Category: The southern sky in 12 months

The Southern Hemisphere’s night sky as it unfolds over the twelve months of the year.

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What’s in the night sky in October 2019

Get your observing on! Here comes October and what are we going to look at? New Zealand switched to summer time, that is we put our clocks forward one hour. We are seriously starting to think now about solar astronomy. As the fishhook of Maui sinks towards the western horizon, and with it the galactic centre, there are still many wonderful objects to see in the night sky. The Magellanic Clouds are still there and especially the Small Magellanic Cloud is good to observe after sunset. Grus, the Crane – famous constellation with double doubles is getting close to the Zenith this month, the Sun is in Virgo until November the 1st and Pisces lay on the horizon at sunset. Mercury, Venus and the Moon all get up close and personal just after sunset on 30 October. Mercury and Venus will be just under three degrees apart and the waxing crescent Moon will be just 8 degrees away from the pair of planets. Through a telescope you’ll see the three different phases of the different celestial bodies, with the Moon being just a slither, Mercury being 35% illuminated and Venus, nearly full at 94%. To achieve this configuration Venus is on the other side of the Sun to Earth’s position, with Mercury almost half way between. Observable comets are also in the Southern Sky, 289P/Blanpain and C/2018 W2 Africano at the Aquarius end of Pisces.

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The sky of February – only the brightest!

Getting to know the southern sky is for ever a wonderfully strange experience. In any new place that I visit I always feel grateful for landmarks. On Earth, I am looking for trees and buildings and mountains, in the sky I always look for the brightest stars. Here in New Zealand, there are places and times when the light of the individual stars is lost in the haze of the Milky Way as if a blanket of tiny lights is covering the Earth at night.

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The sky of June – The Rising of the Galaxy

Out I went and nothing prepared me for what I saw that night. On the pitch dark sky of Wairarapa, with luscious hills that hold the horizon in sweet curves that rest the eye, a luminous whirlpool of stars was erupting from the east. Silver river of stars, one of its arms was meandering the eastern horizon in oval arched loops like an octopus’s arm that passed a Southern Cross marking the 12 o’clock position on the celestial time keeper of the south. The galactic arm was thinning down towards the western horizon and righteously so as the further we go from Scorpius and Sagittarius, we are actually looking towards the outskirts of our galaxy, where fewer stars venture. I stood there in silence watching the slow rising of the Galaxy and I realised that it was for the first time in my life when I was truly seeing it with my eyes.

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The sky of March – The Shining Ones

At the fringe of our milky city of stars, on the north-western horizon, the Pleiades, the Shining Ones (Te Tawhiti) are preparing for the journey to the underworld. They are to disappear shortly behind the Sun and will stay there for a while.

And the explanation goes that since people of old did not really have an explanation about space, in trying to figure out where exactly the Pleiades went, they invented a underworld. This is probably one of the reasons why this group of stars is so linked to stories of death, rebirth, and ancestors, and used to mark the beginning of the year in some cultures.