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What’s up? Night sky for April 2011

Amateur astronomers using a telescope at dusk

Autumn nights are ideal for stargazer. Autumn mornings too, with some planets making a welcome return to our pre-dawn skies.

LIKE LAST MONTH, Venus is the star of the show in April, high in the eastern sky before sunrise. You can’t miss it—it is big and bold and brilliant.

Mercury makes a reappearance in the eastern morning sky from mid-month. As the April progresses, you’ll notice it rising higher and higher in the sky.

Ditto for Mars, which has been lost from view in the glare of the Sun for a while, but is making a reappearance in the morning sky this month, very low down in the east.

The largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter, will also be low down on the eastern horizon before sunrise during April.

So that’s four planets all quite near to one another in roughly the same part of the sky! Definitely worth getting up early for.

Shifting to the evening sky, and the ringed planet Saturn will be bright and bold in the eastern sky after sunset.

Except where indicated, all of the phenomena described here can be seen with just the unaided eye. And unless otherwise specified, dates and times shown here are for the Australian Eastern Standard Time zone, and sky directions are from the point of view of an observer in the Southern Hemisphere.

April 1

Have a look out to the east before sunrise and you’ll see the Moon just below the planet Venus. You can’t miss Venus—apart from the Moon and the Sun, it’s the brightest thing in the sky!

April 2

Today the Moon will be at the farthest point in its orbit, called apogee, at a distance from Earth of 406,657 kilometres.

Also, you’ll notice that compared to yesterday the Moon has moved downwards in the sky and away from Venus. Now, it will be closer to the planet Mars, which is fainter than Venus and a ruddy colour.

April 3

New Moon occurs today at 11:32pm Sydney time (April 3, 14:32 Universal Time).

April 4

The planet Saturn reaches opposition today. This is a fancy way of saying that, from an Earth-bound observer’s point of view, it is in the opposite side of the sky to the Sun. In other words, if you could look down on the Solar System from above, the Sun, Earth and Saturn would be in a line, with Earth in the middle. Opposition generally is a good time to view a planet.

Stargazers with telescopes

Take the opportunity to get out and do some stargazing before the weather becomes too cold

April 7

The planet Jupiter reaches conjunction with the Sun today, which is a fancy way of saying that it is on the other side of the Sun as seen from Earth…although, being on the other side of the Sun, we can’t actually see it. You can think of conjunction as being the opposite of opposition (see April 4 above), so to speak. If you could look down on the Solar System from above, you’d see Jupiter, the Sun and the Earth in a line, with the Sun in the middle.

April 10

Today, the innermost planet, Mercury, reaches ‘inferior conjunction’. This is another kind of conjunction, again signifying that certain celestial bodies are in a line. In this case it is the Sun, Mercury and the Earth in a line, with Mercury in the middle. This makes it impossible to see the tiny planet, as it is lost in the glare of the Sun.

On certain special occasions, the tilt of Mercury’s orbit means that it can be seen crossing the face of the Sun when it is at inferior conjunction, in an event known as a transit. That’s not the case here—the next one will be in 2016.

April 11

It is First Quarter Moon today at 9:05pm Sydney time (April 11, 12:05 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.

April 14

The almost-full Moon will appear close to the star Regulus in this evening’s sky. Regulus is a large, blue star, and is the brightest star in the constellation Leo.

April 17

Today the Moon will be at the closest point in its orbit, called perigee, which is the opposite of apogee (see April 2). The distance between the two bodies today will be 358,090 kilometres.

Still on the Moon…take a look slightly below and to the left, and you’ll see a bright whitish-yellowish star. Well, that’s not a star, it’s the planet Saturn. If you have a telescope, or have a friend who has one, zero in on it and you’ll get a lovely view of its magnificent rings.

April 18

Full Moon occurs today at 11:44am Sydney time (April 18, 02:44 Universal Time). You won’t actually be able to see the Moon at that time, as it will be below the horizon. But take a look at sunset, and you’ll see that as the Sun sets in the west, the big, bright Moon will rise in the east.

April 20

Two planets get to say hello to each other this morning. In the eastern sky before sunrise, Mars and Mercury will appear close to each other. Be warned, though, that they will be very low down toward the horizon, so you’ll need a clear view if you’re to see them.

