The Solar System In August 2017

Dates and times shown are NZST (UT + 12 hours) unless otherwise stated.

Sunrise, Sunset and Twilight Times in August

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

                    August  1  NZST                     August 31  NZST
       SUN: rise:   7.26am,  set:  5.28pm    rise:   6.45am,  set:  5.57pm
  Twilights     morning       evening            morning       evening
  Civil:    starts: 6.59am,  ends: 5.55pm    starts: 6.20am,  ends: 6.23pm
  Nautical: starts: 6.26am,  ends: 6.39pm    starts: 5.48am,  ends: 6.55pm
  Astro:    starts: 5.54am,  ends: 7.01pm    starts: 5.16am,  ends: 7.27pm

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

          Full moon:     August  8 at  6.11 am (Aug  7, 18:11 UT)
  Last quarter   August 15 at  1.15 pm (01:15 UT)
  New moon:      August 22 at  6.30 am (Aug 22, 18:30 UT)
  First quarter: August 29 at 12.13 pm (00:13 UT)

The Planets in August 2017

Mercury is visible in the early evening sky during the first part of August while Jupiter remains visible until later evening. Saturn is there all evening. In the morning Venus is bright before sunrise. Mars is not visible during the month.

Mercury starts August as a prominent early evening object, magnitude 0.4 setting well over two hours after the Sun. The planet begins the month in Leo some 6.5° above Regulus. During August it loops into Sextans but its elongation from the Sun rapidly declines and as it does the planet loses brightness. On the 27th Mercury is at inferior conjunction between the Earth and Sun.

Venus continues as an easily seen morning object although by the end of the month it rises less than 90 minutes before the Sun. During August it crosses Gemini and moves into Cancer on the 24th. On the morning of August 20 it will be joined by the crescent moon, some 8° to the right of the planet.

Mars remains too close to the Sun to observe during August, rising at best only 23 minutes before the Sun on the 31st.

Jupiter remains easily visible in the early evening sky, although by the end of August it will set mid evening. The planet is in Virgo below Regulus, their separation slowly decreasing. By the end of the month the two will be less than 4° apart. On the 25th the crescent moon will join them be some 6° below Jupiter.

Saturn is still well placed in the evening sky during August, not setting until after midnight. The planet is in Ophiuchus, its position changing very little during the month. It is stationary on the 25th. The moon will be less than 4° from Saturn on the 3rd of August. The two are close again on the 30th, this time 5° apart mid evening.

Outer Planets

Uranus rises close to midnight at the begining of August and two hours earlier by the end of the month. The planet remains in Pisces at magnitude 5.8. It is stationary on the 3rd.

Neptune rises at 8.15 pm on August 1 advancing to a few minutes afte sunset on the 31st. It is in Aquarius at magniutde 7.8.

Pluto, magnitude 14.4, remains in Sagittarius. It will be less than a dgeree from the magnitude 2.9 star, pi Sgr, by the end of the month.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres is in the morning sky, rising about 4.00 am by the end of August. It is in Gemini ending the month just over 5° from Pollux.

(2) Pallas is a morning object in Eridanus brightening from magnitude 9.5 to 9.0 during August.

(4) Vesta is an 8th magnitude object in Leo during August. At the beginning of the month it will be some 6° to the right of Mercury in the early evening. By the end of August, Vesta will be setting an hour after the Sun.

(7) Iris is a morning object brightening from magnitude 9.2 to 8.6 during the month. Although starting August in Pisces it soon moves into Aries where it is 1° from Beta Ari, mag 2.6 on the 13th and less than 2° from Alhpa Ari at the end of the month.

(89) Julia, also a morning object, brightens from magniutde 9.7 to 9.1 during August. It is in Pisces early in the month, moving into Pegasus on the 12th.

(3122) Florence has a diameter of a few kilometres. Discovered in 1981 it is listed as a potential threat to Earth. According to GUIDE it will be some 7 million kilometres from the Earth at the end of August with magnitude 8.8. By then it should have an apparent motion over 20 arc-minutes per hour. Its path will see it pass some 16° from Fomalhaut on August 27 and less than 15° from Altair on September 2.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in August 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 August 2017

Three naked-eye planets are visible in the early evening sky for most of the month. Jupiter is northwest of overhead, the brightest 'star' in the sky. Saturn is northeast of overhead, the brightest 'star' in its part of the sky but fainter than Jupiter. Above Saturn is orange Antares. Mercury is low in the west, above the sunset point, for the first half of the month before disappearing in the twilight.

Bright stars are widely scattered over the sky. Vega on the north skyline is balanced by Canopus low in the south. Orange Arcturus is in the northwest, twinkling red and green as it sets. The Southern Cross, Crux, and the Pointers are midway down the southwest sky. The Milky Way spans the sky from northeast to southwest.

