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Voyager – the journey continues

AFTER 33 YEARS, NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft are still going strong and still sending home information. This video features highlights of the Voyager journeys to the outer planets, and looks at their current status, at the edge of our Solar System, poised to cross over into interstellar space.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL.

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Planets all in a row

EARLY-RISING AUSTRALASIAN SKYWATCHERS are in for a treat this coming Saturday morning, April 30, as four of the naked-eye planets and the crescent Moon all come together in the morning sky before dawn.

In the video above, Melbourne Planetarium’s marvellous astronomer, Tanya Hill, explains when and where to see the spectacle.

And you can keep up-to-date with sky happenings with SpaceInfo.com.au’s monthly Whats’ Up? section.

Video courtesy of Museum Victoria.

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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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Saturn’s three-in-one

Image showing Rhea, Dione and Saturn's rings

This image shows two of Saturn's moons—Rhea (foreground, top) and Dione (background)—with the planet's famous rings in between.

THIS IMAGE ISN’T made up. It’s a real shot from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, showing three components of the Saturnian system in the one frame.

In the foreground at top is the south polar area of Saturn’s moon Rhea. In the background is another moon, Dione, with Saturn’s almost edge-on rings in between.

Visible on Dione is its famous light-coloured ‘wispy’ terrain.

Rhea is 1,528 kilometres in diameter, and Dione is 1,123 kilometres wide.

At the moment the image was taken, on January 11, 2011, the Cassini spacecraft was about 61,000 kilometres from Rhea and 924,000 kilometres from Dione.

Detail down to a resolution of 358 is visible on Rhea, and to a resolution of six kilometres on Dione.

Story copyright 2011 Jonathan Nally, SpaceInfo.com.au. Image courtesy NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.

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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.

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Enceladus – Saturn’s shiny moon

Saturn's moon Enceladus

Saturn's moon Enceladus is kept looking young by a fresh coating of fine, white icy particles. This Cassini spacecraft image taken from a distance of 102,000km.

SATURN’S MOON ENCELADUS reflects sunlight brightly while the planet and its rings fill the background, in this image (above) taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

Enceladus, 504 kilometres wide, is one of the most reflective bodies in the Solar System because it is constantly coated by fresh, white ice particles.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 102,000 kilometres from Enceladus, giving an image resolution of 612 metres per pixel.

In an image from a different angle (below), Cassini looked over cratered and tectonically deformed terrain on Enceladus as the camera also caught a glimpse of Saturn’s rings in the background. The image was taken during the spacecraft’s flyby of Enceladus on November 30, 2010.

Saturn's moon Enceladus

Saturn's rings form the backdrop to this Cassini view of Enceladus, taken from a distance of 46,000km.

Geologically young terrain in the middle latitudes of the moon gives way to older, cratered terrain in the northern latitudes.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 46,000 kilometres from Enceladus, giving an image scale of 276 metres per pixel.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.

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Meet Mimas, the bullseye moon

Mimas showing Herschel Crater

NASA's Cassini spacecraft took this image of Mimas—the most heavily cratered body in the Solar System—from a distance of 103,000 kilometres. The huge Herschel Crater is prominent on the right, spanning a third of the moon's diameter.

  • Mimas, innermost of Saturn’s major moons
  • Most heavily cratered body in the Solar System
  • Herschel Crater is one-third the moon’s width

SATURN’S MOON Mimas (pronounced MY-muss or MEE-muss) looks somewhat like a bullseye when viewed from a certain angle. The feature responsible for this is the huge, 130-kilometre-wide Herschel Crater, which is a third of the diameter of the tiny moon.

If the object that struck Mimas and formed the crater had been larger or moving faster, the moon would probably have been shattered into pieces. Those pieces might have collapsed back to form a new moon or could have scattered to become another ring around Saturn.

Mimas back-dropped by Saturn

An amazing Cassini view of Mimas against the hazy limb of Saturn.

Mimas is the innermost of Saturn’s major moons, averaging 396 kilometres in diameter…not quite big enough to hold a perfectly round shape. It orbits at a distance of 185,520 kilometres from Saturn in a time of 22 hours and 37 minutes. It is also ‘tidally locked’, which means that one side always faces in toward Saturn.

Along with another of Saturn’s moons, Rhea, Mimas has been called ‘the most heavily cratered body in the Solar System‘. It’s close-in orbit means that it probably receives several times the rate of collisions with meteoroids as do the other moons of Saturn.

That it isn’t even more heavily cratered is probably because, being closer to Saturn, it was warmer (and consequently ‘softer’) for a longer time, so early features have softened or eroded away.

However, with so many impacts the youngest craters have tended to obliterate the older ones and, like Rhea, it is cratered about as much as it can get.

The craters in the southern polar region are generally 20 kilometres in diameter or less—this suggests that some melting or other resurfacing processes occurred there later than on the rest of the moon, removing any traces of larger craters. (Interestingly, the south polar region of another of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, is the source of that moon’s geysers.)

The bullseye crater

The walls of Herschel Crater are approximately five kilometres high, parts of the floor are approximately 10 kilometres deep, and the central peaks are almost six kilometres above the floor of the crater.

A comparable crater on Earth would be 4,000 kilometres in diameter.

Shock waves from the Herschel impact might have caused the fractures—also called chasmata—that appear on the opposite side of Mimas.

Mimas showing Herschel Crater

A mosaic of Cassini images put together to give us a birds-eye view of Herschel Crater.

See the amazing full-size, high-resolution image here (will open in a new window or tab).

Mimas’ low density (1.17 times that of liquid water) indicates that it is composed mostly of water ice with only a small amount of rock. It seems to be solidly frozen at a temperature of -209 degrees Celsius.

This is puzzling because Mimas is closer to Saturn than Enceladus, and its orbit is much more eccentric (out of round) than Enceladus’ orbit. Thus, Mimas should have much more tidal heating than Enceladus. (Tidal heating occurs when the gravity of another body, in this case Saturn, pulls and compresses a moon’s solid body, creating heat.)

Yet, Enceladus has geysers of water, while Mimas has one of the most heavily cratered surfaces in the Solar System. This suggests that Mimas’ frozen surface has persisted for a very long time.

The paradox has led astronomers to use the ‘Mimas test’, by which a hypothesis that explains the partially thawed water of Enceladus must also explain the entirely frozen water of Mimas.

Mimas apparently sweeps out the 4,800-kilometre-wide gap—called the Cassini Division—between Saturn’s two widest rings, the A and B rings. Observations from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have revealed that there is still some ring material in the Cassini Division, although it is sparse enough that the area appears empty from a distance.

Mimas and Saturn and its rings

Tiny Mimas is dwarfed by Saturn and its rings.

Moons that stick together

Mimas is in orbital ‘resonance’ with two nearby moons, Dione and Enceladus. That is, these moons speed up slightly as they approach each other and slow down as they draw away, causing their orbits to vary slightly in a long series of complex changes, which help keep them locked in their positions.

The gravity of Mimas strongly affects the tiny 3km-diameter moon Methone, the 4km-diameter moon Pallene, and the 2km-diameter moon Anthe, all of which orbit between Mimas and the next major moon going out from Saturn, Enceladus.

The vastly more massive Mimas causes Methone’s orbit to vary by as much as 20 kilometres. The affect is larger for tiny Anthe, and slightly smaller for Pallene.

English astronomer William Herschel discovered Mimas in 1789. His son, John Herschel, suggested that the names of the moons of Saturn be associated with Greek mythical brothers and sisters of Kronus (known to the Romans as Saturn).

The name Mimas comes from the god (or Titan) Mimas in Greek mythology, who was slain by one of the gods of Olympus in the war between the Olympians and the Titans. Different accounts have Mimas dispatched by Hercules, by Ares (the god of war), or by Zeus himself using a thunderbolt. Legend has it that the island of Prochyte near Sicily rests on his body.

For years, ground-based astronomers could only see Mimas as little more than a dot, until the Voyagers 1 and 2 spacecraft flew past and imaged it in 1980. The Cassini spacecraft has made several close approaches and provided detailed images of Mimas since it achieved orbit around Saturn in 2004.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.

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Saturn’s tiny Trojan moon

Saturns' moon Helene

Saturn's 33-kilometre-wide moon Helene, imaged by NASA's Cassini spacecraft from a distance of around 19,000 kilometres.

THIS BLACK AND WHITE image shows Helene, one of the smaller of Saturn’s 62 confirmed moons, seen during a relatively close encounter by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on March 3, 2010. The grey background is the atmosphere of Saturn.

Helene circles Saturn in the same orbit as the much larger moon, Dione, but ahead of it, making it a “Trojan” moon. A Trojan moon is one that is a location where the gravitational pull of the parent planet and another body (Dione, in this case) balance out, so it always stays in the same relative position. That position is known as a Lagrangian point.

The tiny moon was discovered by astronomers Pierre Laques and Jean Lecacheux in 1980 from the Pic du Midi Observatory in France. It was provisionally designated S/1980 S 6 (meaning it was the sixth new moon of Saturn to be discovered that year), and in 1988 was officially named after Helen of Troy, who in Greek mythology was the granddaughter of Cronus (Saturn).

Helene is just 33 kilometres across at its widest point. It orbits Saturn at a distance of 377,000 kilometres (roughly the same average distance between the Earth and the Moon) and takes about 2.74 Earth days to complete one revolution.

At the time Cassini snapped the image, the spacecraft was about 19,000 kilometres from Helene, which means we can see detail down to about 113 metres.

Images courtesy NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.

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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.

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