The Solar System In December 2017

Dates and times shown are NZDT (UT + 13 hours) unless otherwise stated. Times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

The southern summer solstice is on December 22 with the Sun appearing furthest south at 5.28 am, about 12 minutes before sunrise at Wellington.

 

             December  1  NZDT          December 31  NZDT
      SUN:  rise 5.40am, set 8.39pm    rise 5.47am, set 8.59pm
Twilights    morning     evening        morning     evening

Civil:    start 5.10am, end 9.10pm   start 5.17am, end 9.31pm

Nautical: start 4.28am, end 9.52pm   start 4.34am, end10.14pm

Astro:    start 3.40am, end10.41pm   start 3.42am, end11.05pm

 

December Phases of the Moon (times NZDT, as shown by GUIDE)

  Full moon:     December  4 at  4.47am (Dec  3, 15:47 UT)
  Last quarter   December 10 at  8.51pm (07:51 UT)
  New moon:      December 18 at  7.30pm (16:30 UT)
  First quarter: December 26 at 10.20pm (09:20 UT)

The Planets in December 2018

Of the five naked eye planets only Mars and Jupiter will be far enough from the Sun for viewing and they are in the morning sky. Mars will be the better placed, especially early in the month.

Mercury, Venus and Saturn are all close to the Sun and at best make difficult objects. Mercury and Saturn are in the early evening sky at the beginning of December but reach conjunction during the month.

Mars starts December in Virgo rising more than two hours before the Sun. On the 1st it will be 3° below Spica, the planet being the fainter object at magnitude 1.7 compared to Spica's 1.1. On the 21st Mars will cross into Libra. By the 31st it will rise 3 hours before the Sun

During December Mars will be catching up with Jupiter, they are 16° apart on the 1st but only 3° apart on the 31st.

Jupiter is in Libra all month. It rises just over 80 minutes before the Sun on the 1st. This is close to the start of nautical twilight so Jupiter will not be an easy object low in the twilit sky. By the end of December Jupiter rises more than 3 hours before the Sun, only 9 minutes after Mars. The two planets will be more than 20° up an hour before sunrise, Jupiter more than 3 magnitudes brighter than Mars.

The crescent moon will be some 5° below Mars on the morning of the 14th and a similar distance from Jupiter the following morning, also Vesta will be less than a degree to the right of the moon.

Mercury starts the month as an evening object setting nearly 2 hours after the Sun. 45 minutes after sunset, Mercury at magnitude 0.0 will be 8° above the horizon towards the west-south-west. On the 3rd of December, the planet is stationary, after which it starts moving to the west towards the Sun which itself will be moving to the east. Their separation will decrease rapidly over the next few days until Mercury is at inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 13th. At conjunction Mercury will pass 1.5° north of the Sun.

After conjunction Mercury will be a morning object. By the end of the month it will rise 85 minutes before the Sun, so will be a very low object a little to the south of east as the sky brightens.

Saturn will also finally disappear from the evening sky during December. On the 1st it will be nearly 3° to the lower right of Mercury, making Saturn even more difficult to see. It is at conjunction with the Sun on the 22nd. After conjunction it too becomes a morning object but will be too low for easy observation rising only half an hour before the Sun on the 31st.

Venus is close to the Sun all month. It rises 28 minutes before the Sun on the 1st. This reduces to only 11 minutes earlier on the 31st.

Outer Planets

Uranus is in Pisces during December. It is well placed in the evening sky once it is dark. It sets about 1.45 am at the end of December.

Neptune is also an evening object setting about 100 minutes before Uranus. So at the end of December it sets just after midnight. The planet is an Aquarius at magnitude 7.9.

Pluto, magnitude 14.5, remains in Sagittarius. By the end of December it sets only have an hour after the Sun.

Brightest Minor Planets

(1) Ceres is a morning object in Leo, brightening from magnitude 8.1 to 7.5 during the month.

(2) Pallas is in Fornax during December. It dims a little from magnitude 8.4 to 8.7 during the month.

(4) Vesta is in Libra during December quite close to Jupiter. At their closest on December 11, Vesta will be about 4° from the gas giant. Vesta at magnitude 8 will rise two and a half hours before the Sun on the 31st.

(7) Iris dims from magnitude 7.8 to 8.6 during December. The asteroid is an evening object in Aries.

(8) Flora is a morning object brightening from magnitude 9.1 to 8.3 during December. It is in Gemini two days short of opposition on the 31st.

(20) Massalia starts December in Orion at magnitude 9.0. It crosses into Taurus on the 11th, reaches opposition on the 17th with a magnitude 8.4 and fades to 8.9 by the end of the month. It is in the sky most of the night.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in December 2017

Download a PDF containing this chart, additional charts for specific areas of the sky and descriptions of interesting objects visible at this time of year.

The Evening Sky in December 2017

The brightest stars are in the east and south. Sirius, the brightest of all the stars, is due east at dusk, often twinkling like a diamond. Left of it is the bright constellation of Orion. The line of three stars makes Orion's belt in the classical constellation. To southern hemisphere skywatchers they make the bottom of 'The Pot'. The faint line of stars above the bright three is the Pot's handle or Orion's sword. At its centre is the Orion Nebula, a glowing gas cloud nicely seen in binoculars. Rigel, directly above the line of three stars, is a hot blue-giant star 770 light years* away. Orange Betelgeuse, below the line of three, is a cooler red-giant star 430 light years away.

