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NightSky Secrets Blog

  • May & June Skies 2019

    For those of us in the far North of Australia, this is the beginning of our observing season as the long and sustained wet season comes to an end. With the skies clearing we are treated to many deep sky delights:

    The Southern Sky gives us a rising Southern Cross with the standout Double stars of the cross itself, The stunning Jewel box cluster adjacent to bright Blue/White Beta Crux, along with the contrast of its companion, the deep red Carbon Star “Ruby Crux”

    As we use the guide stars of Alpha and Beta Crux and extend a handspan away from Alpha along this line we find the truly stunning & largest Globular cluster in orbit of our galaxy, Omega Centauri. This Mega Star city of over 1 million stars, is a sight that always brings an exclamation of delight from the 1st time observer & is one I never tire of watching.

    Centaurus-A Galaxy (NGC 5128) by Digital Sky Survey

    A bit of deft star hopping from Omega Centuri will bring you to one of the brightest Galaxies in the southern sky of Centaurus A, a galaxy split by a dark dust lane giving it the nickname of the “Hamburger Galaxy” It is in fact the brightest radio source in the southern sky & well worth tracking down. Moving across and between Crux and the “False Cross” in Carina we find the eyepiece filling Eta Carina Nebula. This massive star forming region is home to the wild child of our Galaxy and the most likely candidate for a Supernova, the Wolf Raylet star Eta Carina, a massive star that throws of 3 times the mass of our sun into the surrounding “Hourglass nebula” every year !

    The Celestial Equator & Beyond:

    Moving up closer to the celestial equator & just out from the wing of “Corvus the Crow” you will find The bright and elongated “Sombrero Galaxy” a bit over 10 million light years away.

    Now if you are really hungry for galaxies and the skies are clear and dark, slip over to the Ecliptic between Leo & Virgo to see the dozens of Galaxies, peppered across the sky there. Including the Massive Elliptical galaxy M87, where the 1st ever composite image of a black hole has been taken at its centre.

    The Planets

    Venus is still in our morning skies during May & June with a close encounter with the moon on the 2nd of June as it slowly descends towards the eastern Horizon.

    Mercury is only visible in the eastern morning sky for the 1st week or so of May, before being lost in the glare of the sun. Then returning to the evening sky later in June.

    Mars is now descending lower in the NW sky each night where it can be seen close to the waxing crescent moon on the 8th of May, then a very close encounter with Mercury on the 18th of June.

    Jupiter reaches opposition on the 11th of June Making these months the best time to watch it all night long. With its short rotational period of just 9.9 hours and the constant dance of its moons you could watch it all night and see the entire planet ! It will be close to the moon on May 22nd and June 18th, a very fine view in a telescope.

    Saturn continues to brighten and grow in size as it moves towards its opposition in Early July. and as always is the show pony of the solar system. Encountering the moon on the evenings of May 22nd and June 19th.

    Uranus is 5 degrees North of the moon on the 31st of May.

    Neptune in Aquarius is visible from 3 am at the start of May and by 1am at the end of June.

    Meteor Showers

    This month (May) the major Meteor Shower, the Eta Aquarius will grace our morning skies peaking on the 7th with as many as 20 meteors per hour. These meteors are the dusty debris of that most famous comet, Hayley. They are noted for their distinct yellowish colour, often leaving persistent streaks (trains) across the sky. Look into the North eastern sky from 3am in the morning local time between the stars Fomalhaut in the east and Altair in the NE. 

    However this year there are a couple of notable further peaks the may add 5 to 10 meteors per hour. These are 8th and 9th with additional streams of material having been mapped by radar !

    Remember to give your eyes time to adjust to the dark (10 minutes) before you can expect to see many meteors & that they usually come in bursts with perhaps a few meteors in 1 minute they perhaps nothing for 10 minutes, so patience is the key !

    Remember to have a comfortable reclining chair or camp chair, to sit out in a dark position away from the lights, relax and enjoy nature's spectacle.

    How to find the Eta Aquarids

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    For those of you who are in or visiting Far North Queensland, our 2019 Astronomy tour season is now under way, with the first tour in April held under stunning clear skies, and the return of some of our deep sky favourites you read about in this newsletter. The link above will give you all the dates available, including an Astrocamp in August !

