidth of red Aldebaran, being closest on the 9th. On July 15 Venus is just over three handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise, near Jupiter and below the bright star Aldebaran. On July 16 Venus and the Crescent Moon are a handspan apart. You will need a fairly clear, level horizon to see this (eg the ocean). Venus is a distinct crescent shape in even small telescopes. On July 31 Venus is just over three handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.
Earth is at aphelion on Thursday, 5 July. At this time Earth is at the furthest from the Sun in its orbit.
Mars was at opposition on March 4th, when it was at its biggest and brightest as seen from Earth, but is now rather unpreposessing telescopically, but can still be reasonably easily seen as the bright red object in Virgo. Red (well, sort of orange) Mars starts the month not too far from yellow Saturn and the bright blue/white star Spica. On July 1 Mars is around three handspans above the western horizon at 10:00 pm (local time). By July 15th Mars is just over two handspans above the western horizon an horizon at 10:00 pm (local time). On the 24th the waxing Moon is a handspan from Mars. On the 25th Mars the waxing Moon, Spica and Staurn make an interesting cluster in the sky. By the 30th, Mars is just under two handspans above the western horizon at 10:00 pm (local time). Mars is quite small in all but the most serious telescopes, due to this being a poor opposition.
Jupiter is now readlily visible in the morning sky. In the fisrt half of the Month it is between the Hyades and Pleiades clusters, not far from Venus. After the frist week, where Venus and Jupiter are within a hand span, the pair drift apart. Over the month, Jupiter comes closer to the Hyades. On July 1 Jupiter is over two handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. On July 15 Jupiter is four handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise. At this time the thin crescent Moon is three finger-widths from Jupiter. They form a line with the Pleiades cluster, and with Venus and Aldebaran in the Haydes nearby. This makes a wonderful morning sight. On July 31 Jupiter is under five handspans above the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.
In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiters Moons are always interesting, but with Jupiter close to the horizon, observing is difficult.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 1 Jul 6:30 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Tue 3 Jul 5:47 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Wed 4 Jul 5:15 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Wed 4 Jul 6:05 Io : Transit Ends Fri 6 Jul 5:39 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Sun 8 Jul 7:18 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 9 Jul 6:20 Gan: Transit Ends Mon 9 Jul 7:11 Eur: Disappears into Eclipse Wed 11 Jul 4:49 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 11 Jul 4:59 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Wed 11 Jul 5:54 Eur: Transit Ends S Wed 11 Jul 5:55 Io : Transit Begins ST Wed 11 Jul 7:09 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Thu 12 Jul 5:18 Io : Reappears from Occultation Fri 13 Jul 6:27 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 16 Jul 4:47 Gan: Shadow Transit Begins S Mon 16 Jul 6:37 Gan: Shadow Transit Ends Wed 18 Jul 4:13 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Wed 18 Jul 5:37 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 18 Jul 6:19 Eur: Transit Begins ST Wed 18 Jul 6:37 Eur: Shadow Transit Ends T Wed 18 Jul 6:53 Io : Shadow Transit Begins ST Thu 19 Jul 7:18 Io : Reappears from Occultation Fri 20 Jul 4:33 Io : Transit Ends Fri 20 Jul 7:16 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Mon 23 Jul 4:46 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 25 Jul 6:25 GRS: Crosses Central Meridian Wed 25 Jul 6:51 Eur: Shadow Transit Begins S Thu 26 Jul 5:59 Io : Disappears into Eclipse Fri 27 Jul 4:22 Io : Transit Begins ST Fri 27 Jul 5:02 Gan: Reappears from Occultation ST Fri 27 Jul 5:25 Io : Shadow Transit Ends T Fri 27 Jul 6:12 Eur: Reappears from Occultation T Fri 27 Jul 6:32 Io : Transit Ends Sat 28 Jul 3:47 Io : Reappears from Occultation Sat 28 Jul 3:55 GRS: Crosses Central MeridianSaturn is well past opposition, when it was biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. It is still prominent, and a reasonable telescopic object in the early evening hours of this month. Saturn is still close to the bright star Spica. On July 1 Saturn is just under seven handspans above the western horizon, at 10pm local time, a handspan to the right of Spica. On July 15 Saturn is just over five handspans above the north-western horizon at 10pm local time, a handspan below Spica. On July 25 the waxing Moon is very close to Spica, forming a battered rectangle with Saturn and Mars. On July 31st, Saturn is three handspans above the western horizon, at 10pm local time, a handspan to the right of Spica.
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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 28/07/2012 delta-Aquarids 20 0.5 27/07/2012 Piscis Australids 5 0.5 30/07/2012 Capricornids 4 0.75
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 delta-Aquarids will appear from 12 July to 19th August peaking on July the 28th. At 10 pm, face east, and look 4 hand spans and two finger widths above the horizon. One finger width right is the 4th magnitude star delta d Aquarii. The radiant is just above this star, see the map for more detail. This meteor shower should be visible from 10.00pm until dawn, with better meteor rates after midnight (and after Moonset). The other meteor showers are weak.
Outside of the showers, you can still see sporadic meteors. Rates seen from the Southern Hemisphere are around 11 random meteors being seen per hour during the late morning hours and 2-4 per hour during the evening. The evening rates will be reduced slightly during the times around the full Moon due to interference by the Moons light.
A good page describing meteor watching is at the Sky Publications site.
The Meteor Section of the Astronomical Society of Victoria has some good information on meteor watching too.
Learn how to take a meteor shower photograph.
A Cool Fact about meteor speeds
A good page on detecting meteors using home made radiotelescopes is here.
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There are currently no comets observable with the unaided eye. A list of current comet ephemerides is at the MPC.
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Occultation of Omicron Scorpii by the Moon July 28.
The evening sky facing East in Adelaide on July 28 at 9:22 pm AEST showing the waning Moon having just about to cover Omicron Scorpii (indicated by circle). (similar views will be seen from other cities at a similar local time eg 10:08 pm AEDST Melbourne.The nearly full Moon passes in front of the moderately bright stars Omicron Scorpii 1 and 2 (magnitudes 3.9 and 4.2) in the head of the Scorpion on the evening of Saturday July 28. This event is visible from all of Australia, although both stars are covered only in some states.
The Moon rises in the head of the Scorpion near Omicron Scorpii 1 and 2. The dark limb of the Moon covers the stars at 21:24 pm ACST Adelaide (Omicron Scorpii 1 only), 22:22 AEST Brisbane (Omicron Scorpii 1), 22:14 AEST Canberra (Omicron Scorpii 1 only), 21:36 pm ACST Darwin (Omicron Scorpii 2, Omicron Scorpii 1 graze), 22:19 pm AEST Hobart (Omicron Scorpii 1 only), 22:08 pm AEST Melbourne (Omicron Scorpii 1), 19:03 AWST Perth (Omicron Scorpii 1) and 22:18 pm AEST Sydney (Omicron Scorpii 1 only).
The bright limb of the Moon uncovers the stars at 22:38 pm ACDST Adelaide (Omicron Scorpii 1 only), 23:34 AEST Brisbane, 23:19 AEST Canberra (Omicron Scorpii 1), 22:55 pm ACST Darwin (Omicron Scorpii 2), 22:57 pm AEST Hobart (Omicron Scorpii 1 only), 23:10 pm AEST Melbourne (Omicron Scorpii 1 only), 20:27 AWST Perth (Omicron Scorpii 1) and 23:23 pm AEST Sydney (Omicron Scorpii 1 only).
With the Moon two days past first Quarter, this event is really best seen with binoculars or a small telescope (especially for the reappareance of the stars against the bright edge of the Moon). If you have a tripod or other stand for your binoculars, it will be much easier to observe. With the Moon in the head of the Scorpion it will look rather attractive.
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 AEST in Melbourne on July 1 (similar views will be seen from other cities at the equivalent local time eg 10:00 pm ACST Adelaide).
All descriptions here are based on the view from Melbourne at 10.00 pm AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on 1 July 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 AEST.
- 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.
This is an ideal time to hunt the fainter open clusters in Scorpio with binoculars. Looking East and straight up, the distinctive "hook" shape of Scorpio, the scorpion, now stretches across the zenith. going up about six handspans you will see six bright stars forming a T, with the tail of the "T" nearly parallel to the horizon and a curved "tail" of stars. The bright red giant star Antares (Alpha Scorpius, the middle star in the three stars forming the tail of the T) is quite prominent. The area around Scorpio is quite rewarding in binoculars, and there is a small but pretty globular cluster about one fingerwidth above and to the north of Antares (between Antares and the leading star of the tail of the T). It can be hard to see in city conditions. A high definition map of Scorpio is here.
