The Night Sky This Month

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Ian Morison tells you what can be seen in the night sky this month.
Updated: 16 hours 19 min ago

The night sky for November 2019

Fri, 15/11/2019 - 09:00
Northern Hemisphere

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

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

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

The Planets
  • Jupiter, shining on the 1st at magnitude -1.9 and falling to -1.8 during the month, can be seen very low in the southwest as darkness falls. As the month progresses, its angular size drops from 33.4 to 32.1 arc seconds - but, by the end of the month, will be lost in the Sun's glare. Jupiter lies in the southeastern part of Ophiuchus and is heading towards the southernmost part of the ecliptic so, as it appears in the twilight, will only have an elevation of ~8 degrees. With its low elevation, atmospheric dispersion will take its toll and an atmospheric dispersion corrector would greatly help to improve our views of the giant planet and it four Gallilean moons.

  • Saturn , will be seen just west of south as darkness falls at the start of the month. Then, its disk is ~16 arc seconds across and its rings - which are still, at 25.2 degrees, nicely tilted from the line of sight - spanning some 39 arc seconds across. During the month its brightness remains +0.6 whilst its angular size falls to 15.4 arc seconds. Sadly, now in Sagittarius and lying on the south-western side of the milky way, it is at the lowest point of the ecliptic and will only reach an elevation of ~13 degrees. As with Jupiter, an atmospheric dispersion corrector will help improve our view.

  • Mercury, following its transit of the Sun on the 11th - see Highlight below - Mercury rises rapidly into the pre-dawn sky, increasing in brightness by half a magnitude each day and rising about 7 minutes earlier as the days progress. The rates slow until Mercury reaches greatest western elongation some 20 degrees in angle from the Sun on the 28th. By then, it will have brightened to magnitude -0.5 and will rise one and a quarter hours before the Sun. It will then have an elevation of some 11 degrees before being lost in the Sun's glare.

  • Mars, which passed behind the Sun (superior conjunction) on September 2nd, can be seen in the pre-dawn sky at the start of its new apparition. It might just be glimpsed just south of east at the start of the month but will then only have an elevation of ~11 degrees at sunrise. Then, binoculars could well be needed to spot its +1.8th magnitude, 3.7 arc second disk - but please do not use them after the Sun has risen. However, by the end of the month, Mars rises some two and a half hours before the Sun remaining at magnitude -2.8 with disk still less than 4 arc seconds across. It will have risen to ~12 degrees elevation before being lost in the Sun's glare.

  • Venus, may just be glimpsed in the west south-west setting an hour after the Sun at the start of the month, but will be difficult to see due to the fact that the ecliptic is at a shallow angle to the horizon and so Venus will have a very low elevation. Bymonth's end the Sun sets just before 4 pm and Venus an hour and a quarter later but it will still be hard to spot with an elevation of just 6 degrees as darkness falls. Its magnitude remains at about -3.8 and its, almost fully illuminated disk, ~11 arc seconds across. Binoculars and a very low horizon will be needed to spot Venus, but please do not use them until after the Sun has set.

  • Highlights
  • November - still a chance to observe Saturn. Saturn is now low (at an elevation of ~13 degrees) just west of south as darkness falls lying above the 'teapot' of Sagittarius. Held steady, binoculars should enable you to see Saturn's brightest moon, Titan, at magnitude 8.2. A small telescope will show the rings with magnifications of x25 or more and one of 6-8 inches aperture with a magnification of ~x200 coupled with a night of good "seeing" (when the atmosphere is calm) will show Saturn and its beautiful ring system in its full glory.Due to the orientation of Saturn's rotation axis of 27 degrees with respect to the plane of the solar system, the orientation of the rings as seen by us changes as it orbits the Sun and twice each orbit they lie edge on to us and so can hardly be seen. This last happened in 2009 and they are currently at an angle of 25 degrees to the line of sight. The rings will continue to narrow until March 2025 when they will appear edge-on again.

  • November, late evening: the Double Cluster and the 'Demon Star', Algol. November is a good time to look high in the Southeast towards the constellations of Cassiopea and Perseus. Perseus contains two interesting objects; the Double Cluster between the two constellations and Algol the 'Demon Star'. Algol in an eclipsing binary system as seen in the diagram below. Normally the pair has a steady magnitude of 2.2 but every 2.86 days this briefly drops to magnitude 3.4.

  • November: find Uranus. This month is a good time to find the planet Uranus in the late evening as it reached opposition on October 28th. With a magnitude of 5.7, binoculars will easily spot it and, from a really dark site, it might even be visible to the unaided eye. A medium aperture telescope will reveal Uranus's 3.7 arc second wide disk showing its turquoise colour. It lies in Aries, close to the boarders of Pisces and Cetus as shown on the chart.

  • November 1st - after sunset: A crescent Moon between Saturn and Jupiter, after sunset, low in the south-west, Jupiter will be seen down to the lower right of a waxing crescent Moon whilst, up and to its left will be seen Saturn.

  • November 9th - before dawn: Mars lies above Spica. Before dawn, low in the southeast, Mars (at magnitide 1.76) will be seen just above Spica (at magnitude 0.95) in Virgo.

  • November 11th: A Transit of Mercury. Whereas in 2016 the whole of the transit was visible, this year the Sun will have set (~4:16 pm) well before its end. First contact is at 12:35 when its disk will just impinge onto the Sun's surface with second contact at 12:37. Then, the Sun will have an elevation of ~20 degrees over the south-southwestern horizon. Mercury reaches the midway point of its transit at 3:19 - with the Sun at an elevation of just 7 degrees but will be lost from view long before fourth contact as it leaves the Sun' surface at 6:04. Mercury's disk is just 10 arc seconds across - compared to the Sun's 1938 arc seconds, so a small telescope would be needed to observe the transit should, hopefully, it be clear.As the Sun is at solar minimum, it is unlikely that any sunspots will be visible to be confused with Mercury but, if so, Mercury's disk will appear darker and will, of course, be moving across the Sun's surface.

  • November 16th - late evening: the Moon in Gemini. In the late evening, looking southeast, the waning Moon before third quarter will be seen within the constellation Gemini.

  • November 22nd - in twilight: Venus lies close to Jupiter. After sunset, looking southwest, Venus will lie just two degrees below Jupiter - with Saturn high and away to the left.

  • November 5th and 18th: 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 Apennine 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 isquite 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!

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

    Southern Hemisphere

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

  • A bit about NovemberThe Sun rises around 6 AM on the beginning of the month and sets around 8 pm and at the end of the month earlier with about 20 minutes at around 5:40 and 40 minutes respectively later at night setting at about 8:40 .

  • Planets, We actually just came back from Rotorua where we enjoyed a bit of stargazing under the beautiful dark sky from there. We spotted the planet Jupiter, still bright, moving now towards Saturn, then of course Saturn and invisible next to it - we did not spot but we knew it was there - Pluto. November is still good to catch up with these two amazing planets if you have not had the chance to look at them yet. At the beginning of the month, Venus and Mercury are very close and joined by Antares and Jupiter make a spectacle in the evening sky. You’ll need a good opening on the horizon to spot them. Keep an eye on Venus all throughout the month. Around ninth of November it will pass close to Antares at about 4 degrees then it will move in closer to Jupiter and Saturn so that on the 24 of November is within one and a quarter degrees to Jupiter. That close enough to fit 2 and a bit full Moons between them, and watch this space around ten of December, when Venus will be within 2 degrees of Saturn. Neptune and Uranus are out there too, Neptune is in Aquarius and Uranus in Aries. .

  • Asterisms. November here is called Orongo, which means the time after the great rain. And does it rain in October! November harbours one the most beautiful asterisms I have ever seen, the grand canoe of Tama Rereti, te waka o Tama Rereti. And when I say harbours, it almost really does, the asterism stretches around the horizon as the Milky Way surrounds the horizon.The Milky Way is the canoe, Scorpius is the prow, Southern Cross is the anchor and Orion the stern. The Hyades and Pleiades are the feathers and the wake left behind by the canoe. From the bow, the anchor rope is marked by Alpha Centauri, the third brightest star in the sky, and also Beta Centauri; together these are also known as the Pointers of the Southern Cross. The Southern Cross represents the great stone anchor or Te Punga that keeps the canoe of Tamarereti in its place.

  • Southern Cross. This time of the year, the Southern Cross is in its lowest position on the horizon and points down indicating south. If you look up from the Southern Cross, you will come across Achernar, the end of the river Eridanus. On each side of this line are the Large Magellanic Cloud, on the left, and to the right of it, the Small Magellanic Cloud, our beautiful galaxies we admire here in the Southern Hemisphere.

