The Night Sky This Month

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Ian Morison tells you what can be seen in the night sky this month.
Updated: 9 hours 57 min ago

The night sky for September 2019

Fri, 13/09/2019 - 21:00
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 - 13:00
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.

The night sky for July 2019

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 21:30
Northern Hemisphere

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

The Planets

  • Jupiter, shining initially at magnitude -2.6 and falling to -2.4, reached opposition on June 10th and is thus visible towards the south as darkness falls. Its angular size drops slightly from 45.5 to 43 arc seconds as the month progresses. Jupiter, in the southern part of Ophiuchus, is moving westwards in retrograde motion so moving towards Antares in Scorpius and will lie some 7 degrees up and to its left by month's end. 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 crosses the meridian, it will only have an elevation of ~14 degrees (From central UK). Atmospheric dispersion will thus take its toll and an atmospheric dispersion corrector would greatly help to improve our views of the giant planet.

  • Saturn comes into oppositions on July 9th shining at magnitude +0.1 during the month so crosses the meridian around 1 am BST. Its disk is ~18 arc seconds across and its rings - which are still nicely tilted from the line of sight - spanning some 42 arc seconds across. 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 ~14 degrees. As with Jupiter, an atmospheric dispersion corrector will help improve our view.

  • Mercury might just be seen low in the west-northwest after sunset in the first few days of the month with a magnitude of 1.1 and an angular size of 9.4 arc seconds. To spot it, 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 remains at magnitude +1.8 all month and is still just visible low in the west-northwest after sunset. Mars crosses Cancer during the month and passes into Leo on the 29th. Mars sets some one hour after the Sun at the start of July (with an elevation at sunset of ~9 degrees) but less than half an hour by month's end - when it will be very difficult to spot. Its angular size falls from 3.7 to 3.5 arc seconds during the month so one will not be able to spot any details on its salmon-pink surface. Binoculars could well be needed to reduce the Sun's background glare, but please do not use them until after the Sun has set.

  • Venus with a magnitude of -3.9 rises less than one hour before the Sun at the start of the month with an angular size of 9.7 arc seconds but will be lost from our view around the 18th. Its elevation is only ~4 degrees at sunrise so a very low horizon just north of 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
  • Early July: A very good time to spot Noctilucent Clouds! Noctilucent clouds, also known as polar mesospheric clouds, are most commonly seen in the deep twilight towards the north from our latitude. They are the highest clouds in the atmosphere at heights of around 80 km or 50 miles. Normally too faint to be seen, they are visible when illuminated by sunlight from below the northern horizon whilst the lower parts of the atmosphere are in shadow. They are not fully understood and are increasing in frequency, brightness and extent; some think that this might be due to climate change! So on a clear dark night as light is draining from the north western sky long after sunset take a look towards the north and you might just spot them!

  • July - 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-eastern sky well 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!

  • July 1st - before dawn: Venus and a crescent Moon. Given a very low horizon looking towards the northeast before dawn one should, if clear, be able to spot Venus lying over to the left of a very thin waning crescent Moon.

  • July 13th - late evening: Jupiter near the Moon. In the late evening towards the south, Jupiter will be seen down to the lower right of the Moon, two days before full.

  • July 15th - around midnight: Saturn and the Moon. Looking south around midnight, Saturn will be seen over to the left of the Moon one day before full.

  • July 16th - after sunset: a partial eclipse of the Moon. Looking low in the southeast after sunset we might, if clear, be able to observe a partially eclipsed Moon. The partial eclipse will end around midnight BST.

  • July 28th - before dawn: a crescent waning Moon and the Hyades Cluster. Before dawn on the 28th, a very thin crescent Moon will be seen to the left of the Hyades Cluster.

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

    • A bit about July

      Welcome to our Latin section, which I am a big fan of as it's about the only thing that I can pronounce properly and without having to twist my tongue.

      July was the month when the Roman general and leader Julius Caesar was born and after he died the Roman Senate renamed Quintilis, the fifth month of the 10-month calendar into what today is July but of course it was not pronounced July but Iulius.

      July is the second month of winter in the Southern Hemisphere and obviously the second month of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. It's also the month where traditionally the government's financial year starts here in New Zealand. Not just the government experiences new beginnings but also we must add that end of June or July is when we observe the Maori New Year - Matariki.

      This is observed according to a lunar calendar, called Maramataka during the last quarter of the Moon that occurs after the solstice. We have a special guest today, Katie Paul from Rotorua who is a great friend of ours for all celestial events happening in Rotorua as well as for astrobiology. Katie is going to tell us a little bit about what Matariki as a New Year observance means for her and her people.

