The Night Sky This Month

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Ian Morison tells you what can be seen in the night sky this month.
Updated: 20 hours 46 min ago

The night sky for March 2019

Fri, 08/03/2019 - 17:00
Northern HemisphereThe Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Southern Hemisphere

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

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

    • The Season of Harvest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The night sky for February 2019

    Mon, 11/02/2019 - 16:00
    Northern Hemisphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Southern Hemisphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Let's get hopping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Thank you and Clear skies from Wellington!

    The night sky for January 2019

    Wed, 16/01/2019 - 10:00
    Northern Hemisphere

    The Night Sky

    Northern Hemisphere

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

  • Note the Total Eclipse of the Moon on the morning of January 21stThe Planets
    • Jupiter.Jupiter starts the month rising around 5 a.m., and brightens from magnitude -1.9 to -1.9 as the month progresses whilst its angular size increases slightly from 31.8 to 33.6 arc seconds. The highlights show how it combines with Venus to give us some wonderful views in the East before dawn.

    • Saturn.Saturn passes behind the Sun on the 2nd of January so will not be visible in the pre-dawn eastern sky until around the third week of the month shining with a magnitude of +0.6. With a disk of ~15 arc seconds across and with rings spanning over twice this, it will rise one and a half hours before the Sun by month's end.

    • Mercury.Mercury might just be glimpsed in the first few days of the month very low in the southeast just before sunrise shining at magnitude -0.4. Binoculars could well be needed as this reduces the background glare, but please do not use them after the Sun has risen.

    • Mars.Mars, though fading from +0.5 to +0.9 magnitudes during the month remains prominent in the southern sky after sunset at an elevation of ~36 degrees, increasing to 41 degrees during January as it moves north-eastwards across the constellation of Pisces. (If only it could have been at this elevation when at closest approach last year!) Its angular size falls from 7.5 arc seconds to 6 arc seconds during the month so one will not be able to spot any details on its salmon-pink surface.

    • Venus.Venus reaches greatest elongation west some 47 degrees away from the Sun on January 6th so dominates the eastern sky rising some 3 hours before the Sun. It begins January with a dazzling magnitude of -4.6. Its angular size reduces from 26.3 to 19.4 arc seconds during the month as it moves away from the Earth but, at the same time, the percentage illuminated disk (its phase) increases from 47% to 62% - which is why the brightness only reduces from -4.6 to -4.3 magnitudes. See the highlight above when it lies close to Jupiter.

    • Highlights
    • January 3rd - before dawn: Jupiter below a very thin crescent Moon.
    • Around the 6th of January (with no Moon in the sky): find M31 - The Andromeda Galaxy - and perhaps M33 in Triangulum.Around new Moon (6th Jan) - and away from towns and cities - you may also be able to spot M33, the third largest galaxy after M31 and our own galaxy in our Local Group of galaxies. It is a face on spiral and its surface brightness is pretty low so a dark, transparent sky will be needed to spot it using binoculars (8x40 or, preferably, 10x50). Follow the two stars back from M31 and continue in the same direction sweeping slowly as you go. It looks like a piece of tissue paper stuck on the sky just a bit brighter than the sky background. Good Hunting!

    • January12th - evening: Mars above a waxing Moon.Looking south in the evening if clear, Mars will be seen lying above a waxing crescent Moon.

    • January 21st - a Total Eclipse of the Moon.If clear in the hours before dawn, we should be able to see a Total Eclipse of the Moon as it moves through the Earth's shadow at times indicated on the chart. It will be fully eclipsed from 04:41 to 05:43. A nice photo opportunity.

    • January 31st - just before dawn: a thin crescent Moon lies between Jupiter and Venus.If clear just before dawn, and given a low horizon towards the southeast, one should be able to see a thin waning crescent Moon lying between Jupiter (on its right) and Venus shining brightly to its left. A nice photo opportunity.

    • January 13th and 26th evening: The Hyginus Rille.

    • Southern Hemisphere

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

    • The Shining Ones.
    • Kia Ora from New Zealand.Hi everyone, We are here at Space Place at Carter Observatory holding Galactic Conversations from the heart of Wellington in the Southern Hemisphere, my favourite place to be, with the music of the amazing Rhian Sheehan, our Wellingtonian star composer, and we are Haritina MogoČ™anu and Samuel Leske. Space Place is our historical astronomy icon here in New Zealand and we are located right at the heart of our capital city. And we are so lucky to be among the capital cities in the world from where you can still see the Milky Way.