    Observing Equipment Advice

    Naked Eye Viewing: This is the best way to see Meteor Showers, the broad sweep of the Milky Way & track satellites across the night sky. Choose as dark site and a comfortable reclining position. This is FREE and just takes a bit of effort :-)

    Big Star clusters: we are talking about groupings of stars that are beyond a fuzzy blob, these are things like the clouds of Magellan, the Pleiades & a few selected nebulous regions. These are best seen with a pair of 7x to 10x Magnification binoculars with a 50mm lens. Prices start from around $100.

    Fuzzy Blobs: You can’t make out what they are but you think they might be interesting ? These are best seen with a wide field telescope, starting price is around $200. These scopes gives you a nice contrast against the blackness of space.

    The Invisible: Galaxies, faint nebula & planetary details, this is where scopes 6” in aperture and  above come into play, these start at around $400 and how big you go is only limited by portability and budget (The biggest have 48” or 1.2m mirrors !)

    Check out our telescopes page for some ideas.

    Clear skies and happy star gazing !

  • March & April Skies 2019

    Hi Star gazers,

    I hope you got some clear skies in January and February. You did not hear much from me these past few month as I have been in such diverse locations as Townsville, Uluru (Ayres Rock) & Cruising the Tasman sea as the resident Astronomer aboard the Viking Orion as seen in the image here with the moon, Venus & Saturn putting on a nice show.

    Meanwhile back here in the Far north of Qld we have the odd clear patch in the evening sky. However from where ever you are in the world there are certain things you will see.

    The Autumn Equinox

    From anywhere in the world the sun will rise in the east and set in the west on the 21st of March (AEST). For those of us in the southern hemisphere it means the sun moving a little further in the north each day. The days will get cooler and the nights longer (great for astronomy).

    The Solar Minimum

    We now find that our sun is at the depth of the solar minimum cycle, which comes around every 11 years and this is certainly a deep solar minimum. For those of you who like to follow the procession of sunspots across the face of the sun, you would have needed to find something else to do in February as not a single sunspot graced the surface of our sun. Only in the last 15 or so years has it really been understood by science, just how much these solar minimums can influence our weather on earth. This is due to the increased bombardment of cosmic rays into our atmosphere. Showing us we are part of a much bigger "Eco System"

    Galaxies on the Ecliptic

    The Leo Triplet

    Wherever you are you will be able to clearly see the constellations of the Ecliptic. While the early evening sky is dominated by Gemini (the Twins) with its many star clusters. One of the most interesting and prominent constellations of the late evening sky this time of year is Leo (The Lion)  I find Leo particularly interesting as, by following along the belly of the lion, towards its legs and beyond into the void towards the bright Star Vindamatrix in Virgo, you find a surprising host of Galaxies.  To the astute astronomer with clear dark skies & a moderate to large telescope will be treated to over 20 bright Galaxies between the belly of Leo and Virgo. Almost all of these Galaxies were catalogued by the 18th Century Astronomer Charles Messier who wanted to plot these fuzzy Nebulae in his telescope of the day. To our larger and higher quality telescopes of today we see structure in these distant Galaxies of the Virgo supercluster. The best examples are probably M65 & M66 above the bright Star Chertan in Leo, visible even with smaller scopes, as seen in the image here. Also know as the Leo "Smiley Face" galaxies :-)

    The Northern and Southern skies

    Northern Skies

    If you are north of Brisbane, the most interesting constellation visible in the lower Northern Sky is Ursa Major "The Big Bear" or as the major asterism (pattern) within the constellation is know as the "Big Dipper" or "The Plough". This will be well know if you hail from or have spent some time in the northern hemisphere. What ever you know it as you will see it rising in the North East around 10pm and most prominent from 12 to 1 am across March and April. There are several Messier Galaxies around the "Dipper" one of the most interesting however is the Whirlpool Galaxy above the bright star Alkaid at he end of the dipper handle, a bright pair of Galaxies in the process of merging. A fate that will one day befall our own Milky Way Galaxy and Andromeda.

    Southern Skies

    Eta Carina Nebula

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Looking to the southern sky, you cant help but for your eye to be drawn to the southern cross and its deceiving companion above "The false Cross". Between the two you will find a fuzzy patch even with the naked eye. It is a collection of star clusters and what must be the best nebula in the southern sky, Eta Carina. Seen easily with binoculars, a telescope reveals dark molecular clouds bright stars & the glowing nebulosity that is the Eta Carina Nebula, a star forming region with one of the most highly unstable stars in our Galaxy at its centre.