Mercury and Saturn (not on the chart) are low in the southwest twilight at the beginning of the month, right of the Scorpion's tail, setting 80 minutes after the Sun. Mercury is above Saturn and slightly brighter at first, but fades and sinks toward Saturn. The two appear close together on the 7th. After that Mercury quickly disappears into the twilight with Saturn slowly following.

Left of Orion is a triangular group making the upside down face of Taurus the bull. Orange Aldebaran, at one tip of the V shape, is one eye of Taurus. The stars on and around the V, except for Aldebaran, are the Hyades cluster. It is 150 light years away. Aldebaran is not a member of the cluster. It just happens to be on the line-of-sight at about half the cluster's distance. Further left is the Pleiades/Matariki/Subaru cluster, a tight grouping of six naked-eye stars impressive in binoculars. It is 440 light years away.

Canopus, the second brightest star, is high in the southeast. Low in the south are the Pointers, Beta and Alpha Centauri, and Crux the Southern Cross upside down at this time of the year. In some Maori star lore the bright southern Milky Way makes the canoe of Maui with Crux being the canoe's anchor hanging off the side. In this picture the Scorpion's tail, just setting, can be the canoe's prow and the Clouds of Magellan are the sails.

The Milky Way is wrapped around the horizon. The broadest part is in Sagittarius low in the west at dusk. It narrows toward Crux in the south and becomes faint in the east below Orion. The Milky Way is our edgewise view of the galaxy, the pancake of billions of stars of which the sun is just one. The thick hub or central bulge of the galaxy, 30 000 light years away, is in Sagittarius. The nearby outer edge is the faint part of the Milky Way below Orion. A scan along the Milky Way with binoculars finds many clusters of stars and a few glowing gas clouds.

The Clouds of Magellan, LMC and SMC, high in the southern sky, are two small galaxies about 160 000 and 200 000 light years away, respectively. They are easily seen by eye on a dark moonless night. The larger cloud is about 1/20th the mass of the Milky Way galaxy, the smaller cloud 1/30th but that is still many billions of stars in each.

Very low in the north is the Andromeda Galaxy seen in binoculars in a dark sky as a spindle of light. It is a bit bigger than our Milky Way galaxy and nearly three million light years away.

Mars, Jupiter and later Mercury appear in the eastern dawn sky. On the 1st reddish Mars rises due east after 3:30, appearing below the blue-white star Spica. Golden Jupiter is the brightest 'star' in the morning sky, rising around 4:30. By mid-month Spica, Mars and Jupiter appear equally spaced along a diagonal line. By the 31st Jupiter is low in the east at 3 a.m. with Mars, much fainter, above and left of it. Mercury begins a rapid ascent of the dawn sky in the last third of December after passing between us and Sun. By the 23rd it will be rising an hour before the Sun, appearing directly below orange Antares, a position it holds till the end of the month.

*A light year (l.y.)is the distance that light travels in one year: nearly 10 million million km. Sunlight takes eight minutes to get here; moonlight about one second. Sunlight reaches Neptune, the outermost major planet, in four hours. It takes sunlight four years to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri.

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817
P.O. Box 57 Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

The Solar System In November 2017

Dates and times shown are NZDT (UT + 13 hours) unless otherwise stated.

Sunrise, Sunset and Twilight Times in November

Times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

                    November  1  NZDT               November 31  NZST
       SUN: rise:   6.05am,  set:  8.04pm    rise:   5.40am,  set:  8.38pm
  Twilights     morning       evening            morning       evening
  Civil:    starts: 5.38am,  ends: 8.32pm    starts: 5.10am,  ends: 9.09pm
  Nautical: starts: 5.02am,  ends: 9.08pm    starts: 4.29am,  ends: 9.51pm
  Astro:    starts: 4.23am,  ends: 9.47pm    starts: 3.41am,  ends:10.39pm

November Phases of the Moon (times NZST, as shown by GUIDE)

          Full moon:     November  4 at  6.23 pm (05:23 UT)
  Last quarter   November 11 at  9.37 am (Nov 10, 20:37 UT)
  New moon:      November 19 at 12.42 am (Nov 18, 11:42 UT)
  First quarter: November 27 at  6.03 am (Nov 26, 17:03 UT)

The Planets in November 2017

Two planets are visible in the evening sky, Mercury and Saturn. Mercury sets over two hours before Saturn on the 1st, but some 15 minutes later than Saturn on the 30th.

The other three naked eye planets are morning objects. Venus rises about 30 minutes before the Sun all month, Mars increases its distance from the Sun so rising 2 hours before the Sun at the end of November. Jupiter will be too close to the Sun to see at the beginning of the month, but should become briefly visible very low about 50 minutes before sunrise by the end of the month

Evening Sky

Mercury is an early evening object but will be very low when the sky is dark enough to see the planet. On the 1st , 45 minutes after sunset, the planet at magnitude -0.4 will be 5°above the horizon. At the end of November, 45 minutes after sunset, Mercury will be a little higher, 8.5° and slightly fainter, magnitude -0.1.

On the last few days of November Mercury will be quite close to Saturn, the latter being some 3° to the lower right of Mercury. Earlier in the month on the evening of the 13th the planet will be just over 2°to the right of Antares. Earlier still in November the planet will be less than 2 arc minutes from the magnitude star delta Scorpii on the morning of November 8, in daylight for NZ.