    • Summary.As for deep sky objects, the month is perfect for observing Orion and some of the objects from the Northern Hemisphere that sit below Orion in the Southern Sky, such as the fabulous Rosette Nebula and the elusive M74. Back to the south celestial region, we can still see the Magellanic Clouds and some awesome circumpolar objects, check out our videos on how to find them on Milky-Way. And did you know that this time of the year you can see the brightest, second brightest and third brightest star in the sky from here from Wellington? If you have a solar telescope you can admire a very quiet Sun. Almost no spots adorn the Sun but we will be watching it closely to see if any appear. (Do NOT look at the sun with a telescope, binoculars or even the naked eye without protection!) Watch for the Moon, it new on the first Sunday of the month, which means that's a good week for deep sky observations, and full on the third week, the 21st of January.

    • You must wake up very early in the morning to see the other planets, which are mostly in the morning sky, so if you're a morning person then you're in for a show. Venus, Jupiter and Mercury are all visible in the morning sky, as well as the Moon in the first week of the Month and Saturn at the end of the month. You can wake up as early as 3:30 for Venus, and Jupiter is rising up every morning earlier so it catches up with Venus around the 22nd when they will rise together and then Jupiter will move higher than Venus. Saturn will be rising around 4:30 in the morning at the end of the month. So who said the sky is only for the night owls? But what is there left for the night owls if everything is in the morning sky?

    • Planets. Mars is still in the evening sky although we will need to wait until 9 PM when the Sun sets and then look northwest. Mars is still bright so it should be easy to spot. Unseen to the naked eye, to the left of Mars is Neptune and to the right is Uranus. Uranus is 19 AU from the Sun, which is 162 light minutes away. Although you can see Uranus, which has a visual magnitude of 5.8 with the naked eye from a very dark place, for Neptune you will definitely need a telescope. Both are beautiful with a bluish tint.

    • Bright Stars. So because this time of the year there are many distinctive bright stars in the night sky, I call it the season of the shining ones.

    • Constellations. So not only there are pans and pots in the Southern Sky but there are also crosses. There's the Southern Cross, the Diamond Cross and the False Cross, and these are like official asterisms. That is if you ignore the fact that every combination of four stars can look like a cross. The great thing about them is that they are teeming with amazing deep sky objects. Such is the very famous Jewel Box open cluster near the Southern Cross. Two favourites of ours are the star clusters Omicron Velorum and NGC 2516 in the False Cross region, NGC 2516 is next Avior and Omicron Velorum is next to the star Delta Velorum.

    • Clusters.And also remember that it doesn't really matter what you call the stars as long as you can remember where they are.

    • May you enjoy the beginning of another happy rotation around the sun! Thank you and Clear skies from Wellington!

  • The night sky for December 2018

    Fri, 07/12/2018 - 09:00
    Northern Hemisphere

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

    The Planets

    • Jupiter - Jupiter passed behind the Sun on November 26th and will appear low in the eastern pre-dawn sky around the 12th of the month. It will have a magnitude of ~-1.8 and a disk ~32 arc seconds across. It is not a good month to observe Jupiter due to its low elevation, but do see the 'highlight' above.

    • Saturn - Saturn might just be glimpsed in the first few days of December very low in the southwest around 16:45 but soon disappears into the Sun's glare as it moves towards superior conjunction on January 2nd. It will have a disk of ~15 arc seconds and a magnitude of +0.5.

    • Mercury - Mercury passed between us and the Sun (inferior conjunction) on the 27th of November but appears in the pre-dawn sky around the 6th of the month. It will then have a magnitude of +0.5 which increases to magnitude 0 by the 8th. Mercury reaches its greatest elongation (west) of the Sun on the 16th, when 21 degrees away and rising over an hour and a half before it when it is ~60% lit. As the morning ecliptic is at a steep angle to the horizon at this time of the year, this is an excellent apparition. Do not miss (when hopefully clear) its conjunction with Jupiter as described above.

    • Mars - Mars, though fading from magnitude -0.0 to +0.4 during the month remains prominent in the southern sky as it starts the month at an elevation of 27 degrees in Aquarius. It will lie due south around 6 pm. As the month progresses, it moves eastwards into Pisces on the 21st; slightly higher in elevation at ~32 degrees when due south around 5:30 pm. Its angular size falls from 9.3 arc seconds to 7.5 arc seconds during the month so it will become harder to spot any details, such as Syrtis Major, on its salmon-pink surface.

