Skynotes March 2014

Month Highlights

Venus and Jupiter continue to shine brightly at either end of the day: Venus is bright in the east before sunrise, while Jupiter rules the east at sunset. Mars and Saturn can now be seen rising in the evening and travelling across to the north-west by morning. While low to the east, during morning twilight, Mercury makes its best appearance for 2014.

Winning sky photographs: the 2013 David Malin Awards

Spectacular images of the night sky are now on show at the Melbourne Planetarium. Featuring the winners and selected entries from the annual photography competition inspired by the world-renowned astronomy photographer and competition judge, Dr David Malin. The exhibition was developed by the Central West Astronomical Society and toured by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

Can you see the stars? GLOBE at Night

Join thousands of people world-wide hunting for stars. GLOBE at Night seeks to observe the night sky and learn more about light pollution around the world. There are a number of campaigns running throughout the year, but from 21st March the search is on for Orion in our north-west sky or the Southern Cross.

Participants are asked to match what they can see to one of eight star charts. The results are plotted on a world map to see how our view of the dark night sky varies by location and over time. To participate visit GLOBE at Night.

Sunrise & Sunset Times

  Rise Set
Saturday 1st 7:04 8:01
Tuesday 11th 7:14 7:46
Friday 21st 7:24 7:31
Monday 31st 7:33 7:16

Moon Phases

New Moon Saturday 1st
First Quarter Saturday 8th
Full Moon Monday 17th
Last Quarter Monday 24th
New Moon Monday 31st

The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Wednesday 12th, at a distance of 405,365km.

The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Friday 28th, at a distance of 365,705km.

Let The Moon Be Your Guide

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

  • The First Quarter Moon sits to the right of the red star Aldebaran (Taurus) after sunset on the 8th.
  • Then on the 10th, the waxing gibbous Moon is above Jupiter.
  • On the 14th, the Moon is near bright Regulus, the kingly star of Leo, the Lion.
  • During the early evening of the 18th, the waning gibbous Moon rises with Spica (Virgo).
  • Then on the 19th, the Moon is close to Mars.
  • Before sunrise on the 21st, the Moon is high in the north-west and near Saturn.
  • The Last Quarter Moon sits near the red supergiant Antares (Scorpius) on the morning of the 24th.
  • On the 27th, the waning crescent Moon is just to the left of bright Venus.
  • Then on the 29th, a thin crescent Moon can be found near Mercury.

Planets

Mercury is at its best in the early morning twilight this month. It is low in the east, with bright Venus high above. On the 29th, the thin crescent Moon sits directly to the left of Mercury.

Venus is high in the east before sunrise. It can be used as a beacon to find faint Mercury, which sits closer to the horizon. Before sunrise on the 28th, the Moon sits mid-way between the two planets.

Earth experiences the Autumn Equinox on Friday 21st. At 3:57am the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading north. Day and night are of equal length a few days later, on Monday 24th. This is because our atmosphere bends light from the Sun, and so, we see the Sun before it physically rises and continue to see it for a short while after it has set. This phenomenon is called atmospheric refraction.

Mars is now moving into the evening sky and by the middle of the month can be found rising in the east around 9pm with the bright star Spica (Virgo). The Moon joins them on the 18th. By morning, Mars can be found in the north-west with Saturn high above.

Jupiter is still looking magnificent in the evening sky as it heads towards the north-west. The twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux sit to the right of Jupiter and the Moon sits above on the night of the 10th.

Saturn rises about an hour after Mars. It can be found at the head of magnificent Scorpius. Before sunrise it can be seen high in the north-west, with Mars now below. The Moon is to the left of Saturn before sunrise on the 21st.

Meteors

There are two small meteor showers that occur near the South Celestial Pole this month. The gamma Normids is due to peak around the 15th, so will be affected by the almost Full Moon. This shower is centred on the yellow giant star, gamma Normae in the constellation of Norma, the level. The second shower is the delta Pavonids, which peak in early April, but will start to appear from the 21st. This shower occurs in Pavo, the peacock. The best time for viewing meteor showers is generally between midnight and dawn.

Stars & Constellations

The constellations of Orion and Taurus can be found in the northwest after sunset. Taurus contains the beautiful Pleiades or Seven Sisters, a small cluster including many young blue giant stars.

The brightest star in our night sky, Sirius (Canis Major) is nearly overhead at sunset. Its partner, Procyon in Canis Minor, is high in the north. The twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, lie low in the north-west while Regulus, in Leo, is low to the north-east.

The constellation of Virgo rises in the east after sunset. Sitting above Virgo is the kite-shaped group of stars that form Corvus (the crow).

Crux (or the Southern Cross) is now beginning to climb up to its autumn position - lying on its side in the south-east.

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:

9:06pm - 9:11pm, Friday 7th March.

The Station will first appear in the north-west and travel past the Moon and Orion, before moving directly overhead to end up in the south-east, near the Southern Cross. Predictions of where and when to see the ISS can be obtained from the Heavens Above website.

On This Day

1st 1966, Venera 3 (USSR) became the first craft to impact another planet (Venus).

4th 1979, Voyager 1 (USA) discovered the rings of Jupiter.

5th 1950, Tycho Brahe discovered a comet in the constellation of Pisces, the Fish. He was the first to show that comets were further away than the Moon.

6th 1986, Vega 1 (USSR) made the first flyby of Comet Halley and returned the first close-up images of a comet.

8th 1618, Johannes Kepler formulated his Third Law of Planetary Motion.

8th 1976, the largest known fall of stony meteorites occured in Jilin, China. The largest single meteorite had a mass of 1.77 tonnes.

9th 1979, Voyager 1 (USA) discovered volcanism on Io (a moon of Jupiter).

11th 1977, the rings of Uranus were discovered as the planet moved in front of a distant star (USA).

13th 1781, Uranus was discovered by Sir William Herschel (UK).

17th 1958, Vanguard 1 (USA) was launched. It is the oldest satellite still in orbit.

18th 1965, Voskhod 2 (USSR) carried the first two-person crew into orbit. Aleksei A. Leonov, also carried out the first tethered space walk.

20th 1916, Albert Einstein published his theory of gravity, the General Theory of Relativity.

23rd 1860, J W Drader (UK) takes a daguerrotype of the Moon, making it the first astrophotograph.

25th 1655, Christiaan Huygens discovers Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

29th 1974, Mariner 10 (USA) made the first flyby and took the first close-up images of Mercury.

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