Jupiter, high in the west and golden-coloured, sets steadily earlier through the month: at 11 pm at the start of August and after 9 pm at the end. Saturn, cream-coloured, stays in the sky most of the night, setting in the southwest in the morning hours. Jupiter and Saturn are both well placed for evening viewing in a telescope. Any small telescope will show the four 'Galilean' moons of Jupiter, though not every night as the moons can disappear behind Jupiter or hide in its shadow. Saturn's ring is visible in any telescope magnifying 20x or more. Jupiter is 890 million km away and Saturn 1400 million km away mid-month. The Moon appears close to Saturn on the 3rd and passes Jupiter on the 25th and 26th.

Mercury (not shown on the chart) ends its evening sky appearance as it passes between the Earth and the Sun. It sets before 8 pm at the beginning of the month, the brightest 'star' in the lower western sky. By the 20th it is setting before 7 pm, an hour after the Sun, and fading. It disappears soon after.

Midway down the southwest sky are 'The Pointers ', Beta and Alpha Centauri. They point down and rightward to Crux the Southern Cross. Alpha Centauri is the third brightest star and the closest of the naked eye stars, 4.3 light years* away. Beta Centauri, like most of the stars in Crux, is a blue-giant star hundreds of light years away and thousands of times brighter than the sun.

Antares marks the body of the Scorpion. The Scorpion's tail hooks around the zenith like a back-to-front question mark. Antares and the tail make 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. 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.

The Milky Way 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, 30 000 light years away, is in Sagittarius. The actual centre is hidden by dust clouds in space. The nearer dust clouds 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 low in the south, 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.

Brilliant Venus rises in the northeast after 5 a.m. all month. It is bright enough to cast shadows in dark locations. The Moon is above Venus at dawn on the 19th. By mid-morning the two will be due north and level, with Venus on the right. Once the Moon is found, one can then see the planet in daylight by eye.

The Moon grazes the Earth's shadow on the morning of the 8th. The top of the Moon will begin to darken around 5 a.m. By 6:20 the top quarter of the Moon will be in shadow. Moonset is soon after.

A total solar eclipse crosses the United States on the 22nd NZST. Nothing is seen from New Zealand.

*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

October Moon & Planet data for 2017


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

October 3 Neptune 0.7 degrees north of the Moon Occn
October 5 Venus 0.2 degrees north of Mars
October 5 Moon full
October 6 Uranus 4.0 degrees north of the Moon
October 8 Mercury superior conjunction
October 9 Moon at perigee
October 9 Aldebaran 0.6 degrees south of the Moon Occn
October 11 Moon northern most declination (19.6 degrees)
October 12 Moon last quarter
October 13 Mercury 2.7 degrees north of Spica
October 15 Regulus 0.2 degrees south of the Moon Occn
October 17 Mars 1.7 degrees south of the Moon
October 18 Venus 1.9 degrees south of the Moon
October 18 Mercury 0.9 degrees south of Jupiter
October 19 Uranus at opposition
October 19 Moon new
October 20 Jupiter 3.7 degrees south of the Moon
October 20 Mercury 4.9 degrees south of the Moon
October 24 Saturn 3.2 degrees south of the Moon
October 25 Moon at apogee
October 25 Moon southern most declination (-19.8 degrees)
October 26 Pluto 2.2 degrees south of the Moon
October 26 Jupiter at conjunction
October 27 Moon first quarter
October 30 Neptune 0.8 degrees north 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.
  • perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
  • superior conjunction: Conjunction where the Sun is between the Earth another solar system object

The Solar System In July 2017

Dates and times shown are NZST (UT + 12 hours) unless otherwise stated.

The Earth is at aphelion, its greatest distance from the Sun for the year, on July 4 just before midday. The apparent diameter of the Sun will then be 31.46 arc-minutes, and its distance 152.1 million km, 1.016 astronomical units.

Sunrise, Sunset and Twilight Times in May

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

                    July  1  NZST                     July 31  NZST
       SUN: rise:   7.45am,  set:  5.04pm    rise:   7.27am,  set:  5.27pm
  Twilights     morning       evening            morning       evening
  Civil:    starts: 7.16am,  ends: 5.33pm    starts: 7.00am,  ends: 5.55pm
  Nautical: starts: 6.42am,  ends: 6.00pm    starts: 6.27am,  ends: 6.20pm
  Astro:    starts: 6.08am,  ends: 6.41pm    starts: 5.55am,  ends: 7.00pm

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

          First quarter: July  1 at 12.51 pm (00:51 UT)
  Full moon:     July  9 at  4.07 pm (04:07 UT)
  Last quarter   July 17 at  7.26 am (Jul 16, 19:26 UT)
  New moon:      July 23 at  9.46 pm (09:46 UT)
  First quarter: July 31 at  3.23 am (Jul 30, 15:23 UT)

The Planets in July 2017

The second part of July will provide an excellent opportunity to view Mercury in the early evening sky. Jupiter is also best observed early evening, while Saturn is well placed all evening. Venus remains the obvious brilliant morning "star". Mars is too close to the Sun to see all month.

