The Night Sky This Month

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Ian Morison tells you what can be seen in the night sky this month.
Updated: 5 hours 36 min ago

The night sky for May 2019

Fri, 10/05/2019 - 19:00
Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during May 2019.

The Planets

  • Jupiter, starts the month shining at magnitude -2.5 which increases to to -2.6 as the month progresses. At the same time, its angular size increases from 43 to 46 arc seconds. As May begins it rises by midnight UT so will be due south around 3 am UT whilst at month's end it rises at ~9:30 pm UT so due south at ~01:30 UT. See the highlights fro when the Great Red Spot faces the Earth. Sadly it is heading towards the southernmost part of the ecliptic and currently lies in the southern part of Ophiuchus just above Scorpius so, as it crosses the meridian, it will only have an elevation of ~ 14 degrees. It lies just above the centre of the Milky Way. Atmospheric dispersion will thus take its toll and an atmospheric dispersion corrector would greatly help to improve our views of the giant planet.

  • Saturn, shining with a magnitude increasing from +0.5 to +0.3 during the month, rises around midnight during the month so crosses the meridian just before dawn. Its disk is ~18 arc seconds across and its rings - which are still nicely tilted from the line of sight - spanning 40 arc seconds across. Morning twilight is the best time to observe it but, sadly, now in Sagittarius and lying on the southern side of the milky way, it is at the lowest point of the ecliptic and will only reach an elevation of ~10 degrees. As with Jupiter, an atmospheric dispersion corrector will help improve our view.

  • Mercury, passes through superior conjunction (behind the Sun) on May 21st and will only be visible, low in the west-northwest, on the last few days of the month. One will need a very low horizon and binoculars could well be needed to reduce the Sun's background glare, but please do not use them until after the Sun has set.

  • Mars, though fading from +1.6 to +1.8 magnitudes during the month, is still visible in Taurus in the south western sky after sunset lying half way between Betelgeuse, in Orion, and Capella, in Auriga. Mars sets some three hours after the Sun at the start of May (with an elevation as darkness falls of ~20 degrees) but less than two and a half hours by month's end. Its angular size falls from 4.2 arc seconds to less than 4 arc seconds during the month so one will not be able to spot any details on its salmon-pink surface.

  • Venus, has a magnitude of -3.8 in May with its angular size reducing from 11.5 to 10.8 arc seconds during the month as it moves away from the Earth. However, at the same time, the percentage illuminated disk (its phase) increases from 88% to 92% - which is why the brightness remains constant at 3.8 magnitudes. It rises about an hour before the Sunbut its elevation is only ~4 degrees at sunrise so a very low horizon in the East is required and binoculars may well be needed to spot it through the Sun's glare - but please do not use them after the Sun has risen.

  • Highlights
  • May 7th - after sunset: Mars lies above a thin crescent Moon. Given a low horizon looking towards the west after sunset one should, if clear, be able to spot Mars lying halfway between Betelgeuse and Capella above a very thin crescent Moon.

  • April 12th - evening: The Moon in Leo Looking southwest in the evening a first quarter Moon will be seen lying close to Regulus in Leo.

  • May 19th - early evening: Mars above M35 in Gemini. Looking west in early evening if clear, and using binoculars or a small telescope one could see Mars lying just above the open cluster, M35, in Gemini. Perhaps a last chance to see Mars at the very end of its apparition.

  • May20th - midnight: Jupiter and the Moon. During the night of the 20 May, Jupiter will lie over to the right of the waning gibbous Moon.

  • May 23rd - early morning: Saturn and the Moon. In the early Morning of the 23rd of May, Saturn will lie up to the right of the waning gibbous Moon.

  • May 28th - around midnight: spot asteroid 1, Ceres. On the 28th May, Ceres is at its closest approach to Earth lying over to the right of Jupiter. It will have a magnitude of 7 so binoculars should enable you to spot it and the chart will help you find it. A planetarium program such as Stellarium will show you its position in the days before and after its closest approach. Ceres is the largest of the minor planets and is now classified as a 'Dwarf Planet'.

  • Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske from the Carter Science Centre in New Zealand speak about the Southern Hemisphere night sky during May 2019.

    • The rise of the Galaxy Kia Ora from New Zealand, we are here at Space Place at Carter Observatory holding Galactic Conversations from the heart of Wellington in the Southern Hemisphere, with the music of the amazing Rhian Sheehan, our Wellingtonian star composer. This month we have a very special guest, one of our own Milky Way Kiwi - from far across the Cook Strait and The Southern Alps, from Lake Tekapo - Holly. We have again instructions for looking up, we talk a little bit about the month of May, we look at what the Sun is up to, the Milky Way, Orion and Scorpius, we talk about the brightest stars visible and finally some favourite binocular and telescope objects, circumpolar objects and planets.

    • A bit about May is the fifth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian Calendars a month of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. It is named after the Greek goddess, Maia or Roman goddess of fertility, Bona Dea. Old English - Maius, Latin name - Maius mensis - Month of Maia, Old French - Mai. Maia was one of the Pleiades and the mother of Hermes. Maia is the daughter of Atlas and Pleione the Oceanid and is the oldest of the seven Pleiades. Because they were daughters of Atlas, they were also called the Atlantides. For the Romans, it embodied the concept of growth and as her name was thought to be related to the comparative adjective maius, maior "larger, greater". Convallaria majalis, the Lily of the Valley, one of my favourite flowers - is named after it and it is the flower of May in Europe.

    • What's the Sun up to? The Sun rises from 7 to 7:30AM throughout the month and sets from around 5:30 to 5:00 PM. Beautiful and long nights are here.In May, the Sun transits first the zodiacal constellations of the Ram (Aries) and after 14th of May is in Taurus. This means that Scorpius is on the other side of the zodiacal wheel and visible starting after sunset.

    • The Milky Way We are now looking towards the centre of our galaxy, which rises in the South East just after sunset and reaches meridian after 3 AM at the beginning of the month and 2 am towards the end.

    • Bright stars in the Milky Way Starting from the West after sunset is Betelegeuse, then in zig-zag to the North is Procyon, the Little Dog alpha star. Zig-zagging again is Sirius, and Adhara, in the Big Dog, and Suhail al Muhlif and Avior in Vela, the beautiful stars of the Southern Cross, the two pointers, Alpha and Beta Centauri then later on in the night after the centre of the Milky Way rises, is Antares and Shaula in Scorpius, Nunki in Sagittarius and last but not least, after midnight, Altair and last but not least, Vega grazing the northern horizon.

    • Orion and Scorpius Orion is very close to Taurus and it will sink further towards the horizon as the month progresses. Enjoy it while it lasts, for the rest of this month.

    • Bright stars on the ecliptic Then Regulus in Leo (which is extremely close to the ecliptic) then Spica, the blue giant in Virgo, Zubenelgenubi, another star grazing the ecliptic and Zubeneschamali just beneath it. Zubenelgenubi means the northern claw and Zubeneschamali the southern claw, alluding to these two stars that have been the claws of Scorpius before they were chopped off and turned into the current constellation of Libra. They are followed by Antares which is the last very bright star visible on the ecliptic before sunrise.

