Whats in the Night Sky This month

20 Oct 2019

OCTOBER NIGHT SKY 8pm - 9:30pm Planetary Alignment

The planets dominate the night sky this week with an alignment of all planets excluding the planet Mars.

If you are in Dubbo on the 25th of October come and out and view the planets as we have an Open Night (Free Entry) weather permitting.

Low in the west just after sunset you will see a brilliant looking star like object. This is the planet Venus or commonly called the evening star. Venus is on the other side of the Sun 225 million km away. It will be too low in the sky to see anything clear, but is close to a full phase like a full moon.

Mercury is higher in the sky appearing as an orangish star like object, fairly bright but no where as bright as Venus. On the 31st they will be the same height above the horizon. Mercury is a planet you do not normally see unless you have a nice flat horizon. It has an elongated orbit about the Sun. This week it is at its greatest distance from the Sun, this means we will see it higher above the horizon than usual. Mercury is the closest planet to us at present at 75 million km distant this week.

Planet Jupiter is higher again, very bright and white. It is about the same altitude as a bright orange star in the sky called Antares, a red supergiant star in Scorpio. Scorpio will appear as a giant fish hook pattern in the sky and is very distinctive. A pair of binoculars will show you the 4 moons of Jupiter and a small telescope will reveal its cloud bands and the Great Red Spot.

Saturn is directly overhead and appears as a bright yellow star in the constellation Sagittarius and also named the teapot. A telescope will show Saturns rings which are a quite wide angle this year, and also its moons, Titan, Rhea, Tethys, and Dione. Saturn has been in the news last week with 20 new Moons discovered giving Saturn a total of 82 moons.

'Neptune is also high in the sky in the constellation Aquarius. You will need a telescope to view Neptune and is a gorgeous blue colour.

Uranus is rising in the east in the constellation Aries. Uranus can be seen with a pair of binoculars and appears as a green star like object. Uranus was originally named George ( named after King George III) by its discoverer William Herschell in 1781. The French wanted it to be named Neptune (before the real Neptune was discovered) but was ultimately called Uranus, the butt of all jokes.

Pluto is high in the sky in Sagittarius but it is even difficult to view in a telescope as its so small (Australia is larger than Pluto) and so distant, out past Neptune. And of course it is no longer considered a planet but I include it as everyone loves Pluto.

Mars spoils the party with it on the opposite side of the Sun so not visible. Mars only comes close once every couple of years (26 months) and comes close again in October 2020.

Ceres, the largest asteroid in the Solar System and now considered a dwarf planet is close to Jupiter in the sky but you will need a pair of binoculars to view it. It was called a planet back in the early 1800s but was kicked off the list just like Pluto was once it was discovered that Ceres was part of an asteroid belt.

Pluto's demise as a planet came to a head when a slightly larger object now named Eris was discovered. The discoverer wanted this to be the tenth planet but now Pluto and Eris are designated as dwarf planets. Eris is too faint to see but I have captured an image of it photographically through the telescope here at Dubbo.

That completes our planetary alignment this week of Venus, Mercury, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, Neptune, Uranus, and Eris.

Whats in the Night Sky This month

12 Sept 2019


The Moon dominates the night sky this week with a Full Moon on Saturday the 14th. With the nked eye you can make out The Rabbit with the dark areas also called Seas or Mare.

This makes it impossible to get a good view of the Milky Way, distant galaxies and most nebulae.

A dark sky will be back by the 17th of September during our 7pm - 8:30pm viewing session where the magnificent Milky Way will span across the sky. It will be stunning with the dark nebulae scattered throughout making the famous Emu constellation. It will be upside down on its head in September. Look for the head next to the Southern Cross, and its neck through the pointer stars and body out to Scorpio.

Planets Jupiter and Saturn are high in the sky in September. Saturn directly overhead as a bright yellowish looking star in Sagittarius. The rings a visible through a telescope as well as some of its moons, Titan, Rhea, Tethys, and Dione.

Jupiter appears as the brightest star (planet of course) in the night sky adjacent to Scorpio to the west of Saturn. Jupiters 4 Gailean Moons (Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa) are visible with a good pair of binoculars and the cloud belts and great red spot is visible through a telescope. On the 20th of September you will see the shadow of Ganymede moving across Jupiter from 9:25pm to 11:30pm.

Close to Jupiter in the sky is a bright orange star name Antares. This is a red supergiant star 400 light years away and the brightest star in the Constellation Scorpio. Scorpio appears a large fish hook looking pattern of stars. Antares is destined to become a bright supernova in our sky sometime in the future getting as bright as the Moon. When? who knows could be tonight or in a hundred years. All we know is that its close to the end of its life.

There are many binocular objects in Scorpio, Ptolemy's Cluster and the Butterfly Cluster are close to Scorpio's tail. There is a another cluster where Scorpio's tail starts to bend, and is called NGC 6231.Look next to Antares and you will see a fuzz ball . This is M4, a globular cluster. Through a small telescope and a large eyepiece you can view Antares and M4 together.

