The Night Sky This Month

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Ian Morison tells you what can be seen in the night sky this month.
Updated: 18 hours 16 min ago

The night sky for June 2018

Tue, 12/06/2018 - 15:00
Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during June 2018.

The Planets

  • Jupiter.Jupiter reached opposition on May 8th, so will be visible during the evening after darkness has fallen. It shines at magnitude -2.5 (falling to -2.3 during the month) and has a disk some 44 (falling to 41.5) arc seconds across. Jupiter's equatorial bands and sometimes the Great Red Spot (see 'highlights' for the times when it crosses Jupiter's central meridian) and up to four of its Galilean moons will be visible in a small telescope. Sadly, moving slowly westwards in Libra during the month, Jupiter is heading towards the southern part of the ecliptic and will only have an elevation of ~20 degrees when crossing the meridian. Atmospheric dispersion will thus hinder our view and it might be worth considering purchasing the ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector to counteract its effects.

  • Saturn.Saturn, comes into opposition on the 27th of June and so will be visible during all the (few) hours of darkness. Its disk has an angular size of 18.2 arc seconds increasing to 18.4 during the month. Its brightness increases from +0.2 to +0.0 magnitudes as the month progresses. The rings were at their widest some months ago and are still, at 25.7 degrees to the line of sight, well open and spanning ~2.5 times the size of Saturn's globe. Saturn, lying in Sagittarius, is close to the topmost star of the 'teapot'. Sadly, it will only reach an elevation of just over 15 degrees above the horizon when crossing the meridian. Atmospheric dispersion will thus greatly hinder our view.

  • Mercury.Mercury passes behind the Sun (superior conjunction) on the 5th/6th June but will become visible (at around magnitude -0.7) low in the west after sunset by mid-month. By month's end its magnitude will have dropped to -0.2 and it will set some one and a half hours after the Sun when it will have an angular diameter of 6.5 arc seconds. Greatest elongation west of the Sun is on July 12th.

  • Mars.Mars, in Capricornus, beings its retrograde motion westwards on the 28th June as it moves towards its closest approach to Earth since 2003 in two months time. Mars rises at around midnight BST at the start of the month and around 10:30 pm by month's end. During the month Mars has a magnitude which increases from -1.2 to -2.1 and has an angular size of 15.3 increasing to 20.7 arc seconds so, with a small telescope, it will be possible to spot details, such as Syrtis Major, on its salmon-pink surface. It will only reach an elevation of ~14 degrees before dawn so, sadly, again the atmosphere will hinder our view.

  • Venus.Venus dominates the western sky after sunset, shining brightly at magnitude -3.9 (increasing to -4.1 during month) with an angular size of 13 arc seconds increasing to 15 arc seconds as the month progresses. Venus rises a little higher in the sky during June, initially setting around two and a half hours after the Sun but a little less by month's end as its elevation at sunset stays at around 20 degrees. Venus starts the month in Gemini, not far below and to the left of Pollux, but passes into Cancer on the 11th when, on the 19th and 20th, it lies close to the M44, the Beehive Cluster.

  • Highlights
  • June - a great month to view Jupiter.The features seen in the Jovian atmosphere have been changing quite significantly over the last few years - for a while the South Equatorial Belt vanished completely but has now returned to its normal wide state.

  • June 1st ~2 am: Saturn close to a waning gibbous Moon.In the early hours of the 1st, the waning gibbous Moon will lie just up to the left of Saturn as they cross the meridian. [A good photo opportunity.]

  • June 3rd ~2:30 am: Mars and a waning gibbous Moon.In the early morning of the 3rd, Mars will be seen down to the lower left of the gibbous Moon.

  • June 8th, after sunset: Venus to the lower left of Pollux in Gemini.After sunset on the 8th and given a low western horizon Venus will be seen to lie in Gemini down to the lower left of Pollux.

  • June 16th after sunset: Venus and a very thin crescent MoonAfter sunset, if clear, you may be able to spot a very thin crescent Moon lying over to the left of Venus. With binoculars or a telescope you might be able to see the 'Earthshine' which faintly illuminates the dark part of the lunar disk.