    So if your skies are clear there is lots to do in March and April & we have plenty of great telescopes to suit all budgets and circumstances at Night Sky Secrets to help you discover these and more delights.

    Clear Skies

    Ian Maclean

     

  • October to December skies 2018

    With the closing months of 2018 almost upon us, we take a look at what the spring and summer skies have to offer.

    As we watch Mars recede in size and brightness, we see it reveal the last of its surface detail before becoming too small for practical observation, with the dust storm that enveloped the planet at Opposition receding in a race between size and clarity.

    Venus on the other hand will grow to its largest size & most slender phase before it is lost in the suns glare in Mid October, before returning to the morning sky in November. We will also lose Jupiter to its conjunction with the Sun by the end of October.

    Saturn remains a great target for observing though October before diving towards the Sun by the end of November.

    Fleet footed Mercury reaches its greatest height in the evening sky on the 7th of November, as its last apparition in the evening sky of 2018. With Mercury’s return to the evening sky, we have all seven planets visible mid month in October.

    Uranus reaches opposition and it’s brightest in the evening sky on the 24th of October at magnitude 5.7, just above naked eye visibility. Finally Neptune, which came to Opposition in September is at its highest point in the evening sky around 9:30 this in mid October.

    On any given night the diligent observer away from city lights will see around 6 “sporadic” Meteors per hour under dark skies. This number is however increased by many known Meteor showers, usually the debris left behind by the passage of a comet 100’s of years past. We have one of our best meteor showers of the year in December with the arrival of the Geminids. With up to 120 Meteors per hour, this Shower is unusual with the source being the Asteroid 3200 Phaethon. The peak of this display is on the night of Dec 14th & morning of the 15th. While not as numerous, the Taurid Meteor Shower peaking on the 10th of October is noted for the high proportion of bright fireball Meteors which are hard to miss !

    As we turn our attention to deep space in the mid evening, we look first to the southern sky where we we find the familiar southern cross is now absent from our evening skies. However it is replaced by a delight that can only be be easily seen from the Southern Hemisphere. They are the so called Magellanic Clouds, which are in fact our nearest Galaxies, bound in gravitational orbit around our own Milky Way galaxy. Even a pair of binoculars will reveal the many large Nebula associated with our nearest galactic Neighbours.

    Swing across to the northern sky we see the obvious bright stars of Vega, Altair & Deneb making up The Summer Triangle and a host of interesting deep sky targets. As we get closer to December the constellations of Pegasus & Andromeda dominate the northern Sky. In Andromeda we find the mighty Andromeda Galaxy as the other Galaxy Visible to the naked eye and a delight through a pair of large aperture binoculars. While along the path of the ecliptic the constellations of Capricorn, Pisces & Taurus dominate , with Orion the hunter hot on their heals as we move into December.

    There is so much to see even with a good quality pair of Binoculars or a telescope as you delve deeper into the hidden mysteries of the night sky.  At night sky secrets we can help you with all your binocular  & Telescope needs, whatever your budget or experience level.

  • Blood Moon - Mars - Meteors

    Saturday morning the 28th July will be quite the treat !

    We will have a Simultaneous Total Lunar Eclipse, a bright Mars at Opposition & the Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower, together in the morning Sky, thats right.

    This total lunar eclipse is one of our longest an deepest eclipses in many years as the moon passes deep into the earths umbral shadow for over 1 hour from 4:30am (EST)

     

    Mars has just reached opposition the day before and is at its biggest & brightest through almost any good telescope.

    Add to this the Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower close to their peak activity (centred just above the moon) with up to 25meteors per hour & which would ordinarily be drowned out by such a bright moon & you have a show not to be missed !

    You need nothing more than your eyes, a dark sky & a pair of binoculars if you have them, for a closer look at the eclipsed moon.

    So rug up, get a comfy chair & head outside to enjoy this celestial display !

  • June & July - Mars returns !

    As we delight in our increasingly dry season skies in June & July, we move through the winter Solstice on the 21st of June.

    This is the day of the year when the daylight hours are the shortest (great for astronomy ) & the sun is at its most northerly position in our morning sky.

