Skynotes August 2016


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Month Highlights

It’s all happening in the evening sky – all five bright planets can be seen together for about an hour after sunset. Mercury and Venus are low to the north-west horizon. As the month goes by, you can watch Jupiter drift towards them, while shining overhead are Mars and Saturn.

Planetarium Events

Discover the Night Sky

The Melbourne Planetarium at Scienceworks presents its popular astronomy sessions in August. All evenings include a glass of wine with cheese, the opportunity to chat to the Planetarium’s astronomer, Dr Tanya Hill, and to be immersed in a planetarium experience. You will finish the evening stargazing through telescopes (weather permitting). For more information see the What's On.

AstroLight Festival 2016

On Saturday evening 10th September, Scienceworks is hosting a festival celebrating astronomy and light. This family event will include talks, hands-on demonstrations, stargazing through telescopes, plus a fabulous guest speaker - former NASA astronaut, Marsha Ivins. For details and to book tickets see the Scienceworks website.

Astrobites: Exoplanets and Life Elsewhere

Join astrobiologist, Dr Jonti Horner, at the Melbourne Planetarium on the evening of 24th September to hear about the search for exoplanets (planets orbiting distant stars) and the potential for finding life beyond our solar system. For details and to book tickets see the Scienceworks website.

Sunrise and Sunset Times

Date Rise Set
Monday 1st 7:20 5:33
Thursday 11th 7:10 5:41
Sunday 21st 6:57 5:50
Wednesday 31st 6:43 5:58

Moon Phases

Phase Date
New Moon Wednesday 3rd
First Quarter Thursday 11th
Full Moon Thursday 18th
Last Quarter Thursday 25th

The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Monday 22nd at a distance of 367,046 km.

The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Wednesday 10th at a 404,265 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 4th, the waxing crescent Moon sits above Venus, low to the north-west horizon.
  • Then on the 5th, during evening twilight the Moon can be found above Mercury.
  • And on the 6th, the Moon is just above bright Jupiter.
  • After sunset on the 9th, the Moon sits to the right of the bright star Spica (Virgo) and is in the middle of the line made by the five bright planets.
  • During the evening of the 11th, the waxing gibbous Moon is below Saturn, Mars and the red supergiant star Antares (Scorpius).
  • On the 18th, the Full Moon rises to the left of the bright star Fomalhaut (Piscis Austrinus).
  • Before sunrise on 25th, the Last Quarter Moon sits above the bright star cluster Pleiades.
  • Then on the 26th, the waning crescent Moon is just below the red giant star Aldebaran (Taurus).


Mercury and Venus are low in the north-west after sunset. With their appearance as evening planets it becomes possible to see all five bright planets together in the sky for about an hour after sunset. At the start of the month Mercury is higher above the horizon than Venus, but by the end of the month, Venus rises up to meet Mercury. The two sit side-by-side with Mercury to the left and Venus to the right. Jupiter joins the pair, passing to the right of Mercury on the 20th and travelling right by Venus on the 27th and 28th. The thin crescent Moon is above Venus on the 4th and Mercury on the 5th.

Mars and Saturn are high overhead at sunset. Saturn sits below the red supergiant star Antares, which marks the heart of Scorpius. Mars begins the month to the left of Saturn, near the Scorpion’s claws. Throughout the month, you can watch Mars approach Antares and Saturn, and by the 24th, Mars sits between the pair. On the 12th, the Moon can be found near Saturn.

Jupiter is the bright planet in the western sky at sunset. Look below Jupiter to find Mercury and Venus, and above Jupiter to find Mars and Saturn. The five planets form a line that stretches across the sky. Each night Jupiter heads towards the western horizon. It passes Mercury on the 20th and on the evenings of the 27th and 28th Jupiter teams up with Venus. The two bright planets make a striking sight in the evening sky.


The major meteor shower this month is the Perseids which peaks on the 13th. This is a strong Northern Hemisphere shower with around 100 meteors predicted per hour. The shower resides within the northern constellation of Perseus and it is difficult to view from the Southern Hemisphere. However, at the peak of the shower, it has been known for long-pathed Perseids to be seen here.

Perseids are fast, bright and frequently leave persistent trails. They appear to come from a point below the north-eastern horizon.

The best time to look for Perseids is from 3am onwards. This shower is associated with Comet Swift-Tuttle, which passed near the Sun in 1991.

Stars and Constellations

The two dominant constellations in the sky this month are Scorpius (the scorpion) with its hook-shaped tail and bright, red star Antares, and Sagittarius (the archer) whose bright stars resemble a teapot.

Crux, or the Southern Cross, is high in the south-west. On a clear, moonless night it may be possible to see the Coal Sack nebula, a dark region that lies between the two brightest stars of the Southern Cross, known as Alpha and Beta Crucis.

Low in the southern sky are the bright stars Achernar (to the east) and Canopus (to the west). These stars lie opposite the Southern Cross and never disappear below the horizon.

International Space Station

From Earth, the ISS appears as a bright star that steadily moves across the sky. It can often be seen from Melbourne, for example at:

6:06am - 6:10am, Friday 5th August.

The Station will appear in the west and travels above the Southern Cross before disappearing in the south-east.

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

On this Day

3rd 2004, the MESSENGER (USA) mission to Mercury was launched.

4th 2007, the Phoenix (USA) Mars lander was launched.

5th 1998, the Near Earth Object Program Office was set up by NASA to detect and catalogue asteroids that approach near to Earth.

6th 2012, the Mars rover Curiosity landed on the red planet.

7th 1959, Discoverer 1 (USA) returns the first satellite images of the Earth.

10th 1877, American astronomer Asaph Hall discovered Mars’ moon Deimos and then two days later Mars’ second moon Phobos.

19th 1960, two dogs, Belka and Strelka, were launched into space aboard Sputnik 5 (USSR), and successfully returned to Earth.

20th 1977, Voyager 2 (USA) was launched to explore the planets in the outer Solar System.

25th 1609, Galileo demonstrated the newly invented telescope.