  • Magellanic Clouds, - these are a great attraction in November for the simple reason that most of the centre Milky Way now is beyond the horizon or around it so we are looking at them through a layer of atmosphere. By the time Orion has enough height in the sky to observe it properly, it would be December so the Magellanic Clouds are always a good idea for a target to fall onto.Good times for observing would be at the end of the month, we have new moon on the 27 of November and don’t go observing stars on the 13th of November as the Moon is full.

  • Transit of Mercury, a spectacular event is going to happen on the morning of the 12th of November (nz time), that is the transit of Mercury. The transit will end as the Sun rises here in Wellington so not the best place to view it but hopefully with a clear eastern horizon we should be able to catch a glimpse.

  • Stars and Galaxies, up in the sky, almost at Zenith, is Grus and close to it is Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinus. As you look up, Fomalhaut, Achernar and another star, Deneb Kaitos of Grus make a triangle. Just below the ecliptic, the great square of Pegasus is riding the Northern horizon. So in November we should be able to see again the brightest stars in the sky in order: Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri and also the most prominent four galaxies The Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds and very low in the north, the Andromeda Galaxy, easily seen in binoculars in a dark sky and faintly visible to the eye. It appears as a spindle of light.

  • From Wellington New Zealand, Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske wish you a fantastic November.

The night sky for October 2019

Fri, 11/10/2019 - 14:00
Northern Hemisphere

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

The Planets

  • Jupiter, shining on the 1st at magnitude -2 and falling to -1.9 during the month, can be seen low in the southwest as darkness falls. As the month progresses, its angular size drops from 35.8 to 33.5 arc seconds. Jupiter lies in the southeastern part of Ophiuchus and is heading towards the southernmost part of the ecliptic so, as it appears in the twilight, will only have an elevation of ~10 degrees. With its low elevation, atmospheric dispersion will take its toll and an atmospheric dispersion corrector would greatly help to improve our views of the giant planet.

  • Saturn, will be seen in the south as darkness falls at the start of the month. Then, its disk is ~16.8 arc seconds across and its rings - which are still, at 25.2 degrees, nicely tilted from the line of sight - spanning some 41 arc seconds across. During the month its brightness falls from magnitude +0.5 to +0.6 whilst its angular size falls to 16 arc seconds. Sadly, now in Sagittarius and lying on the south-western side of the milky way, 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, reaches eastern elongation (at an angular distance of 24.6 degrees) on the 19th of the month but, as the ecliptic is at such a shallow angle at this time of the year, its elevation at sunset (~1.5 degrees) is so low that, lying to the upper left of Venus, it will be very hard to spot. A very low south-western horizon will be needed along with binoculars - but please do not use them until after the Sun has set.

  • Mars, which passed behind the Sun (superior conjunction) on September 2nd, returns to the pre-dawn sky at the start of its new apparition. It might just be glimpsed just south of east in the latter part of the month but will only have an elevation of ~11 degrees at sunrise by month's end. Binoculars could well be needed to spot its +1.8th magnitude, 3.7 arc second disk - but please do not use them after the Sun has risen.

  • Venus, may be glimpsed in the west south-west some 30 minutes after sunset at the start of the month, but will be very difficult to see due to the fact that the ecliptic is at a shallow angle to the horizon and so Venus will have a very low elevation. By month's end it sets about one hour after the Sun but will still be hard to spot. Its magnitude remains at about -3.9 and its disk, ~10 arc seconds across, is almost fully lit. Binoculars and a very low horizon will be needed, but please do not use them until after the Sun has set.

Highlights
  • October - observe Saturn. Saturn is now low (at an elevation of ~13 degrees) just west of south as darkness falls lying above the 'teapot' of Sagittarius. Held steady, binoculars should enable you to see Saturn's brightest moon, Titan, at magnitude 8.2. A small telescope will show the rings with magnifications of x25 or more and one of 6-8 inches aperture with a magnification of ~x200 coupled with a night of good "seeing" (when the atmosphere is calm) will show Saturn and its beautiful ring system in its full glory.

    As Saturn rotates quickly with a day of just 10 and a half hours, its equator bulges slightly and so it appears a little "squashed". Like Jupiter, it does show belts but their colours are muted in comparison.

    The thing that makes Saturn stand out is, of course, its ring system. The two outermost rings, A and B, are separated by a gap called Cassini's Division which should be visible in a telescope of 4 or more inches aperture if seeing conditions are good. Lying within the B ring, but far less bright and difficult to spot, is the C or Crepe Ring.