    • Circumpolar Objects to New Zealand The beautiful Southern Cross and the pointers are high in the sky. Gacrux and Acrux are crossing the meridian around 10 PM at the beginning of the month and just after 8PM at the end of it. Omega Centauri is in a great position to observe, as well as Musca, Vela, Carina and their Diamond Cross, and False Cross and the Large Magellanic Cloud and its Tarantula Nebula.

    • Binocular Objects in May Binoculars come in many shapes and forms, a great size for stargazing is 7 x 50 or 10 x 50. The first number is a measure of power, it means how much these binoculars magnify, in this case the 7 and the 10. The second number is the diameter of the objective (the big lenses at the front) in millimetres, in this case the 50. I really like binoculars, they are my favourite aids to observing the night sky because they are light, you can take them easily with you on trips, they don't really require assembly and disassembly, no polar alignment, and visually are better than telescopes! With a tripod attached they are truly magnificent. Comets and some open star clusters are sometimes better observed with binoculars. We have two eyes, so binocular views are more spectacular in many regards than telescopic, because our brains interpret what we see, binoculars give depth of view as they engage both eyes in the process.
      There are a few great objects that you could admire in binoculars. On the ecliptic, M44 (the Praesepe) is an open cluster in Cancer. Known as the beehive, the open cluster swarms with stars. It's really fuzzy when you look at it with the naked eye and binoculars reveal a beautiful lace of stars. Praesepes are as far as 577 light years and estimated to be about 730 million years old with an average magnitude of 3.5. Also in Cancer, M37, is another open cluster, one of the oldest known, almost 3.2 billion years.
      You can get a map and look for all these objects. Or, if everything else fails, simply take your binoculars and swipe the Milky Way from one edge to the other. You might not figure out exactly which objects you are looking at but you would definitely find amazing sights, especially in the region close to Carina. You will find there IC2602, NGC3114, NGC353, NGC2516 that are all open clusters then in Crux NGC4755 which is another open cluster, NGC2451 in Puppis, and IC2391 in Vela. Lower down, Omega Centauri, is a globular cluster in Centaurus and in Scorpius, there are the Butterfly Cluster, M7 open cluster and NGC6231 open cluster.

    • Telescope Objects in May A fantastic night in central Wellington where the Large Magellanic Cloud is only visible with averted vision, still, not bad for a capital city. We looked at the Southern Beehive NGC 2516, Gem Cluster NGC 3293, Southern Pleiades IC 2602, Wishing Well NGC 3532, Jewel Box NGC 4755, Omicron Velorum IC 2391, Omega Centauri NGC 5139, Alpha Centauri and Acrux, Tarantula NGC 2070.

    • Planets Jupiter is in the sky just after 7:30 followed by Saturn two hours later and Venus is in the morning sky.

    • Clear skies from New Zealand.

The night sky for April 2019

Mon, 01/04/2019 - 08:00
Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during April 2019.

The Planets

  • Jupiter starts the month rising around 1 a.m. and brightens from magnitude -2.3 to -2.5 as the month progresses, whilst its angular size increases slightly from 40 to 43 arc seconds. By month's end it rises by ~11 pm so will be due south around 3 am. Sadly it is heading towards the southern part of the ecliptic and currently lies in the southern part of Ophiuchus just above Scorpius so, as it crosses the meridian, it will only have an elevation of ~ 14 degrees. Atmospheric dispersion will thus take its toll and an atmospheric dispersion corrector would greatly help to improve our views of the giant planet.

  • Saturn, shining with a magnitude increasing from +0.6 to +0.5 during the month, rises around 3 am on April 1st but around 1 am by month's end. Its disk is ~17 arc seconds across and its rings - which are still nicely tilted from the line of sight spanning 36 arc seconds across. By the end of April, Saturn will near the meridian just before sunrise so morning twilight is the best time to observe it but, sadly, now in Sagittarius it is at the lowest point of the ecliptic and will only reach an elevation of ~14 degrees. As with Jupiter, an atmospheric dispersion corrector will help improve our view

  • Mercury passed through inferior conjunction (between us and the Sun) on March 15th and, at the start of the month rises low in the east-southeast about 30 minutes before the Sun but, shining at a magnitude of +0.9 only reaching an elevation of ~4 degrees. Mercury reaches greatest elongation west, some 28 degrees from the Sun, on April 11th. It lies down to the left of Venus as the two inferior planets approach each other as the month progresses. On April 1st, they lie 10 degrees apart and are closest, just over 4 degrees apart on the 16th - the closest for 3 years. One will need a very low horizon and binoculars could well be used to reduce the background glare, but please do not use them after the Sun has risen.

  • Mars, though fading from +1.5 to +1.6 magnitudes during the month, remains prominent in the south western sky after sunset setting some four hours after the Sun at the start of April but less than 3 and a half hours by month's end. At an elevation of ~34 degrees after sunset it is moving through Taurus passing between the Pleaides and Hyades clusters on the 4th/5th. (If only it could have been at this elevation when at closest approach last year!) On the 16th, it passes 7 degrees north of Aldebaran, the red giant star that lies between us and the Hyades cluster. Its angular size falls from 4.6 arc seconds to 4.2 arc seconds during the month so one will not be able to spot any details on its salmon-pink surface.

  • Venus begins April with a magnitude of -3.9 with its angular size reducing from 13.1 to 11.6 arc seconds during the month as it moves away from the Earth. However, at the same time, the percentage illuminated disk (its phase) increases from 81% to 86% - which is why the brightness remains constant at 3.9 magnitudes. On the first of April it rises about 5 am - only 30 minutes before the Sun so binoculars may well be needed to spot it through the Sun's glare. A very low horizon just south of east will be needed and binoculars could well be required to cut through the Sun's glare - but please do not use them after the Sun has risen.

  • Highlights
  • April 5th - early evening: Mars lies between the Hyades and Pleiades. In the early evening looking towards the southwest one should, if clear, be easily able to spot Mars lying halfway between the Hyades and Pleiades open clusters.

  • April 6th - evening: three open clusters. Looking northwest in the evening at an elevation of ~35 degrees should be seen the 'W' shapes constellation of Cassiopeia. Up to its left lies Perseus with its bright star Mirphak. This lies at the heart of the Alpha Persei Cluster - widely spread across the sky and about 600 light years distant having an age of ~60 million years. Between Cassiopeia and Perseus can be seen with binoculars or a small telescope the Perseus Double Cluster - the common name for the two clusters NGC 869 and NGC 884. These are quite young with an age of ~13 million years and lie at a distance of 7,500 light years. There are more than 300 blue-white supergiant stars in each cluster.

  • April 9th - early evening: Mars and a crescent Moon in Taurus. Looking southwest in early evening if clear, Mars and a thin crescent Moon will be seen lying above the Hyades and Pleaides clusters in Taurus.

  • April 10th - evening: Spot Asteroid 2, Pallas. In the evening after dark, the bright star Arcturus will be seen rising in the east. Up to its right is the star Muphrid. Exactly on the line between them and just to the lower left of Muphrid one should spot Pallas, the second asteroid to be discovered, shining at magnitude 8. Binoculars or a small telescope will be needed.