    Saturn

    The planets continue their procession across the night sky and in June we are treated to the opposition of what is often called the King of the planets, Saturn. At it's largest and brightest , with the stunning rings at their widest and best, peaking at opposition on the 29th. You can expect great viewing of Saturn right through all of June and July as it slowly moves through Sagittarius. With a moderately large telescope you will see the dance of the Saturnian moons changing from night to night. Some of these moons are worlds in their own right especially Titan, bigger than our own moon and with a thick Atmosphere, mountains of rock hard ice and lakes of liquid methane. Like something straight out of a science fiction movie ! The other moons Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea & iapetus all hold their own secrets with Enceladus being a likely candidate for subsurface life !

    The Planet Vesta

    The big planets don't have it all to themselves though, with the largest of the Minor Planets Vesta reaching a sufficient brightness to be seen as a feint Naked eye object moving against the background stars from night to night.  Formally classified as an Asteroid, Vesta got a promotion to Minor Planet status at the same time Pluto got demoted to the same club. This is the first bright opposition in over 10 years and the next one wont be until 2029.  It will cross through the constellations of Sagittarius (The Archer) & Ophiuchus (The serpent Bearer) peaking in brightness in the last 2 weeks of June as it passes by the Globular cluster NGC 6440 on the 23rd and 24th of June.

    Venus - Goddess of Love

    Speaking of the planets though, we cannot forget the goddess of Love, Venus. Always the brightest in all her glory and is the most obvious sight in the western evening sky outshining all but the moon which she has a close apparent encounter with on the 16th, just a finger width away ! There is not much to see on the surface of Venus, but her changing phases take many people by surprise.

    Mars Returns

    However as we move into July the red planet Mars takes on a staring Role coming to opposition on the 27th. Now Mars does this every 2 years, however this year is special, being the closest opposition since 2003. Mars has captured the collective imagination for Millenia but especially over the past 200 years with a host of movies and theories about what lay on its surface including ideas of canals and seas.

    We now know it to be a Barren world dominated by Iron Oxide. But it was not always so, having had oceans and huge Volcanoes dominating its surface in the distant past. When we look at Mars through our telescopes at close Opposition we can see and photograph The Dark uplands & the shifting polar caps of Carbon dioxide ice.

    Deep Space

    Of course there is more than the planets and if you have a larger telescope and darkish skies the constellations of Virgo & Leo with their treasure trove of galaxies are on show along the ecliptic. While in the Southern Sky, Centaurus, The Southern Cross and Carina are at their best with some of the showpiece deep space delights of Nebula, Globular Clusters & Galaxies visible anywhere, on show.

    These are an exciting couple of months in the night sky that I am certainly looking forward too, as I hope are too. If you want to know more we always love to hear from you at NightSkySecrets here in Cairns at The Pier, or perhaps join us for one of our astronomy dinner tours.

  • March, April & a touch of May Skies

    March

    Is now we’ll underway and the focus up here in Nth Qld has been on the clouds, rain and flooding rivers ! However, as I write it is clearing up and the floods are receding & we hope the skies clearing.

    Venus and Mercury are very low in the western sky at sunset and it will take keen eyes and perhaps a pair of binoculars to Tease them out from the post sunset glow.

    Jupiter rises in Libra around 10pm as the month begins & soon after 8pm at months end. It continues to grow in size as it approaches its May opposition and is always a changing spectacle to behold.

    Mars and Saturn dominate the morning sky as Mars continues to grow in brilliance & Stature as it moves towards its best opposition since 2003 !

    Saturn maintains a close vigil over the bright globular Cluster M22 in Sagittarius, defiantly worth a look through a wide field telescope. In fact if you have a telescope and especially if it’s 8” (200mm) or over, you may like to trace the movement of asteroid “18 Melpomene” as it tracks past several Galaxies in Virgo. NGC4339 & 4281 on the 12th & NGC4261 on the 14th. This is an observational challenge !

    April

    Mars and Saturn steal the planetary show at the start of the month on the 2nd with the planets being just 1.2 Degree’s apart and close to Globular Cluster M22. This month Jupiter has two close encounters with the moon on the 3rd and 30th,  just in case you were note sure where Jupiter was in the night sky. 

    The meteor showers this month are firstly the Lyrids, peaking on the 22nd in the Northern Sky with the peak rate of around 20 per hour but have been known to give short bursts of 90 for an hour or so !

    The other shower is the Pi- Puppids in the southern sky with low numbers but noted for its bright yellow meteors and occasional fireballs, it is one to watch on the 23rd. For my part I would set the 22nd and 23rd aside for viewing these showers.

    May

    A rare triple Transit

    In May Jupiter is the King of the Planets coming to Opposition  on the 9th and is at its biggest and brightest, rising in the east as the sun sets in the west. Mars has now increased in size to greater than that of Venus and is one to watch as it moves towards its July Opposition.

    ABC Stargazing Live Event on Wednesday the 23rd of May:

    NightSkySecrets will be participating in the ABC Star Stuff event and the World record attempt for the biggest combined observing night ever ! Some of the sights visible on the night include of course Jupiter, only just past opposition and showing us all 4 of her satellite moons. Saturn continues its close encounter with the Globular Cluster M22 and will be a great sight through high powered wide field eyepieces. The 1st 1/4 moon will show off some of its finest craters along the terminator where the dark meets the light. Looking to the Southern Sky, the bright Star Cluster of the Jewel Box in the Southern cross is sure to be one of our many deep sky targets. You can find the Facebook Event Page Here.

    Remember that in any month there are many fine sights in the night sky visible with Binoculars or a simple wide field telescope such as clusters, comets, double stars, the planets and more, so keep looking up !

    As always if you would like to know more, we love hearing from you at NightSkySecrets

  • Christmas & New Year Skies

    December & January Night Skies in 2017/2018

    The Headlines:

    • This year in December we will be treated to a favourable Geminds Meteor shower
    • Saturn is disappearing from view,
    • Jupiter and Mars begin their close encounter in the morning skies.
    • We get a good look at the constellations Perseus, Pegasus & Andromeda in the northern sky.
    • The “Ghoul Star” Algol, a star that we can observe changing colour and brightness over just 10 hours is in prime viewing!
    • In January its all about the Moon, We start the month with a Super moon and end it with a total Lunar eclipse
    • Mars and Saturn are at their closest in the early morning in the 1st week of January

    Geminids Meteor Shower

    The Geminids are one of the most prolific meteor showers of the year with up to 120 Meteors per hour gracing our skies, in a display that peaks on the 14th of December. The shower is active between the 4th and 17th of December. Unlike last year, the Geminids this year coincide with the New Moon giving the opportunity to see the maximum number of Meteors against the dark moonless sky. To see the Geminids, look to the NE from around 9 to 10pm and you may see some rising from the horizon, but they peak in the Northern sky at their highest altitude around 2am, with no moon to interfere.

    Mars, Jupiter, Saturn & others

    The King of the Planets Saturn is lost in the solar glare over December and January, however Jupiter and Mars will have a close pairing that starts on the 31st of December culminating on the 7th of January at just 0.3 deg separation before drifting apart again. For those keen to seek them out, Neptune and Uranus are visible in the evening skies, but you had better bring a telescope as they are just at or below naked eye visibility.

    Perseus, Pegasus, Andromeda & the Demon Star

    Early evening in December see’s the constellations Pegasus, Andromeda & Perseus dominating the Northern sky. These constellations are notonly the scene for ancient tales of Heroes, Monsters and maidens in distress. They are the home of 2 Galaxies that can be seen with binoculars or even the naked eye (Triangulum & Andromeda Galaxies)

    It is also the home of the bright star Algol or Beta Perseus from the Arabic “Head of the Ghoul”, this star was endowed with a tag of being “Evil” as the ancients could not explain its habit of changing in brightness and colour over a short 10 hour period. We now know that it is an  eclipsing binary pair with the fainter orange dwarf eclipsing the hot blue primary star every 2.9 days.

    Super moon, Total Lunar Eclipse & Blue Moon !

    January is dominated by the apparitions of The Moon.The month starts with a so called “Supermoon” on the 2nd of January, this is where the full moon coincides with the moon at Perigee (closest to earth). At this time the moon can appear to be 14% bigger and 10% brighter than the smallest (Apogee) full moon. Then at the end of the month the moon makes its Blue Moon Appearance (2nd full moon in 1 calendar month) with a Total Lunar eclipse, the eclipse begins at 9:45pm with totality beginning at 9 minutes to midnight and ending at 7 minutes past midnight. A total lunar eclipse is an event worth seeing with the moon going blood red to black as it passes into the earths deep (umbral) shadow.

    Keeping up with the night Sky in 2018

    We have a couple of great tools to help you get out under the night sky in 2018 & all of them are under $30.

    The Star Disc, the essential tool for navigating the constellations, anywhere in the southern hemisphere at just $22.50

    The Astronomy 2018 Calendar gives you a month by month and day to day account of all the best things to see in the night sky at just $20

    Astronomy 2018 is the definitive guide to astronomy in 2018 with maps charts, meteor showers, comets & much more

    We stock an extensive range of Telescopes, Binoculars and all your astronomy accessories, as well as servicing Telescopes and Binoculars !

    Night Sky Secrets are located at The Pier shopping centre and open 7 days or online at www.nightskysecrets.com.au or call us on 07 4000 4091.

  • Aug / Sept Skies 2017

    August  Skies

    When it comes to the planets, Saturn rules the August skies as Jupiter sinks into the north west. Shrinking just a little in size from its June opposition Saturn is still the finest sight in the night sky. Comet Johnson 2015 V2 however, is fading from magnitude 8 to 9 as it passes through the constellation Centaurus but is still the best comet around and can be found with a finder chart , good Binoculars & some persistence! When it comes to the constellations in the northern skies Cygnus the swan, makes its presence known with the showpiece binary star Albiro at the head of the swan. In the southern sky the aboriginal figure of the Emu is clear and prominent, The Emu stretches from the southern cross through Centaurus, Scorpius and into Sagittarius, as seen here from our clear tablelands skies on one of NightSkySecrets tours, as photographed by Michael Radov.

    September Skies

    As we move into September we have a number of close encounters between the planets and the Moon. On the 18th the Moon and Venus are close in the predawn sky, then on the 22nd Jupiter and the thin crescent moon are nearby in the twilight. Finally on the 27th around 8pm you will see Saturn in the western sky in the constellation of Scorpius with the moon. In the Northern Sky, The Andromeda Galaxy makes it’s return to our evening skies. Andromeda is a great one to observe as it can be seen well with a high powered pair of Binoculars or a low power wide field telescope. It can be found by projecting west from the bright star Mirach in the constellation of Andromeda.  One of only 3 Galaxies visible to the naked eye and “Just” 2 million light years away from our own Milky Way Galaxy. Finally the so called “Summer Triangle” now high in the Northern sky is in fact our winter or Dry Season delight here in Northern Australia, encompassing as it does the 3 mighty constellations of Cygus “The Swan”, Lyra “The Harp” & Aquila “The Eagle”. These constellation are packed with deep sky delights of Star clusters, planetary Nebula & even supernova remnants. So get out and enjoy the delights of our dry season skies while the going is good !

  • June and July Skies in 2017

    The Planets:

    Mercury returns to our morning skies rising high & 2 hours ahead of the sun in early June. It presents a large  bright 1/2 phase as the month begins before rapidly moving to superior conjunction with the sun on the 21st June.  However fleet footed Mercury returns to the evening Sky in July beginning low on the horizon after sunset before finally rising to its highest point, 27 deg east of the sun on the 30th.

    Venus is still a bright beacon in the dawn sky throughout June and is hard to miss for the early riser beginning the month at 1/2 phase. It has a nice pairing with the waning crescent moon on the morning of the 26th June. It spends most of the month passing through Taurus & on the 13th July will be close to the eye of the Bull, outshining the bring red giant star Aldebaran.

    Mars is now low on the western horizon and a tiny red dot at Magnitude 1.7 in the constellation of Gemini & will not be seen again until mid September

    Jupiter,  though past opposition is still well placed for observation in the northern sky, reaching the Meridian (most Northerly point) early evening around 7pm during  June where it continues to reside in Virgo throughout July.

    Saturn has its turn to come to opposition in June on the 15th and at an even Magnitude 0.0 and also is presenting it 's rings at the widest angle of 27deg, giving us the best view of the rings in Many years. Saturn continues to be a great sight in July as it is only just past opposition and is high in the evening sky in the Constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, where it continues to dazzle many a first time star gazer. Long time astronomers will often tell you that it was their first view of Saturn, that got them hooked on Astronomy !

    Uranus Is visible in the morning skies, having just had a virtual close encounter with Venus on the 3rd and 4th of June, as it continues it's slow journey through Pisces. Its worth noting that Uranus is bright enough to be seen with binoculars at Magnitude 5.9 (naked eye for the keen sighted on a clear night)

    Neptune in Aquarius is visible from 11pm and begins its retrograde motion from the 17th. Slow moving Neptune will remain in Aquarius in July as it was LAST YEAR ! A good day to find it will be on the 13th of July when it is just 2 degree's from the 19 day old moon & by 4am in the morning it will be just 0.2 deg away from the lunar limb !