      We also get fireworks here in Wellington during Matariki. We wrote more in depth about when is Matariki or where to find Matariki/the Pleiades in the sky during this time of the year so check out our other posts. This time of the year is significant both in the evening/night and in the morning - usually we only discuss the evening or night sky.

    • What's the Sun up to?

      The Sun rises around 7:50AM at the beginning of the month and 7:30AM at the end and sets from around 5:00PM at the beginning of the month to 5:20PM towards the end of it. The beautiful and long nights continue to enthrall us in July and the view to the Milky Way is the best. In July, the Sun transits the zodiacal constellations of the Gemini, switching to Cancer on the 22nd of July.

    • The Milky Way

      This must be the best month of the year here in New Zealand in terms of stargazing as we can see the centre of our galaxy, all night long. Starting from the evening, when is rising in the south-east, the core of the Milky Way reaches meridian around 10PM and then sets in the west just before sunrise. With the centre of the galaxy come more stars, as we are looking towards the rotational centre of the Milky Way. The centre of our galaxy is in the direction of Sagittarius, Ophiuchus and Scorpius and lies at about 26,500 light years away from us. It is spectacular to think that we are actually looking in the direction of the radios ource Sagittarius A, which is in lay words the name for the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. At 4 million times more massive than our Sun, Sagittarius A is not visible to the naked eye and what we know about it comes from observations in gamma rays, infrared and radio wavelengths.

      In fact, most of the centre of the galaxy line of sight is covered in dust which is visible in the form of dark bands - they show up best in wide field photographs of the Milky Way. There's one tiny opening through this dust, of about one degree, which is known as Baade's Window, named after astronomer Walter Baade who observed it in the 1940s from Mount Wilson taking advantage of the city blackout during the war.

      The dust makes interesting shapes against the light that comes from the stars in the disk of the Milky Way and people around the world and throughout times imagined many creatures that inhabit our galaxy. A great example is the Emu that our neighbours, the Aboriginal Australians placed across the Milky Way, that is as big as the galaxy.

      Another example of dark creatures in the sky but on a smaller scale is the famous Prancing Horse nebula, which observed from the Northern Hemisphere does look like a horse. It also looks like a pipe or a donkey and of course, taking a huge leap all the way to the Southern Hemisphere, where everything in the sky looks upside down to what we see in the northern hemisphere, we have here a kiwi bird checking out the centre of the Galaxy.

      Kiwis are nocturnal birds, endemic to New Zealand, they feed with insects in the forest and they are an endangered species. The closest relative of the Kiwibird is the elephant bird from Madagascar. Warm blooded mammals such as cats, dogs, possums, all that was introduced in New Zealand are main predators for the kiwibird but they can also die from the loss of the habitat and worse of all, you're not going to like this, humans were the worst threat. I'm saying 'were' because there are now continuous efforts from the department of conservation to bring back the numbers. But one thing is certain, the kiwibird is one of the symbols of New Zealand and is the most loved bird here. And how amazing that is even embedded in the night sky - this bird that can only be seen active at night, how fitting that there's a kiwi bird at the centre of our galaxy.

      The Milky Way Kiwi

      A matter of perspective and of course coincidences, as you have to know what a kiwi bird is, led to the realisation that if you turn the horse upside-down you get a kiwibird. Ian Cooper, one of the first New Zealand's film astrophotographers told us how twenty five years ago, someone came up with the name. "It was during the height of film in astrophotography and before the rise of the internet, so it was a 'slow burner' as they say. It is thought that some 'independently' discovered the little bird more recently and got all excited understandably. It is a pity that we don't know who first coined the name "Milky Way Kiwi," but that is how it was in the olden days when I was young."

      Milky Way Kiwi is useful for when explaining where is Sagittarius A, as it's visually somehow on top of its head, just like a diamond on a crown.

      Other birds in July

      The birds in the sky this month are: The Milky Way Kiwi obviously, but also some proper constellations such as Corvus, Cygnus the swan also known as the Northern Cross, in the sky around midnight. Another northern flying bird is Aquila the eagle, rising just after 8PM . On the southern horizon is the Dove, Columba inbetween the Dog star, Sirius and the Cat star, Canopus. Delicate and rich in optical double stars that we can see with the naked eye, Grus the Crane, is another bird-constellation laying now on the South Eastern Horizon. And as much as I don't like them, Musca, the Fly also qualifies for a flying constellation. Near the southern cross, Musca looks like a small polygon. Near Musca, Apus, the bird of paradise's name literally means "no feet" in Greek, as it was once wrongly believed that the birds of paradise lack feet. Apus is pointing straight at Pavo the peacock, that is flaunting its feathers all over the south celestial circle. Next to Pavo, is Toucana, near the Small Magellanic Cloud (NGC 292). Toucana is neighbouring Grus on one side and the Phoenix, on the other side. Since Herodotus, the Greek historian, the bird of Phoenix was associated with the Sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor and it can live for 1400 years at the time. And there is also a flying fish: Volans. It's tail is pointing at the Large Magellanic Cloud and it's head is half way through between Miaplacidus and Avior in Carina. And last but not least, I don't know for sure if Unicorns can fly but I'm mentioning here just in case: the elusive Monoceros, the unicorn, just in case. It is between Sirius and Orion and its stars are so faint that I have always just barely made the shape of it. Monoceros is visible on the morning sky.