    Due to the orientation of Saturn's rotation axis of 27 degrees with respect to the plane of the solar system, the orientation of the rings as seen by us changes as it orbits the Sun and twice each orbit they lie edge on to us and so can hardly be seen. This last happened in 2009 and they are currently at an angle of 25 degrees to the line of sight. The rings will continue to narrow until March 2025 when they will appear edge-on again.

  • October - find the globular cluster in Hercules and spot the "Double-double" in Lyra There are two very nice objects to spot with binoculars high, just west of south, after dark this month. Two thirds of the way up the right hand side of the 4 stars that make up the "keystone" in the constellation Hercules is M13, the best globular cluster visible in the northern sky.

    Just to the left of the bright star Vega in Lyra is the multiple star system Epsilon Lyrae often called the double-double. With binoculars a binary star is seen but, when observed with a telescope, each of these two stars is revealed to be a double star - hence the name!

  • October, late evening: the Double Cluster and the 'Demon Star', Algol. October is a good time to look high in the Southeast towards the constellations of Cassiopea and Perseus. Perseus contains two interesting objects; the Double Cluster between the two constellations and Algol the 'Demon Star'. Algol in an eclipsing binary system. Normally the pair has a steady magnitude of 2.2 but every 2.86 days this briefly drops to magnitude 3.4. Visible times of the eclipse are (in UT): on the 5th at 22:12 and the 28th at 20:42.

  • October: find Uranus. This month is a good time to find the planet Uranus in the late evening as it reaches opposition on October 28th. With a magnitude of 5.7, binoculars will easily spot it and, from a really dark site, it might even be visible to the unaided eye. A medium aperture telescope will reveal Uranus's 3.7 arc second wide disk showing its turquoise colour. It lies in Aries, close to the boarders of Pisces and Cetus as shown on the chart on the ‘Night Sky Jodrell’ page.

  • October - evening: find the 'Coathanger'. Looking upwards after dark you should spot the three stars making up the 'Summer Triangle'. The lowest is Altair in Aquilla, up to its right is Vega in Lyra and over to its left is Deneb in Cygnus. With binoculars sweep upwards about one third of the way from Altair towards Vega. You should spot a nice asterism, formally 'Brocchi's Cluster' but usually called the Coathanger. It is formed of a straight line of six stars below which is a 'hook' of four stars. A pretty object!

  • October 3rd - after sunset: Jupiter near the Moon. After sunset, low in the south-west, Jupiter will be seen down to the lower left of a waxing crescent Moon.

  • October 5th - after sunset: Saturn near the Moon. After sunset, low in the south, Saturn will be seen just up to the left of the first quarter Moon.

  • October 17th - late evening: The Moon close to the Hyades Cluster. In the late evening, looking southeast, the waning Moon will be seen up to the left of Aldebaran and to the left of the Hyades Cluster. [NB, Aldebaran is not part of the cluster and lies closer to us.]

Southern Hemisphere

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

  • A bit about October. October, as the name says it, (from the Greek ôctō meaning "eight") is the eighth month in the old calendar of Romulus c. 750 bc. The original calendar consisted of 10 months beginning in spring with March; October retained its name after January and February were inserted into the original Roman calendar.

  • What’s the Sun up to? The reality is that the Sun does not spend an equal amount of time passing through the zodiacal constellations, for the simple reason that these constellations are different areas patches in the sky. So technically, this month, the Sun is in Virgo until the 1st of November when it moves into Libra and has been in Virgo since the 17th of September. Virgo is a really long constellation to transit.

  • What’s at Zenith? Beautiful Sagittarius is at Zenith just after Sunset and then as the month progresses it’s replaced by other amazing constellations such as Microscopium, which is basically a rectangle, and then one of our favourite constellations, Grus towards the middle of the month - or later on in the evening, whichever you prefer. The cool thing about Grus, the Crane is that it has many double stars, it almost looks like a curved line, which is the imaginary tail that points us towards the Small Magellanic Cloud, which is in the neighbouring constellation, another bird, the Toucan.

    In addition to that, another favourite of mine, Fomalhaut, is getting very close to Zenith this time of the year. I love Fomalhaut because when I was in the Northern Hemisphere, before I travelled here, it was the southernmost star that I could see, and it was said to show the passage south. It actually does if you know where to look. Fomalhaut is one of the Royal stars, along with Antares, Regulus and Aldebaran. The Royal stars were the guardians of the sky in approximately 3000 BCE during the time of the Ancient Persians in the area of modern-day Iran. The Persians believed that the sky was divided into four districts with each district being guarded by one of the four Royal Stars. The stars were believed to hold both good and evil power and the Persians looked upon them for guidance in scientific calculations of the sky, such as the calendar and lunar/solar cycles, and for predictions about the future.

  • What’s on the Ecliptic? The ecliptic is the part of the sky that holds the path of the Sun as we see it from here from Earth, and other than bright planets, it also hosts some bright stars. There’s Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali in Libra getting close to the western horizon and then red giant Antares in Scorpius and a few of the stars in Sagittarius, that make the teapot. Capricornus has also some bright stars and it’s very characteristic shape of a golf flag. Then, this is kind of it with the bright stars, will have to wait until late in the night to see Taurus and Aldebaran, the other of the Royal Stars and last but not least, Regulus, in Leo will rise just before the Sun.

  • The Milky Way, Scorpius and Orion The bulk of the Milky Way is on the Western horizon. The Galactic centre slowly going down sinking behind the Sun. The Southern Cross, which is also visually in the Milky Way, is doing its big descent as it dives towards the horizon, getting lower and lower each evening throughout the month, as seen after sunset. It is circumpolar so it never disappears from the Southern Sky but it means the lovely clusters and nebulae that you would have enjoyed in Spring and Winter have long gone from being in a favourable viewing position — they now compete with the horizon.

    The other patch of the Milky Way that remains in a very good position for viewing is the area around Sagittarius and Scorpius with many globular clusters and nebulae (distant, celestial clouds) to look at. The highlights, for me, are the bright nebulae such M16 (the Eagle Nebula), Lagoon Nebula and the very photogenic Trifid Nebula. Ptolemy’s Cluster is a great naked eye object that is visible between the two constellations.

  • South Circumpolar Zone Just after sunset, the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Southern Cross are close to the horizon where the Small Magellanic Cloud is in a good position to observe.

  • Comets If you want to go hunting for comets in the Southern Sky you might be able to spot 289P/Blanpain. It starts the month at 10.2 magnitude so not very bright, but by the end of the month it will be 8.8, and quite close to the Helix nebula. Another one worth having a look for is C/2018 W2 Africano which starts the month at its brightest, at the Aquarius end of Pisces. On Friday the 4 October this comet will get about degree from Neptune so a great opportunity to get a photo of both of these icy cold objects. The comet will be at magnitude 10 and Neptune at 7.8. Another interesting comet that we might catch a glimpse of is P/2008 Y12 Soho. This one will be approaching closer and closer to the sun and can be found not far from Venus, so you’ll need a fantastic horizon and great conditions, it will brighten significantly as it gets near to the Sun, but that will also make it impossible to see.

    The best time to see it will be tomorrow night when it is magnitude 4.4 about 4 degrees to the right of Mercury, and 21 degrees from the Sun so it should be high enough above the horizon and dark enough.

  • The Moon is full on the 14th October and the New Moon is on 28 October. At 11pm on the 17th October the Moon gets very close to Pluto, though at magnitude 14.4 it will be well and truly overshadowed by the -10 magnitude Moon, kind of an almost occultation that you wouldn’t be able to see easily anyway.

    On the 5th October it is international observe the Moon night, so get out there with your telescopes, binoculars, or just your eyes and take a moment to appreciate the celestial body that gives our planet a handy tilt, tides and a day that’s 24 hours long, without the Moon we may not have been able to climb out of the primordial soup at all.

  • Mercury It’s a good time to see Mercury at the start of the month with it being a good 20 degrees from the Sun. Mercury should be easy to spot if you have a good Western horizon, just look for Venus, after sunset, almost on the horizon and then the next brightest, slightly orange thing above it is Mercury.

  • Jupiter is always amazing to view, though it’s starting to get a bit further away from us, as compared to a month ago. At the start of the month the gas giant will take up 36 arcseconds of your eyepiece but by the end of the month this will have reduced to just a bit more than 33 arcseconds. Jupiter sets about 1:23am at the start of the month and by the end it is setting at 11:48pm.

    You will be able to see Europa cross the planet’s disk on the 3rd in the early evening as soon as the Sun goes down, followed by Io again at around 9pm. The next good one to watch is on the 10th at 7:15pm when Europa and then shortly thereafter Io pass in front of Jupiter. Another one of these paired moons crossing starts at 10pm on the evening of the 18th as well. So there are plenty of opportunities to catch an eclipse on Jupiter this month.

  • Saturn Over the course of the month Saturn gets about 100 million kilometres further away but starts in a good position for viewing. Saturn is almost a month behind Jupiter with it setting at 1:20am at the end of the month, and setting at the start of the month at 3:10am.

  • Neptune Another planet that is worth taking a look at, though don’t expect to see much, is Neptune. This cold gas giant is over 4.3 billion kilometers away. It is so far away that it takes light from Neptune 4 hours to get to the Earth. You might be able to make out the hint of a disk, but at an apparent size of 2.4 arcseconds you may need to use a bit of imagination, though you will see the bluish hue of Neptune. You can find it by looking for the bright star Phi Aquarii in Aquarius and it’s about 40 arcminutes from that star.

  • Uranus is also worth looking at if you happen to be up quite late as it doesn’t rise until about 10pm at the start of the month and 7:35pm by the end of the month. This planet is a bit closer at 2.8 billion kilometres and its apparent size is 3.7 arcseconds, so you shouldn’t need to use too much imagination to see the greenish hue of its disk.

  • Happy Observe the Moon Night on the 5th October.

The night sky for September 2019

Fri, 13/09/2019 - 20:00
Northern Hemisphere

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

The Planets

  • Jupiter, shining on the 1st at magnitude -2.2 and falling to -2 during the month, can be seen in the south as darkness falls. As the month progresses, its angular size drops from 39 to 36 arc seconds. Jupiter, in the southern part of Ophiuchus, ended its retrograde motion on the 11th of August and so is now moving away from Antares in Scorpius initially lying some 7 degrees up and to its left. A highlight gives the times when the Great Red Spot faces the Earth. Sadly it is heading towards the southernmost part of the ecliptic so, as it appears in the twilight, it will only have an elevation of ~13 degrees (from central UK). Happily, its elevation will only have dropped by a degree or so an hour later in full darkness. With its low elevation, atmospheric dispersion will take its toll and an atmospheric dispersion corrector would greatly help to improve our views of the giant planet.

  • Saturn , crosses the meridian, so is highest in the sky, at around 9pm BST as September begins. Then, its disk is ~17.6 arc seconds across and its rings - which are still nicely tilted from the line of sight - spanning some 41 arc seconds across. By month's end it will be best seen at around 8 pm BST when lying just west of south. During the month its brightness falls from magnitude +0.3 to +0.5 whilst its angular size falls to 16.9 arc seconds. Sadly, now in Sagittarius and lying on the south-western side of the Milky Way, 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, passes behind the Sun (Superior Conjunction) on the night of September 3rd/4th so will not be visible this month.

  • Mars, which passes behind the Sun (Superior Conjunction) on September 2nd, lies too close to the Sun to be visible. We will have to wait until the end of October to spot it in the pre-dawn sky at the start of its next apparition.

  • Venus, went through superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun on the 14th August. By month's end it will set in the west south-west 30 minutes after sunset but will be very difficult to see due to the fact that the ecliptic is at a shallow angle to the horizon and so Venus will have a very low elevation. Binoculars and a very low horizon will be needed, but please do not use them until after the Sun has set.

  • Highlights
  • September - observe Saturn. Saturn which reached opposition on the 9th of July, is now low (at an elevation of ~14 degrees) in the south as darkness falls lying above the 'teapot' of Sagittarius. Held steady, binoculars should enable you to see Saturn's brightest moon, Titan, at magnitude 8.2. A small telescope will show the rings with magnifications of x25 or more and one of 6-8 inches aperture with a magnification of ~x200 coupled with a night of good "seeing" (when the atmosphere is calm) will show Saturn and its beautiful ring system in its full glory.The thing that makes Saturn stand out is, of course, its ring system. The two outermost rings, A and B, are separated by a gap called Cassini's Division which should be visible in a telescope of 4 or more inches aperture if seeing conditions are good. Lying within the B ring, but far less bright and difficult to spot, is the C or Crepe Ring.

  • September - Find the globular cluster in Hercules and spot the "Double-double" in Lyra There are two very nice objects to spot with binoculars in the south-western sky after dark this month. Two thirds of the way up the right hand side of the 4 stars that make up the "keystone" in the constellation Hercules is M13, the best globular cluster visible in the northern sky.Just to the left of the bright star Vega in Lyra is the multiple star system Epsilon Lyrae often called the double-double. With binoculars a binary star is seen but, when observed with a telescope, each of these two stars is revealed to be a double star - hence the name!

  • September, late evening: the Double Cluster and the 'Demon Star', Algol. Later in the month is a good time to look high in the Southeast towards the constellations of Cassiopea and Perseus. Perseus contains two interesting objects; the Double Cluster between the two constellations and Algol the 'Demon Star'. Algol is in an eclipsing binary system. Normally the pair has a steady magnitude of 2.2 but every 2.86 days this briefly drops to magnitude 3.4. Visible times of the eclipse are (in UT): on the 12th at 23:43 and the 15th at 20:31..

  • September 5th to 9th - midnight: Find Neptune. These nights are a great time to find the blue planet Neptune as it is very close to the 4th magnitude star Phi Aquarii. With a magnitude of 7.8, large binoculars or a small telescope will be required to spot it. A medium aperture telescope will reveal Neptune's disk showing a hint of blue grey. With such a telescope, you might also be able to spot its 14th magnitude Moon Triton. On the night of the 5th/6th Neptune lies just 13 arc seconds from Phi Aquarii! .

  • September - evening: find the 'Coathanger'. Looking upwards after dark you should spot the three stars making up the 'Summer Triangle'. The lowest is Altair in Aquilla, up to its right is Vega in Lyra and over to its left is Deneb in Cygnus. With binoculars sweep upwards about one third of the way from Altair towards Vega. You should spot a nice asterism, formally 'Brocchi's Cluster' but usually called the Coathanger. It is formed of a straight line of six stars below which is a 'hook' of four stars. A pretty object.

  • August 9th - evening: Jupiter near the Moon. In the evening towards the south-west, Jupiter will be seen down to the lower left of the Moon, a day after first quarter.

  • September 8th: Two Great Lunar Craters This is a great night 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 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 itwas 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 September 2019.

  • A bit about SeptemberSeptember comes from Latin word “septem”, which means “seven.” This is because in the old Roman calendar it was the 7th month, rather than 9th as it is today. Old Roman calendar used to only have 10 months until Julius Caesar introduced a new Julian calendar with 12 months. September has 30 days and marks the Autumn season in the northern hemisphere, and Spring in the Southern Hemisphere. This is the time of harvest and when many schools start their new school year in the northern hemisphere. Here, in New Zealand it is the month when we celebrate the September equinox, when the day is equal to the night.

  • What’s the Sun up to? The Sun rises at 6:47 am on the first day of September and earlier and earlier every day so that on the 28th of September it will rise at 6:01 AM. However, the clock will shift by one hour so on the 30th of September it will rise at 6:57 am. The sun sets at 5:55 PM on the 1st of September and later and later 7:24 PM on the 31st of August. The days are getting longer.In September, the Sun transits first the zodiacal constellations of Leo, and then moves into Virgo on the 17th of September where it stays until October 31st. The zodiacal constellations are those stars visible behind the plane of our solar system, about 8 degrees each side of the ecliptic. This is why we say they form a band in the sky, called the Zodiacal Band. Since the Sun is transiting both the space we call Leo and Virgo it means we cannot see the stars in these constellations, they are behind the Sun.

  • 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.The Sun in Virgo means only one thing: opposite the Sun (that 180 degrees on the other side of the zodiacal band) is Pisces. Pisces will rise just after sunset and be visible all night long.

  • The Milky Way and Zodiacal Light In September the constellation of scorpius is the Fishhook of Maui that drags the Milky Way down from the sky here in Aotearoa. In addition to the Milky Way, if you are stargazing from somewhere with very dark skies, you can spot what is called the “Zodiacal Light” It’s a cone-shaped light that stretches from low on horizon along the ecliptic. The ecliptic marks the plane of our solar system bearing the zodiacal constellations. The ecliptic is a great circle on the celestial sphere representing the Sun's apparent path during the year, so called because lunar and solar eclipses can only occur when the moon crosses it. The zodiacal light is the light we see reflected from dust and ice particles in the plane of our own solar system! How cool is that? So in the sky we can see both the galaxy that we inhabit and the solar system. Two completely different scales!

  • Planets

  • Jupiter We continue to see Jupiter near constellation of Scorpius throughout the month of September in the evening sky.

  • Saturn We also can enjoy the view of Saturn this month again. Near Sagittarius, Saturn with its magnificent rings continues to grace us with its presence. You can easily see the rings through a telescope here at Space Place but unfortunately you cannot discern the rings with just your eyes.

  • Venus You can also catch a view of the planet Venus just after the sun sets later this month.

  • Mercury Venus is also joined by Mercury in September. Although much fainter, you can see Mercury paired close with Venus later in September also right following sunset. Mercury is the closest planet to the sun in our solar system and can be difficult to observe but it’s possible if you time it right!

  • Neptune In the late evening and morning sky, you can see the farthest planet from the sun in the solar system, Neptune in the eastern skies this month! Don’t try looking for it with your naked eye, as it is the only planet in our solar system not visible to naked eye, but with some help from telescopes or binoculars, you can see this ice giant planet and it will look like a bluish dot. Quite a delight to see!

  • Uranus Lastly, Uranus is also a morning planet this month. Uranus' name is derived from Greek word for ouranos for “heavens” or “starry sky”. Uranus has a multitude of unique features including but not limited to its axis around which it spins being almost parallel to the solar system plane rather than perpendicular. In that sense it spins sideways around the sun, like a bicycle wheel. It would take a whole separate podcast to talk about Uranus but just know when you’re looking at this greenish and bluish planet that it is quite remarkable!

  • Scorpius, Centaurus and Southern CrossAt this time of the year, in Aotearoa, the Māori names for Scorpius is Te Matau A Maui - the fishhook of Maui that drags the Milky Way from the sky all night long. The constellation Scorpius has a magnificent red supergiant star Antares. It is impossible to miss on a clear night. It looks quite reddish, just like planet Mars!

  • Centaurus South of Scorpius you can find the constellation of Centaurus, a creature that is half-human and half-horse in Greek mythology. Although the constellation itself is more difficult to discern, it contains two very well known star systems in the southern hemisphere: alpha and beta centauri. Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to Earth! It’s about 4.37 light years away so it takes light about 4.37 years to reach it. As a reference, it takes about 8 minutes for light to reach us from the Sun! It is a triple star system and there was an exoplanet discovered orbiting Proxima Centauri, one of the three stars in this system.

  • Circumpolar objects to New Zealand Circumpolar are objects that rotate around the celestial pole. These objects are above the horizon at all times in a given latitude. For instance Cassiopeia is circumpolar from Europe but here in Wellington we cannot even see it, here on the other hand we have the Southern Cross with the pointers that are circumpolar.The Diamond Cross and the False Cross are circumpolar too. Canopus and Achernar are also circumpolar. The same for the Magellanic Clouds, Omega Centauri, 47 Tucanae, the Jewel Box, the Southern Pleiades, the Gem Cluster and Omicron Velorum.

  • Crux Alpha and Beta Centauri can be used as pointers to what is arguably the most well-known constellation in the southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross or Crux. In September, in the evenings, you will find the southern cross in the south western part of the sky. So just after sunset is at 3 o’clock position heading down followed by the pointers. Canopus would be at the same time grazing the southern horizon so hard to see from hilly wellington. Achernar and the two magellanic clouds would be in the south eastern part of the sky.

  • Bright stars on the Ecliptic Very close to the ecliptic are Spica in Virgo early in the month. Spika means “head of grain” from Latin, it’s the grain that Virgo is holding. We can also see stars Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali in Libra, and Nunki in Sagittarius. The ecliptic intersects the Milky Way in Scorpius.

  • Stars in the Milky Way Starting from the centre of the Galaxy, going North are Shaula, the stinger of Scorpius, Atria in Triangulum Australe.

  • Other Bright stars: In the north, we can see the bright star Altair in Aquila, the constellation of the eagle, a triangle-shaped constellation in north-eastern skies. Canopus, the brightest star in the southern hemispheres continues to shine bright and can be seen near horizon in southern skies.

  • From Wellington New Zealand, Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske wish you a fantastic September.

The night sky for August 2019

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 12:00
Northern Hemisphere

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

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere’s 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 speaks about the Southern Hemisphere night sky during August 2019.

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

  • The rise of the GalaxyKia 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 WayWe 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 WayStarting from the West after sunset is Betlegeuse, then in zig-zag to the North is Procyon, the Little Dog alpha star. Zig-zaging again and 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 eclipticThen 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 MayLower 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 MayA 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.