    Comets:

    Comet C/2015 V2 (Johnston) begins the month in Pisces at Magnitude 7 & an easy binocular target.  By July it has migrated into the constellation Virgo before entering the constellation of Hydra & then Centaurus where it spends the rest of the month as it fades to 8th Magnitude.

    Meteor Showers: 

    While there are no major meteor showers in June there is however the Alpha Capricornids in July peaking around the 28th. While not great in number (only 5 / Hour) they are renowned for spectacular long slow Blue, White or Yellow meteors with a higher than average number of fireballs. The Southern delta Aquarids typically Blue/white in colour & peaking on the 28th to the 30th at 16 meteors/hr make the 28th a great date to be looking out for meteors !

    The Deep Sky:

    In the southern sky we have several show piece deep sky objects to observe. High on this list is the unrivalled globular cluster Omega Centuri & the bigger the scope the better it looks. The EtaCarina Nebula is my personal favourite, especially when viewed through a nebula filter. The Star clusters of the southern Pleiades & the Jewel Box are hard to go past too.

    Turning to the northern sky the Galaxy highway between Leo & virgo is resplendent with a succession of galaxy clusters, many of them from the messier catalog from the 1700's , showing just how bright they are, to have been discovered with the simple instruments of the day.

    And if you are lucky enough to live in northern australia at this time of the year, the skies are generally clear, the nights cool and the viewing is divine !

  • April-May Skies - Jupiter, Saturn, Meteors & More

    April Skies - Jupiter - Meteors - Neptune Disappearing Act !

    April should see the skies in FNQ begin to clear somewhat and just in time for the Opposition of Jupiter on Saturday the 8th. This means Jupiter will be rising in the E/SE as the sun sets on the opposite Horizon. What this means for you is that its possible to watch Jupiter ALL night long :-)

    A rare triple Transit A rare triple Transit

    What you will get to see is a complete rotation of Jupiter on its Axis throughout the night, In fact on the 8th the Great Red Spot will be most prominent at 3am that morning and again just before midnight. Jupiter will also be at its biggest and brightest at this time. Even a small telescope will show you Jupiters Cloud Bands & moons. Night Sky secrets will certainly do a viewing night around this time to show Jupiter at its best !

    The Lyrids Meteor shower is one worth watching out for this month from the 16th to the 25th with its peak on the 22nd when up to 18 meteors per hour originating in the vicinity of the Bright Star Vega will grace the morning sky low in the Pre Dawn hours in the NE. There is an Aboriginal significance to this meteor shower for the Boorong People:

    For the Boorong, the bright star Vega was prominently known as Neilloan, the Mallee fowl. Neilloan is seen in autumn coinciding with the time the Mallee fowl start to build their elaborate nests.The meteor shower is described as Neilloan kicking up the shooting stars in the same way that the earth-bound Mallee fowl are digging out their nesting mounds and kicking up sand and dirt. (1)

    The other significant event in in the night sky across eastern and central Australia is the occultation of Neptune by the moon. There is a great difference in brightness between the moon and Neptune, so the published time to look is at 4:58am on the 23rd of April in the eastern states when Neptune remerges from the dark limb of the moon. The exact time of reappearance will vary a little depending on your Latitude so allow a bit of extra time. For Cairns FNQ it is 4:35am.

    May Skies - More Meteors - Saturn & The Moon

    One of the best meteor showers of the Year happens this month with the Eta Aquarids reaching their peak in the Predawn hours high in the NE Sky on Friday the 5th of May. The shower has an active period from the 19th of April to the 28th of May. This is a shower doubly as active (40/hr) as the Lyrids and with a connection to that most famous of comets “Haley’s Comet” The Eta Aquarids, like their sister shower the Orionids in October (also from Comet Haley), are one of the better annual showers to observe.

    Finally we have Saturn just 3 degrees south of the moon on Saturday the 13th of May just 2 days past the full moon in the early evening. The moon is at Apogee on this day (furtherest from earth)

    For the meteor showers you just need your eyes and a dark location, for the other events you will need a telescope.

    1. Dr Tanya Hill in “The Conversation”  22nd April 2014

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