  • April 15th - evening: the Moon below Leo. If clear in the evening and looking south, the waxing Moon just after first quarter will be seen lying below the constellation Leo. Up to the left of Leo lies the Coma Star Cluster - well seen in binoculars.

  • April 24th - before dawn: Jupiter, Saturn and a waxing gibbous Moon. If clear before dawn, and given a low horizon towards the south, one should easily see Jupiter and Saturn lying on either side of the waxing Gibbous Moon.

  • April 14th/26th: Two Great Lunar Craters. These are two great nights to observe two of the greatest craters on the Moon, Tycho and Copernicus, as the terminator is nearby. Tycho is towards the bottom of Moon in a densely cratered area called the Southern Lunar Highlands. It is a relatively young crater which is about 108 million years old. It is interesting in that it is thought to have been formed by the impact of one of the remnants of an asteroid that gave rise to the asteroid Baptistina. Another asteroid originating from the same breakup may well have caused the Chicxulub crater 65 million years ago. It has a diameter of 85 km and is nearly 5 km deep. At full Moon - seen in the image below - the rays of material that were ejected when it was formed can be see arcing across the surface. Copernicus is about 800 million years old and lies in the eastern Oceanus Procellarum beyond the end of the Apennine Mountains. It is 93 km wide and nearly 4 km deep and is a classic "terraced" crater. Both can be seen with binoculars.

Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske from the Carter Science Centre in New Zealand speaks about the Southern Hemisphere night sky during April 2019.

  • Global Astronomy Month First of all, April is the Global Astronomy Month (GAM). But wait, it gets even better than that! From Sunday, March 31 to Sunday, April 7 is the 2019 International Dark Sky Week! It was created in 2003 by high-school student Jennifer Barlow. International Dark Sky Week has grown to become a worldwide event and a key component of Global Astronomy Month. Each year it is held in April around Astronomy Day. Brights stars adorn the evening sky, Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri are visible in one go and the Galactic Centre starts making a reappearance in the Southern Sky, rising about 10:30pm by the end of the month. The Milky Way looks fantastic in April as it stretches almost horizon to horizon and as the dense star fields and dust lanes of the Galactic Centre become more visible, our galaxy creates quite a spectacle throughout the month. Those of you with a keen eye will be able to spot the Milky Way Kiwi rising in the early morning at the start of the month.

  • A bit about April - Here is autumn again, the grapes have been harvested and awaiting to be transmuted into wine and while we wait, we prepare for the long beautiful nights in which the galactic centre climbs to the Zenith. April is a Latin name, Aprilis, or maybe the mispronounced name of Greek goddess Aphrodite, since the first of April was dedicated to Venus, the ancient Romans were celebrating Veneralia. Maybe it has a common root with aperire, (Latin to open, as in opening buds and blossoms) since in Europe is the month of the first blossoms on the trees. Whereas here we also get the first taste of Winter as the odd southerly front roars up from the Southern Ocean to remind everyone what's on the way. Those closer to the tropics start seeing a bit less humidity as the dry season starts. The roaring southerly fronts also remind us of the super clear, cool and stable air that often sits behind those fronts and makes for cool evenings of amazing seeing.

  • What's the Sun up to? The Sun rises from 7:00 to 7:40AM throughout the month and sets the morning and sets from around quarter past seven in the evening to half past five. Yes that is correct - April is also the month when we get rid of daylight saving. So towards the end of the month we would be enjoying a beautiful and long night - that is if the sky will stay clear.

  • April is more or less the month of the zodiacal constellation of the fish, Pisces, with the Sun moving into the Ram (Aries) only the 20th of April. That means the Sun is transiting both the constellations of Pisces and Aries and so we cannot see them because of two reasons: (1) the stars that make them are well behind the Sun and (2) it's dangerous to look into the Sun. Of course, if you have solar telescope, that is well maintained and is designed for looking at the sun, then you can look at the Sun.

    However, because the Sun is in Aries, it means that 180 degrees on the other side of the zodiacal band, is Scorpius. This means, Scorpius is opposite the Sun and it will be visible in the night sky. Scorpius's is quite high in the late evening by the end of the month - meaning that Sagittarius and the galactic centre will also be not far behind.

  • The Milky Way - the most spectacular feature of the Southern Hemisphere's sky... and to say this is such an understatement. The Milky Way is so striking here in New Zealand, that in the absence of a polar star, people could and should orient themselves by it. For two reasons: one is because we think it is so amazing, and also because when it's at its highest, the Milky Way stretches here from North to South through the zenith. What else is better than that? Plus it might remind people to be more sensible about lighting so we can preserve dark skies.

  • Back in 2011 was the first time ever when I really saw the Milky Way. Not that I thought I didn't see it before. I thought I did. But no... it was in the Wairarapa back in 2011 and it is a sight I will never forget. I like to call the Milky Way my City of Stars. Or the leg of the Octopus, since its centre is almost on the horizon at sunset. From the rising core, all the way to its setting edge - from Scorpius to Taurus is one glorious panorama. The City of Stars stretches through the night sky southeast to northwest. Here in Aotearoa, the Māori have three names for the same asterisms (groupings of stars) at different times of the year. What we know as Scorpius is, at this time of the year, called Manaia Ki Te Rangi, the guardian of the skies.

    It is a great time of the year to get the telescope out in the early evening, now that daylight saving has finished, and just browse the star fields, catching glimpses of nebulae and star clusters.

  • So what can we see? - Ropes of Stars. Imagine two arches, one smaller running though the Northern part of the sky, that is the ecliptic, the other one larger, running through the zenith - that is the Galaxy.

  • Bright stars on the Ecliptic - the smaller arch. Through the northeastern sky runs the ecliptic, in a lower arch, which marks the plane of our solar system, bearing the zodiacal constellations. They intersect the Milky Way right on the horizon at the start of the month in the late evening. To see things on the ecliptic one should simply turn towards that part of the sky that carries the memory of the path of the Sun or of the Moon, for that matter. Let's swipe them from west to east:

  • Setting first in the evening at visually towards the outskirts of the galaxy, as we can see it from Earth, and at about 65 light years away, is the red giant Aldebaran, very low on the horizon and setting at about 8:30pm by the middle of the month, in Taurus at 0.86 magnitudes. Then hot white Castor and orange Pollux - in Gemini at 1.93 and 1.14 mag, followed by blue-white Regulus at 1.36 in Leo - almost due North, and blue-white Spica at magnitude 0.98 in Virgo, in the North East. Just rising near the centre of the Galaxy, is another red giant, Antares, at mag 1.06 and at 604 light years from us.

  • Other bright stars throughout the Galaxy - the larger arch. Outside of the ecliptic are a bunch of other bright stars including the famous Betelgeuse, a red giant at 0.42 mag and Rigel, a blue giant at mag 0.13, both in Orion. Then the Dogs of the Celestial River, because they are guarding it each from one side of it, are yellowish-white Procyon - in the Small Dog at 0.34 and Sirius - in the Big Dog, at mag -1.46. Sirius, a blue giant, is the brightest star in the sky. The big dog constellation finally looks the right way up heading also to the western horizon too. From it, turn your gaze left.