  • June 28th ~2:30 am: Saturn and the Full Moon.In the early morning of the 28th, Saturn will be seen down to the lower left of the Full Moon - a nice photo opportunity.

  • January 22nd/23rdth: Two Great Lunar Craters. These are two great nights (late evening on the 22nd) 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 remnents 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 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.

  • Gaby Perez from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the Southern Hemisphere night sky during June 2018.

  • Introduction.Kia Ora, Gabriela Perez here from Space Place at the Carter Observatory in Wellington, New Zealand. It’s certainly getting colder down here as we approach the winter but the good news is that we have plenty of opportunities to look at our southern skies with all the extra dark hours. June is an incredible month for viewing the visible planets.

  • Solstice.Mid month brings on the winter solstice on the 21st of June which in turn brings the longest night and the shortest day. It will also mean the Sun will be at its lowest elevation for the year.

  • Summer Constellations.The beginning of the month will see the last of our summer constellations low in the western sky along with Sirius, the brightest true star, which will twinkle as in the early evening being found closer to the horizon. This twinkling occurs as the star's light will be dispersed as the atmosphere is denser nearing the horizon and we will see a bit of separation of colour. Rising in the East are some of our winter constellations such as Scorpius and Sagittarius. We don't have scorpions here in New Zealand so Scorpius is seen as the fish hook of Maui, with it's bloody bait, the red giant star Antares. Following Scorpius is Saggitarius and the zone between them, Sag A, marks the heart of our Milky Way. Winter in the Southern Hemisphere is a great time to see this 'bulge' of the Milky Way and in this zone astronomers believe to be a supermassive black hole helping to hold our galaxy together.

  • The Planets.The first planet that will be visible in the sky before the sun has fully set is our 'evening star' Venus, it will be visible in the northwest in the constellation of Gemini and it will set about an hour after the sun. The next bright planet will be Jupiter in the east in the constellation of Libra which will remain in our skies until dawn. At about 9pm Saturn will rise in the southeast in the beginning of the month but will appear earlier and earlier each day in the constellation of Sagittarius. Following that will be the final planet to appear in our night sky which is the red planet Mars and we can find him in the constellation of Capricornus.

  • Winter Constellations.The Southern Cross (Crux) will be at its highest point for the year and Achenar, marking the end of the constellation of Eridanus, the river, will be visible just above the horizon. The mid-point of these two objects marks the South Celestial Pole centre which you can use to find South. You can use Achenar to locate the faint constellation of Tucana, and within it a stunning and visible globular star cluster 47 Tucanae. The second brightest globular cluster out of the 150 that exist in the halo of our Milky Way. The brightest can be spotted using the pointer stars (Alpha Cen and Beta Cen) in the constellation of Centaurus, Omega Centauri.

  • Pleiades.In mid June we will also have a sighting of the Pleiades star cluster in our dawn sky which has special significance in New Zealand as the heliacal rising of this cluster marks the time of the Maori New Year. It is found in the shoulder of the bull in the constellation of Taurus. It is a young star cluster, only 100 million years old, mostly consisting of giant hot blue stars. It is a rare sight to be able to pick out so many stars in an individual cluster in our night sky with the naked eye.

  • Hope everyone keeps warm and enjoys the extra hours of dark skies in the evening for some star gazing.

The night sky for May 2018

Wed, 16/05/2018 - 12:00
Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during May 2018.

The Planets

  • Jupiter - Jupiter reaches opposition on May 8th, so will be visible all night. It shines at magnitude -2.5 and has a disk some 44 arc seconds across throughout the month. Jupiter's equatorisl bands and sometimes the Great Red Spot (see 'highlights' for the times when it crosses Jupiter's central meridian) and up to four of its Gallilean moons will be visible in a small telescope. Sadly, lying in Libra during the month, Jupiter is heading towards the southern part of the ecliptic and will only have an elevation of ~20 degrees when crossing the meridian. Atmospheric dispersion will thus hinder our view and it might be worth considering purchasing the ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector to counteract its effects.