Saturn is an early evening object during November. It sets just over 3 and a half hours after the Sun on the first, an interval decreasing to 86 minutes by the 30th. The planet stars November in Ophiuchus but moves on into Sagittarius mid month.

The crescent moon will be some 4.5° to the right of Saturn as seen soon after sunset on the 21st.

Morning Sky

Venus is a nominal morning object, but it rises only about half an hour before the Sun all month. This will make it a difficult object despite its brightness, magnitude -3.9. Look for the planet low to the east shortly before sunrise. During the month Venus passes Jupiter, the two are less than half a degree apart on the morning of November 14. Shortly before sunrise the two will be less than 4° up and a little to the south of east.

Mars rises 75 minutes before the Sun on the 1st and 2 hours before it on the 30th, so is better placed in the morning sky than is Venus. But it is 5 magnitudes fainter. Mars is in Virgo and at the end of the month will be only 3° from Spica, at magnitude 1.1 the brightest star in the constellation. The crescent moon will be some 5° to the left of Mars on the morning of the 15th.

Jupiter is the third of the morning planets. It was at conjunction with the Sun at the end of October, so will be too close to the Sun to see during the first part of November. By the end of the month it will rise 80 minutes before the Sun. 40 minutes before sunrise on the morning of the 30th, Jupiter will be about 6.5° up and a little to the south of east. The planet starts the month in Virgo but crosses into Libra mid month.

Outer Planets

Uranus is in Pisces during November. Having been at opposition during October, it will be well paced in the evening sky once it is dark. The planet rises 80 minutes before sunset on the 1st increasing to almost 4 hours earlier on the 30th. The almost full moon is a few degrees from Uranus on the 3rd.

Neptune rises some three and three-quarter hours before Uranus, so is also a well placed evening object. By the end of November it sets about 2am. The planet is in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9. The moon close to first quarter is about 1.5° from Neptune on the 27th.

Pluto, magnitude 14.4, remains in Sagittarius. Like Uranus and Neptune, it is an evening object, although it will set near 11.30 pm by the end of the month. During November, Pluto will be slowly moving away from the 2.9 magnitude star pi Sgr. By the 30th they will be a little over 1.5° apart.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres is a morning object in Cancer. It starts November in Cancer at magnitude 8.5, crosses into Leo on the 21st and ends the month at magnitude 8.1

(2) Pallas is in Fornax during November. It is at its brightest, magnitude 8.2 in the first part of the month, being at opposition on the 8th. When it will by some 254 million km, 1.70 AU, from the Earth. After opposition it will slowly start to fade but still be magnitude 8.4 at the end of November.

(4) Vesta is in Virgo during most of November. It will be a low morning 8th magnitude object. On the 1st it will be 3.5° from Venus but the latter will soon move away from the asteroid. Vesta crosses into Libra on the 29th, by then it will be less than 6° from Jupiter.

(7) Iris, following its opposition at the end of October, will dim a little from magnitude 6.9 to 7.7, the reverse of October. Even so, it remains the brightest asteroid this month. Iris's path in Aries takes it away from Hamal and towards beta Ari, magnitude 2.6. At their closest the two are just over a degree apart on the 8th, with Iris to the right of beta as seen about 10 pm. The asteroid's apparent movement is mostly to the south and it is stationary at the end of the month.

(8) Flora brightens from magnitude 9.7 to 9.1 during November It is a morning object rising about 1 am and spends the month in Gemini. It starts November about 1.5° from eta Gem magnitude 3.6. The two are closest on the morning of the 8th with Flora 0.25° north of eta.

(20) Massalia, like Flora brightens from magnitude 9.8 to 9.0 during November. It also starts the month in Gemini, but further west than Iris, near the border with Orion which Massalia crosses into on the 27th. Massalia starts November about 1.8° to the west of the red star Praepes, eta gem

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in November 2017

Download a PDF containing this chart, additional charts for specific areas of the sky and descriptions of interesting objects visible at this time of year.

The Evening Sky in November 2017

Bright stars rise in the east while bright planets set in the west. Canopus, the second brightest star is well up the southeast sky at dusk. Sirius, the brightest star, rises a little south of east. Less bright stars appear left of Sirius. On the opposite side of the sky Mercury and Saturn are the brightest 'stars' in the west.

At the beginning of the month Saturn is due west at dusk, setting in the southwest around 11:40. Below and left of Saturn is the orange star Antares marking Scorpio's body. The Scorpion's tail and sting make a back-to-front question mark above Antares. Lower and left again is Mercury, setting 70 minutes after the Sun. The stars and Saturn sink lower night-to-night but Mercury moves higher. On the 14th Mercury will be level with Antares with Saturn well above and to the right. On the 24th Mercury and Saturn will be level toward the southeast. Mercury, on the left, is the brighter of the two. They set two hours after the Sun. The Moon will be near Saturn on the 21st.

Sirius, the brightest star, rises in the later evening at the beginning of the month. By month's end it is in the sky at dusk, twinkling like a diamond as the air disperses its light. Left of Sirius is the constellation of Orion, with 'The Pot' at its centre. Rigel, a bluish supergiant star, is directly above the line of three stars; Betelgeuse, a red-giant star, is straight below. Left again is orange Aldebaran. It is at one tip of a triangular group called the Hyades cluster. The Hyades and Aldebaran make the upside down face of Taurus the bull. Still further left is the Pleiades or Matariki star cluster, also called The Seven Sisters, Subaru and many other names. Six stars are visible to the eye; dozens are seen in binoculars. The cluster is 440 light years* away and around 70 million years old.

Sirius is the brightest star both because it is relatively close, nine light years away. Seen up close it would be 23 times brighter than the sun. By contrast, Canopus is 300 light years away and 13 000 times brighter than the sun.

The Milky Way is low in the sky, visible around the horizon from the northwest, through west and south and around into the eastern sky. It is our edgewise view of the galaxy, the pancake of billions of stars of which the Sun is just one. The broadest, brightest part is in Sagittarius in the west to the right of the Scorpion's sting. That's where the thick hub of the galaxy lies, 30 000 light years away, mostly hidden by clouds of smoke-like dust. The thin nearby edge of the Milky Way is below Orion on the opposite side of the sky.

Low in the south are the Pointers, Beta and Alpha Centauri, and Crux the Southern Cross upside down. In some Maori star lore the bright southern Milky Way makes the canoe of Maui with Crux being the canoe's anchor hanging off the side. In this picture the Scorpion's tail can be the canoe's prow and the Clouds of Magellan are the sails. Alpha Centauri is the closest naked-eye star; 4.3 light years away.

The Clouds of Magellan, (LMC and SMC), high in the southern sky, are two small galaxies about 160 000 and 200 000 light years away, respectively. They are easily seen by eye on a dark moonless night. The larger Cloud is about 1/20th the mass of the Milky Way galaxy, the smaller Cloud 1/30th. That's still billions of stars in each. The globular star cluster 47 Tucanae looks like a slightly fuzzy star near the top-right edge of the SMC. It is 'only' 16 000 light years away and merely on the line of sight to the SMC. Globular clusters are spherical clouds of stars many billions of years old.

Very low in the north is the Andromeda Galaxy, easily seen in binoculars in a dark sky and faintly visible to the eye. It appears as a spindle of light. It is similar in shape to our galaxy but is a little bigger and nearly three million light years away.

Mars, Venus and Jupiter are all in the dawn sky so not on the chart. At the beginning of the month all three planets are hidden in the twilight. Venus and Jupiter make a close pair around the 12th but very low in the east, rising only 30 minutes before the Sun. By the end of November Mars rises two hours before the Sun. It is a medium-bright reddish 'star' just below the blue-white star Spica. Jupiter is then rising 80 minutes before the Sun and is the brightest 'star' in the dawn sky.

*A light year (l.y.)is the distance that light travels in one year: nearly 10 million million km. Sunlight takes eight minutes to get here; moonlight about one second. Sunlight reaches Neptune, the outermost major planet, in four hours. It takes sunlight four years to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri.

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817
P.O. Box 57 Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

The Solar System In October 2017

Dates and times shown are NZDT (UT + 13 hours) unless otherwise stated.

Sunrise, Sunset and Twilight Times in October

Times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

                    October  1  NZDT               October 31  NZST
       SUN: rise:   6.53am,  set:  7.28pm    rise:   6.06am,  set:  8.02pm
  Twilights     morning       evening            morning       evening
  Civil:    starts: 6.28am,  ends: 7.54pm    starts: 5.48am,  ends: 8.30pm
  Nautical: starts: 5.55am,  ends: 8.27pm    starts: 5.04am,  ends: 9.07pm
  Astro:    starts: 5.22am,  ends: 9.01pm    starts: 4.25am,  ends: 9.46pm

October Phases of the Moon (times NZST, as shown by GUIDE)

          Full moon:     October  6 at  9.40 am (Oct  5, 18:40 UT)
  Last quarter   October 13 at  1.26 am (Oct 12, 12:26 UT)
  New moon:      October 20 at  8.12 am (Oct 19, 19:12 UT)
  First quarter: October 28 at 11.22 am (Oct 27, 22:22 UT)

The Planets in October 2017

Four of the five naked eye planets will be close to the Sun during October. During the month Mercury reaches superior conjunction and Jupiter is at conjunction on the 27th. On the other hand Uranus is at opposition on the 20th. Saturn is the only naked eye planet readily visible - unless you can spot Uranus at magnitude 5.7.

Mercury is at superior conjunction at the far side of the Sun on October 9, NZ time. At conjunction Mercury will pass just under 1° north of the Sun. The planet will be 210.7 million km, 1.41 AU, from the Earth and 0.41 AU beyond the Sun.

Following conjunction the planet will become an evening object setting after the Sun. By the end of the month Mercury that will be an hour and a quarter later than the Sun. The planet, at magnitude -0.4, could just be visible some 45 minutes after sunset but very low at an altitude of 4.5° in a direction between midway between west and north west.

Venus is a very low morning object during October. On the 1st it rises 50 minutes before the Sun, by the 31st this will have reduced to just over 30 earlier. It will be about 4.5° up and to the east just before sunrise. On the morning of the 6th there is a close conjunction of Venus and Mars. The problem is that Venus will be only some 3° up at the start of civil twilight. If you have a good horizon to the east, Venus, Magnitude -3.9, should then be visible a little north of east. Mars will be only 12 arc minutes away, one-fifth of a degree almost directly above Venus. At magnitude 1.8 it is doubtful if it will be visible by eye, but binoculars should show it up. At Wellington the time of this is 6.20 am NZDT. At Auckland civil twilight starts about 4 minutes later with the planets about 4.5° up. At the other end of NZ, for Invercargill civil twilight starts at 6.38 am, but Venus will then be only 1.5° up.