    • Venus - Venus begins December at an elevation of ~32 degrees and with a dazzling magnitude of -4.9. Its angular size reduces from 40.7 to 26.6 arc seconds during the month as it moves away from the Earth but, at the same time, the percentage illuminated disk (its phase) increases from 26% to 47% - which is why the brightness only reduces from -4.9 to -4.6 magnitudes. It will reach greatest elongation from the Sun on January 6th.

    • Highlights
    • Comet46P/Wirtanen rises high in the sky and may be visible to the unaided eye. This month we have a chance of seeing a comet with our unaided eyes as it could reach magnitude +3. The chart shows its position during the month as it rises above the southern horizon through Taurus and Auriga. On the night of the 16/17th December it will pass between the Pleaides and Hyades clusters in Taurus - making a wonderful imaging opportunity if clear. Then, on the night of the 24th, it will lie very close to Capella in Auriga (but sadly, the Moon will then be full).

    • At closest approach on the night of December 16th it will be only 30 times further than the Moon. Then its coma should be about 1 km in size and span one degree across. The waxing gibbous Moon will hinder our view early on that night but will set at 1 am, so it is worth staying up late if it is clear!

    • December 3rd - before dawn: Venus below a very thin crescent Moon. Looking southeast before dawn one should, if clear, be able to easily spot brilliant Venus lying below a very thin crescent Moon. Spica is over to the right of Venus making a nice photo opportunity.

    • December 7th - 1 hour after sunset: A very close conjunction of Mars and Neptune. Looking south after sunset one should, if clear, be easily able to spot Mars. But when it gets fully dark, with binoculars or a small telescope, Neptune should appear just down to its lower right. A great opportunity to find Neptune - let's hope it is clear!

    • December 14th - after sunset: Mars will lie 4 degrees above the First Quarter Moon. Looking south after sunset one should, if clear, be able to spot Mars lying about 4 degrees above the First Quarter Moon making a nice photo opportunity.

    • December 14th and 15th after midnight: the Geminid Meteor Shower. The early mornings of December 14th and 15th will give us the chance, if clear, of observing the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. The Moon is at First Quarter and will set around 11 pm so, when Gemini is highest in the sky, its light will not hinder our view. The Geminids can often produce near-fireballs and so the shower is well worth observing if it is clear. An observing location well away from towns or cities will pay dividends. The relatively slow moving meteors arise from debris released from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. This is unusual, as most meteor showers come from comets. The radiant - where the meteors appear to come from - is close to the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini as shown on the chart. If it is clear it will be cold - so wrap up well, wear a woolly hat and have some hot drinks with you.

    • December 21st - just before dawn: Jupiter and Mercury together with Venus above. If clear just before dawn, and given a low horizon towards the east, one should be able to see Mercury lying a little above Jupiter making it appearance in a new apparition. Venus will be shining brightly up to their right. A nice photo opportunity.

    • December 22nd/23rd - late evenings: the Ursid Meteor Shower. The late evenings of the 22nd and 23rd of December are when the Ursid meteor shower will be at its best - though the peak rate of ~10-15 meteors per hour is not that great. Sadly, this year Full Moon is on the 21st, so its light will greatly hinder our view. The radiant lies close to the star Kochab in Ursa Minor (hence their name), so look northwards at a high elevation. Occasionally, there can be a far higher rate so it is worth having a look should it be clear.

    • December 16th (late night) and 17th: 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 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 - seen in the image below - the rays of material that were ejected when it was formed can be see arcing across the surface. Copernicus is about 800 million years old and lies in the eastern Oceanus Procellarum beyond the end of the Apennine Mountains. It is 93 km wide and nearly 4 km deep and is a clasic "terraced" crater. Both can be seen with binoculars.

    Haritina Mogosanu from the Carter Science Centre in New Zealand speaks about the Southern Hemisphere night sky during December 2018.

  • Introduction - Kia Ora from New Zealand, here at Space Place at Carter Observatory in the heart of Wellington in the Southern Hemisphere, Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske are your hosts for December 2018.

  • Space Place - Space Place is one of the historical icons of New Zealand in terms of astronomy, located at the heart of our capital city. There's not many capital cities where the Milky Way is visible on a dark night so we're very lucky in Wellington to have a city not totally given over to light pollution.