Just below Scorpio and slightly to the right is the distinctive "teapot" shape of Sagittarius, the archer. The "teapots" spout is pointing straight up, and its lid points to the left. This constellation is now high enough in the sky for its panalopy of clusters and nebula to reach full prominence. M24, an open cluster about two fingerwidths to the right and slightly down from the "lid" of the teapot should be visible to the naked eye, just above this and slightly to the left by about a hand span is a number of open clusters and a patch of luminosity that marks the lagoon nebula. M22, a globular cluster, is close to the lid (between and about a fingerwidths left of the two stars that make the bottom of the lid), should be visible as a dim, fuzzy star on a dark night. Between these clusters and the "lid" itself runs the Great Sagittarius Starcloud. The centre of our galaxy lies in Sagittarius, and on a dark night, the traceries of the Milky Way and its dust clouds are particularly beautiful. A high definition map of Sagittarius can be found here.
To the right of the teapot by about two fingerwidths, is the a delicate arc of stars, Corona Australis, the Southern Crown. Just below Sagittarius is the battered triangle of Capricorn, the Goat, and off to the left by about 4 handspans is three bright stars that mark Aquilla, the Eagle, with the brightest, white Altair, being in the center.
To the left of the "T" of Scorpio by one handspan and slightly higher is a broad triangle of stars that marks Libra, the balance. Alpha librae (with the amazing name Zubenelgenubi) is the brightest star and apex of the triangle pointed at Spica, is almost midway between Spica and Antares. This star is a wide binary, and those with good eye sight and dark skies can usual see both components. Beta Librae (Zubeneschamali) is the next brightezst star in the triangle and closest to the horizon. Four fingerwidths to the left of Beta Librae is delta librae, this dim star (magnitude 4.9) is an eclipsing variable, where a dim star orbiting a brighter star eclipses the brighter star, causing a fall in precieved brigtness. Delta librae dims and brightens by one whole magnitude every 2.3 days, and is a good (if dim) naked eye variable. Libra also hosts the star HD 141569 (roughly a handspan below beta Librae, but at 7th magnitude invisible to the naked eye), which has a dust disk with dark lanes which may indicate planets.
To the left of Libra by around three handspans is bright white Spica, the brightest start in the constellation of Virgo. Spica marks the top right-hand corner of a rectangular group of stars that marks out the body of Virgo, the virgin.
Six handspans below Spica and three to the right is bright orange Arcturus, alpha star of the constellation of Bootes, the herdsman. Between Altair, Arcturus and Spica are a number of dim constellations, including Hercules. Hercules is almost mid way between Altair and Arcturus, and a reasonably prominent box shape marks the centre of the constellation.
Looking now to the right of Scorpio, about a handspan away from the curved tail is a small squarish constellation Ara, another handspan again brings you to the edge of the large, but dim, constellation of Pavo. Delta Pavonis, about another handspan away, is one of the handful of sun-like stars within 20 lightyears of Earth that might have terrestrial planets in its habitable zone.
Directly to the left of Virgo by four handspans is end of the long rambling constellation Hydra which starts below the western the horizon. Three handspans to the left is crater the cup with its distinct, but upside down, cup shape. Three handspans above and three to the left of Spica is the kite shape of Corvus the crow. About four handspans above Spica and about one to the right is M83, a galaxy which can easily be seen in small binoculars on a dark night.
Five handspans to left of and four down from Virgo, is Leo. The sickle of Leo is below the horizon and Regulus is just above the western horizon.
The battered rectangle of stars that forms Puppis, the poop deck of the former constellation Argo Navis, is just on the south-western horizon. Just above this is Vela, the sail of that same ship. When, Argo Navis was broken up into Puppis, Vela and Carina (the keel) in 1750, they forgot to assign alpha and beta stars to Vela, and it's brightest star is at magnitude 1.5 is Gamma Velorum. Gama Velorum is a double star which may be resolved in good binoculars. The Milky Way passes through Vela, and there are many open clusters which can be seen with binoculars or the naked eye. One of the best of these is NGC2547, a little below gamma Velorum. Vela is also home to the spectacular Gum nebula (which can only be seen in telescopic photographs), and the second pulsar to be observed optically. Kappa and delta Vvelorum, with iota and epsilon Carina, make the "false cross" (about 10 hand spans above the southern horizon). A high definition map of Vela is here.