  • Nearby comes Canopus -0.72, the second brightest star in the sky. Canopus is not in the white band of the Milky Way. Standing tall, Canopus is high in the sky as it likes to be at this time of the year after sunset. Canopus is a circumpolar star from Wellington. This means that it goes around in circles in 23 hours and 56 minutes, riding something that is like a celestial Ferris Wheel of the Southern Skies, a giant wheel that never stops, with the South Celestial Pole at the centre and a bunch of other stars that look like a circle.

  • Crux, the Southern Cross, is no stranger to the northern hemisphere and it was entirely visible as far north as Britain in the fourth millennium BC. The Greeks could see it too but since then, the precession of the equinoxes, the wobble of Earth, its gyroscopic dance on the orbit has changed the skies a lot so that now Crux is only visible in the Northern Hemisphere from as far south as 25 degrees latitude north. Florida Keys, Puerto Rico, the islands of the Caribbean, as well as Hawaii are its northern limit of visibility. Near the Southern Cross, there is a dark patch of dust that masks the light that comes from the stars behind it and that is known as the coalsack. Inside the coalsack, the Jewel Box is one of my favourite sights that I visit over and over with the telescope.

  • Lower down on the path of the Milky Way the two pointers look now as if they are hanging from the Southern Cross. First comes Beta Centauri (the genitive for Centaurus, the name of the constellation) then the famous Alpha Centauri.

  • Binocular objects in April
  • M44 - the beehive cluster and the surroundings in Cancer

  • M42 - in Orion

  • Tarantula Nebula

  • Eta Carinae

  • Omega Centauri - these are all really high around the South Celestial Circle

  • Southern Pleiades

  • Jewel Box

  • Centaurus A

  • Alpha Centauri.

  • Telescope Objects in April
  • M83 - southern Pinwheel

  • Sombrero Galaxy - M 104

  • M68 (a lovely globular cluster)

  • Leo Triplet

  • M80, M4, M7 in Scorpius

  • Planets. The good news for April is that the planets are coming back, not all of them, and nothing like last year but still in their spectacular glory that we've become used to. For those who live on mountain tops with a nice clear view of the South Eastern horizon, you will see Jupiter rise just before 11pm at the start of the month and by the end of the month Jupiter will be starting to appear around 8pm. Of course to actually get a reasonable view of Jupiter you need to wait a couple of hours after it rises which is still a quite reasonable time by the end of the month. Jupiter is exceptionally easy to find because it's right there in the middle of the Milky Way Kiwi, quite close to the galactic centre just between Scorpius and Sagittarius.

  • Jupiter is huge and bright with a magnitude of -2.2, this is because it really is huge with a diameter of 142,984 kilometres, just over 11 Earth diameters. Its huge distance from us of around 750 million kilometres means that even this massive planet won't out shine Venus at -4 magnitude. Jupiter is a great sight in binoculars as the Galilean Moons are clearly visible, depending on their positions.

  • Saturn is about 2 hours behind Jupiter in the march along the ecliptic, so it's very much an early morning planet for most of the month before being visible at a good altitude by midnight at the end of the month. Saturn is a bit further away from the Milky Way between Sagittarius and Capricornus. Of course, by a bit further away we mean the angular distance. In distance terms it is 1.449 billion kilometres away with an angular dimension of 17.1 arcseconds in diameter. The distance doesn't change much during the month, only about 70 million kilometres.

  • Saturn's crowning jewel is its rings, which look fantastic. I think every astronomer I have ever spoken to can remember the first time they saw Saturn. To see the rings of Saturn you need to have a telescope or be about 1.1 billion kilometres closer to the gas giant. Clearly it's not that easy to be 1.1 billion kilometres closer so let's think about why we can't see them with the naked eye. The human eye has a range of angular resolution of between 1 and 4 arcminutes, depending on the eye and atmospheric conditions. The size of Saturn's rings are about 46 arcseconds when they are at their biggest, so significantly smaller than what the best human eye in the best conditions can resolve. The best you can see of Saturn with the naked eye is its beautiful golden colour.

  • Mars - unfortunately Mars doesn't do much during the month other than skirt along across Taurus to Gemini, and given it's now about 344 million kilometres away and only 4.1 arcseconds in diameter, it's not going to be much to look at anyway. In New Zealand we also miss out on the conjunction of Venus and Neptune on 10 Apr when the two planets get to within 18 arcminutes of each other. At the same time Venus and Mercury get very close as well at about 5 degrees apart. Northern hemisphere observers will have to get up early and have a good view of the horizon to see it, maybe you could send us a picture?

  • The Moon is new on the 5 Apr and full on 19 Apr. It's still quite close to the Earth during the Full Moon at about 368,000 kilometres, not quite the over-hyped super moon that gets people excited but not far off it.

  • So Clear and dark skies from Space Place at Carter Observatory here in the southern hemisphere. Special Thanks go to the amazing Rhian Sheehan, Space Place at Carter Observatory.

The night sky for March 2019

Fri, 08/03/2019 - 18:00
Northern HemisphereThe Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere's night sky during March 2019.

  • The Early Evening March Sky The brilliant constellation of Orion is seen in the south. Moving up and to the right - following the line of the three stars of Orion's belt - brings one to Taurus; the head of the bull being outlined by the V-shaped cluster called the Hyades with its eye delineated by the orange red star Aldebaran. Further up to the right lies the Pleaides Cluster. Towards the zenith from Taurus lies the constellation Auriga, whose brightest star Capella will be nearly overhead. To the upper left of Orion lie the heavenly twins, or Gemini, their heads indicated by the two bright stars Castor and Pollux. Down to the lower left of Orion lies the brightest star in the northern sky, Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major. Up and to the left of Sirius is Procyon in Canis Minor. Rising in the East is the constellation of Leo, the Lion, with the planet Saturn up and to the right of Regulus its brightest star. Continuing in this direction towards Gemini is the faint constellation of Cancer with its open cluster Praesepe (also called the Beehive Cluster), the 44th object in Messier's catalogue. On a dark night it is a nice object to observe with binoculars.

  • The Late Evening March Sky The constellation Gemini is now setting towards the south-west and Leo holds pride (sic) of place in the south with its bright star Regulus. Between Gemini and Leo lies Cancer. It is well worth observing with binoculars to see the Beehive Cluster at its heart. Below Gemini is the tiny constellation Canis Minor whose only bright star is Procyon. Rising in the south-east is the constellation Virgo whose brightest star is Spica. Though Virgo has few bright stars it is in the direction of a great cluster of galaxies - the Virgo Cluster - which lies at the centre of the supercluster of which our local group of galaxies is an outlying member.

