Skynotes January 2017

Month Highlights

Bright Venus and red Mars can be found together in the western sky at sunset. Each night they will slowly drift closer to the horizon.

In the early morning sky, Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury can be found in a line stretching towards the eastern horizon. They are best seen towards the end of the month, as Saturn and Mercury climb higher in the sky.

Summer School Holidays

Scienceworks will be opened daily from 10am – 4:30pm during the school holidays (1st - 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: Tilt enjoy a whirlwind adventure to discover how the seasons work.

2pm: Stories in the Stars discover the fascinating night sky of the Boorong people from north-west Victoria.

3pm: Capturing the CosmosAustralian telescopes are looking at the sky in new ways to better understand our universe.

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

Sunrise & Sunset Times

  Rise Set
Sunday 1st 6:02 8:45
Wednesday 11th 6:11 8:45
Saturday 21st 6:21 8:41
Tuesday 31st 6:33 8:34

Moon Phases

First Quarter Friday 6th
Full Moon Thursday 12th
Last Quarter Friday 20th
New Moon Saturday 28th

The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Sunday 22nd at a distance of 404,911 km.

The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Tuesday 10th at a distance of 363,241 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 2nd, the waxing crescent Moon sits just below bright Venus.
  • Then on the 3rd, the crescent Moon sits to the right of red Mars.
  • On the evening of the 9th, the waxing gibbous Moon is near the red star Aldebaran (Taurus, the bull).
  • The waning gibbous Moon travels across the sky with the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux on the night of the 13th.
  • The Moon follows the bright star Regulus (Leo, the lion) on the night of the 15th.
  • The Last Quarter Moon sits below Jupiter on the morning of the 20th.
  • Before sunrise on the 24th, the waning crescent Moon is found to the left of Saturn.
  • Then on the 26th, the Moon is to the left of faint Mercury.
  • After sunset on the 31st, the waxing crescent Moon is back together with Venus.


Mercury reappears in the eastern sky at sunrise. The faintest of all the planets, it will slowly rise out of the dawn glow and is best seen towards the end of the month. Look for it on the 26th, when the crescent Moon sits just to left of Mercury. Found higher above Mercury is the planet Saturn.

Venus has been shining brilliantly as the ‘evening star’ high in the west at sunset. This month, Venus will begin to make its way towards the horizon, joined by the red planet Mars which can be found sitting just above it. On the 2nd, the thin crescent Moon is just below Venus.

Earth will be at perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on Thursday 5th, 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, that 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 pairs up with Venus in the evening sky, as the two planets make their way towards the western horizon. Mars can be found above and to the right of Venus and it appears faint and red, against the brilliant glow of Venus. The crescent Moon sits just to the right of Mars on the 3rd.

Jupiter is high in the north-east at sunrise and it is the brightest planet in the morning sky. Sitting just above Jupiter is the bright star Spica (Virgo, the maiden). While below and to the right of Jupiter are the planets Saturn and Mercury. The Last Quarter Moon on the 20th can be found just below Jupiter and Spica.

Saturn returns to the morning sky, sitting below the lovely constellation of Scorpius and its red supergiant star Antares. Below and to the right of Saturn is faint Mercury, while high above and to the left of Saturn is bright Jupiter. The crescent Moon sits to the left of Saturn on the morning of the 24th.


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. Unfortunately this year it will be affected by the late-setting Moon. 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:

9:54pm – 9:57pm on Monday 9th January

The Station will appear in the south-west and travel past the Southern Cross before disappearing in the east. At 11:30pm, the Station will appear again for a couple of minutes low in the western sky.

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 two moons of Uranus, Titania and Oberon.

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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