Mercury is an evening object and will be best placed for viewing at the end of the month. It sets 45 minutes after the Sun on the 1st, so will then be rather low for viewing as the sky darkens. By mid July the planet will set just after 7 pm, nearly 2 hours after the Sun. At 6 pm, 45 minutes after sunset, Mercury, magnitude -0.2, will be almost 10° above the horizon in a direction some 30° to the north of west.

By the end of July, Mercury will be even easier to see, some 15° up 50 minutes after sunset. Regulus, at 1.4 a magnitude fainter than Mercury, will be about 6° below the planet. On the 25th Mercury, now at magnitude +0.2, will be 1.2° to the left of the star, with the latter slightly higher. On that evening the crescent moon, 4.4% lit, will be less than 3° below Mercury. The following evening, the 26th, will find Mercury just over 1° from Regulus now slightly higher than the star. The moon will be 10° above the pair.

Venus remains an easy morning object during July. It rises about 3.5 hours before the Sun on the 1st, reducing to 2.5 hours earlier on the 31st. During July, Venus makes its way across Taurus, passing between the Pleiades and Aldebaran. At their closest, on the morning of the 14th, the planet will be 3° to the lower left of the 1st magnitude star. Venus will of course completely outshine Aldebaran, by 5 magnitudes.

On the morning of the 21st, the crescent moon will be just under 5° to the lower right of Venus. The previous morning the moon will be a little less than 3° to the left of Aldebaran. The end of July will find Venus in the most northerly part of Orion, some 15° to the lower left of Betelgeuse.

Mars is not observable during July. It finally reaches conjunction with the Sun on the 27th of July. It will then be 1.64 AU beyond the Sun and 397 million km, 2.66 AU, from the Earth.

Jupiter will remain a prominent early evening object during July. It sets at 1am on the 1st and a few minutes after 11pm on the 31st, so will then be getting a little low and to the west by mid evening. The planet will be a few degrees below Spica.

The moon, at first quarter, will be 3° to the lower right of Jupiter on the 1st. It passes Jupiter again on July 28/29. As seen from NZ, the moon will be just over 8° below Jupiter on the 28th and some 6° to the upper right of the planet on the 29th. Their closest approach is a few minutes before noon on the 28th, when the two are 3° apart. This will be about the time Jupiter rises for NZ.

Saturn will be well placed for evening viewing during July. It rises at 3.45 pm on the 1st and two hours earlier by the 31st, giving it a good altitude an hour after sunset. The planet will be moving rather slowly to the west through Ophiuchus. The moon, two days short of full, will be 4° from Saturn as seen early evening in NZ. The separation of the two will increase during the evening as the moon moves away to the east.

Outer Planets

Uranus is a morning object in Pisces during July. It rises about 2 am on the 1st and at midnight on the 31st. The planet is at magnitude 5.8 throughout the month.

Neptune rises at 10.15 pm on July 1 and two hours earlier on the 31st. It is in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9.

The 80% lit waning moon occults Neptune on the morning of July 14 for NZ. The event is visible from NZ, although the disappearance of Neptune behind the moon will be at the sunlit limb, so not readily observable.

The reappearance from behind the moon is at the unlit limb but occurs shortly before sunrise particularly for the North Island. The South is better placed, with the Sun 7° below the horizon at Christchurch. The reappearance will not be instantaneous as for a star, the disk of the planet taking about 7 seconds to emerge from behind the moon.

Some times of the reappearance are:

  Invercargill 07:10:08 am  Sun below -12°
   Dunedin      07:13:37 am  Sun -10°
   Christchurch 07:19:01 am  Sun  -7°
   Nelson       07:22:07 am  Sun  -5°
   Wellington   07:24:12 am  Sun  -4°
   Auckland     07:27:15 am  Sun  -2°

A modest telescope would be necessary to see the event, but the sky is likely to be too bright in the North Island to see the planet.

Pluto, magnitude 14.4, is at opposition on July 10. It will then rise close to the time of sunset and set close to the time of sunrise. The planet will remain in Sagittarius and will be 1.3° from the magnitude 2.9 star, pi Sgr, by the end of the month.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres in the morning sky, starting July in Taurus only 14° from the Sun, too close for observation. It moves into Gemini on the 11th and by the end of the month 2° from the 3.0 magnitude star epsilon Gem. Ceres, with a magnitude 9.0, will then rise 100 minutes before the Sun

(4) Vesta is in Leo during July at magnitude 8.2. Its path through Leo takes the asteroid past Regulus. The two are just over 4° apart at their closest on July 18. Vesta sets at 10.30 pm on July 1 and 7.40 pm on the 31st.

(6) Hebe, in Ophiuchus, fades from magnitude 9.3 to 9.7 during July. It rises just before sunset on the 1st.;10

(7) Iris is in the morning sky with a magnitude 9.7 on the 1st and 9.2 on the 31st. The asteroid is in Pisces and rises at 12.30 am on the morning of July 31.

(10) Hygiea in Sagittarius, fades from magnitude 9.2 to 10.0 during July. On the 1st it rises 20 minutes before sunset and is less than a degree from M22.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

Solar System notes for July, 2017 sky-solar201707 2017-06-21 12:00:00

The Evening Sky in July 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 July 2017

Golden Jupiter is the bright 'evening star' appearing in the northwest sky soon after sunset. Above it is bluish Spica. Orange Arcturus is midway down the north sky. Cream-coloured Saturn is northeast of the zenith with orange Antares, somewhat fainter, above it. Sirius, the brightest star but fainter than Jupiter, sets in the southwest as twilight ends, twinkling like a diamond. Canopus, the second brightest star, is also in the southwest at dusk. It swings south later. South of the zenith are 'The Pointers', Beta and Alpha Centauri. They point to Crux the Southern Cross on their right. Vega rises in the northeast around 9 pm.

Mercury (not shown on the chart) begins an evening sky appearance early in the month, setting steadily later. In the first week of July it is in the northwest, setting an hour after the sun. By the end of the month it sets at 8 p.m. a little north of due west. Mercury, Regulus and the Moon will be close together on the 25th.

Any telescope will show the oval disk of Jupiter with its four 'Galilean' moons lined up on either side. Larger telescopes show dark stripes parallel to Jupiter's equator. These are caused by temperature differences in the clouds. Jupiter is 820 million km from us mid-month. The Moon is near Jupiter on the 1st and the 29th. Jupiter sets around 1 a.m. at the beginning of the month, reducing to 11 p.m. by the end.

Saturn is always worth a look in any telescope. A small telescope shows Saturn's ring, now at its greatest tilt. Saturn's biggest moon Titan looks like a star about four ring-diameters from the planet. Larger telescopes show smaller moons as faint stars closer to the rings. Saturn is around 1370 million km away in July. It sets in the southwest near dawn. The Moon is near Saturn on the 7th.

Alpha Centauri is the third brightest star. It is also the closest of the naked eye stars, 4.3 light years* away. Beta Centauri, like most of the stars in Crux, is a blue-giant star hundreds of light years away. Canopus swings down to the southern skyline before midnight then moves into the southeast sky in the morning hours. It is a 'circumpolar star': it never sets. Crux and the Pointers are also circumpolar. Canopus is a truly bright star: 13 000 times the sun's brightness and 300 light years away.

Arcturus, in the north, is the fourth brightest star and the brightest in the northern hemisphere sky. It is 120 times the sun's brightness and 37 light years away. It twinkles red and green when setting in the northwest around midnight. It is an orange colour because it is cooler than the sun; around 4000°C.

East of the zenith is the orange star Antares, marking the body of the Scorpion. The Scorpion's tail, upside down, is stretched out to the right of Antares making 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. Below Scorpius is 'the teapot' made by the brightest stars of Sagittarius. It is also upside down in our southern hemisphere view.

The Milky Way is brightest and broadest in the east toward Scorpius and Sagittarius. In a dark sky it can be traced up past the Pointers and Crux, fading toward Sirius. 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 is hidden by dust clouds in space. A scan along the Milky Way with binoculars shows many clusters of stars and some glowing gas clouds.

The Large and Small Clouds of Magellan, LMC and SMC, look like two misty patches of light low in the southern 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 160 000 light years away and 5% of the mass of the Milky Way. That is still many billions of stars. The Small Cloud is 200 000 light years and 3% of the Milky Way's mass.

Brilliant Venus rises in the northeast after 4 a.m. At the beginning of the month it is above the Pleiades/Matariki star cluster with orange Aldebaran to the right of the cluster. The stars creep higher in the sky through the month while Venus sinks lower. It is between Matariki and Aldebaran around the 11th.

*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 for sunlight 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

September Moon & Planet data for 2017


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

September 1 Moon southern most declination (-19.4 degrees)
September 1 Pluto 2.5 degrees south of the Moon
September 3 Mercury 3.3 degrees south of Mars
September 4 Mercury stationary
September 5 Neptune at opposition
September 5 Mars 0.7 degrees north of Regulus
September 6 Neptune 0.7 degrees north of the Moon Occn
September 6 Moon full
September 9 Uranus 4.1 degrees north of the Moon
September 10 Mercury 0.7 degrees south of Regulus
September 11 Jupiter 3.1 degrees north of Spica
September 12 Aldebaran 0.5 degrees south of the Moon Occn
September 12 Mercury greatest elong W(18)
September 13 Moon last quarter
September 13 Moon at perigee
September 14 Moon northern most declination (19.4 degrees)
September 16 Mercury 0.0 degrees north of Mars
September 18 Venus 0.5 degrees north of the Moon Occn
September 18 Regulus 0.1 degrees south of the Moon Occn
September 18 Mars 0.1 degrees south of the Moon Occn
September 18 Mercury 0.0 degrees north of the Moon Occn
September 20 Venus 0.5 degrees north of Regulus
September 20 Moon new
September 22 Jupiter 3.5 degrees south of the Moon
September 22 Equinox
September 27 Saturn 3.5 degrees south of the Moon
September 27 Moon at apogee
September 28 Moon first quarter
September 28 Pluto stationary
September 28 Moon southern most declination (-19.5 degrees)
September 29 Pluto 2.5 degrees south 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

The Solar System In June 2017

Dates and times shown are NZST (UT + 12 hours) unless otherwise stated.

The southern winter solstice occurs on June 21. The sun reaches its most northerly declination at about 4 pm.

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in May

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

                    June  1  NZST                     June 30  NZST
       SUN: rise:   7.34am,  set:  5.02pm    rise:   7.45am,  set:  5.03pm
  Twilights     morning       evening            morning       evening
  Civil:    starts: 7.06am,  ends: 5.31pm    starts: 7.16am,  ends: 5.33pm
  Nautical: starts: 6.32am,  ends: 6.05pm    starts: 6.42am,  ends: 6.07pm
  Astro:    starts: 5.58am,  ends: 6.39pm    starts: 6.08am,  ends: 6.41pm

June phases of the moon (times nzst, as shown by guide)

          First quarter: June  2 at 12.42 am (June  1, 12:42 UT)
  Full moon:     June 10 at  1.10 am (June  9, 13:10 UT)
  Last quarter   June 17 at 11.33 pm (11:33 UT)
  New moon:      June 24 at  2.31 pm (02:31 UT)

The planets in June 2017

Jupiter, and later Saturn will be prominent in the evening sky. In the morning Mercury is easily visible for the first few days while Venus is obvious for several hours before sun-up. Mars is getting too close to the sun to see.

Mercury, in the morning sky, rises over an hour and three-quarters before the Sun on the 1st. At magnitude -0.4 it will be readily visible 30° to the north of east but at a fairly low altitude, near 10° above the horizon 50 minutes before sunrise. It is then in Aries and will be the brightest object in that direction.

The planet will move towards the Sun quite rapidly over the following days, so that by the 10th it will rise just over an hour before the Sun, so be noticeably lower. To compensate, it will brighten steadily, then up to -1.0. Mercury will be in Taurus from June 3.

After this, within a day or two, Mercury will be lost in the morning twilight. It reaches superior conjunction at the far side of the Sun on the 22nd when the planet will be nearly 200 million km, 1.32 AU from the Earth, some 46 million km beyond the Sun.

Following conjunction, Mercury becomes an evening object setting after the Sun, 50 minutes later at the end of June. However it is likely to be too low to see.

Venus remains an easy morning object during June. It rises about 4 hours before the Sun on the 1st, reducing to 3.5 hours earlier on the 30th. Venus is at its greatest elongation, 46° from the Sun, on the 4th. Also on that morning, Uranus will be 1.5° to the left of Venus.

The planet starts the month in Pisces, follows Mercury at an increasing distance across Gemini and ends the month in Taurus. Aldebaran will then be 16° to the lower right of Venus.

The moon passes Venus on the morning of the 21st when the crescent moon will be some 2.5° above the planet.

Mars, still nominally in the evening sky, will set an hour after the Sun on the 1st so is unlikely to be visible in the evening twilight. By the 30th it will set just over half an hour later than the Sun. Two evenings earlier Mars will be a degree above Mercury, but neither are likely to be visible.

Jupiter will remain a prominent evening object during June, although by the end of the month it sets at 1am, so will then be getting low by late evening. The planet is in Virgo all month with a magnitude -2, making it the brightest star like object in the evening sky.

The planet will show little movement through the stars during June, being stationary on the 10th. Following this it will start moving to the east.

The moon passes Jupiter early in the month. The two will be closest early afternoon on the 4th, closest before they rise for New Zealand. By 6pm the two will be just under 4° apart with the 76% lit moon about 4° below Jupiter. By midnight the two will be nearly 6° apart, rotation of the sky bring the moon to about the 2 o'clock position centred on Jupiter.

Saturn is at opposition on the 15th, so will then rise about the time the Sun sets, and will itself set close to sunrise. Thus the planet will be visible all night although very low to the east early evening. It remains in Ophiuchus moving slowly to the west.

Opposition will provide a good opportunity to view Saturn's ring system. It is now wide open as seen from the Earth, with the outer edge of the ring beyond Saturn appearing over the planet's north pole.

On the 10th the moon, only a few hours after being full, will be 5° below Saturn early evening. As with Jupiter 6 days earlier, the two will be closest early afternoon, before they rise.

Outer Planets

Uranus is a morning object rising just before 4 am on the 1st and at 2am on the 30th. The planet is in Pisces. At the beginning of the month it will be close to Venus, with the latter some over 2.7° above the fainter planet as seen on the morning of the 1st. They are closest on the morning of June 4, when Venus will be 2° to the right of Uranus at 6am. There will be one star, magnitude 4.3, closer to Venus than is Uranus at magnitude 5.9. The three are almost in line the following morning, with the star between the two planets. Uranus should be an easy binocular object.

Neptune rises a few minutes after midnight on the 1st and about 10.20 on the 30th. The planet, magnitude 7.9, spends the month in Aquarius. It is stationary on the 17th NZ time. A few hours earlier the moon will be close to Neptune. As seen from Dunedin, the moon will rise almost touching Neptune near the northern cusp of the moon. An occultation of Neptune is visible a few tens of kilometres off shore from Port Chalmers and to the east over much of the southern Pacific.

Pluto, magnitude 14.4, rises just after 7.30 pm on the 1st and at 5.40 pm on the 30th. The planet will remain in Sagittarius and will be 2° from the magnitude 2.9 star, pi Sgr, by the end of the month.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres, in Taurus, remains too close to the Sun to observe in June. It is at conjunction with the Sun on the 6th. At conjunction it is 2.71 AU beyond the Sun and 3.72 AU, 557 million km, from the Earth.

(4) Vesta is in Cancer early June but moves into Leo on the 18th. Its magnitude will be 8.2. The asteroid sets at 9.20 pm on the 1st, nearly an hour earlier on the 30th.

(6) Hebe, magnitude 9.4, starts the month in Serpens some 25 arc-minutes from the star zeta Ser, magnitude 4.6. It moves away from the star crossing into Ophiuchus on the 4th. It rises at 7.23 pm on the 1st, just before 5pm on the 30th. It is at opposition mid month.

(10) Hygiea brightens from magnitude 9.9 on the 1st to 9.2 on the 30th . It is at opposition on the 30th. On the 27th and 28th the asteroid will pass through the northerly outskirts of the bright globular cluster M22 in Sagittarius, at its closest Hygiea will be about 8 arc-minutes from the cluster's centre.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in June 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 June 2017

Jupiter appears in the northeast sky soon after sunset, the brightest 'star' in the sky. It shines with a steady golden light. Sirius, the brightest true star, appears soon after, low in the west. It sets around 9 pm, mid-month, twinkling like a diamond. Canopus, the second brightest star, is in the southwest. As the sky darkens cream-coloured Saturn appears due east with orange Antares above it. Arcturus, another orange star, appears in the lower north sky, often twinkling red and green when it is low in the sky.

Sirius appears bright both because it is 20 times brighter than the sun, and because it is relatively close at nine light years*. Canopus is a truly bright star, 310 light years away and 13,000 times brighter than the sun. Canopus is a 'circumpolar' star: it circles the South Celestial Pole (SCP on the chart) but never sets.

Jupiter's disk and four 'Galilean' moons can be seen any telescope. We are seeing the moons' orbits nearly edge-on so they appear to move back and forth like beads on a string, swapping places night to night. Io, the closest to Jupiter, orbits in 1¾ days. Callisto, the farthest of the four, takes nearly 17 days to complete an orbit. Jupiter is 750 million km away. Saturn is the brightest 'star' in the eastern sky. A small telescope shows its rings and its biggest moon, Titan, orbiting about four ring-diameters from the planet. Saturn is 1,350 million km away.

Crux, the Southern Cross, is south of the zenith. Beside it and brighter are Beta and Alpha Centauri, often called 'The Pointers' because they point at Crux. Alpha Centauri is the closest naked-eye star, 4.3 light years away. Beta Centauri and many of the stars in Crux are hot, extremely bright blue-giant stars hundreds of light years away. They are members of a group of stars that formed together then scattered. The group is called the Scorpio-Centaurus Association.

Antares, the orange star above Saturn, marks the scorpion's body. It is a red giant star: 600 light years away and 19 000 times brighter than the sun. Red giants are much bigger than the sun but much cooler, hence the orange- red colour. Though hundreds of times bigger than the Sun, Antares is only about 20 times the Sun's mass or weight. Most of the star's mass is in its hot dense core. The rest of the star is thin gas. Red giants are dying stars, wringing the last of the thermo-nuclear energy from their cores. Below Scorpius is Sagittarius, its brighter stars making 'the teapot'.

The Milky Way is brightest and broadest in the southeast toward Scorpius and Sagittarius. It remains bright but narrower through Crux and Carina then fades in the western sky. 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. A scan along the Milky Way with binoculars will find many clusters of stars and some glowing gas clouds. Relatively nearby dark clouds of dust and gas look like holes and slots in the Milky Way. There is a well-known dark cloud called The Coalsack by the Southern Cross. It is around 600 light years away. The dust, more like smoke, comes off old red stars. These clouds eventually coalesce into new stars.

The Clouds of Magellan, LMC and SMC, in the lower southern sky, are luminous patches easily seen by eye in a dark sky. They are two small galaxies about 160 000 and 200 000 light years away. The Large Cloud is about 5% the mass of the Milky Way; the Small Cloud is about 3%.

Brilliant Venus (not shown on the chart) rises in the eastern sky before 4 a.m. at the beginning of the month, later at the end. At the end of June Venus will be directly above the Matariki/Pleiades star cluster. The Moon will be near Venus on the 21st, enabling the planet to be found in the daylight sky by naked eye. At 11 a.m. that morning the Moon and Venus will be 45 degrees left of the sun and level with it. (45 degrees is roughly two hand-spans at arm's length.) Mercury appears below and right of Venus, the brightest 'star' in the region, at the start of the month. It sinks lower in the dawn twilight, disappearing around the 10th.

*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

August Moon & Planet data for 2017


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

August 2 Moon at apogee
August 3 Saturn 3.4 degrees south of the Moon
August 3 Uranus stationary
August 4 Moon southern most declination (-19.4 degrees)
August 5 Pluto 2.4 degrees south of the Moon
August 7 Moon full Eclipse
August 9 Neptune 0.8 degrees north of the Moon Occn
August 12 Mercury stationary
August 13 Uranus 4.1 degrees north of the Moon
August 15 Moon last quarter
August 16 Aldebaran 0.4 degrees south of the Moon Occn
August 18 Moon northern most declination (19.4 degrees)
August 18 Moon at perigee
August 19 Venus 2.2 degrees north of the Moon
August 21 Mars 1.5 degrees north of the Moon
August 21 Moon new Eclipse
August 21 Regulus 0.1 degrees south of the Moon Occn
August 22 Mercury 5.8 degrees south of the Moon
August 25 Saturn stationary
August 25 Jupiter 3.3 degrees south of the Moon
August 26 Mercury inferior conjunction
August 29 Moon first quarter
August 30 Moon at apogee
August 30 Saturn 3.5 degrees south of the Moon
August 31 Mercury 3.5 degrees south of Regulus
  • 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.
  • 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 May 2017

Dates and times shown are NZST (UT + 12 hours) unless otherwise stated.

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in May

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

                    May  1  NZST                     May 30  NZST
       SUN: rise:   7.05am,  set:  5.30pm    rise:   7.33am,  set:  5.03pm
  Twilights     morning       evening            morning       evening
  Civil:    starts: 6.39am,  ends: 5.56pm    starts: 7.05am,  ends: 5.31pm
  Nautical: starts: 6.06am,  ends: 6.29pm    starts: 6.31am,  ends: 6.08pm
  Astro:    starts: 5.34am,  ends: 7.01pm    starts: 5.58am,  ends: 6.39pm

May phases of the moon (times nzst, as shown by guide)

          First quarter: May  3 at  2.47 pm (2:47 UT)
  Full moon:     May 11 at  9.43 am (May 10, 21:43 UT)
  Last quarter   May 19 at 12.33 pm (00:33 UT)
  New moon:      May 26 at  7.45 am (May 25, 19:45 UT)

Occultation Of Regulus

A lunar occultation of Regulus on May 4 is visible from New Zealand and Australia. The disappearance is at the ?dark? limb of the moon so readily observable in binoculars. It will be just before sunset at Perth in Western Australia but should be observable there. Elsewhere, further east, the occultation will be after the Sun has set.

The reappearance from occultation will be at the sunlit limb of the moon, making it a little more difficult to observe and time accurately.

Disappearance times in New Zealand range from 10.40 pm in the southwest to 10.53 pm at East Cape. The corresponding range of reappearance times is 11.47 pm to 11.58 pm. Observers should generate their local predictions using Dave herald?s Occult program to obtain precise time predictions for their own locality.

The planets in May 2017

Jupiter will be prominent in the evening sky with Saturn appearing later to the east. Mars is getting too close to the Sun for easy observation. Mercury will be at its morning sky best for the year in the 2nd part of the month, well placed an hour before sunrise. It will very much outshone by Venus some way above it.

Mercury, in the morning sky, rises 90 minutes before the Sun on May 1 and nearly 2 hours earlier than the Sun at the end of the month. With a low altitude and a magnitude 2.4 the planet will not be readily observable at the beginning of May.

Things rapidly improve during the first half of May as Mercury brightens and moves further from the Sun. The planet reaches its greatest elongation, 26° west of the Sun mid month. On the morning of May 18 at 6.20 am, hour before sunrise at Wellington, Mercury will be nearly 13° above the horizon with a magnitude 0.4. Venus will be some 19° above and a little to the left of the fainter planet. The middle of May will give the best opportunity to observe Mercury in the morning sky this year. By the end of May the planet will be brighter at magnitude -0.3 but getting little lower.

Mercury stars May in Pisces, it crosses a corner of Cetus between May 19 and 22 before entering Aries. On the morning of May 24 a thin crescent moon will be 3.5° above Mercury

Venus is an easy to find morning object in May. It rises over 3 hours before the Sun on the 1st increasing to almost 4 hours earlier by the 31st. Venus is following Mercury across Pisces and ends May quite close to the position in the stars that Mercury was in at the beginning of the month.

On the morning of the 23rd the crescent moon will be about 3.5° to the lower right of Venus. On 31st, Venus will also be 3.5° above Uranus, so the two will be visible in a 5° binocular field.

Mars slowly gets lower in the early evening sky. At magnitude 1.6 to 1.7 and a low altitude it will be a difficult object in the twilight. It sets 75 minutes after the Sun on the 1st, an hour after the Sun on the 31st.

On the evening of the 27th a very thin crescent moon will be about 4.5° above Mars. But at 5.45 pm when the Sun is only 8° below the horizon, Mars? altitude at Wellington will be slightly less than 4°

Jupiter will be a prominent object throughout the evening sky following its opposition at the beginning of April. Early evening in May will find the planet just under 10° to the left of the first magnitude star Spica, alpha Virginis. Some 8 hours later the anticlockwise rotation of the sky will bring Spica to a position directly above Jupiter.

The nearly full moon will be 5° to the lower right of Jupiter on May 8.

Saturn will rise at 8 pm on the 1st of May and a good 2 hours earlier by the 31st. It brightens slightly during the month from 0.3 to 0.1 making it the brightest object to the east. There are a number of the brighter, 2nd magnitude stars in Sagittarius some 10 to 20° to its Saturn?s left.

The planet itself starts the month in Sagittarius. It moves only slowly to the west through the stars, less than 2° during the month. Even so this is sufficient to take it into Ophiuchus mid month.

Currently Saturn is 22° south of the equator. As a result when due north it will be very high in NZ skies. This will be about 3.30 am early May, advancing to 1.30 late May.

The moon, a little past full, will be some 7° from Saturn on the evenings of May 13 and 14. The position of the moon with reference to Saturn on the two night will be very different. Moon and planet are closest about 10 am on the morning while they are below the horizon for NZ.

Outer Planets

Uranus begins to move up into the morning sky shortly before sunrise, following its conjunction with the Sun mid April. At the beginning of May Uranus will be close to Mercury but too low for easy observation. At the end of May a much brighter marker, Venus, will be 3° above the outer planet. By then Uranus will rise just before 4 am, with Venus rising 15 minutes earlier. So at 6.30 am, an hour before sunrise, the two will be at a comfortable 25° altitude.

Neptune rises early into the morning sky, soon after 2am on May 1 and 2 hours earlier on May 31. The planet remains in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9, moving only half a degree during the month. On the 1st it will be 18.5° above and a little left of Venus.

Pluto, magnitude 14.4, is moving into the evening sky rising at 9.40 pm on the 1st, 2 hours earlier on the 31st. It will remain in Sagittarius about 2.5° from the 2.9 magnitude star pi Sgr.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres, in Taurus is too close to the Sun to observe in May. It is at conjunction early June.

(4) Vesta is in Cancer during May with a magnitude changing from 8.0 to 8.2. On the 1st it sets about 10.20pm. By the 31st it will be setting about an hour earlier. The moon will be just over 6° above Vesta in May 2. It will be in a similar position again, compared to Vesta, on the 30th but about half a degree closer.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand