Skynotes January 2014

Month Highlights

Jupiter has returned to the evening sky and is shining brightly. Mars and Saturn can be found in the morning sky, with Venus joining them by the end of the month.

Summer School Holidays

Scienceworks will be opened daily from 10am – 4:30pm during the school holidays (26th December – 30th January). Planetarium session times are:

12pm: Tycho to the Moonmeet Tycho, a dog who doesn’t just howl at the Moon but wants to go there!

1pm: Stories in the Stars: the night sky of the Boorong peoplesee Victorian constellations come to life

2pm: Ticket to the Universe – enjoy a guided tour of our vast and incredible Universe

3pm: To Space and Back – discover how space exploration is shaping your world

See the Melbourne Planetarium's What's On listing for more details.

Sunrise & Sunset Times

  Rise Set
Wednesday 1st 6:02 8:45
Saturday 11th 6:11 8:45
Tuesday 21st 6:21 8:41
Friday 31st 6:32 8:34

Moon Phases

New Moon Wednesday 1st
First Quarter Wednesday 8th
Full Moon Thursday 16th
Last Quarter Friday 24th

The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Thursday 16th at a distance of 406,536 km.

The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Thursday 2nd at a distance of 356,921 km.

Let the Moon be Your Guide

The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky:

  • After sunset on the 11th, the waxing gibbous Moon is near the star cluster Pleiades (Taurus).
  • Then on the 12th, it is near the red giant star Aldebaran.
  • On the night of the 15th, the Moon is near Jupiter.
  • The waning gibbous Moon is near Regulus (Leo) during the early hours of the 19th.
  • On the 23rd and 24th, the Moon forms a triangle with Mars and Spica.
  • During the early morning of the 26th, the Moon is very close to Saturn.
  • Just before sunrise on the 29th, the waning crescent Moon is near Venus.


Mercury is too close to the Sun to be seen this month.

Venus returns to the morning sky during the last week of the month. It can be found just below the thin crescent Moon on the morning of the 29th.

Earth will be at perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on Saturday 4th, at a distance of 147 million km. However, this is not why summer is warm. The seasons happen because the Earth’s axis is tilted. As the Earth orbits the Sun, the tilt causes the Sun’s position in the sky to change. During summer, the Sun travels high in the sky, the sunlight hitting the ground is more concentrated and the days are longer.

Mars can be found high in the north-east before sunrise, sitting near Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. The Last Quarter Moon sits between them on the 24th. Below Mars, is the orange giant star Arcturus (Bootes), the fourth brightest star in the night sky.

Jupiter is shining brilliantly in the north-east after sunset. Orion, the hunter, can be found above Jupiter and later in the month, the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, sit below. The Moon travels across the sky with Jupiter on the 15th.

Saturn is seen in the east at sunrise, sitting to the left of Scorpius. On the 26th, the thin crescent Moon sits just below Saturn.


The year starts slowly for meteor showers. The month’s most active shower, the Quadrantids, is a strong Northern Hemisphere shower. Sometimes it is possible to spot some long-pathed meteors around the peak of the shower on the 4th.

The shower best suited for viewing in the Southern Hemisphere is the Eta Carinids which is active from 14th to 27th. The meteors are typically faint, with hourly rates of only 2 or 3 at the shower’s peak around the 21st. The shower is centred near the faint star Eta Carina, which is one of the most massive stars in our Galaxy. Eta Carina is found near the Southern Cross and is high in the south from midnight to dawn, the ideal time for meteor observing.

Stars and Constellations

Orion, the hunter, is now high in the north-eastern sky and easily located by the three bright stars that form his belt. In Australia, we recognise the belt as the base of the Saucepan. The handle of the Saucepan (also known as the sword of Orion) contains a spectacular nebula that is a birthplace of new stars. This cloud of glowing gas is 1,500 light-years away but is still easily visible through binoculars. Above the Saucepan is the blue-white supergiant star Rigel and below is the red supergiant star Betelgeuse.

On the western side of Orion is the hunter’s prey Taurus, the bull. A small triangle depicts the face of the bull with the brightest star in the group being the red giant, Aldebaran. Aldebaran sits in front of a widely spread cluster of about 200 stars called the Hyades. Taurus also contains a second cluster, the Pleiades (or Seven Sisters), which is the brightest and most famous star cluster in the sky. Approximately seven stars can be seen with the naked eye but binoculars reveal many more.

The Southern Cross and the Two Pointers are low in the south-east, which means that the Magellanic Clouds, two of our nearest galaxies, are high in the sky. They sit opposite the Southern Cross and away from city lights, they appear as two fuzzy patches or ‘clouds’.

International Space Station

The ISS orbits the Earth every 90 minutes at an average distance of 400 km. The ISS appears as a bright star that steadily moves across the sky. It can often be seen from Melbourne, for example at:

10:22pm – 10:29pm on Thursday 2nd January

The Station will appear above the north-west horizon and travel past right across teh sky, past Canopus, before disappearing in the south-east.

Predictions of when to see the ISS can be obtained from the website:

On this Day

1st 1801, the first asteroid, Ceres (now called a dwarf planet), was discovered by Giuseppi Piazzi (Italy).

2nd 1839, Louis Daguerre (France) takes the first photograph of the Moon.

2nd 1959, Luna 1 (USSR) was launched and became the first spacecraft to fly by the Moon and orbit the Sun.

4th 1958, the first satellite, Sputnik (USSR), fell back into the atmosphere and disintegrated.

5th 1972, the Space Shuttle (USA) program was launched.

6th 1892, an aurora was first photographed.

7th 1610, Galileo Galilei discovered the Jupiter's four largest moons: Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede.

9th 1839, Thomas Henderson (South Africa) is the first person to measure the distance to a star other than the Sun, Alpha Centauri.

9th 1998, an international team including Australians announces the discovery that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating.

10th 1946, the US Army Corps bounce a radar signal off the Moon, showing that radio waves could penetrate the atmosphere.

11th 1787, Sir William Herschel discovered the first moon of Uranus.

22nd 1997, Lottie Williams (USA) becomes the only person known to have been hit by space junk when she is struck in the shoulder by a piece of metal, believed to have been part of a Delta II rocket.

24th 1986, Voyager 2 (USA) made the first flyby of Uranus and sent back close-up pictures of the planet.

27th 1967, the Apollo 1 (USA) fire kills crew of 3.

28th 1986, the space shuttle Challenger (USA) explodes after lift-off killing all seven crew members.

31st 1958, Explorer 1, was the first USA satellite launched.

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