  • Gemini - The Twins - lies up and to the left of Orion and is in the south-west during early evenings this month. It contains two bright stars Castor and Pollux of 1.9 and 1.1 magnitudes respectively. Castor is a close double having a separation of ~ 3.6 arc seconds making it a fine test of the quality of a small telescope - providing the atmospheric seeing is good! In fact the Castor system has 6 stars - each of the two seen in the telescope is a double star, and there is a third, 9th magnitude, companion star 73 arcseconds away which is also a double star! Pollux is a red giant star of spectral class K0. The planet Pluto was discovered close to delta Geminorum by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. The variable star shown to the lower right of delta Geminorum is a Cepheid variable, changing its brightness from 3.6 to 4.2 magnitudes with a period of 10.15 days.

  • Leo The constellation Leo is now in the south-eastern sky in the evening. One of the few constellations that genuinely resembles its name, it looks likes one of the Lions in Trafalgar Square, with its main and head forming an arc (called the Sickle) to the upper right, with Regulus in the position of its right knee. Regulus is a blue-white star, five times bigger than the sun at a distance of 90 light years. It shines at magnitude 1.4. Algieba, which forms the base of the neck, is the second brightest star in Leo at magnitude 1.9. With a telescope it resolves into one of the most magnificent double stars in the sky - a pair of golden yellow stars! They orbit their common centre of gravity every 600 years. This lovely pair of orange giants are 170 light years away.

  • Ursa Major The stars of the Plough, shown linked by the thicker lines in the chart above, form one of the most recognized star patterns in the sky. Also called the Big Dipper, after the soup ladles used by farmer's wives in America to serve soup to the farm workers at lunchtime, it forms part of the Great Bear constellation - not quite so easy to make out! The stars Merak and Dubhe form the pointers which will lead you to the Pole Star, and hence find North. The stars Alcor and Mizar form a naked eye double which repays observation in a small telescope as Mizar is then shown to be an easily resolved double star. A fainter reddish star forms a triangle with Alcor and Mizar.

  • The Planets
    • Jupiter, starts the month rising around 2 a.m. and brightens from magnitude -2.0 to -2.3 as the month progresses whilst its angular size increases slightly from 36.2 to 39.7 arc seconds. By month's end it rises by ~1 am BST so will be higher in the sky before dawn. Sadly it is heading towards the southern part of the ecliptic and currently lies in the southern part of Ophiuchus just above Scorpius. By the end of March, it will lie almost due south as the Sun rises but will only have an elevation of ~14 degrees so atmospheric dispersion will blur its image somewhat. The use of an atmospheric dispersion corrector will help to give sharper images.

    • Saturn, shining with a magnitude of +0.6, rises two and a half hours before the Sun at the start of the month some 2 hours after Jupiter. Its disk is ~16 arc seconds across and its rings - which are still 24 degrees from the line of sight - spanning 35 arc seconds across. Sadly, Saturn now to the left of the 'teapot' in Sagittarius is now at the lowest point on the ecliptic and so will only have an elevation of ~10 degrees when due south before dawn in a month's time. So, like Jupiter, an atmospheric dispersion corrector could help.

    • Mercury, with an angular size of 7.7 arc seconds at the start of March, reached its greatest elongation east on the 26th of February, then 18 degrees away from the Sun. On the first of March, it sets some one and a half hours after the Sun shining at magnitude +0.1. During the month, its angular size increases to 10.9 arc seconds but its brightness rapidly reduces and by March 6th, at magnitude 2, will become very difficult to spot in the twilight. Binoculars could well be needed to reduce the background glare, but please do not use them until after the Sun has set. Mercury passes between us and the Sun (inferior conjunction) on the 15th.

    • Mars, though fading from +1.2 to +1.4 magnitudes during the month, remains prominent in the south western sky after sunset at an elevation of ~37 degrees. Mars is moving north-eastwards through Aries and passes into Taurus on the 23rd/24th of the month. (If only it could have been at this elevation when at closest approach last year!) Its angular size falls from 5.3 arc seconds to 4.7 arc seconds during the month so one will not be able to spot any details on its salmon-pink surface.

    • Mars, begins March at a magnitude of -4.1. with its angular size reducing from 16 to 13 arc seconds during the month as it moves away from the Earth. However, at the same time, the percentage illuminated disk (its phase) increases from 72% to 81% - which is why the brightness only reduces from -4.1 to -3.9 magnitudes. Venus rises abour 2 hours before the Sun at the beginning of the month with an elevation of ~7 degrees before dawn, but both reduce as the month progresses. We have nearly come to the end of its morning apparition as it moves towards superior conjunction (behind the Sun) in August. It will not then be visible, low in our south-western sky, until late November.

    • Highlights
    • March 2nd - before dawn: Venus, Saturn and a thin crescent Moon. Looking southeast before dawn and if clear, a thin crescent Moon will be seen lying between Venus and Saturn.

    • March 12th - evening: a waxing Moon approaches the Pleiades and Hyades clusters. Looking high in the southwest during the early evening one will, if clear, spot the Moon lying below the Pleaides and Hyades open clusters in Taurus.

    • March 16th - just before dawn: Jupiter and Saturn above the 'teapot' of Sagittarius. If clear just before dawn, and given a low horizon just east of south, one should be able to see Jupiter lying up to the right of Saturn above the 'teapot' of Sagittarius.

    • March - Evenings of the 14th and 28th: The Straight Wall on the Moon. The Straight Wall, or Rupes Recta, is best observed either 1 or 2 days after First Quarter or a day or so before Third Quarter. To honest, it is not really a wall but a gentle scarp - as Sir Patrick has said "Neither is it a wall nor is it straight!".

    • Maps, images and more details on http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/astronomy/nightsky

      Southern Hemisphere

      Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske tell us what we can see in the southern hemisphere's night sky during March 2019.

    • Highlights The planets are almost gone from the evening sky, but look up in the early hours of the morning and you will see Jupiter, and later on, Saturn and Venus. Te Tawhiti - the Pleiades are preparing for their journey to the underworld, leaving behind a doppelganger, the Southern Pleiades. We will see M45 again at the end of June when they will reappear in the morning sky as Matariki. The Milky Way arches across the sky reaching zenith in the evening hours. There are some amazing binocular objects there, stay with us for our Southern Hemisphere Night Sky in March with Hari and Sam from the Middle of the Middle Earth, here in New Zealand.

    • The Season of Harvest.

    • Kia Ora from New Zealand, Hi everyone, Once again we are at Space Place at Carter Observatory holding Galactic Conversations from the heart of Wellington in the Southern Hemisphere, with the music of the amazing Rhian Sheehan in the background, our Wellingtonian star composer.

      I'm Haritina Mogosanu, and I'm Samuel Leske.

      Just look up after sunset - pray that there is clear skies and you will see one of the most amazing night skies in the world. We've also been to a few star parties lately and had the opportunity to observe all night long these amazing features that set the sky of the Southern Hemisphere in a special place in our heart. Right now, the galactic centre is slowly coming back into the picture but there are still amazing views in the Carina-Southern Cross region and the Large Magellanic Cloud. So to get your own star party going, We prepared some instructions for looking up in March.

