Except where indicated, all of the phenomena described here can be seen with the unaided eye. And unless otherwise specified, dates and times are for the Australian Eastern Standard Time zone, and sky directions are from the point of view of an observer in the Southern Hemisphere.
If you’re a night owl, look out to the east after midnight and you’ll see the Moon near the horizon. Below and to its right is what seems to be a bright star. It’s actually the planet Saturn. If you have access to even a small telescope, take a look. Its rings never fail to entrance. The gas giant planet has 62 confirmed natural satellites (ie. moons), and one artificial satellite – the NASA/ESA Cassini spacecraft, which has been exploring the Saturnian system since 2004. Saturn is presently about 1,455 million kilometres from Earth.
It is Last Quarter Moon today at 12:56am Australian Eastern Daylight Time (Feb 3, 13:56 Universal Time).
This evening, the Moon will appear close to the star Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. Antares is a red supergiant star, about 880 times bigger and 10,000 times brighter than our Sun! It is about 550 light-years from Earth.
Today the Moon will be at the closest point in its orbit around Earth, called perigee. The distance between the two bodies will be 365,318 kilometres.
New Moon occurs today at 6:20pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time (07:20 Universal Time).
Just after sunset this evening, you might be able to see a very thin crescent Moon low on the horizon due west. To its left will be a brightish-looking ‘star’; it’s actually the planet Mercury. And just to Mercury’s left will be the ruddy-coloured planet Mars. Today Mercury is about 161 million kilometres from Earth, while Mars is about 348 million kilometres away.
There will be a major sky event this evening for those in the southern half of Australia! – the Moon will appear to move in front of the planet Jupiter. This is called an occultation (where ‘to occult’ means to ‘make go dark’). You’ll see the Moon slowly approaching Jupiter (which, to the naked eye, just looks like a bright star). Then, all of a sudden, as the Moon’s edge ‘reaches’ the planet, Jupiter will wink out. A short while later, after the Moon has moved on a bit (you’re actually watching it trundle along in its orbit), Jupiter will reappear on the other side.
Timings for the beginning of the event, in Standard (that is, non-Daylight Saving time – please adjust for your location if necessary) for capital cities are:
Unfortunately, the other capital cities will miss out.
Incidentally, it is First Quarter Moon this morning at 7:31am Australian Eastern Daylight Time (Feb 27, 20:31 Universal Time). First Quarter is a good time to look at the Moon through a telescope, as the sunlight angle means the craters and mountains are throwing nice shadows, making it easier to get that 3D effect.
In tonight’s evening sky, to the northwest you’ll see the Moon, and to it’s left will be a bright star. And it really is a star this time, not a planet. It’s Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus. Just to Aldebaran’s left, you might be able to see a wide grouping of stars (binoculars will help). This is called the Hyades star cluster.
And today the Moon is at the farthest point in its orbit around the Earth, called apogee, at a distance of 404,472 kilometres.
Just near the Moon in this evening’s sky, will be the star Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo.
Full Moon occurs today at 7:26am Australian Eastern Daylight Time (Feb 25, 20:26 Universal Time).
There’s more great night sky viewing information at Melbourne Planetarium’s Skynotes site.
If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, we’d be happy to answer them. Please use the Feedback Form below. Happy stargazing!
Images courtesy IAU.
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