Over the next few weeks, four planets will be seen together in the morning sky. Here’s a short video from Tanya Hill, astronomer at the Melbourne Planetarium, explaining what we can expect to see:

April 21

Today will be an interesting to demonstrate to yourself how the Moon moves through the sky. If you get up in the morning while it’s still dark, take a look slightly above the Moon and you’ll see a ruddy-coloured star. That’s Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. Remember that view. Now, go back outside later today in the mid-evening and find the Moon again, and you’ll see that the separation between the two has increased. This shows you how the Moon has trundled along a bit in its orbit throughout the day.

April 25

It is Last Quarter Moon today at 11:47pm Sydney time (14:47 Universal Time).

April 30

Today the Moon will again reach the farthest point in its orbit, apogee, at a distance from Earth of 406,038 kilometres. Take a look out to the east this morning and you’ll see the crescent Moon with Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter (refer to the video above).

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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What’s up? Night sky for March 2011

Silhouette of people with telescopes

Saturn and Venus will be the planets to watch for when you're out stargazing in March 2011.

THIS MONTH, Venus will be visible in the eastern morning sky for quite some hours before sunrise. You won’t be able to miss it—it will be big and bright and wonderful.

Mercury will be very low down on the western horizon after sunset this month, and will be very difficult to see.

Mars has been lost in the glare of the Sun since early February, but during March will begin to make its reappearance in the eastern morning sky. It will be too low to be seen until towards the end of the month, however, at which time it will rise about an hour before the Sun.

Jupiter is about to be lost in the glare of the Sun. It is very low down in the west after sunset, and by the end of the month it will set (ie. drop below the horizon) only 15 minutes after the Sun does, making it essentially impossible to spot.

Saturn is the evening planet to see at the moment, rising roughly two hours before midnight and riding high in the northern sky throughout the night.

Except where indicated, all of the phenomena described here can be seen with just the unaided eye. And unless otherwise specified, dates and times shown here are for the Australian Eastern Daylight Time zone, and sky directions are from the point of view of an observer in the Southern Hemisphere.

March 1

Look for the crescent Moon above and to the left of Venus in the eastern morning sky. Also, if you’re out stargazing after 10:00pm, look to the northeastern sky and you’ll see two fairly bright stars side by side. The one on the right is Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. The one on the left is actually a planet, Saturn.

Silhouette of people and telescopes

Autumn nights are good for stargazing.

March 5

New Moon occurs today at 7:46am Sydney time (March 4, 20:46 Universal Time).

March 6

Today the Moon will be at the farthest point in its orbit, called apogee, at a distance from Earth of 406,584 kilometres.

March 13

It is First Quarter Moon today at 10:45am Sydney time (March 12, 23:45 Universal Time).

March 17

The almost-full Moon will be above and to the left of Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo.

March 18

In a demonstration of how it’s position changes from one night to the next, tonight the Moon will be above and to the right of Regulus.

March 20

Full Moon occurs today at 5:10am Sydney time (March 19, 18:10 Universal Time). Today also marks the Moon’s perigee, which is the opposite of apogee, ie. the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Earth. The distance between the two bodies today will be 356,578 kilometres. Apogee and perigee distances are not exactly the same from month to month, and it turns out that this month’s lunar perigee will be the closest for all of 2011.

Finally, have a look just below and to the right of the Moon and you’ll see a brightish ‘star’ with a yellow tinge—this is actually the ringed planet Saturn. If you have a telescope, or know someone who does, turn it to Saturn and marvel at the sight of its majestic rings.

People stargazing at night

All the sights described in the text can be seen with the unaided eye.

March 21

Today marks the equinox, when the Sun heads north of the equator. It is the point midway between the midpoint of summer and the midpoint of winter for those in the Southern Hemisphere.

Also, have a look just below and to the left of the Moon, and you’ll see a fairly bright star. This is Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.

March 25

The Moon will be above and to the right of red Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius.

March 26

It is Last Quarter Moon today at 11:07pm Sydney time (March 26, 12:07 Universal Time).

March 31

Look for the crescent Moon above and to the left of Venus in the eastern morning sky.

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.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Total lunar eclipse today

A TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE will happen today, December 21, visible from certain parts of the world. (Shown above is an amateur video of a similar eclipse from 2007.)

The whole of the eclipse will be seen from the North American continent, Iceland and Greenland. (For observers in the western parts of Canada and the USA, the eclipse will actually begin before midnight on December 20.)