  • We have amazing historical telescopes, a 23 cm Cooke built in 1867 that we use for public viewing and we also have a retro Boller and Chivens 16". The Cooke has quite a story behind it and how it got to New Zealand and eventually how it ended up in Wellington. It has been a very important telescope for research including being used to photograph Halley's Comet in 1910.

    Also on display is a James Short telescope. We only look at this one - and not through, it's locked in the displays. It's a very important telescope that we believe came here with Captain Cook and it was donated by Adam Read; he is the son of Peter Read, the creator and presenter of the New Zealand's Night Sky TV show in the 1960s.

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

    If you ever wish to find us, Space Place is at the top of the botanical gardens looking out to the harbour, and surrounded by flowers and New Zealand birds that are amazing so you can imagine the views, and the sound, both day and night. We actually have a bunch of New Zealand owls in a tree right in the front of us, they are called morepork and we can always hear them when we look through the telescopes.

  • Observing in December - We have some instructions for you as to what to do with the December night sky. For those of us who don't read the instructions, we just have some amazing stuff that we wish to share and those who do neither instructions nor stories, here's the gossip.

  • Did you know there's going to be a comet in the December night sky? How about a Meteor Shower? And a Full Moon? And the Summer Solstice?

    And did you know that this Christmas we celebrate 50 years since we went around the Moon? Also in December, the Americans are aiming to land a probe on an asteroid to get a sample and, - my favourite - someone calculated all the starlight that adds up in the Universe, so starting this month we will be fully informed about how many photons are reaching Earth, since the dawn of time, or so they say.

  • Here is what you need to do. Look for the comet around the 16th of December. It should appear on the Eastern horizon just in between the Pleiades and the Hyades. Perhaps take a picture of it too, just because you can, it's going to be really bright. Keep an eye on our site for instructions for how to do that if you need help.

  • Look for the meteor shower anytime between 7 and 17 of December (that is, yes you're right almost in the same time as the comet.) It's the Geminids so the radiant (the point in the sky that seems to "rain stars") is in the constellation Gemini.

  • Moon - With the full Moon, - now depends if you are into moonlight or not. I'm not, it casts too much light and I cannot see the stars properly, so I'm trying to avoid it as much as I can. The good news is that the first two weeks are good for observing, since the New Moon will be on the 7th of December. The awesome thing is that this month's full Moon will coincide with the Apollo 8's 50 years around the Moon celebration.

  • Shortest Night - Just a few days before that, at 11:23 AM on Saturday 22 December, Earth will be at its maximum tilt towards the Sun. What does it mean for us? Well, it will be the shortest night and with the Moon almost full, best thing we can do is just celebrate light. Speaking of which, our Sun went stealth, it's in a minimum of a minimum but just because we can't see any spots it doesn't mean there's nothing to learn about it. The Parker solar probe has now joined the rest of the successful missions out there and we are looking forward to some good data from it.

  • Comet Party - Since December is the month of major celebrations, we think a star party might be in order. If you have never been to one, here's a great opportunity. It could be a Moon party if it's around Christmas or else a star party could work around the 7th of December more or less a few days.

  • Now the trick is the night is extremely short - we wanted to photograph 47 Tucanae the other day and had to wait until 9:22 pm and even then there wasn't good enough for proper imaging, only for lining up. So your efforts might be best conserved to try and find the comet, here's a comet party, we don't get these too often and I do remember a few years ago a comet appeared in the New Zealand Sky around this time. It was fun and it wasn't as bright as this one, we needed telescopes then to see it. This one is a naked eye comet.

    So a comet-party seems like a good idea. The best time to look at it is just after sunset and on the 16th of December will have the magnitude of approximately 3. What does that mean? It means we can see it with the naked eye.

    Have you ever tried to pronounce a comet's name? 46/P Wirtanen (go pronounce that in one word!) P stands for periodic and 46 is that it's the 46th to be discovered (in case you were wondering, the first ever was Halley's comet). Wirtanen will arrive from the direction of Cetus / Eridani and is very tiny. Only 1.2 km in diameter, Wirtanen has a short period too, 5.4 years.

    What's cool is that this comet was the original target for ESA's Rosetta spacecraft but the launch window was missed so they sent the probe to another comet with an even better name (just because is longer and harder to pronounce) 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

    What's a magnitude 3? If you ever managed to spot the famous galaxy Andromeda, then you have the answer. Something that looks like Andromeda (3.4).

    Now that you know where to look, and what you might find, the comet can be your centrepiece for the comet-party. But nothing says that you should not look at the stars and deep sky objects.

  • Star Party (and Deep Sky Objects) - New Zealand is in a great spot for observing the night sky, and we, of course, get the whole Southern Sky but also a reasonable chunk of the Northern Sky as well. We can't see the stalwarts of the Northern Sky such as the Big Dipper and there's no taking in the beautiful face on spirals of M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, or M101 the Pinwheel Galaxy.

  • At this time of the year the nights are getting shorter and shorter and the telescopes of the early evening are being swapped with BBQs and the smell of lithium grease is replaced with the smell of burnt sausages. But while some of our fellow Wellingtonians are going to bed or spinning embellished stories around the embers of their BBQ we are cracking open the Space Place Domes and collecting some ancient photons.

    Some favorites of mine are visible in the night sky and the early part of the month will be ideal to try and see them given the Moon will be well hidden. The first of these is M74 and unfortunately, despite all of the aperture we have available at Space Place, we are not going to see this one visually because of it's very low surface brightness. We'll have to borrow the van and take the portable Meade over the hill to the very dark skies of the Wairarapa to see this beautiful face on spiral. Luckily it's not all bad for galaxy hunting in December as not too far from M74 is the bright galaxy of M77 - also known as Cetus A. This one is easy to spot even from central Wellington. We won't see the faint outer regions of the spiral arms but the bright active core is very visible and at 33 Million light years distant the photons from this object have spent a long time making their way to Wellington.

    Despite not having M51 and M101 to look at, we do have some very impressive galaxies in the Southern Sky. One of these is NGC 253 - also known as the Sculptor Galaxy. This is large spiral galaxy at an angle to us so it looks like an elongated ellipse. It's relatively bright and easy to spot it you've got plenty of aperture. You'll have to put your light bucket on the back of your scooter and head to a dark sky location to make out much detail, but if you do, you'll be in for a treat as you take in the complex shapes and clumps of detail visible on the disk. Sculptor is about 12 million light years away appears about 27 arcminutes long so is quite big.

    Quite close to Sculptor is the tight spiral galaxy known as NGC 300. This is a great galaxy to view as it's quite close at only 6.6 million light years - for Northern Sky observers it's a bit like a mini M33. Viewing from Wellington will show the bright core but you'll have to head to the hills to get any detail out of the spiral arms. Keen astrophotographers will have a better time in Wellington as this galaxy is bright enough to burn through the light pollution and produce quite a nice picture.

    The problem with viewing galaxies is that they don't really look anything like the beautiful photographs people take. They are often just a faint gray smudge in the eyepiece and you have to use your best visual observing skills to get any detail out of what you're looking at. This is when it's great to swing the telescope around to the majestic brilliance of the likes of the Tarantula Nebula. This gives you a picture in the eyepiece very similar to what photographers capture, just not in colour. This big giant bright complex of gas clouds and massive stars looks a bit like a spider, hence its name and it is a must see of the Southern Sky and is almost compulsory viewing on any observing evening.

  • Moon Party - If all the above fails, you could always have a Moon Party.

  • That could be really spectacular since exactly 50 years ago the first people orbited around the Moon, the astronauts of Apollo 8. Some amazing things happened during that flight including taking the picture that changed the world, Earth rise. One little picture is credited as the most important legacy of the Apollo programme, showing Earth half hanging in shadow and suspended in the middle of nothing at all. Humans saw their planet for the first time as a whole world, a small, blue, finite globe in the distance. It's the image that is credited with starting the environmental movement and has been used as a hopeful symbol of global unity. So we think if you're going to have a Moon Party this December it's going to be pretty cool. Again, keep an eye on our website, as we will post some more content there.

  • Mars - There's one more thing I want to talk about, Mars.

  • Mars will always have a special place in my heart and now has a new resident, InSight. InSight was the mission that brought the first cubesats to Mars and now sits happily on the red planet stretching its arms. Literally.

    We wish you happy hunting for comets and galaxies this month, and if all that doesn't work then grab yourself a couple of craters on the Moon.

  • Clear skies from Haritina and Sam here at Space Place at Carter Observatory in Wellington New Zealand, and see you next year!