Mars, now a morning object, rises 45 minutes before the Sun on October 1 and just over 70 minutes before the Sun on the 31st.as its distance from the Sun increases. This will make it a little more visible, but it will be only some 6° up at 5.30 am in Wellington. By then Mars will be 15° from Venus.

Mars starts October in Leo and moves into Virgo on October 12.

Jupiter starts October in the evening sky. On the 1st half an hour after sunset it will be some 11° up almost due west, with Spica 5° away to the lower left of the planet. Better views May be obtained a little while later, but Jupiter will set about 100 minutes after the Sun.

The planet will get steadily lower in the early evening sky during October to eventually get lost in twilight. Jupiter reaches conjunction with the Sun on the 27th, NZ time. At conjunction Jupiter will pass just under 1° north of the Sun. It will then be 963 million km, 6.43 AU, from the Earth and 5.44 AU beyond the Sun. After conjunction Jupiter becomes a morning object but will be too close to the Sun to see during the rest of October.

Saturn is readily visible in the evening sky during October although by the end of the month it will set a few minutes before midnight. The planet is in Ophiuchus moving away from Antares. On the 1st the two will be 13.5° apart, a separation increasing by 2° during the month.

The crescent moon passes Saturn on the evening of October 24. At 10 pm the two will be just over 4° apart with the moon below and to the right of Saturn. The magnitude 2.5 star eta Oph will be a similar distance away directly below the moon.

Outer Planets

Uranus is at opposition on the night of October 19/20 NZ time. The actual opposition is close to the time of the new moon. Uranus will be at its brightest, magnitude 5.7, and so May be visible to the naked eye from a dark sky site. Good eyesight will be needed. At least there will be no moon.

Uranus, in Pisces, will be 6° to the upper right of the magnitude 3.6 star eta Psc and 1.7° to the upper left of omicron, magnitude 4.3. At 10pm on the 19th, Uranus will be 23° up at azimuth 52° that is a little east of northeast. Uranus will transit just after 1am when it will be due north and at its highest, 39° up.

Neptune is also in the evening sky at magnitude 7.8 in Aquarius. On the night of October 3/4 the moon will occult Neptune for viewers in New Zealand. Times range from 12:16 at Invercargill to 12:42 at Auckland The moon will be near full, 94% lit, but the event should be visible with a modest telescope given Neptune's 7.8 magnitude.

The occultation will occur just a little north of centre on the moon unlit limb. The event will not be instantaneous, the disk of Neptune taking some 6.2 seconds to disappear completely.

Pluto, magnitude 14.4, remains in Sagittarius. It will be about a degree from the 2.9 magnitude star pi Sgr. As seen at 10 pm the planet will be almost directly above the star.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres is a morning object in Cancer. It starts October at magnitude 8.8 and brightens slightly during the month to magnitude 8.6.

(2) Pallas is in Eridanus most of October but moves into Fornax on the 28th. During the month it brightens a little from magnitude 8.5 to 8.2. ON October 1 it rises close to 9 pm and set 14 hours later. By the end of October it rises at 6 pm and remains in the sky at Wellington for close to 15.5 hours.

(4) Vesta is in Virgo during October, magnitude 7.8 to 7.9. On the 1st it is only 5.2° from the Sun and virtually at conjunction. After the 1st it becomes a nominal morning object, but by the 31st will rise only 15 minutes before the Sun.

(7) Iris is in Aries throughout October, brightening from magnitude 7.7 to 6.9 during the month, making it the brightest asteroid all month. Iris's path in Aries takes it past the brightest star in the constellation, Hamal magnitude 2.00. On the 23rd Iris will be 1.4° to the upper right of the star as seen about 11 pm. Five nights later Iris will be at opposition, 127 million km, 0.85 AU from the Earth

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in October 2017

Download a PDF containing this chart, additional charts for specific areas of the sky and descriptions of interesting objects visible at this time of year.

The Evening Sky in October 2017

Jupiter is the 'evening star' at the beginning of the month when it appears on the west horizon in the early twilight and sets around 8 p.m. It falls lower in the twilight night to night, disappearing around the middle of the month. Jupiter is on the far side of the Sun from us, 960 million km away.

Saturn is midway down the western sky at dusk, the brightest 'star' in that region. Well below and left of it is the orange star Antares. Saturn sets in the southwest after midnight at the beginning of October; before 11 pm by the end. It is 1570 million km away mid-month. Saturn appears oval-shaped in binoculars and small telescopes as the planet and the rings blend together. Larger telescopes show the rings, currently at their most 'open' or most tilted to our view. Saturn's biggest moon, Titan, looks like a star four ring-diameters from the planet. Smaller, fainter moons are closer in. The crescent moon will be below Saturn on the 24th.

Antares marks the body of the Scorpion. The Scorpion's tail loops up the sky in the evening, making a back-to-front question mark with Antares being the dot. The curved tail is the 'fish-hook of Maui' in Maori star lore. Antares is a red giant star: 600 light years* away and 19 000 times brighter than the sun. Red giants are dying stars, wringing the last of the thermo-nuclear energy from their cores. Massive ones like Antares end in a spectacular supernova explosion. Antares is about 20 times heavier than the sun. Above and right of the Scorpion's tail is 'the teapot' made by the brightest stars of Sagittarius. It is upside down in our southern hemisphere view.