For the UK, the eclipse will begin just before sunrise and moonset, so observers there will see only the initial stages of the eclipse before the sky becomes too bright and the Moon dips below the horizon.

For observers in Australia and New Zealand, the eclipse will already be in progress by the time the Moon rises above the horizon…which will be at different times depending upon location.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon goes “behind” the Earth (with respect to the Sun) and moves through the Earth’s shadow. So the Sun, the Earth and the Moon have to be in a line, with Earth in the middle. Here’s a video that demonstrates it:

You don’t need a telescope to watch a lunar eclipse (although you’re welcome to do so if you have one.) Just go outside in the mid-evening (for Australian observers) after the Moon has risen and look to the east.

The times of moonrise vary depending on where you are in Australia. The times of moonrise—in local times, with daylight saving included—are:

Sydney — 8:05pm

Melbourne — 8:42pm

Brisbane — 6:40pm

Canberra — 8:17pm

Hobart — 8:49pm

Adelaide — 8:30pm

Darwin — 7:11pm

Alice Springs — 7:21pm

Perth — 7:26pm

There are usually a couple of lunar eclipses each year, but they’re not always visible from the same spots. For any particular location on Earth, you might get one or two lunar eclipses per year.

Some are better than others, depending upon how much of Earth’s shadow the Moon moves through.

From start to finish, they can be up to a couple of hours long.

For Australian observers, the next lunar eclipse after this one, will be on June 15, 2011, when again about half of it will be visible. After that, the following one will be on December 10, 2011, when we’ll see the whole total eclipse.

For more details on how, when and where to see the eclipse, please refer to these web pages:

Australia

New Zealand

North America

UK

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What’s up? December’s night sky

Telescopes pointed at the sky

Summertime in the Southern Hemisphere is a great opportunity to do some stargazing.

Mercury and Mars are still keeping each other company very low on the western horizon after sunset in the first half of December. Both planets will be quite hard to see, as they are dropping toward the horizon and by mid-month will be lost in the glare of the Sun. (Mercury will make a reappearance in the morning sky to the east at the end of the month).

Venus is prominent in the eastern sky before dawn, climbing higher in the sky as the month progresses. You won’t miss it—apart from the Sun and Moon, it’s the brightest thing in the sky.

Saturn, too, is visible in the morning sky, higher up than Venus and quite close to the star Spica.

Jupiter is well placed for viewing, too, about halfway up the sky in the northwest after sunset.

Except where indicated, all of the phenomena described here can be seen with just the unaided eye. And unless otherwise specified, dates and times shown here are for the Australian Eastern Daylight Time zone, and sky directions are from the point of view of an observer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Silhouette of person staring at the sky with binoculars

Binoculars are sometimes easier than telescopes for stargazing.

December 6

It’s New Moon today. New Moon is the opposite of Full Moon, and means, for a day or two, it is effectively impossible or very hard to see the Moon. This is because it between us and the Sun (although not exactly in line, otherwise we’d have a solar eclipse), and we are looking at the unilluminated side of the Moon.

December 7

A very thin crescent Moon will be near the planet Mercury tonight, low on the western horizon just after sunset. It will be very hard to see though—you might need binoculars to see it (make sure the Sun has fully set!…you don’t want to blind yourself.)

December 13

Today the Moon reaches its First Quarter phase, which is halfway between New Moon and Full Moon. Also today, the Moon will be at apogee, which is the farthest point in its orbit around the Earth. The distance between Earth and Moon will be 404,406 kilometres. And finally, take a look at the Moon and you’ll see a fairly bright star nearby. That’s not actually a star, it’s the planet Jupiter!

Also tonight, very low down near the western after sunset, the planets Mercury and Mars will appear near each other.

People looking at the nighttime sky

Make the most of summer nights by doing some stargazing.

December 14

The Moon is still near Jupiter tonight.

December 21

It’s Full Moon today. If the weather is clear, you’ll see the big, bright Moon rising over the eastern horizon as the Sun is sinking in the west.

There’s also a lunar eclipse this evening but, depending on where you live, you might not see much of it…or you might miss out altogether.

For most skywatchers in New Zealand, the main part of the eclipse will already be underway by the time the Moon rises. The Moon will still be quite low in the sky when the eclipse ends.

You can get more information on the eclipse, including when are where to see it, here.

December 22

Today it is the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere (Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere). This is the day when the Sun is highest in the sky for those in the Southern Hemisphere, and it is also the day where we have maximum hours of daylight. (For those in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the day of maximum hours of darkness.)

December 25

The Moon will be at perigee today, which is the closest point in its orbit around the Earth. The distance between Earth and Moon will be 368,461 kilometres.

December 28

Today the Moon reaches its Last Quarter phase, which is halfway between Full Moon and New Moon.

If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, please use the feedback form below. Happy stargazing!

Images courtesy IAU.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

What’s up? November’s night sky

Amateur telescopes pointed at the sky

November is a good month for stargazing. If you have a telescope or binoculars, great—but don't worry if you haven't, as all of the phenomena described below can be seen with the unaided eye.

The planets Venus and Saturn make a welcome re-appearance this month, out to the east in the morning sky. You won’t miss Venus—it’s the biggest and brightest light in sky (after the Sun and Moon, of course). Saturn will be to the north of Venus.

Mars is still in the western sky, low on the horizon after sunset and getting lower with each passing day. Mercury is doing the opposite—it is low on the western horizon after sunset but rising higher each night. It will appear close to Mars in the second half of the month.

The giant planet Jupiter is high and bright in the northern sky during November evenings. If you have a telescope and know exactly where to look, you’ll be able to spot the seventh planet, Uranus, nearby to Jupiter. Unfortunately, for most observers it is too dim to be seen with the naked eye.

The Leonid meteor shower will make its once-a-year appearance again this month, with the possibility of meteors being seen over about a one-week span in the middle of the month. The best date to try and see them will the 18th.

Except where indicated, all of the phenomena described here can be seen with just the unaided eye.

Dates and times shown here are for the Australian Eastern Daylight Time zone, and sky directions are from the point of view of an observer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Amateur telescopes pointed at the sky

An astronomy club is a great place to learn more about the night sky. Check out the list of clubs by clicking on the Links button at the top of the page.

November 4

The Moon will be at perigee today, which is the closest point in its orbit around the Earth. The distance between Earth and Moon will be 364,189 kilometres.

November 6

It’s New Moon today.

November 7

The thin crescent Moon will appear close to Mercury. You might have difficulty seeing them if there are buildings, trees, hills etc in the way. Assuming you do have a clear horizon, you might even need a pair of binoculars to spot them, as they’ll be very low on the western horizon.

November 8

Watch for the Moon next to Mars.

November 14

It’s First Quarter Moon today, which is halfway between New Moon and Full Moon. And take a look into the western sky after sunset, and low down near the horizon you’ll see Mars next to the red supergiant stars Antares in the constellation Scorpius. Compare the colour and brightness of Mars and Antares—Antares means “rival of Mars”.

November 15

The Moon will be at apogee today, which is the farthest point in its orbit around the Earth. The distance between Earth and Moon will be 404,634 kilometres.

November 16

Watch for the Moon near to the giant planet Jupiter tonight, high in the northern half of the sky.

November 17

There’ll be an interesting grouping low in the western sky tonight after sunset, with Mercury sitting between Mars and Antares.

Meteor in the night sky

A meteor flashes across the night sky. The Leonid meteor shower is predicted to reach its annual maximum in the early morning hours of November 18.

November 18

The early hours of this morning will probably be your best bet to see some of the Leonid meteor shower meteors. You’ll have to be an early riser, as the best time to see them will be after 4:00am. Look to the north-east, about halfway up from the horizon. From a very dark location, you might expect to see about 20 meteors per hour. If you live in a light-polluted town or city, you can expect to see fewer.

Leonid meteors are pieces of tiny dust and debris left in the trail of a comet called Tempel-Tuttle (after its two discoverers). Floating through space, they run into Earth’s atmosphere at a huge speed (around 70 kilometres per second!), so it’s no wonder they put on a light show as they disintegrate in the upper atmosphere.

November 19

Watch for Mars and Mercury near to each other tonight, low down on the western horizon after sunset.

November 21

It’s Full Moon today. Have a look and see if you can see a faint star cluster near to the Moon. This is the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, a pretty grouping of stars in the constellation Taurus.

November 29

It’s Last Quarter Moon today, which is halfway between Full Moon and New Moon. Take a look at the Moon, and nearby you’ll see a fairly bright, bluish-coloured star. This is Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo.

If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, please use the feedback form below. Happy stargazing!