  • Saturn - Saturn, now well into its new apparition, rises at around midnight on the first of May and a couple of hours earlier by month's end. With an angular size of ~17.5 arc seconds (increasing to 18.1 during the month) it climbs higher before dawn and so becomes easier to spot as the month progresses. Its brightness increases from +0.4 to +0.2 magnitudes during the month. The rings were at their widest some months ago and are still, at 25 degrees to the line of sight, well open and spanning ~2.5 times the size of Saturn's globe. Saturn, lying in Sagittarius, is close to the topmost star of the 'teapot'. It will been seen best just before dawn but, sadly, even when at opposition later in the year it will only reach an elevation of just over 15 degrees above the horizon when crossing the meridian. Atmospheric dispersion will thus greatly hinder our view and, as for Jupiter, it might be worth considering purchasing the ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector to counteract its effects.

  • Mercury - Mercury reached greatest elongation east from the Sun on April 29th and might just be glimpsed low above the western horizon for the first few days of May, but for the remainder of the month will lie too close to the Sun to be visible.

  • Mars - Mars starts the month in Sagittarius and moves into Capricornus in mid-May. Now a morning object, it rises at around 1:30 am BST at the start of the month and a little after midnight by May 31st. During the month, Mars has a magnitude which increases rapidly from -0.4 to -1.2 and has an angular size of 11.1 increasing to 15.1 arc seconds during the month so it should be possible to spot details, such as Syrtis Major, on its salmon-pink surface with a small telescope. It will only reach an elevation of ~10 degrees before dawn at the start of the month and ~131 degrees by month's end. Sadly, the atmosphere will hinder our view. Another reason for purchasing a ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion corrector?

  • Venus - Venus, seen in the west after sunset, shines brightly at magnitude -3.9 all month with an angular size of 11.5 increasing to 13 arc seconds. Venus rises a little higher in the sky as April progresses, initially setting around two hours after the Sun but increasing to two and a half hours by month's end as its elevation at sunset stays at around 20 degrees - it will be very prominent in the evening sky. Venus starts the month in Taurus, not far above the Hyades Cluster, but passes into Gemini on the 19th before passing between the Hyades and Pleiades Clusters on the 27th.

  • Highlights
  • May - a great month to view Jupiter. This is a great month to observe Jupiter which comes into opposition on May 8th and will be visible during all the hours of darkness. It is moving down the ecliptic and now lies in Libra and, sadly, will only reach an elevations of ~20 degrees when crossing the meridian. An interesting observation is that the Great Red Spot appears to be diminishing in size. At the beginning of the last century it spanned 40,000 km across but now appears to be only ~16,500 km across - less than half the size. It used to be said that 3 Earths could fit within it, but now it is only one. The shrinking rate appears to be accelerating and observations indicate that it is now reducing in size by ~580 miles per year. Will it eventually disappear?

  • The features seen in the Jovian atmosphere have been changing quite significantly over the last few years - for a while the South Equatorial Belt vanished completely (as seen in Damian's image) but has now returned to its normal wide state.

  • May: Look for the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. This list gives some of the best evening times during May to observe the Great Red Spot which should then lie on the central meridian of the planet. The times are in UT.

  • May 5th and 6th before dawn: The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower. The Eta Aquarids are one of the finest meteor showers that can be seen from the southern hemisphere but, in the northern hemisphere, may only be glimpsed in the pre-dawn sky in the south-east around 90 minutes before dawn. Sadly, this year the peak is when there is a waning gibbous Moon in the sky - so moonlight will hinder our view.

  • May 5th - before dawn: Saturn, the Moon and Mars together in the southern sky. Before dawn on the 5th of May and given a clear sky and a low horizon to the east of south, you should be able to spot Saturn to the right of the waning gibbous Moon with Mars down to its lower left. Binoculars might be needed to penetrate the sky's pre-dawn brightness, but please do not use them after the Sun has risen.

  • May 17th after sunset: Venus above a very thin crescent Moon. If clear after sunset on the 17th May and given a very low western horizon you should easily spot Venus! However it will be much harder to spot a very thin crescent Moon, just two days after new, down to its lower left. Binoculars may well be needed to see the Moon, but please do not use them until after the Sun has set.

  • May 6th and 22nd - evenings: The Hyginus Rille. These evenings, should it be clear, are a superb time to view the Hyginus Crator and Rille as it will lie close to the terminator. For some time a debate raged as to whether the craters on the Moon were caused by impacts or volcanic activity. We now know that virtually all were caused by impact, but it is thought that the Hyginus crater that lies at the centre of the Hyginus Rille may well be volcanic in origin. It is an 11 km wide rimless pit - in contrast to impact craters which have raised rims - and its close association with the rille of the same name associates it with internal lunar events. It can quite easily be seen to be surrounded by dark material. It is thought that an explosive release of dust and gas created a vacant space below so that the overlying surface collapsed into it so forming the crater. The author's image of the crater and rille can be seen in the inset to the image of the 8 day old Moon below.

Gabriela Perez from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the Southern Hemisphere night sky during May 2018.

  • Introduction - Kia Ora, Gabriela Perez here from Wellington New Zealand. It's autumn here in the southern hemisphere and we can tell from the chilly night and fallen leaves but also from our skies. We can see the summer months sinking into the Western horizon with Orion and his companions making way for all our winter constellations. Quite a nice time year to see Orion and Scorpius on either sides of the sky knowing that they're doomed to chase one another forever.

  • Orion - The best time to view the deep space objects will be around the middle of the month as new moon will be on the 15th of May and on the 29th we will round off the month with the full moon.

  • The Planets - In the middle of May we will have sliver Venus setting 90 minutes after the Sun in the northwest once again becoming our evening star. The fainter planets, Saturn and Mars will also be in the sky in the constellation of Sagittarius.

  • Scorpius - Another fantastic sight in the constellation of Scorpius is the Bug/Butterfly Nebula. It is a bipolar planetary nebula, having one the most complex structures ever seen with a star at its centre, also in its final stages but burning at some of the hottest temperatures recorded in the galaxy (for a star).

  • Stellar Clusters - Between Scorpius and Sagittarius is the zone designated Sagittarius A and it is our galactic centre. The middle point of our Milky Way or the 'bulge' making up some of the brightest and star-rich regions of our night sky. We have noted some intense radio feedback form this zone as astronomers believe that in the centre of our galaxy (and in fact the centre of every galaxy) is a supermassive black hole holding it together. On a clear night you can follow the Milky Way up to the Crux constellation or the Southern Cross, the smallest constellation but arguably the most well-known in the South. Use the pointer stars, the reddish orange Alpha Centauri and the blue/white Beta Centauri to make sure you have the right cross shape in the sky. Nearby star clusters such as the Jewel Box cluster or the Southern Pleiades make for some stunning telescope observations. Pick out the different colours in the cluster depicting stars of different sizes and at different stages of their lives. For a little bit of a challenge, and for another look at a dying star, you can move towards the constellation of Carina and find Eta Carinae and the Carina Nebula.

  • Meteor Shower - If you're up late enough, at about around midnight on the 6th till the early hours of the 7th of May you can catch the peak of the Eta Aquarids. This spectacular annual meteor shower is capable of producing up to 60 meteors per hour. They will radiate from Aquarius but can be seen in a lot of the night sky.

  • Arcturus - And if you're up early enough soon after dusk Arcturus appears in the northeast, seen twinkling as it is close to the horizon with it's light being broken up. It is the brightest red object in the sky, only outshone by Mars and 120 times brighter than the Sun.

  • That's all for me for this month in the South and remember to keep warm but not let that stop you from going outside and looking up!

The night sky for April 2018

Sun, 01/04/2018 - 00:00
Northern Hemisphere

Fiona Healy tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during April 2018.

Fiona Healy and Fiona Healy from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speak about the Southern Hemisphere night sky during April 2018.

We would have descriptions here, but unfortunately Fiona's cat has run off with them and none of us are brave enough to try and get them back.

The night sky for March 2018

Thu, 01/03/2018 - 16:00
Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during March 2018.

  • Jupiter.Jupiter rises just before midnight at the beginning of the month and about one hour earlier by month's end. Initially it has a 39 arc second disk, shining at a magnitude of -2.2 but as the month progresses, its apparent diameter increases to 42.5 arc seconds and it brightens to magnitude -2.4. Jupiter will transit before dawn and so will enable the giant planet to be seen with the equatorial bands, sometimes the Great (but reducing in size) Red Spot and up to four of its Gallilean moons visible in a small telescope. Sadly, Jupiter, lying in Libra during the month, is heading towards the southern part of the ecliptic and will only have an elevation of ~20 degrees when crossing the meridian. Atmospheric dispersion will thus hinder our view and it might be worth considering purchasing the ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector to counteract its effects.

  • Saturn.Saturn, at the start of its new apparition, rises at around 3 am at the start of the month and just after 2 am at its end. With an angular size of ~16.3 arc seconds it climbs higher before dawn and so becomes easier to spot as the month progresses. Its brightness increases from +0.6 to +0.5 magnitudes during the month. The rings were at their widest a few months ago and are still, at 26 degrees to the line of sight, well open. Saturn, lying in Sagittarius, is just 3 degrees above the topmost star of the 'teapot'. Sadly, even when at opposition later in the year it will only reach an elevation of just over 15 degrees above the horizon when crossing the meridian. Atmospheric dispersion will thus greatly hinder our view and it might be worth considering purchasing the ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector to counteract its effects.

  • Mercury.Mercury gives us its best evening apparition this month when it reaches its peak height above the western horizon on March 15th when, at greatest elongation, it lies some 18 degrees west of the Sun. However, by this time its magnitude has dropped from -1.3 at the beginning of March to -0.4 magnitudes. Its magnitude continues to fall, dropping to +0.9 by 20th and soon after will be lost in the Sun's glare. Mercury flirts with Venus during the month as detailed in the highlights.

  • Mars.Mars starts the month moving quicky eastwards in Ophiuchus moving into Sagittarius on the 12th of the month as it moves towards Saturn. Now a morning object, it rises at around 2 am at the start of the month. During the month, Mars has a magnitude which increases from +0.8 to +0.3 and an angular size of just 7, increasing to 8.5, arc seconds so it will be hard to spot details on its salmon-pink surface. It will only reach an elevation of ~14 degrees before dawn at the start of the month and just 12 degrees by month's end.

  • Venus. Venus, seen low in the west after sunset shines at magnitude -3.9 all month with an angular size of ~10.3 arc seconds. Venus rises a little higher in the sky as March progresses, initially setting around one hour after the Sun but increasing to an hour and a half by month's end. It has two near conjunctions with Mercury as described in the highlights above.

  • Highlights
  • March 2nd to 4th after sunset: Venus and Mercury within 1.3 degrees of each other.After sunset on these three evenings and given a clear sky and a low western horizon, you should be able to spot Venus and Mercury. Their closest is on the 3rd when they are just 1.1 degrees apart. Binoculars might be needed to penetrate the skys residual brightness, but please do not use them until after the Sun has set. [Note: The sky brightness has been reduced in the chart.]

  • March 10th/11th before dawn: Saturn, Mars and a waning Moon. Mars below a waning Moon If clear before dawn on the 10th and 11th, looking just east of south, one should see a waning crescent Moon lying to the upper left of Mars on the 10th and Saturn on the 11th.

  • March 19th after sunset: Venus, Mercury and a very thin crescent Moon.Looking West after sunset on the 19th and given a very low western horizon, one might be able to spot Venus near Mercury which is close to maximum elongation from the Sun. A very thin crescent Moon, just two days after new, will be seen up to their left. Binoculars may well be needed, but please do not use them before the Sun has set. A tough observing challenge! [Note: the sky brightness has been reduced in the chart.]

  • March 23rd evening: The Moon in the Hyades Cluster.In the evening of the 23rd of the month, the Moon, coming towards first quarter, will lie within the Hyades cluster. After it has set from the UK it will occult Aldebaran which is a red giant star lying between our solar system and the cluster.

  • March 8th and 24th: 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!

  • This month we welcome two new presenters, Gabriela Perez and Jasmine Chan-Hyams who tell us what we can see in the Southern Hemisphere night sky during March 2018.

  • Introduction.I'm Gaby, I work at Space Place at the Carter Observatory, in Wellington New Zealand as a telescope operator. I've been staring at the Southern Skies for most of my life. As a child I saw the fully mapped-out globe and I became fascinated with space, ever since I have wanted to explore the universe beyond. Now I bring the universe to me (mostly through collecting its light) with my eyes, a pair of binoculars or a telescope.

    And I'm Jasmine, I am a PhD Biotech student at Victoria University of Wellington. But who I am is a scientist, a star-gazer and a story-teller. We wish a fond farewell to Claire who has contributed so much to this podcast over the years. Thank you for teaching me about treasuring that moment of awe when you share a wonder of the universe with someone who has never seen anything like it before. You will be sorely missed at Space Place and we wish you all the best in your new job!

    Looking up into the night skies is one of the true delights of living in the southern hemisphere; especially here in Aotearoa, New Zealand where it is easy to get away from the bright city lights and where we a get a broader and brighter view of the Milky Way.

    Early in the month of March we can look forward to gazing upon many star studded greek heroes and mythical creatures. We can use constellations as guideposts to find deep sky objects including beautiful nebulae and special features of our southern skies.

  • The region around Orion. Our journey begins with the Greek constellation Orion, who appears in the skies after full dark in north-north west for the month of March. For many of us finding the three bright stars that form Orion's belt were probably the first thing you could proudly identify as a child. These three stars are 2nd magnitude stars. You can also see with the naked eye Betelgeuse, located in Orion's armpit; a red supergiant hundreds of times larger than our sun. Yet the brightest star of this constellation is Rigel - a blue star at Orion's ankle. Blue stars are the hottest kind of stars you'll find in the night skies while red stars are cooler and burning up the last of their heat energy. Just below his belt you'll find the Orion Emission Nebula (M42)- a huge star forming cloud - more than two widths of our moon across, it lies about 1500 light years away. With the naked eye it appears as a diffuse cloudy patch. Through a telescope you can see the clouds of dust and gas, lit up by the baby stars they are forming.

    From Orion's belt it's just a star jump to the right and up to find Sirius, the brightest star in our skies. Sirius is seriously bright at about 20 times brighter than our sun and is only 8.6 lya. Sirius is part of the Canis Major constellation - one of the two dog companions that accompany the hunter Orion. Below Canis Major you can look for the two stars that form Canis Minor. The star Procyon, in Canis Minor, forms a triangle with the 1st magnitude stars Sirius and Betelgeuse.

    Within this "southern triangle" you can look for the Monoceros unicorn constellation - home to the gorgeous Rosette nebula. This nebula has a beautiful carnation pick colouring and can be seen with binoculars in the part of the constellation closest to Betelgeuse.

    Neighboring Orion is the zodiac constellation Taurus the Bull. Taurus and his fiery eye, the red giant Aldebaran, can be found low in our Northern-Western sky after sunset where we can easily make out his V shaped horns. Near his shoulder lies the Pleiades star cluster. On a clear dark night you can see seven points of light with the naked eye but it is best viewed with a pair of binoculars. The Pleiades is a young cluster of mostly hot blue stars, the big ones that burn up all their fuel quickly -they live fast and die young. These bright blue stars are said to be seven beautiful sisters. You can find the seven sisters sheltering in the shoulder of the bull hiding from Orion's amorous intentions.

  • Crab Nebula.

    After you get an eyeful of these blue beauties you can jump down to the Crab Nebula (M1) but you'll want a telescope for this part. M1 was the fist Messier object recorded by famous French astronomer Charles Messier in 1771. To find M1 with your telescope look for Aldebaran first then follow the bull's horn to the end, it will be close to the horizon. Large apertures are needed to make out the filamentous detail. The Crab Nebula is was first viewed more than a 1000 years ago, by ancient Chinese astronomers, who recorded a bright light forming in this area. They witnessed was a supernova - a dying star. At the heart of the Crab Nebula is the pulsar, the skeleton of the dying star. Although we cannot see it with a telescope we can listen to the radio waves it emits as it spins. We can listen to the song of supernova.

    You can enjoy looking for Orion, his hunting dogs, Taurus and the unicorn Monoceros throughout the early evenings of March. Now I'll hand over to Gabriela who'll tell us what planets we can see this month and features of the skies to the south.

  • The Planets - But if you are looking for planets in March, you'll need stay up late. Venus sets shortly after the sun but becomes increasingly visible in our twilight skies towards the end of the month. Jupiter rises in the late evening about midnight in mid-March. This gas giant reflects the light of our sun and outshines Sirius, becoming the brightest object in our night sky after the Moon. For those early risers Mars and Saturn are in the eastern horizon just before dawn. Around the 7th of March the planets will line up quite nicely on either side of the waxing gibbous Moon. On the 21st of March we can observe the Autumn equinox when there night and day will be of equal length.

  • Constellations and Nebulae -

    This is probably my favourite time of year to look at the Southern Skies because you can stay out late without either freezing to death or being eaten alive by mosquitoes and the most important objects stay high in the skies for longer. The Full Moon will occur mid-month on the 12th of March. So the beginning and end of March are excellent times to explore the deeper sky objects that you can only see from the southern hemisphere.

    Turning to the south horizon we look for the kite shaped Southern Cross constellation Crux. The Crux will be low in our South Eastern sky in early March after sunset. We can use the pointer stars, red-orange Alpha Centauri and blue-white Beta Centauri to identify the true Southern Cross.

    As night progresses, the Southern Cross journeys around the southern celestial pole, bringing with it the dark patches stretched out through our view of the Milky Way. Here these patched represents the Giant Moa -a now extinct large flightless bird native to New Zealand. These dark patches are where large interstellar objects, called Dark Nebulas, have blocked out the light from more distant stars - preventing their light reaching us here on Earth. Dark Nebulae are easily seen against the backdrop of the Milky Way as the large concentration of star-light surrounding them lets us see them better. The head of the Moa sits by the Crux, nearby Beta Cruxis and the Jewel Box Cluster. This dark nebula is usually known as the Coalsack nebula. Much like coal itself it could one day ignite as it becomes an active stellar nursery, shining up as one of the brightest sections of our skies.

    Following the Moa's ascent, Scorpius rises in the east. In Maori starlore we know it as the legendary fish hook of Maui. Where the Milky Way bulges, next to Scorpius, is Sagittarius A - the Galactic Centre - where we have the brightest view of our own galaxy. From the Galactic Centre we receive intense radio feedback from the super-massive black hole at the centre of our Milky Way.

    Using the Southern Cross we can find, Canopus, the second brightest true star in our sky. It is part of the Carina constellation, the keel of Argo Navis. The ship that used to dominate the night sky as the largest constellation. In March it is located above the Crux. In the centre of this constellation is the Great Carina Nebula which houses the giant red dying star Eta Carinae. It once illuminated our night sky as one of the brightest stars for a short period of time after it undertook a massive event known as an imposter supernova. Now this hardy star, encased in the Homunculus Nebula, has faded and can only be seen through a telescope.

    The globular star cluster 47 Tucanae will be high in the sky and faintly spotted to the naked eye by the tenth brightest star, the pancake star Achernar (It's spinning so fast it's flattened itself out a bit). Globular clusters are fascinating things. Their structure allows us witness stellar interactions but also allows us to pinpoint the smallest and faintest stars. The large bright stars are at the core while the outer stars are fainter creating a unique and beautifully ordered structure found only in globular clusters.

  • Magellanic Clouds - We can also look for two of our neighbouring galaxies - the Magellanic Clouds. You can see them without the aid of a telescope. But you will need to get away from the bright city lights on a dark moonless night. These two small irregular dwarf galaxies orbit our Milky Way. The gravitational, pull of our galaxy, warps and distorts them - pulling away clouds of dust and gas and even stars to form the Magellanic Stream. The SMC and LMC are actually connecting by a bridge of neutral helium, suggesting they were once the same object. The Magellanic Clouds are the furthest objects away from home that we can see from our backyards in the southern hemisphere.

  • G - That's it for us in the month of March. Thanks for tuning in. J - and we wish you all very happy star gazing.