To the left of Vela, is Carina (the keel). A high definition map of this region is here. Looking almost anywhere in the area stretching between Sagittarius and Vela/Carina will reveal an interesting cluster or star formation. However, the area two handspans below and slightly to the right of the Southern Cross, between it and the false cross, is particularly rich. Here you will find the "Southern Pleiades" surrounding the tail star (Theta Carina) of a prominent kite shaped group of stars in Carina. Smaller and less spectacular than their northern counterparts, they still look very nice in binoculars. Four fingerwidths to the left of the Southern Pleiades are two rich open clusters, and the barely visible star Eta Carina. Eta Carina's spectacular nebula is only dimly seen in binoculars. Five hand spans to the right of the Southern Cross is the False Cross, just below the False Cross is a good open cluster, just visible to the naked eye, and very nice in binoculars. One handspan to the left of the False Cross is another rich open cluster, again, very nice in binoculars. Canopus (alpha Carina) is a bright yellowish star two handspans from the south-western horizon.
Facing due South, one handspan to the right and twelve handspans up are Alpha and beta Centauri the so called "pointers", with Alpha being the yellow star which is closest to the horizon, and Beta the blue white star to the right. 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. Slightly to the right again, and following a line through the "pointers" brings you to the Southern Cross, 15 handspans above the horizon at about the 12 o'clock position on a clock. A high definition map of Centaurus and Crux is here.
Just to the left of the Southern Cross is the coal sack. This dark area against the glow of the Milky Way represents a large dust cloud and is clearly visible in dark skies. The Jewel box in the Cross is a small open cluster just below Beta Crucis, the southernmost bright star in the Cross at the moment. It is quite beautiful, but requires strong binoculars or a small telescope to see properly.
Returning to Alpha Centauri, a handspan from this star to the right and a handspan up is a small star, a half hand span up (and about a handspan to the right) is a fuzzy star, this is omega Centauri (5139 on the map), a globular cluster of stars which is quite spectacular in good binoculars, and more spectacular than 47 Tucana (see below). Another handspan directly up is Centaurus A, a very radio bright galaxy (5128 on the map). You need a dark night and binoculars (at least 10 x 30) to see it, but it is one of the few galaxies you can see in the southern hemisphere (outside of the small and large Mangellanic clouds) without a telescope.
Five handspans straight up from south, and two to the left is the extended nebulosity of the Small Magellanic cloud, one of the dwarf satellite galaxies to the Milky Way. This feature is best viewed on a dark night, away from the city. In this nebulosity is what looks to be a fuzzy star, this is 47 Tucana, a spectacular globular cluster that is very nice through binoculars.
Up four hand spans from due south and two handspans to the right is the Large Magellanic cloud, the largest of the dwarf satellite galaxies. Binoculars will reveal a rather attractive nebula near it, the Tarantula nebula.
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How to use the maps
Comparison of a section of a skymap showing the Southern Cross (Crux) and pointers, with the appearance of the night sky. The map and sky are for September 1 at 10.00 pm, facing south. Both show approximately 30 degrees (5 handspans) of sky just above the horizon
The maps look a little busy, as they cover all sky from horizon to zenith. The grid lines are navigational helpers; each horizontal or vertical line covers 30 degrees of arc (the gridlines in the illustration show 15 degrees of arc), which is roughly five handspans (where a handspan is the width of your hand, held flat light a "stop" sign at arms length). As you can see from the way the lines bunch up. The map is a little distorted, due to trying to project a spherical surface on a flat surface. The horizon is the lowest curved line on the map (for technical software reasons I can't block things out below the Horizon). Constellations are linked by lines and their names are in italics. Stars are shown as circles of varying size, the bigger the circle the brighter the star. The stars are named with their Bayer letter (eg a - alpha, the brightest star in a constellation, a Crucis is the brightest star in Crux). Variable stars are shown as hollow circles, double stars are marked with a line (eg a, b and g Crucis are all double stars, that look quite beautiful in a small telescope). Clusters and Nebula brighter than magnitude 6.0 are marked as broken circles (eg the Jewel box cluster next to b Crucis above which is best viewed in binoculars or a telescope) and squares respectively. To find Crux for example, locate Crux on the appropriate map (eg see the illustration above). Holding the Map, face either east or west (depending on the map), then use the grid lines to determine how far over and up you should look, then look for the Crux pattern in that part of the Sky.
GIF MapsA view of the Eastern July sky at 10.00pm AEST on 1 July can be downloaded here (julsky_e.gif 30 Kb) and a view of the western July sky can be downloaded here (julsky_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] 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 July 2012, 11:30:13 PM