Images courtesy IAU.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

What’s up? October’s night sky

Diagram of October 10's night sky

The thin crescent Moon will be near Venus and Mars in the western sky around sunset on October 10, 2010.

This month is a pretty bare one for planet watchers, with both Mercury and Saturn too close (in angle) to the Sun to be visible. Venus, which has been shining brightly and prominently in the western sky during and after sunset, will drop below the horizon in the second half of the month. This means that the only naked-eye planets to be seen all month long will be Jupiter and Mars.

October 1

The Moon will be at Last Quarter today, at 1:52pm Sydney time (or 03:52 Universal Time).

October 2

The crescent Moon will be near the stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini.

October 5

If you’re up early, you’ll see the crescent Moon near the star Regulus, which is the brightest star in the constellation Leo.

October 6

The Moon is at perigee today—the point in its elliptical orbit when it is closest to Earth—at a distance of 359,452 kilometres.

October 8

It’s New Moon today, at 5:44am Sydney time (or 18:44 Universal Time on October 7). In the western sky, Mars and Venus will be close together

October 10

The Moon will appear near to the planets Venus and Mars in the western sky. It’s easy to tell which planet is which—Venus appears bigger and brighter with a whitish colour, while Mars is dimmer and has a ruddy orangey-red colour. Venus is dropping down lower toward the horizon, and will be gone from view in the second half of October.

October 11

Watch for the Moon near another well-known star; this time it is Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. Compare the colour of Antares with the planet Mars, and you’ll see they look very much alike. The name Antares means “rival of Mars”.

October 15

The Moon will be at First Quarter today, at 8:27am Sydney time (or 21:27 Universal Time on October 14).

October 19

The Moon is at apogee today—the point in its elliptical orbit when it is furthest from Earth—at a distance of 405,432 kilometres.

October 20

The Moon will appear near the planet Jupiter tonight.

October 20-24

The Orionid meteor shower will be on display, with perhaps up to 20-30 meteors visible per hour from a dark location. As their name suggests, the Orionids appear to emanate from the constellation Orion, which is currently in the north-eastern sky (for Southern Hemisphere observers) in the hours between midnight and dawn. The problem this year, however, is that the Moon will be big and bright in the sky, and the wash from its light tends to drown out faint meteors. Still, give it a go and you might see some Orionids.

October 23

It’s Full Moon today, which occurs at 12:36pm Sydney time (or 01:36 Universal Time).

October 25

Last month, the Moon twice came quite close to a small star cluster called the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, in the constellation Taurus. Well, tonight they get together again. If you have a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, take a look at the Pleiades—they’re a beautiful sight to behold.

October 30

The Moon will be at Last Quarter today, at 10:46pm Sydney time (or 12:46 Universal Time). Have a look tonight and you’ll see that, just like on the 2nd, the Moon will be near the stars Castor and Pollux.

If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, please use the feedback form below. Happy stargazing!

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

What’s up? September’s night sky

The Moon and planets for September 2010

Venus and Mars are prominent in the western sky during September, and Jupiter is shining away in the eastern sky. Saturn is low in the western sky after sunset, and sinks lower and lower as the days go past. By the end of the month it will have dipped below the horizon and we’ll have to wait until later in the year for it to make its reappearance. Unfortunately, Mercury is lost in the glare of the Sun this month.

Sep 1

The Moon will be near the star cluster known as the Pleiades, in the constellation Taurus. You’ll have to be up early though, as this takes place in the early morning hours. By tomorrow morning (Sep 2), the Moon will have moved along a bit in its orbit and it will no longer appear next to the cluster.

The Pleiades star cluster

The Pleiades star cluster

The Pleiades is also known as the Seven Sisters, as people with average eyesight can usually make out seven of the stars with the unaided eye (from a reasonably dark location of course; not standing under a streetlight). Some people with really good eyesight can make out a few more.

In fact, the Pleiades has hundreds of stars, as shown by the beautiful image at right. You’ll also see that it seems to have a lot of wispy gas clouds too. Well, the gas and the stars are not actually connected, although they are in the same region of space. The stars are actually slowly passing through the gas clouds as a bunch, and we just happen to be living at the right time in history for us to see them together like this.

By the way, the next time you see a Subaru car drive past, take a look at the brand badge on the grill—you’ll see that it is a group of stars. Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades!

SpaceInfo sky view for September 5, 2010

September 5, 2010: The Moon near Castor and Pollux as seen from the Southern Hemisphere (left) and Northern Hemisphere (right).

Sep 2

Tonight is Last Quarter Moon, which is halfway between Full Moon and New Moon.

Sep 5

Before sunrise, the Moon will seem to be sitting above (or below, for Northern Hemisphere stargazers) two reasonably bright stars. These are Castor and Pollux, the twin stars of the constellation Gemini.

Sep 8

Tonight is New Moon, which is halfway between Last Quarter and First Quarter.

Also tonight, the Moon will be at its closest to Earth for the current lunar orbit, being 357,191km away. The Moon travels in an elliptical orbit, so sometimes it is closer and sometimes it is further away. When it is at its closest, like tonight, we say it is at “perigee”. The furthest point is called “apogee”, and this month it will occur on the 21st.

Sep 9

For Southern Hemisphere stargazers, if you look out to the west after sunset, you’ll see the crescent Moon just near what looks to be a reasonably bright star. In fact, it’s the famous ringed planet Saturn. If you have a small telescope, or know someone who does, take a look—you should be able to see its rings slightly tilted, and you should also be able to make a few of its moons.

Spaceinfo sky view for September 11, 2010

September 11, 2010: the Moon will be near Venus and Mars.

Sep 11

Tonight, the thin crescent Moon will appear to hover right between Mars and Venus. It’ll be a really beautiful sight. And it’ll be easy to tell which planet is which—Venus is much brighter and a whitish colour; Mars is dimmer and a ruddy orange colour.

The star Spica (the brightest star in the constellation Virgo) will be nearby too.

At this time, the Moon will have just passed its “new Moon” phase—the opposite of full Moon—and will be heading toward first quarter on the 15th.

Sep 14

The Moon will appear close to the star Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius (often called Scorpio). Antares is a huge, red supergiant star. If you compare the colouring between Antares and the planet Mars, you’ll see that they are very similar. And that’s how Antares got its name—the ancient Greek name for Mars is Ares, and Antares means “rival of Mars”.

Sep 15

Tonight is First Quarter Moon, which is halfway between New Moon and Full Moon.

Sep 21

The Moon is at apogee today (see note for Sep 8), at a distance of 406,167km.

The planet Jupiter is at opposition. This means that the Sun and Jupiter are on exactly opposite sides of the Earth…the Sun one way, Jupiter exactly 180 degrees the other way.

The upshot of this is that as the Sun sinks below the horizon in the west at sunset, Jupiter rises over the horizon in the east. This means that the planet will be in the sky the whole night, from sunset through to tomorrow’s sunrise, giving you a full night to observe it.

The time of a planet’s opposition usually is very close to another milestone…it’s closest approach to Earth during that particular orbit. And when a planet is at its closest, it looks bigger through a telescope and therefore better studies can be made of it.

So putting the two together, opposition and closest approach, and you can see why astronomers look forward to these times to do their observations.

SpaceInfo sky view for September 23, 2010

September 23, 2010: the Moon will be near Jupiter

Sep 23

It’s Full Moon tonight! As the Sun goes down in the west, the Moon will rise over the eastern horizon. And you’ll see a bright looking “star” nearby—that’s not a star, it’s actually the planet Jupiter. If you have a medium sized pair of binoculars, or a small telescope, take a look at the giant planet—you should be able to see from one to four of its largest moons, and with a telescope you should be able to make out some of its atmospheric “bands”. Jupiter’s four largest moons are called the Galilean moons, after Galileo who first saw them just over 400 years ago.

It’s also the Equinox today—the Spring Equinox for those in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Autumn or Fall Equinox for those in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Equinox means that the Sun “crosses” the celestial equator, at this time of year going from north to south, heralding the coming of Spring in the Southern Hemisphere and Autumn or Fall in the Northern Hemisphere.

SpaceInfo sky view for September 29, 2010

September 29, 2010: the Moon will be near the Pleiades star cluster and the star Aldebaran.

In reality, the Sun isn’t moving—it’s the combination of the Earth’s tilt and the position of the Earth in its orbit that makes the Sun appear to move north and south in the sky during the course of the year.

Sep 29

Twenty-eight days since it was last there (see Sep 1), the Moon will be back near the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus. But it won’t be in exactly the same position—this time, it’ll be nestled between the Pleiades and red Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus.

If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, please use the feedback form below. Happy stargazing!

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