    • Planets. There are no decent planets in sight in the evening sky, just Mars and that is so close to the horizon that you can hardly distinguish it from the stars and by 10 AM it's sunk into the underworld. So if you really want to see planets you will have to stay up late. The brightest stars in the night sky are there in March, so if you'd like to know what those lights are, we will tell you all about it. March is the month when the day is equal to the night, as we are observing the March Equinox on Thursday, 21 of March.

    • Equinox. Oh yes it is indeed autumn here in Wellington and the days will become shorter than the nights after the equinox. At the beginning of the month, the Sun sets around 8:30 PM and earlier and earlier every day as we are heading towards the end of the month when it will set around 7:40 PM.

    • At nightfall, half of our galaxy, the Milky Way, arches across the night sky from North to South, like the arm of the octopus. Wellington and New Zealand have a legendary octopus they talk about, Te Wheke o Muturangi. This octopus stole the bait and the fishooks of Kupe, who lived in Hawaiki; a chase across the Pacific Ocean followed and New Zealand was re-discovered again, as it was first found by Maui according to the Polynesians. Kupe's wife, Hine-te-Aparangi saw a long cloud in the distance, a sign that land was near and she named it Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud. And cloudy it can get sometimes!

    • Stars. And talking about Maori star lore, at the fringe of our milky city of stars, Milky Way, on the north-western horizon, the Pleiades, the Shining Ones (Te Tawhiti) are preparing for the journey to the underworld. They are to disappear shortly behind the Sun and will stay there for a while. They will reappear in the morning sky in June after the longest night as Matariki, the eye of the Ariki, star cluster that marks the Maori New Year. Maori have different names for the same stars at different times throughout the year, and the Pleiades get to have three names throughout the year, in different seasons.

    • Also shining, Sirius and Canopus reach the meridian almost in the same time, at the beginning of the month around 9:30 PM, by the middle of the month, the same stars reach meridian around 8:30 PM, and 7:30 at the end of the month. It is really impressive how fast they shift in the sky, as the Earth revolves around the Sun, and we can see this movement, in just one month. To see them in the same spot, we need to look two hours earlier at the end of the month compared to the beginning of the month.

      One is North of Zenith (overhead) and the other one south of Zenith. In the meantime the Southern Cross will be at the nine o'clock position on the South Celestial Circle. The Southern Cross is a circumpolar asterism, it never sets, nor rises from this latitude, only gets washed away by the light from the Sun. High in the sky, Canopus marks the midpoint between the center of our galaxy and its edge.

      The brightest stars in the night sky are featuring from North To South - Aldebaran from Taurus, Castor and Pollux in Gemini, Canis Minor, Orion's stars, Canis Major, these are north of overhead then south of overhead Canopus, Carinae stars: The False Cross, the Diamond Cross and the Southern Cross, and last but not least, Alpha and Beta Centauri, the pointer stars.

      Staying on the southwest part of the sky and halfway through from the horizon is Achernar. Fomalhaut is now gone, grazing the southern horizon. And on it's way to the Northern Hemisphere, the Large Magellanic Cloud is high.

    • Some binocular objects. From the horizon and travelling up the Milky Way, well sort of, first we come to M83, the Southern pinwheel, a large face-on spiral at magnitude 7.09, nearby is the Sombrero Galaxy at 8.12 mag, then closer to the Southern Cross is Centaurus A at 6.64 mag, very close to Centaurus A is the huge globular cluster Omega centauri and we can't look at Omega Centauri without also taking in the beautiful 47 Tucanae just by the Small Magellanic Cloud. The Magellanic Clouds are exceptional binocular objects.

    • The Magellanic clouds are our neighbouring galaxies, circumpolar here in Wellington and always a little elusive to direct sight. The Magellanic clouds are the best training objects for averted vision, always try to see them with the edge of the field of view of your eye while pretending you're looking at something else.

      The Beehive Cluster in Cancer is another amazing object, very bright, and we are lucky to share that with the Northern Hemisphere. Then there is of course, M42 in Orion, which we also share with the Northern Hemispherians.

      Also reasonably high in the sky, well high enough to see ok is 'The Leo Triplet', made up of M65, M66 and NGC 3628 galaxies. The majestic globular cluster of M3 is at 20 degrees above the horizon in the Northern part of the sky. Also down in the lower part of the sky is the stunning Black Eye galaxy at 23 degrees above the horizon. Unfortunately the Virgo cluster is only 15 degrees above the horizon, so not really clearly visible.

      The bottom star of the big dipper, Alkaid grazes the northern horizon early in the morning just before sunrise, precisely marking north. If we could only see it..., but there's no chance, yet we know it's there. And same goes for the Whirlpool galaxy - that gets nearly two degrees above the horizon.

      The morning sky is however popular with the planets, as Jupiter rises around 1AM on the beginning of the month, (and at 11PM at the end of the month) followed by Saturn two hours later at 3AM and Venus at 4:00AM. Jupiter and Saturn are flanking the center of the Milky Way this time of the year.

      If the Galaxy stretches almost from North to South in the evening sky, in the morning, it would almost have rotated to appear as if it's lined up from East to West, with Jupiter and Saturn at the Eastern end and Sirius setting in the West.

      As they prepare for their journey to the underworld at the fringe of our milky city of stars, on the north-western horizon, the Pleiades, the Shining Ones (Te Tawhiti) leave behind a doppelganger here in the Southern Hemisphere, the look alike, fake twin that never leaves the sky. Higher up than the Southern Cross, the Diamond Cross carries this mirror image of the Pleiades called unsurprisingly the Southern Pleiades.

      Circumpolar to Wellington, the Diamond Cross can also be found by climbing up the milky river, two thirds from the side and one third from the center this is where you will find the optical asterism (pattern of stars) of the diamond cross. At the eastern end of it, a pair of binoculars will reveal 'the Southern Pleiades', which at first sight look like the letter M to me.

      Theta Carinae cluster, also called the 'Southern Pleiades' has an astronomical resemblance to the famed northern star cluster M45 in Taurus. Even though the cluster is NOT dipper-shaped like the Pleiades, is also easily visible with the naked eye, (but best in binoculars), quite young about 30 million years old and at almost the same distance from Earth (500 light years away). And just like M45, the Southern Pleiades is 15 light years across.

    • There's a smorgasbord of amazing objects that you can in the Southern Sky, we are lucky here in Wellington to be able to share many of the objects that are famous in the Northern Hemisphere as well, the benefit of not being too far South. We hope you get a chance to get out there and enjoy feasting the sights of the night sky. If you're in Wellington come up to Space Place, we'd love to show you around.

    • So Clear and dark skies from Space Place at Carter Observatory here in the southern hemisphere.

    • Special Thanks go to the amazing Rhian Sheehan, Space Place at Carter Observatory.

    The night sky for February 2019

    Mon, 11/02/2019 - 17:00
    Northern Hemisphere

    Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere's night sky during February 2019.

    The Planets
    • Jupiter, starts the month rising around 3:30 a.m. and brightens from magnitude -1.9 to -2.0 as the month progresses whilst its angular size increases slightly from 33.6 to 36.1 arc seconds. By month's end it rises by ~2 am so will be higher in the sky before dawn. Sadly it is heading towards the southern part of the ecliptic and currently lies in the southern part of Ophiuchus just above Scorpius.

    • Saturn, shining with a magnitude of +0.6, rises one and a half hours before the Sun at the start of the month some 85 minutes after Venus. Its disk is ~16 arc seconds across and its rings - which are still 24 degrees from the line of sight - spanning 35 arc seconds across.

    • Mercury, passed through Superior conjunction (behind the Sun) at the end of January and will not become visible in the evening twilight until around the 12th of the month having a magnitude of -1.2. During March's second half it dims to magnitude -0.2 but, by its end, sets some one and a half hours after the Sun. Mercury, with an angular size of 7 arc seconds, reaches its greatest elongation east on the 26th of the month, then 18 degrees away from the Sun and with an elevation of ~9 degrees 45 minutes after the Sun has set. Binoculars could well be needed to reduce the background glare, but please do not use them after the Sun has risen.

    • Mars, though fading from +0.9 to +1.2 magnitudes during the month, remains prominent in the south western sky after sunset at an elevation of ~38 degrees after sunset as it moves north-eastwards from the constellation of Pisces into Aries on the 12th of the month. (If only it could have been at this elevation when at closest approach last year!) Its angular size falls from 6 arc seconds to less than 5 and a half arc seconds during the month so one will not be able to spot any details on its salmon-pink surface.

    • Venus, begins February with a magnitude of -4.3. as it Its angular size reduces from 19 to 16 arc seconds during the month as it moves away from the Earth but, at the same time, the percentage illuminated disk (its phase) increases from 62% to 72% - which is why the brightness only reduces from -4.3 to -4.1 magnitudes. See the highlight above when it lies close to Saturn.

    • Highlights
    • February 9th - before dawn: Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. Looking southeast before dawn one should, if clear, be able to easily spot Jupiter lying up to the right of Venus and, just above the horizon, Saturn. A low horizon in this direction will be needed to see Saturn.

    • February 10th - evening: Mars above a waxing Moon. Looking southwest in the evening if clear, Mars will be seen lying above a waxing crescent Moon. Uranus lies to the upper left of Mars.

    • February 11-13th - evening: Mars skirts past Uranus. Looking southwest in these evenings if clear, Mars (magnitude 1) will be seen passing close by Uranus giving us an easy way of finding the magnitude 6 planet.

    • February 16th - just before dawn: Venus and Saturn close by. If clear just before dawn, and given a low horizon towards the southeast, one should be able to see Venus lying just up to the right of Saturn. Jupiter shines to their upper right.

    • February 22nd - just after sunset: Mercury above the western horizon. If clear just after sunset, and given a low horizon towards the west, one should be able to spot Mercury. Binoculars might be needed to cut through the Sun's glare, but please do not use them until after the Sun has set.

    • February 28th - before dawn: three planets and a waning crescent Moon. If clear before dawn, and given a low horizon towards the south southeast, one should be able to observe what will be the best skyscape of the month with Venus, Saturn, a waning crescent Moon and Jupiter forming a line above the horizon.

    • February 13th and 25th: The Alpine Valley. These are two good nights to observe an interesting feature on the Moon if you have a small telescope. Close to the limb is the Appenine mountain chain that marks the edge of Mare Imbrium. Towards the upper end you should see the cleft across them called the Alpine valley. It is about 7 miles wide and 79 miles long. As shown in the image is a thin rill runs along its length which is quite a challenge to observe. The dark crater Plato will also be visible nearby. You may also see the shadow cast by the mountain Mons Piton lying not far away in Mare Imbrium. This is a very interesting region of the Moon!

    • Southern Hemisphere

      Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske tell us what we can see in the southern hemisphere's night sky during February 2019.

    • Kia Ora from New Zealand, hi everyone, we are here at Space Place at Carter Observatory in New Zealand holding Galactic Conversations from the heart of Wellington in the Southern Hemisphere, my favourite place to be, with the music of the amazing Rhian Sheehan, our Wellingtonian star composer. I'm Haritina Mogosanu, and I'm Samuel Leske. At this time of the year we are looking towards the edge of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and Orion is just like last month, the main feature out there in the sky apart from the south celestial objects.

    • Sun Rise. Everybody talks about the evening night sky but I'd love to also mention the wonderful early riser.
      What's an early riser? I think it is someone who wakes up around 4am and then commutes to work, or they are just a morning person. At that time of the morning, about 4am, the galactic centre rises as well, not just the people getting up early. And as they rise, Jupiter is out there in Ophiuchus about 30 degrees above horizon and above it is the red giant Antares. As each day goes past, Venus will seem to lower towards the Eastern horizon towards Saturn, which will also be visible in the early morning, around the 19 of February, when it will have a spectacular conjunction with Venus.

    • So a most interesting morning sky in February and let's just add that the Southern Cross will be high up in the sky at that early hour, crossing the meridian and pointing straight south so at least South is easy to find at 4AM in the morning if you misplaced your car keys or train pass.

      Mars is still the only planet in the evening sky that is visible with the naked eye and the Sun sets around 8:30 and is in the constellation of Capricornus going into Aquarius from the 16h of February. The brightest, second brightest and third brightest stars are visible in one shot in the evening sky: Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri.

      Last month we talked about Orion and some of the objects from the Northern Hemisphere that sit below Orion in the Southern Sky, such as the fabulous Rosette Nebula and the elusive M74 and the Magellanic clouds. We also talked gastronomy, about the pot and the frying pan. This month, in February we will continue that conversation as we do some more star hopping.

    • Star Hopping. is an ancient stargazing technique that involves hopping from one star to the next and making patterns and paths on the way.

    • Let's get hopping.

      I say we start at sunset, and here in Wellington Mars is very low in the sky on the Western horizon. All the other planets are in the morning sky as we mentioned, so if you are a morning person you're in for a treat.

      Two ancient royal stars are flanking Mars. To the left of Mars is Fomalhaut, bright star, 19th brightest at a magnitude of 1.16. To the right of Mars almost at the same altitude maybe just a bit higher and roughly the same distance as Fomalhaut is the star cluster the Hyades and the bright star Aldebaran. This is another one of the four royal stars, which also include Regulus and Antares, visible in the morning sky. In between Aldebaran and Mars, at the same height as Mars is the Pleiades.

      For Maori, they are now called Te Tawhiti, the Shining Ones. They are in the constellation Taurus which is just bordering the Milky Way. On the other side of the barely visible Milky Way, remember we are looking towards the edge of our galaxy, the celestial twins Castor and Pollux are the just grazing the horizon. Straight up from Pollux (which is the highest in the sky here) is Procyon, the mini-dog star or hot dog as we call it here at Space Place as the asterism is made of two stars so that's what we came up with. I know this one from Frank Andrews, the father of good planetarium presentations here in Wellington.