    • Bright stars in the Milky Way

      Starting from the West and looking south after sunset is Sirius very low on the horizon then Canopus (which is not really in the Milky Way but is not far from it either) then following the Milky Way to the south are Suhail al Muhlif and Avior in Vela. High in the sky is the Southern Cross, which around mid-July and after sunset is at its highest position on the circumpolar zone. Alpha and Beta Centauri are to the left of the Southern Cross and on the south eastern horizon close to the centre of the Milky Way are Antares and Shaula in Scorpius, Nunki in Sagittarius and last but not least, after 10PM, Altair and Vega are just grazing the northern horizon.

    • Orion and Scorpius

      Orion is both on the western horizon at sunset, the three stars of its belt plunging vertically into the ocean, Rigel to the left and Betelgeuse to the right touch down almost at the same time and Saiph is the last to sink. Then in the morning sky, will rise around 6AM, Rigel first, which here is known as Puanga or Puaka then the belt and last to appear is Betelgeuse. The heliacal rising of Puanga is the alternative to observing the Maori New Year as due to the mountain ridge to the east in the Taranaki region the Pleiades are too low in the sky.

    • Bright stars on the ecliptic

      Nothing changed from last month, the same bright stars are on the ecliptic: Regulus from 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 in Scorpius which is both on the ecliptic and in the Milky Way, this is roughly where the planes of the two intersect.

    • 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.

    • Deep Sky Objects in July

      Close to the area south of the triangle that marks Leo's hips…M65, M66 and NGC 3628, which will be visible depending on the size of your binoculars they are also known as the "Leo Triplet". Also in Leo, M105 is an elliptical galaxy. Last but not least M96 another galaxy in Leo lies at about 35 million light years away.

      Notable deep sky objects in Virgo include the bright galaxies Messier 49, Messier 58, Messier 59, Messier 60, and Messier 87, the Sombrero Galaxy (M104), the Eyes Galaxies, the Siamese Twins, and the quasar 3C 273.

      Virgo has 11 Messier objects so you are in for a treat with this constellation. 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. In Scorpius there are the Butterfly Cluster, M7 open cluster and NGC6231 open cluster.

    • Planets

      Jupiter is in the sky just after sunset followed by Saturn two hours later and they are regal to watch so sharpen your telescopes.

The night sky for June 2019

Fri, 07/06/2019 - 12:00
Northern Hemisphere

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

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

The Planets
  • Jupiter, shining at magnitude -2.6 throughout the month, reaches opposition on June 10th and is thus visible throughout the night. Its angular size is 46 arc seconds across. Jupiter lies in the south of Ophiuchus up and to the left of Antares in Scorpius. 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 crosses the meridian, it will only have an elevation of ~14 degrees (Central UK). 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 +0.3 to +0.1 during the month, rises around 22:00 UT at the beginning of June so crosses the meridian in the early hours of the morning. By month's end it rises around 21:00 UT. It is moving towards opposition on July 9th. Its disk is ~18 arc seconds across and its rings - which are still nicely tilted from the line of sight - spanning some 40 arc seconds across. Sadly, now in Sagittarius and lying on the southern side of the milky way, 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, following its passage through superior conjunction (behind the Sun) on May 21st, is now visible, low in the north-west after sunset. As it moves towards greatest elongation east on June 23rd it rises higher in the sky after sunset, however though starting the month at magnitude -1.1, this falls to magnitude +0.1 by the 17th and falls to +0.9 by month's end. Its angular size increases from 5.5 to 9.2 arc seconds as the month progresses. To spot it, 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, remains at magnitude +1.8 magnitude all month and is still visible in the south western sky after sunset. Initially in Gemini, it moves into Cancer on the 28th of the month. Mars sets some two hours after the Sun at the start of June (with an elevation as darkness falls of ~11 degrees) but by less than one hour by month's end. Its angular size falls from 3.9 arc seconds to 3.7 arc seconds by month’s end so one will not be able to spot any details on its salmon-pink surface. .

