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Night Skies

Spring nights are getting shorter and warmer, so you are more likely to want to stay up to view the delightful spring sky. You will still need to warm clothing when you walk away from the campfire to catch our spring gems, but they are worth it. This spring starts with all five bright planets lined up in the evening sky although Jupiter and Mercury are soon lost to view. There is lots of good planetary viewing for most of spring. For the early risers, there is a penumbral eclipse of the Moon mid-September.

The nights of the spring Full Moons are Saturday September 17, Sunday October 16 and Monday November 15. Nights on and around the full Moon make moving around camp easy, but the bright Moon washes out the glorious stars.

Spring starts will all five bright planets visible in the evening sky, something that hasn’t happened since 2005. Venus, Jupiter and Mercury form a triangle in twilight early in September, but Jupiter and Mercury are soon lost to view. Bright Venus is easily recognisable as the brightest object in the western evening during twilight in September. Venus then climbs into darker skies in October, passing between Saturn and Antares on October 28, and November, where it initially forms a triangle with Saturn and the bright red star Antares then passes through the “teapot” of Sagittarius.

At the beginning of spring, you may wish to raise your eyes from the drama on the horizon as well. High above the western horizon is the distinctive back to front question mark of the constellation Scorpius, the scorpion. Antares (the brightest star in Scorpius), Saturn and red Mars form a bright triangle near the heart of the scorpion (more description of Scorpius below). As September continues, the triangle becomes longer as Mars heads toward the cluster rich region between Scorpius and the “teapot” of Sagittarius. Mars is also becoming dimmer, but is still easily recognisable. In late September Mars will be in binocular range of a number of bright clusters and Nebula, and will look fantastic. In October Mars moves through the “lid” of the teapot, coming close to several bright stars, and on the 9th and 10th close to the bright globular cluster M22. This should look excellent in binoculars. In late October and November Mars is between Sagittarius and Capricornius in a rather star poor area.

Jupiter appears in the morning skies in late October and November, but will be difficult to see until late November. Mercury returns to the evening sky in November and is close to Saturn low in the twilight on November 22.

On September 3 the thin crescent Moon is inside the triangle formed by Venus, Jupiter and Mercury. On September 9 the waxing Moon forms a kite shape with Mars, Saturn and Antares. On October 4 the crescent Moon is close to Venus and on October 6, the Crescent Moon, Saturn and Antares form a line in the early evening sky. On the 8th the waxing Moon and Mars are at their closest. On November 3 the thin crescent Moon froms a triangle with Saturn and Venus, on November 6 the crescent Moon is close to Mars. On November 23 Jupiter and the crescent Moon are close in the eastern dawn sky in the morning.

In the early hours of September 17 you may see the northern regions of the moon slightly darken due to a penumbral eclipse. During total and partial lunar eclipses, the Moon is immersed in the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, but in a penumbral eclipse, the Moon is in the penumbra, the fainter outer part of Earth’s shadow.

You will be able to see this eclipse from start to maximum in South Australia. However, astronomical twilight begins just half an hour after maximum, so the faint penumbral shadow will be washed out by the twilight glow well before the eclipse ends. In South Australia the eclipse starts at 2:23 am, is at maximum extent at 4:24 am, and twilight begins at 4:48 am with the eclipse ending at 6:26 am.

At the start of spring, the distinctive curled question mark of Scorpius the scorpion is high in the western sky, but it gets progressively lower, dissapearing at the end of November. Facing west, the head of Scorpius is defined by three bright stars. A bright red star in the body of the question mark (Antares) marks the heart of Scorpius.

Another obvious constellation is Sagittarius, the archer. Or rather, for Australians it is the distinctive grouping of stars below the curl of Scorpio’s tail we call the “teapot”. The teapot is upside down, with the lid facing the horizon, and the spout pointing towards the tail of the Scorpion. The centre of our Galaxy is here, between the spout and the Scorpions tail. At the start of spring, the Milky Way arches across the sky, however as the months go on it lowers towards the western horizon, and is lost to view in late November. The Milky Way’s glowing star-clouds and dark dusty lanes are still excellent for most of Spring though.. If you have a pair of binoculars on you, hunting around the tail of the Scorpion will show a wealth of open clusters and nebula.

The eastern horizon, in contrast, is devoid of bright and interesting constellations for most of spring.

By the end of November, Taurus, Orion and the bright star Sirius can be seen gracing the eastern horizon around 10pm. In the north, the only readily distinguishable star is bright white Altair. Flanked by two dimmer stars, this is the heart of the constellation of Aquilla, the eagle.

Looking south, at the beginning of Spring the Southern Cross and the two pointers are obvious, with the axis of the cross almost parallel to the horizon at around 10 pm. As spring wears on, the Southern Cross rotates towards the southern horizon. By mid spring the cross will be upside down, grazing the southern horizon, and difficult to see without a clear level horizon. Happy night sky watching.

Categories: Environment

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