    • Gastronomy. So in the spirit of gastronomy - this one is from him as well, we will now point out The Pot. Higher up in the sky from Procyon is Orion, upside down here to what is known in the Northern hemisphere. So the red giant Betelgeuse is lower and then comes Orion's belt, the sword and then Rigel, the blue giant is up the top. Now when you look towards Orion, you're looking towards The Pot. Its handle is made up of Orion's sword and the bottom is Orion's belt. Holding the shape of the pot is Eta Orionis, a variable blue white main sequence double star in Orion between 3.4 and 4.9 magnitude.

    • We are very practical people here in New Zealand, and it is summertime and when you think of all that seafood that we will point out later, it is very nice to be here, there's just the little issue that the nights are too short at this time of the year.

    • Are you Sirius? Yes very much so, Sirius is to the right of Orion and in a straight line up from Procyon, if you look northeast. And if you draw a line from Procyon to Sirius around 9PM in the middle of the month it will point to Zenith the point straight overhead.

    • To the right of the Zenith and almost as high, is my favourite Cat Star, Canopus, also I've heard of this from Frank, he explained to me that any serious astronomer in New Zealand has a ginger cat called Canopus. This is the tradition about the Cat star. Canopus is part of Carina, a spectacular zone in the sky.

      We cover more in detail the part of the sky between Sirius and Canopus in our How to Find series, Navigating the Night Sky on Milky Way Kiwi, Part 3.

      Also in Carina is Eta Carinae the famous fabulous hypergiant and another variable double star. Eta Carinae was the competition for Canopus, because due to a great outburst, in the 1840's it became the second brightest star in the sky. Eta Carinae is one telescope field to the left of the Southern Pleiades cluster, which is at the bottom of the Diamond Cross and almost halfway in between the Southern Cross and the False Cross. Again we cover a lot of detail in our Navigating the Night Sky, Part 4, where we have precise instructions for Southern Pleiades, Eta Carinae nebula, Pearl Cluster, NGC 3532 and the Jewel Box Cluster. And you will only need binoculars for these ones.

      So all we had to do was to follow the Milky Way to south - or for those of us who cannot see the Milky Way all the time due to light pollution, we have followed the brightest stars and objects in the sky, hopping from Mars to the Pleiades and the Hyades, Procyon, Orion, Sirius, Canopus and now we arrive at the south celestial circle of stars. If you do see the Milky Way (lucky you) then as it lowers towards the southern horizon you can see the False Cross, then lower down, the Diamond Cross and then the famous Southern Cross. Both the Southern Cross and the two pointer stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri are in the Milky Way, roughly in the direction of south. All of these crosses are made up of circumpolar stars and turn around what we call South Celestial Circle so you will find them at different hours being at different heights in the sky.

    • Asterisms and fish. The stars from Centaurus, Alpha and Beta Centauri (Hadar) together with Birdun, Muhlifain and Delta Centauri make the South Celestial Frying Pan. This is a season -based asterism visible probably best in January and February. Southern Cross and the Coalsack are respectively the Fish and the Flounder (the latter is the Maori name for the Coalsack) in the frying pan.

    • If you imagine that the Southern Cross is a big arrowhead, on the other side of the 60 degrees declination South circle is Achernar the end of the river Eridanus. These are the most prominent stars of the early evening sky, if we can call that evening, as we can only start seeing them after 8:30 when the Sun sets here this month.

      And is really awesome to see as the Sun goes down, Fomalhaut is the bright star right above it. I used to watch that one from the Northern hemisphere dreaming of the southern sky. And one of the first things I've learned about the sky in the Northern Hemisphere is that Fomalhaut shows the secret passage way to south to the initiate. I kept wondering why that is until I came here to Wellington and you can see further to the left of Fomalhaut, maybe just slightly higher in the sky is Alpha Centauri triple star system, our closest neighbour, the third brightest star in the sky.

      cross / arrowhead that points at Achernar, the end of the river Eridanus, about 50 degrees high in the sky.

      And so the story goes if you put one hand on the southern cross and one hand on Achernar, and clap, that's very near the south celestial pole - the extension of the south pole in the sky and then drop down to the horizon and you've found south.

    • Canopus. It's an amazing sky this month, even though we don't see much of the Milky Way, we have brilliant stars in the sky. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, Canopus is the second brightest and Alpha Centauri is the third brightest star at about 4 and a quarter light years away. Sirius, a double star is also very close to us, about 8.60 light years, whereas Canopus, also known as Alpha Carinae is about 309 light years away. And perhaps not too many people know but Canopus is also a double star.

    • I really love this star, my favourite thing about it is that it's used by interplanetary spacecraft as a reference point since it lies away from the plane of our solar system where the bright planets are found. And also in my favourite book, Dune the planet Arrakis is the third planet orbiting Canopus.

      We don't know if there's any spice orbiting around Canopus but we can tell it's a great star anyway. Even though it appears half the brightness of Sirius, Canopus is a rare F0 class supergiant star. These stars are rare and poorly understood, they can be either evolving to or from a red giant. And that made it difficult to understand the absolute brightness of Canopus, which help us get some idea of the distance to it.

      Only with the launch of the Hipparcos satellite were we able to tell it's about 310 light years from Earth, as estimates before that gave anything between 96 to 1200 light years. So at 310 light years away Canopus is about 15, 000 times brighter than our Sun. It's so big that compared to our Sun it stretches about three quarters of the way across Mercury's orbit. Canopus is post main sequence as it has ceased fusing hydrogen in its core.

    • Eta Carinae. If Canopus is a supergiant, which we all thought that was awesome, well, Eta Carinae is a hypergiant. Eta Carinae has the highest confirmed mass and luminosity of any star that has been studied in detail, and is a candidate to become a supernova or even a hypernova - so it will be seen by our neighbours in others galaxies when it goes off. Eta Carinae is 7,500 light years away .

    • We will end here next to the biggest star known, Eta Carinae pondering about how big is big.

      In the meantime, we look forward to seeing you at Space Place.

    • Space Place and Telescopes. Space Place is one of the historical icons of New Zealand in terms of astronomy, located at the heart of our capital city. We have amazing historical telescopes, a 23 cm Cooke built in 1867 that we use for public viewing and we also have a retro Boller and Chivens 16 - I noticed that's the word used now when people talk about stuff made in the 60's.

    • The Cooke has quite a story behind it and how it got to New Zealand and eventually how it ended up in Wellington. It has been a very important telescope for research including being used to photograph Halley's Comet in 1910. Also on display is a James Short telescope. We only look at this one - and not through, it's locked in the displays, it's a very important telescope we believe came here with Captain Cook and it was donated by Adam Read, he is the son of Peter Read who was the creator and presenter of the New Zealand's Night Sky TV show in 1960's.

      We also have a beautiful planetarium where I spend a lot of my time.

      If you ever wish to find us, Space Place is at the top of the botanic gardens looking out to the harbour, and surrounded by flowers and New Zealand birds that are amazing and especially now in the summertime it is a poetry for the senses.

    • I am Haritina Mogosanu and I am Samuel Leske, and we are Milky Way Kiwi at Space Place at Carter Observatory in New Zealand, Southern Hemisphere, with the February podcast, the Southern Hemisphere section for the Jodcast.

    • Thank you and Clear skies from Wellington!