  • Venus, with a magnitude of -3.8 rises just one hour before the Sun this month with its angular size reducing from 10.5 to 9.9 arc seconds as it moves away from the Earth. However, at the same time, the percentage illuminated disk (its phase) increases from 94% to 98% - which is why the brightness remains constant at -3.8 magnitudes. Its elevation is only ~4 degrees at sunrise so a very low horizon just north of 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
  • June 5th - after sunset: Mars close to a very thin crescent Moon. Given a low horizon looking towards northwest after sunset one should, if clear, be able to spot Mars lying over to the left of a very thin crescent Moon.

  • June 8th - after sunset: The Moon in Leo. Looking west in the evening a waxing crescent Moon will be seen lying above Regulus in Leo.

  • June 15th - late evening: Jupiter near the Moon. Around Midnight, Jupiter will be seen over to the right of a Moon coming up to full.

  • June 19th - midnight: Saturn and the Moon. During the night of the 19th June Saturn will be seen up to the left of the Moon, just before full.

  • June 27th - after sunset: Mars and Mercury. After sunset given a low horizon in the northwest you may be able to spot Mars and Mercury together down to the left of Castor and Pollux in Gemini. Binoculars may well be needed but please do not use them until after the Sun has set.

  • June: Look for the Great Red Spot on Jupiter.

  • June 10th evening: Mons Piton and Cassini. Best seen after First Quarter, Mons Piton is an isolated lunar mountain located in the eastern part of Mare Imbrium, south-east of the crater Plato and west of the crater Cassini. It has a diameter of 25 km and a height of 2.3 km. Its height was determined by the length of the shadow it casts. Cassini is a 57km crater that has been flooded with lava. The crater floor has then been impacted many times and holds within its borders two significant craters, Cassini A, the larger and Cassini B. North of Mons Piton can be seen a rift through the Alpine Mountains (Montes Alpes). Around 166 km long it has a thin rille along its center. I have never seen it but have been able to image it as seen in the lunar section.

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

  • Meteor Showers. Certain meteor showers take place in June. The Arietids takes place May 22 to July 2 each year, and peaks on June 7. The Beta Taurids June 5 to July 18. The issue with those is that the Sun is very close to the two constellations, Aries and Taurus and also you will have to wake up very early in the morning to watch them providing you have a good horizon. The June Bootids take place roughly between 26 June and 2 July each year. Bootes is grazing the northern horizon in Wellington.

  • What’s the Sun up to? The Sun rises from 7:30 to 7:50AM throughout the month and sets at about 5:00 PM throughout the month. Beautiful and long nights are here but so is cold weather. In the meantime we are basking in 32 degrees in the Sun in the Northern Hemisphere. In June, the Sun first transits the zodiacal constellations of Taurus switching to Gemeni on the 23rd of June.

  • 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 around midnight in the middle of the month.

  • Bright stars in the Milky Way Starting from the West after sunset Betelgeuse is slowly sinking into the Sun and it will be gone from the evening sky towards the middle of the month. In zig-zag to the North is Procyon, the Little Dog alpha star. Zig-zagging again is Sirius, the big dog, and Adhara. Suhail al Muhlif is shining in Vela and Avior, Aspidiske and Miaplacidus are bright stars in Carina. The beautiful stars of the Southern Cross follow the two pointers, Alpha and Beta Centauri.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 Vega are grazing the northern horizon with their beauty.

  • 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 it will disappear from our sight mid-June.

  • Bright stars on the ecliptic Regulus in Leo (which is extremely close to the ecliptic) and Spica, the blue giant in Virgo are great shiny stars, also 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 at sunset. Gacrux and Acrux are crossing the meridian around around 7 PM in the middle of the month. 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 June 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. We really like binoculars 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. 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 June 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 From the start of the month Jupiter's position just keeps getting better and better. At the start of the month it rises about 5:30 in the very early evening and by the end of the month it’s already a third of the way up the sky by that time. The best thing is that you won’t have to stay up too late to get the best views of Jupiter at the end of the month because the planet will be nearly straight up from around 10:30pm. With the minimum amount of atmosphere to look through you should see some fantastic detail on the planet and those who are into imaging the gas giant may be able to capture some of the activity that is going on with the Great Red Spot at the moment - which may have to change it’s name to the Mediocre Red Spot. The Moon and Pluto have a visually close encounter at 10pm also on the 19th June. Good luck seeing it though given the huge difference in brightness of the two celestial objects.

  • Clear skies from wherever you are in this world! .