Canopus is low in the southeast at dusk often twinkling colourfully. It swings up into the eastern sky during the night. Canopus is 13 000 times the sun's brightness and 300 light years* away. On the north skyline is Vega, setting in the early evening. It is 50 times brighter than the sun, 25 light years away and the 5th brightest star in the sky. From northern New Zealand the star Deneb is on the north skyline.

In the southwest are 'The Pointers ', Beta and Alpha Centauri, making a vertical pair. They point down to Crux the Southern Cross. Alpha Centauri, the top Pointer, is the closest naked eye star at 4.3 light years away. Beta Centauri is a blue-giant star, very hot and very luminous, hundreds of light years away.

The Milky Way is brightest and broadest in Scorpius and Sagittarius. In a dark sky it can be traced down to the south. In the north it meets the skyline right of Vega. From northern New Zealand the star Deneb can be seen near the north skyline in the Milky Way. It is the brightest star in Cygnus the Swan. The Milky Way is

our edgewise view of the galaxy, the pancake of billions of stars of which the sun is just one. The thick hub

of the galaxy, 30 000 light years away, is in Sagittarius. The actual centre, with a black hole four million times the sun's mass, is hidden by dust clouds in space. Its direction is a little outside the Teapot's spout. The nearer 'interstellar' clouds appear as gaps and slots in the Milky Way. The dust and gas has come from old stars that have thrown much of their material back into space as they faded or blew up. New stars eventually condense from this stuff. A scan along the Milky Way with binoculars shows many clusters of new stars and some glowing clouds of left-over gas. There are many in Scorpius and Sagittarius and in the Carina region.

The Large and Small Clouds of Magellan, LMC and SMC, look like two misty patches of light in the southeast sky. They are easily seen by eye on a dark moonless night. They are galaxies like our Milky Way but much smaller. The Large Cloud is about 5% the mass of our Galaxy and the small one 3%. That is still many billions of stars in each. The LMC is around 160 000 light years away; the SMC around 200 000 l.y.

On moonless evenings in a dark rural sky the Zodiacal Light is visible in the west. It looks like late twilight: a faint broad column of light tilted toward Antares, fading out at the Milky Way. It is sunlight reflecting off meteoric dust in the plane of the solar system. The dust may have come from a big comet, centuries ago.

Brilliant Venus (not shown) might be seen on the eastern horizon at dawn. At the beginning of the month it rises 50 minutes before the Sun. It sinks lower in the twilight as it moves to the far side of the Sun from us.

*A light year (l.y.) is the distance that light travels in one year: nearly 10 million million km or 1013 km. Sunlight takes

eight minutes to get here; moonlight about one second. Sunlight reaches Neptune, the outermost major planet, in four hours. It takes four years to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri.

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817
P.O. Box 57 Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

December Moon & Planet data for 2017


The follwing table lists various solar system object events during December. A list of astronomical terms used in may be found after the table.

December 3 Mercury stationary
December 3 Aldebaran 0.8 degrees south of the Moon Occn
December 3 Moon full
December 4 Moon at perigee
December 5 Moon northern most declination (20.0 degrees)
December 6 Mercury 1.4 degrees south of Saturn
December 8 Regulus 0.7 degrees south of the Moon Occn
December 9 Venus 5.0 degrees north of Antares
December 10 Moon last quarter
December 13 Mercury inferior conjunction
December 13 Mars 3.9 degrees south of the Moon
December 14 Jupiter 4.0 degrees south of the Moon
December 15 Mercury 2.2 degrees north of Venus
December 17 Mercury 1.8 degrees south of the Moon
December 17 Venus 4.1 degrees south of the Moon
December 18 Moon new
December 18 Saturn 2.7 degrees south of the Moon
December 19 Moon at apogee
December 19 Moon southern most declination (-20.1 degrees)
December 20 Pluto 1.9 degrees south of the Moon
December 21 Solstice
December 21 Saturn at conjunction
December 23 Mercury stationary
December 24 Neptune 1.4 degrees north of the Moon
December 25 Venus 1.1 degrees south of Saturn
December 26 Moon first quarter
December 27 Uranus 4.2 degrees north of the Moon
December 31 Aldebaran 0.8 degrees south of the Moon Occn
  • apogee: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
  • conjunction: Two astronomical objects are 'lined up' (have the same right ascension) when viewed from Earth. If only one object is mentioned the Sun is generally the other object.
  • declination: 'Latitude' for celestial objects. The distance in degress above (north) or below (south) the celestial equator.
  • inferior conjunction: Conjunction where a solar system object is between the Earth and the Sun
  • perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth

The Solar System In September 2017

NZDT starts at 2am on the morning of September 24 when clocks should be advanced by 1 hour, bringing NZ time to UT + 13 hours. Dates and times shown are NZST (UT + 12 hours) until September 23 and then NZDT for the rest of the month, unless otherwise stated. The southern spring equinox is on September 23, NZ time, with the Sun crossing the celestial equator at about 8am.