Next to Scorpio higher overhead is Sagittarius, It appears as a teapot structure in the Milky Way. You can find it easily by spotting Saturn as a bright yellow star near the handle of the TeaPot. Sagittarius is home to many emission nebula visible through telescopes. There is the Lagoon, Trifid, and the Swan and Eagle nearby. We can take photpgraphs of these with your DSLR camera if you attend the astrophotography tour or astroexclusive tour.

Underneath the TeaPot you will see a pretty arc of stars called The Southern Crown.

The next one along facing east is Capricorn looking Like a large letter D or arrowhead. Aquarius is lower in the Eastern sky.

Low in the north is a very bright star named Vega. You may have heard of this star before if you watched a movie named Contact with Jody Foster in it. Its a nearby star at 26 light years away. It is part of a small constellation called Lyra. It appears as 4 fainter stars in a rhombus shape next to Vega. Between the 2 top stars in that pattern you will see a doughnut shape through a telescope, this is a dead star called the Ring Nebula.

To the right of Vega is the Constellation Cygnus and also known as the Northern Cross. The head of Cygnus the swan is a beautiful binary star called Albireo, Through a telescope this appears as a gorgeous blue and orange star side by side.

Low in the northwest is a bright yellow-orange star name Arcturus, the 4th brightest star there is in the sky and the 2nd brightest at the moment as the first two are not in our skies this time of year. It is a near neighbour at 36 light years distant and with it low in the sky will appear to twinkle a lot and change colours before your eyes. It is a similar mass to our Sun and is evolving into a red giant star. It has expanded to 25 times the size of the Sun and is 170 times brighter than the Sun. Our Sun will do a similar thing in 5 billion years.

In the southern sky we have the southern cross on its side with the 2 pointer stars above it, alpha and beta Centauri. Alpha Centauri is the 3rd brightest star in the sky and appears as 2 stars through a telescope. Just above the top star in the cross is a cluster of stars called the Jewel Box. It can be just seen through binoculars but does look like jewels through a telescope.

To the left of the southern cross is the diamond cross. The right hand star is a cluster of stars called the Southern Pleiades and is a good view through a pair of binoculars.

There are 2 great globular clusters in the sky, Omega Centauri containing 10 million stars, and 47 Tucanae with 1 million stars. Bot appear as faint stars to the naked eye, but are visible with binoculars as fuzzy balls and large balls of stars through a telescope. Omega Centauri is to the upper right of the southern cross, about 2 times the width of the cross. Or draw a line from Beta Centauri down at 45 degrees to the right to Epsilon Centauri and go the same distance again an you are on it. 47 Tucanae appears as a faint star just above the small Magellanic Cloud.

2 galaxies. the Large and Small Magallenic clouds are visible in the south eastern sky. They appear as faint clouds abut are small galaxies about 200,000 light years away and orbit our own Milky Way Galaxy. To the east of this is a constellation called Sculptor. It contains a great telescopic spiral galaxy called the Silvercoin galaxy.

Planet Neptune is low in the Eastern Sky at the bottom of Aquarius. It appears as a blue star through a telescope.

Planets Venus and Mercury are very low in the western sky just after sunset but not up for very long. You will need a flat horizon to see them, but they are quite bright. They set before 7pm so not visible during our show. The crescent moon will be just to the right of Mercury with Venus below.

Whats in the Sky This Week

14 Aug 2019

This week the night sky is dominated by a bright Moon. Particularly bright as its is passing overhead very high in the sky.

This makes it impossible to get a good view of the Milky Way, distant galaxies and most nebulae.

However its great for looking at the Moon. Just use you naked eye and squint your eyes you will notice "The Seas" These are lava plains that formed 4 billion years ago when some asteroids smashed into the Moon, cracked opened its crust and magma came oozing out and filled the low lying areas of the Moon. Viewed through a small telescope you will see they are quite smooth since they were all liquid and set hard billions of years ago. They are easily seen since they are darker in fact darker than an ashphalt road since they are made of basalt. We have a full Moon overhead on the 15th.

Great time for viewing the two largest planets Jupiter and Saturn.

Jupiter is overhead in the early evening in Scorpio and not far from a bright red/orange star named Antares. Jupiter appears as the brightest looking star in the sky, but a planet of course, near the constellation scorpio. A pair of binouculars will show its moons and a telescope will show you Jupiters cloud bands and famous red spot.

Saturn appears as a bright looking yellow star (planet) in Sagittarius. You will need a telescope to view Saturns rings and moons. On the 12th Saturn is obscured by the Moon and appeared coming out from the Moon after 7pm. A great sight for our customers that night.

In the South you will see the 3 crosses, Southern Cross, Diamond Cross, and False Cross. They are setting in the South West. If you have a pair of binoculars check out 'The Southern Pleiades'which appears as a single star to the naked eye in the top right star of the diamond cross. Another cluster appears as a slight fuzzy patch just to the left of the False Cross, NGC 2516. Beautiful in binoculars.

To the West you will see another cross which is Corvus The Crow.

A bright golden star in the northwestern sky is Arcturus, 40 lights years away.

In the north low down is a bright white star called Vega. If you remember a movie 20 years ago called Contact, you will have heard of that star. Another near neighbour at 26 light years away.