Skynotes March 2016

Month Highlights

If you have great views of both the eastern and western horizons, then you can still try and catch all five bright planets in the morning sky –that’s Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The quintuplet can be seen until mid-March, but then Mercury sinks below the eastern horizon, while Jupiter is low to the west.

New Planetarium Show

The Melbourne Planetarium is launching a brand new show Capturing the Cosmos on the 21st. Narrated by Australia’s Academy award-winning actor Geoffrey Rush, this new planetarium show highlights current research being carried out by astronomers across Australia.

New and innovative telescopes such as SkyMapper in NSW and the Murchison Wide-field Array in WA, have been designed to survey large sections of the sky. They are finding things we’ve never seen before, exploring the sky in new ways that will help us to better understand our Universe. Capturing the Cosmos was produced in partnership with the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO).

Can you see the stars? GLOBE at Night

Join thousands of people world-wide hunting for stars. GLOBE at Night aims to learn more about light pollution around the world. Each month features a different campaign and for March the search is on for the Southern Cross. Make your observations between the 1st and 10th and match what you can see to one of eight star charts. The results are plotted on a world map to track how our view of the dark night sky varies - it now includes 9 years worth of data!

Sunrise & Sunset Times

  Rise Set
Tuesday 1st 7:04 8:00
Friday 11th 7:14 7:45
Monday 21st 7:24 7:30
Thursday 31st 7:33 7:15

Moon Phases

Last Quarter Wednesday 2nd
New Moon Wednesday 9th
First Quarter Wednesday 16th
Full Moon Wednesday 23rd

The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Saturday 26th, at a distance of 406,123km.

The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Thursday 10th, at a distance of 359,508 km.

Let The Moon Be Your Guide

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

  • During the early hours of the 1st, the waning gibbous Moon sits below Mars.
  • Then on the 2nd, the Last Quarter Moon is near Saturn in the early morning sky.
  • Before sunrise on the 7th, the waning crescent Moon is above bright Venus.
  • The Moon sits to the left of Mercury, low to the eastern horizon on the 8th.
  • After sunset on the 14th, the waxing crescent Moon is near Aldebaran (Taurus, the bull).
  • The waxing gibbous Moon is near Regulus (Leo, the lion) on the night of the 20th.
  • On the 22nd, the Moon travels across the sky with Jupiter.
  • On the night of the 24th, the Moon pairs up with Spica (Virgo, the maiden).
  • On the morning of the 29th, the waning gibbous Moon is near Mars.
  • And on the 30th, the Moon is back with Saturn.

Planets

Mercury can be found below bright Venus in the eastern sky before sunrise. On the 8th, the thin crescent Moon sits to the left Mercury but soon after Mercury disappears below the horizon, which ends the chance to see all five bright planets in the morning sky. They will be back together in the evening sky this August.

Venus can be seen throughout the month as the ‘morning star’, towards the eastern horizon before sunrise. During the early part of the month, it can be used to find Mercury which sits just below Venus. On the 7th, the crescent Moon is above Venus.

Earth experiences the Autumn Equinox on Sunday 20th. At 3:30pm the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading north. Day and night are of equal length a few days later, on Wednesday 23rd. This delay 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 and Saturn rise together in the east around midnight but are best seen in the early morning sky when they are high in the north. The planets are near the constellation of Scorpius and it’s always interesting to see Mars with its rival, Antares, a red supergiant star. On the mornings of the 16th and 17th, Mars is very close to Graffias, one of the scorpion’s claws. The Moon passes by the planets at the start and end of the month.

Jupiter can now be found rising in the east at sunset, with the bright star Regulus (Leo) sitting above and to the left. Jupiter reaches opposition on the 8th, which means it lies in the opposite part of the sky to the Sun. As a result, we see Jupiter all night long. Furthermore, Jupiter is closest to us during opposition because Jupiter and the Earth are located on the side same of the Sun. Jupiter will appear lovely and bright throughout the month. On the 22nd, the almost full Moon travels across the sky with Jupiter.

Meteors

There are two small meteor showers this month that occur near the South Celestial Pole. The gamma Normids is due to peak around the 15th. 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:

8:16pm - 8:22pm, Thursday 5th March.

The Station will first appear in the north-west and move towards the south-east, travelling very close to Alpha Centauri, the bright star 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 1590, 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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