Sunrise, Sunset and Twilight Times in September

Times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

                    September  1  NZST               September 30  NZDT
       SUN: rise:   6.43am,  set:  5.58pm    rise:   6.54am,  set:  7.27pm
  Twilights     morning       evening            morning       evening
  Civil:    starts: 6.18am,  ends: 6.24pm    starts: 6.29am,  ends: 7.53pm
  Nautical: starts: 5.46am,  ends: 6.56pm    starts: 5.57am,  ends: 8.26pm
  Astro:    starts: 5.15am,  ends: 7.28pm    starts: 5.23am,  ends: 8.59pm

September Phases of the Moon times (NZST/NZDT), as shown by GUIDE

          Full moon:     September  6 at  7.03 pm (07:03 UT)
  Last quarter   September 13 at  6.25 pm (06:25 UT)
  New moon:      September 20 at  5.30 pm (05:30 UT)
  First quarter: September 28 at  3.54 pm (02:54 UT)

The Planets in September 2017

The three terrestrial planets, Mercury, Venus and Mars, are all morning objects rising shortly before the Sun. Venus should be observable, especially early in the month. Mercury and Mars are not likely to be observable at any time.

Mercury rise 38 minutes before the Sun on September 1. The planet is at its greatest elongation 18° west of the Sun on the 12th but still rises only 39 minutes before the Sun. At the end of September, Mercury rises only 6 minutes before the Sun.

Venus starts off a little better than Mercury, rising nearly an hour and a half before the Sun. Half an hour before sunrise it will be some 9° up so easily visible as a low brilliant object. It will be well round to the north from east, The planet gets closer to the Sun as September progresses, so that by the 30th it will rise 50 minutes before the Sun. As a result, Venus will be then very low shortly before the Sun rises, and not as far to the north of east as at the beginning of the month.

Mars rises 23 minutes before the Sun on September 1. By the end of the month it will rise about 40 minutes earlier than the Sun and be 3.5° to the lower right of Venus. At magnitude 1.8 Mars and only a degree or two up half an hour before sunrise it is not going to be observable.

In the middle of the month the three terrestrial planets will form quite a tight group in Leo fairly close to Regulus. On the 18th they are joined by the Moon. In a period of just under 24 hours, the Moon will occult Venus, Regulus, Mars and Mercury as seen from some part of the Earth. The Venus event is visible, as a day time event, from all of Australia and New Zealand. At Wellington the time of disappearance is about 1:27 pm and the reappearance at 2:40 pm. The moon will be only a 6% lit crescent about 28° from the Sun. Binoculars are likely to show up the event, but the very thin crescent moon May be difficult to find.

Jupiter is visible in the early evening during September. It sets three and a half hours later than the Sun on the 1st, about 100 minutes later on the 30th so by then will be a low object to the west following sunset. Jupiter is in Virgo, close to Spica. At their closest on the 12th, the 1st magnitude star will be 3° to the left of the planet.

On the 22nd, the crescent moon will join the pair, when it will be just over 4° to the lower right of Jupiter. By then it would be best to be looking by 7pm or soon after. An hour later the three will be very low.

Saturn at least is visible all evening during September, although it will set about 1.40 am (NZDT) on the 30th. Saturn will be in Ophiuchus. Its encounter with the moon will be on the 27th, the moon being a day short of first quarter, about 5° to the right of Saturn mid evening.

Outer Planets

Uranus rises just before 10pm (NZST) on the 1st and close to 9 pm (NZDT) on the 30th. The planet is in Pisces at magnitude 5.7 throughout the month.

Neptune rises close to the time of sunset on September 1. By the 30th it will rise just after 5pm (NZDT) over 2 hours before the Sun sets. So it will then be well placed for viewing in the evening sky. The planet is in Aquarius at magnitude 7.8.

Pluto, magnitude 14.4, remains in Sagittarius. It will be just under a degree from the 2.9 magnitude star pi Sgr.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres, a morning object starts the month at magnitude 9.0 in Gemini. On the 18th it will cross into Cancer brightening slightly during the month to magnitude 8.8.

(2) Pallas is in Eridanus rising at 10.20 pm on the 1st. During September it brightens from magnitude 9.0 to 8.5.

(4) Vesta is in Leo at first and then Virgo during September. As an evening object it will set too soon after the Sun for observation.

(7) Iris is in Aries throughout September, brightening from magnitude 8.5 to 7.7 during the month. It rises at 11:12 pm on the 1st and 10.33 pm on the 30th. It is quite close to Hamal, alpha Ari magnitude 2.0. Their separation is 2.1° on the 1st, increasing to 3.7° on the 24th after which Iris starts moving back towards Hamal.

(89) Julia is in Pegasus all month. It is at opposition at the beginning of September. For a few nights it will reach magnitude 9.0. On the 2nd it will form a near equilateral triangle with the stars zeta Peg (mag 3.4) and xi Peg (mag 4.2). Julia?s motion will take it past zeta, the two being 8 arc-minutes apart on the 8th. By the end of September Julia will have faded to magnitude 9.4.

Near Earth Object (3122) FLORENCE rapidly fades in early September as its distance from the Earth increases. On the 1st it will be at mag 8.9, 7 million km from the Earth and moving at about 24 arc-minutes per hour. The next two nights finds it in Delphinus, magnitudes 9.1 and 9.3 respectively. It is in Vulpecula at magnitude 9.6 on the 4th and in Cygnus at 9.9 on the 5th. By then Florence will be 8.4 million km away with an apparent speed 17 arc minutes per hour.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in September 2017

Download a PDF containing this chart, additional charts for specific areas of the sky and descriptions of interesting objects visible at this time of year.

The Evening Sky in September 2017

Jupiter is the 'evening star', appearing midway down the western sky soon after sunset. It sets before 9 pm mid-month. We are leaving Jupiter behind on the far side of the Sun. It is 940 million km away. A small telescope shows Jupiter's disk and the four 'Galilean' moons lined up on each side of it. The thin crescent Moon will be below Jupiter on the 22nd.

Saturn is the only other naked-eye planet in the evening sky. It is just north of overhead at dusk, the brightest 'star' in that area. It sets in the southwest around 1 a.m. Saturn is 1500 million km away mid-month. Saturn is worth a look in any telescope. Good binoculars will show it as an oval, the planet and rings blended together. The Moon will be near Saturn on the 27th.

Arcturus is on the northwest skyline. Canopus, the brightest true star in the sky, skims along the southern skyline. Both stars are shining through a lot of air which makes them twinkle colourfully. Canopus, being white, shows all colours like a diamond. Orange Arcturus twinkles red and green. Canopus is matched on the northern skyline by Vega, the second-brightest northern star after Arcturus.

Canopus is a truly bright star: 13 000 times the sun's brightness and 300 light years* away. Vega is 52 times brighter than the sun and 25 light years away. From northern New Zealand the star Deneb can be seen near the north skyline in the Milky Way. It is the brightest star in Cygnus the Swan. Deneb is around 1400 light years away and 50 000 times brighter than the Sun.

Orange Antares, well left of Saturn, marks the body of the Scorpion. The Scorpion's tail hooks toward the zenith like a back-to-front question mark. It is the 'fish-hook of Maui' in Maori star lore. Antares is a red giant star: 600 light years away and 19 000 times brighter than the sun. It is a relatively cool 3000 C, hence its red-hot colour. Below or right of the Scorpion's tail is 'the teapot' made by the brightest stars of Sagittarius. It is upside down in our southern hemisphere view.

Midway down the southwest sky are 'The Pointers ', Beta and Alpha Centauri. They point down to Crux the Southern Cross. Alpha Centauri is the third brightest star. It is also the closest of the naked eye stars, 4.3 light years away. Beta Centauri, along with most of the stars in Crux, is a blue-giant star hundreds of light years away.

The Milky Way spans the sky from north to south. It is brightest and broadest overhead in Scorpius and Sagittarius. In a dark sky it can be traced down past the Pointers and Crux into the southwest. To the northeast it passes Altair, meeting the skyline right of Vega. The Milky Way is our edgewise view of the galaxy, the pancake of billions of stars of which the sun is just one. The thick hub of the galaxy, 27 000 light years away, is in Sagittarius. The actual centre is hidden by dust clouds in space. At the very centre is a black hole four million times the sun's mass. Dust clouds near us appear as gaps and slots in the Milky Way. Binoculars show many clusters of stars and some glowing gas clouds in the Milky Way.

The Large and Small Clouds of Magellan, LMC and SMC, look like two misty patches of light in the south sky. They are easily seen by eye on a dark moonless night. They are galaxies like our Milky Way but much smaller. The LMC is about 160 000 light years away; the SMC about 200 000 light years away.

On moonless evenings in a dark sky the Zodiacal Light is visible in the west. It is a faint broad column of light surrounding Jupiter and extending upward toward Libra. It is sunlight reflecting off meteoric dust in the plane of the solar system. The dust may have come from a big comet, many centuries ago.

Venus (not shown on the chart) is the brilliant 'morning star' rising after 5 a.m. all month. It appears a bit north of due east. It is up 80 minutes before the sun at the beginning of September but only 50 minutes before the sun at the end. So it will be increasingly difficult to see from places with high hills to the east. Mars and Mercury are hidden low in the dawn twilight,

*A light year (l.y.) is the distance that light travels in one year: nearly 10 million million km or 1013 km. Sunlight takes eight minutes to get here; moonlight about one second. Sunlight reaches Neptune, the outermost major planet, in four hours. It takes sunlight four years to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri.

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817
P.O. Box 57 Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

November Moon & Planet data for 2017


The follwing table lists various solar system object events during November. A list of astronomical terms used in may be found after the table.

November 2 Venus 3.5 degrees north of Spica
November 3 Uranus 3.9 degrees north of the Moon
November 4 Moon full
November 6 Moon at perigee
November 6 Aldebaran 0.8 degrees south of the Moon Occn
November 8 Moon northern most declination (19.8 degrees)
November 10 Moon last quarter
November 11 Regulus 0.4 degrees south of the Moon Occn
November 12 Mercury 2.2 degrees north of Antares
November 13 Venus 0.3 degrees north of Jupiter
November 15 Mars 3.0 degrees south of the Moon
November 17 Jupiter 3.9 degrees south of the Moon
November 17 Venus 3.8 degrees south of the Moon
November 18 Moon new
November 21 Saturn 3.0 degrees south of the Moon
November 21 Moon at apogee
November 22 Moon southern most declination (-20.0 degrees)
November 22 Pluto 2.0 degrees south of the Moon
November 22 Neptune stationary
November 23 Mercury greatest elong E(22)
November 26 Moon first quarter
November 27 Neptune 1.1 degrees north of the Moon Occn
November 28 Mercury 3.0 degrees south of Saturn
November 29 Mars 3.1 degrees north of Spica
November 30 Uranus 4.0 degrees north of the Moon
  • apogee: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
  • declination: 'Latitude' for celestial objects. The distance in degress above (north) or below (south) the celestial equator.
  • perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth