The Evening Sky in May 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 May 2017

Two bright planets and the brightest stars share the evening sky this May. Soon after sunset golden Jupiter appears in the northeast. Beside Jupiter is Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. Below Jupiter, near the horizon, is orange Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern sky. As the sky darkens Sirius, the brightest of all the stars, appears midway down the northwest sky. Canopus, second brightest, is southwest of overhead. Midway up the southeast sky are 'The Pointers', Beta and Alpha Centauri. Well below them is the hook-shaped pattern of Scorpius with orange Antares marking the Scorpion's body. Below Antares, and brighter, is Saturn, rising in the southeast.

Below Sirius are bluish Rigel and reddish Betelgeuse, the brightest stars in Orion. Between them is a line of three stars, Orion's belt. To southern hemisphere star watchers, the line of three makes the bottom of 'The Pot', now tipped on its side. Sirius, 'the Dog Star', marks the head of Canis Major the big dog, now head down tail up in the west.

Crux, the Southern Cross, is southeast of the zenith, to the right of 'The Pointers'. Alpha Centauri, the brighter Pointer, is the closest naked-eye star, 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 is also very luminous and distant: 13 000 times brighter than the sun and 300 light years away.

Antares is a red-giant star like Betelgeuse: around 20 times the mass of the sun but wider than Earth's orbit. It is 600 light years away and 19 000 times brighter than the sun. Arcturus is the brightest red star in the sky but, at 37 light years, is much closer than Antares. It is about 120 times brighter than the sun. When low in the sky Arcturus often twinkles red and green as the air breaks up its orange light.

The Milky Way is brightest in the southeast toward Scorpius and Sagittarius. In a dark sky it can be traced up the sky 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 nearby outer edge is by Orion where the Milky Way is faintest. A scan along the Milky Way with binoculars shows many clusters of stars and some glowing gas clouds, particularly in the Carina region and in Scorpius.

The Clouds of Magellan, LMC and SMC, are midway down the southern sky, easily seen by eye on a dark moonless night. They are small galaxies. The Large Magellanic Cloud is 160 000 light years away and is about 5% the mass of our Milky Way galaxy. The Small Cloud is around 200 000 light years away and 3% the mass of our galaxy. That's still many billions of stars in each.

At the beginning of May Jupiter sets due west around 5 a.m., reducing to around 3 a.m. by month's end. Jupiter is 700 million km away. It is always worth a look in a telescope. Its four big moons look like faint stars near the planet. One or two can be seen in binoculars if you can hold them steadily enough. All four are easily seen in any telescope magnifying 20x or more. The Moon will be near Jupiter on the 7th and 8th. Saturn is a great sight in any telescope with its rings near maximum tilt. It is 1,370 million km away. Titan, its biggest moon, orbits four ring diameters from the planet. Three or four smaller moons can be seen in larger telescopes closer to Saturn. The Moon will be near Saturn on the 13th.

Brilliant Venus (not shown on the chart) appears in the eastern morning sky, rising before 4 a.m. So around 4 a.m., for at least the first half of the month, Venus is rising in the east as Jupiter sets in the west. Venus is 67 million km away at the beginning of the month. It appears as a crescent in a telescope. The Moon is near Venus on the 23rd. About 90 minutes before sunrise Mercury rises in the empty sky below and right of Venus. Mercury looks like a medium brightness star at the beginning of May but brightens steadily through the month.

*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

July Moon & Planet data for 2017


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

July 1 Moon first quarter
July 1 Jupiter 2.6 degrees south of the Moon
July 2 Mercury 4.8 degrees south of Pollux
July 3 Earth at aphelion
July 6 Moon at apogee
July 7 Saturn 3.2 degrees south of the Moon
July 8 Moon southern most declination (-19.4 degrees)
July 9 Moon full
July 9 Pluto 2.3 degrees south of the Moon
July 10 Pluto at opposition
July 10 Mars 5.6 degrees south of Pollux
July 13 Neptune 0.8 degrees north of the Moon Occn
July 14 Venus 3.1 degrees north of Aldebaran
July 16 Moon last quarter
July 17 Uranus 4.1 degrees north of the Moon
July 19 Aldebaran 0.4 degrees south of the Moon Occn
July 20 Venus 2.7 degrees north of the Moon
July 21 Moon at perigee
July 21 Moon northern most declination (19.4 degrees)
July 23 Moon new
July 23 Mars 3.1 degrees north of the Moon
July 25 Mercury 0.8 degrees south of the Moon Occn
July 25 Regulus 0.0 degrees north of the Moon Occn
July 26 Mercury 1.0 degrees south of Regulus
July 27 Mars at conjunction
July 28 Jupiter 3.0 degrees south of the Moon
July 30 Mercury greatest elong E(27)
July 30 Moon first quarter
  • aphelion: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Sun
  • 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

The Solar System In April 2017

NZ reverts to NZST (UT +12 hours) on April 2 at 3am. Consequently dates and times shown are NZST apart for any on April 1.

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in April

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

              April  1  NZDT                   April 30  NZST
              morning  evening                 morning  evening
 SUN: rise:   7.33am,  set:  7.15pm    rise:   7.04am,  set:  5.31pm
Twilights
Civil:    starts: 7.09am,  ends: 7.40pm    starts: 6.38am,  ends: 5.58pm
Nautical: starts: 6.37am,  ends: 8.12pm    starts: 6.05am,  ends: 6.30pm
Astro:    starts: 6.04am,  ends: 8.44pm    starts: 5.33am,  ends: 7.02pm

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

          First quarter: April  4 at  6.40 am (Apr  3,  6:40 UT)
  Full moon:     April 11 at  6.08 pm (06:08 UT)
  Last quarter   April 19 at  4.07 pm (04:07 UT)
  New moon:      April 27 at 12.16 am (Apr 26, 12:16 UT)

The planets in April 2017

Jupiter becomes visible all night so is a brilliant object in the evening sky. Saturn will be to the east by late evening. Mars will be low to the west after sunset setting before the end of astronomical twilight. Venus moves up in the morning sky during April, a brilliant object to the east. Mercury is too close to the Sun to observe all month.

Mercury is virtually unobservable throughout April. It is at inferior conjunction between Earth and Sun at 5pm on the 20th. At conjunction the planet will pass 1.5° north of the Sun as "seen" from the Earth. Mercury will be 86 million km from the Earth and 64.4 million km from the Sun.

On the 1st Mercury, in the evening sky, will set only 30 minutes after the Sun. On the 30th, in the morning sky, it rises about 80 minutes before the Sun but at magnitude 2.6 is not likely to be visible due to twilight.

Venus is a morning object in April. On the 1st it will rise some 45 minutes before the Sun, by the 30th it will rise more than 3 hours earlier than the Sun.

The planet will not be readily visible on April 1 when it is only 12° from the Sun. Its distance from the Sun increases steadily throughout April, particularly early in the month as Venus moves to the west through the stars, away from the easterly moving Sun. This will make it an easy object within a few days. It will be visible a little to the north of east at first shortly before sunrise.

Venus is in Pisces all month and is stationary on April 13 after which it will start moving to the east but less rapidly than the Sun. The position of the planet relative to the stars will change little during the month

The morning of the 24th will find the crescent moon some 4.5° to the upper right of Venus

Mars will remain a low early evening object during April. On the 1st it sets just over 80 minutes after the Sun, dropping only slightly to 75 minutes later on the 30th. It will be low, with a magnitude 1.5, visible only briefly as the sky darkens following sunset. Mars will set a little before the end of Astronomical twilight so not be an easy object.

During April, the planet moves to the east through Aries and on into Taurus on the 12th. On the 21st and 22nd it will be 3.5° above the Pleiades, by the end of April Mars will be 7° below the similarly coloured star Aldebaran. On the 28th the moon, a very thin crescent less than 5% lit, will be 5° to the upper left of Mars.

Jupiter is at opposition on April 8, NZ time. At opposition Jupiter will be 4.5 AU, 666 million km from the Earth and a further 150 million km from the Sun. The planet will be in Virgo moving in a retrograde sense to the west as the Earth overtakes it. Jupiter starts the month just over 6° from Spica, its slow westerly motion taking it to nearly 9.5° from the star on the 30th.

The full moon will be 6.5° from Jupiter on the evening of April 11, the moon at the apex of an inverted triangle formed by it, Jupiter and Spica.

Saturn will rise close to 11 pm NZDT 1st of April, which becomes 10pm NZST on the 3rd with the time of rise advancing to just after 8 pm by the 30th. Thus it becomes a prominent later evening object to the east at magnitude 0.3 to the east during the month. It will, of course, be readily visible in the morning sky. By the end of April Saturn will be highest and due north about 3.40 am.

Saturn is stationary on the 6th, after which it will start moving to the west, but its position in Sagittarius will change little throughout the month.

The 75% lit waning moon will be 3.5° to the lower right of Saturn on the morning of April 17, with the two closest at about 6 am.

Outer Planets

Uranus is at conjunction with the Sun on April 14. Hence it will be too close to the Sun to observe throughout April.

Neptune, in the morning sky, rises about two and a half hours before the Sun on the 1st and nearly 5 hours earlier on the 30th. The planet is in Aquarius at magnitude 8.

Pluto, magnitude 14.4, is in the morning sky rising about 12.40 am, NZDT, on the 1st and 9.45 pm on the 30th. It will remain in Sagittarius just under 2.5° from the 2.9 magnitude star pi Sgr.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres is an early evening object, brightening slightly from magnitude 9.1 to 8.9 during the month. It is quite close to Mars moving on a path almost parallel to the major planet which overtakes Ceres during the month. On the 1st they are 4° apart with Ceres above Mars. On the 8th they are at their closest, 3° apart. By the 30th Ceres is will be dropping behind Mars, the two then being 5° apart.

On the 12th both Ceres and Mars move from Aries to Taurus, with Ceres crossing the border shortly before Mars.

(4) Vesta, an evening object in April, is in Gemini. It passes Pollux, magnitude 1.2, early in April, the two being closest on April 7, just over 2° apart. The asteroid moves on into Cancer on the 24th. Vesta dims slightly during the month from magnitude 7.7 to 8.0. It sets about 12.45 am, NZDT, on the 1st and just before 10.30 pm, NZST, on the 30th.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in April 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 April 2017

Jupiter is the 'evening star', appearing in the east soon after sunset. It crosses the sky through the night being due north around midnight and setting due west at dawn. Saturn rises in the southeast around 11 pm NZDT at the beginning of the month. It looks like a cream-coloured star, the brightest in that region but much fainter than Jupiter. It rises earlier through the month. By the end of April it is up soon after 8 pm NZST.

A small telescope will show the disk of Jupiter with its four bright 'Galilean' moons lined up on each side. Binoculars, held steady, will sometimes show one or two moons looking like faint stars close to the planet. Jupiter is 670 million km away mid-month. Jupiter is the biggest planet by far. Its mass is more than all the other planets combined. It rotates quickly, once in 10 hours. This stretches it out at the equator, giving it the oval shape. It circles the sun in 12 years so it shifts roughly one zodiacal constellation eastward each year. The Moon is left of Jupiter on the 10th.

A small telescope shows Saturn as an oval, the rings and planet blended. Larger telescopes separate the planet and rings and may show Saturn's moons looking like faint stars close to the planet. Titan, one of the biggest moons in the solar system, orbits about four ring diameters from the planet. Saturn is1430 million km away mid-month. The moon is left of Saturn on the 16th.

Sirius is the first true star to appear at dusk, midway down the northwest sky. It is soon followed by Canopus, southwest of the zenith. Below Sirius are Rigel and Betelgeuse, the brightest stars in Orion. Between them is a line of three stars: Orion's belt. To southern hemisphere star watchers, the line of three makes the bottom of 'The Pot', now tipped on its side. Below and right of Sirius is Procyon.

Low in the northern sky is a fuzzy patch of light, the Praesepe cluster, marking the shell of Cancer the Crab. Praesepe is also called the Beehive cluster, the reason obvious when it is viewed in binoculars. Praespe is 600 l.y away. Its stars are 600 million years old. The biggest and brightest stars in the original cluster have long ago burnt out so only the medium-brightness stars remain. This gives the cluster its uniform appearance in contrast to the much younger Pleiades/Matariki/Subaru cluster which still has several prominent stars.

Lower and further left are Pollux and Castor, the heads of Gemini the twins, making a vertical pair. Though related in myth, the Twins are quite different from each other. Pollux is an orange star 31 times brighter than the sun and 34 l.y. from us. Castor is a hot white star about 47 times the sun's brightness and 51 l.y. away.

Crux, the Southern Cross, is high in the southeast. Below it, and brighter, are Beta and Alpha Centauri, often called 'The Pointers'. Alpha Centauri is the closest naked-eye star, 4.3 light years (l.y)* away. Beta Centauri, like most of the stars in Crux, is a blue-giant star hundreds of l.y. away. Canopus is also a very luminous distant star; 13 000 times brighter than the sun and 300 l.y. away.

The Milky Way is brightest in the southeast above Crux. The Milky Way can be traced to nearly overhead where it fades. It becomes very faint in the northwest, right of 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 Clouds of Magellan, LMC and SMC are midway down the southwest sky, easily seen by eye on a dark moonless night. They are two small galaxies about 160 000 and 200 000 light years away.

The brilliant planet Venus, not shown, moves quickly up the dawn sky after passing between Earth and Sun. It rises 70 minutes before the Sun on the 1st and three hours before the Sun by the 30th. It looks like a small crescent moon in a telescope. Venus is 52 million km away mid-month. At the end of the month Mercury begins a dawn sky appearance, below and right of Venus but much fainter.

*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

June Moon & Planet data for 2017


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

June 1 Moon first quarter
June 3 Venus 1.7 degrees south of Uranus
June 3 Venus greatest elong W(46)
June 4 Jupiter 2.2 degrees south of the Moon
June 8 Moon at apogee
June 9 Moon full
June 10 Saturn 3.1 degrees south of the Moon
June 10 Jupiter stationary
June 11 Moon southern most declination (-19.4 degrees)
June 12 Mercury 4.9 degrees north of Aldebaran
June 12 Pluto 2.3 degrees south of the Moon
June 15 Saturn at opposition
June 16 Neptune 0.7 degrees north of the Moon Occn
June 16 Neptune stationary
June 17 Moon last quarter
June 19 Uranus 3.9 degrees north of the Moon
June 20 Venus 2.3 degrees north of the Moon
June 21 Solstice
June 21 Mercury superior conjunction
June 22 Aldebaran 0.6 degrees south of the Moon Occn
June 23 Moon at perigee
June 24 Moon new
June 24 Mercury 5.2 degrees north of the Moon
June 24 Moon northern most declination (19.4 degrees)
June 24 Mars 4.4 degrees north of the Moon
June 28 Regulus 0.0 degrees north of the Moon Occn
June 28 Mercury 0.8 degrees north of Mars
  • 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
  • superior conjunction: Conjunction where the Sun is between the Earth another solar system object

The Solar System In March 2017

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

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in March

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

                 March  1  NZDT                   March 31  NZDT
                morning  evening                 morning  evening
SUN: rise:   6.59am,  set:  8.06pm    rise:   7.32am,  set:  7.16pm
Twilights Civil: starts: 6.33am, ends: 8.32pm starts: 7.07am, ends: 7.42pm Nautical: starts: 6.00am, ends: 9.06pm starts: 6.35am, ends: 8.14pm Astro: starts: 5.24am, ends: 9.41pm starts: 6.03am, ends: 8.46pm

The southern autumnal equinox is on March 20 at 11:29 pm

March phases of the moon (times as shown by guide)

          First quarter: March  6 at 12.32 am (Mar  5, 11:32 UT)
  Full moon:     March 13 at  3.54 am (Mar 12, 14:54 UT)
  Last quarter   March 21 at  4.58 am (Mar 20, 15:58 UT)
  New moon:      March 28 at  3.57 pm (02:57 UT)

The planets in March 2017

Mercury, Venus and Neptune are all at conjunction with the Sun during March so will be too close to the Sun for observation much of the month. Mars will remain an early evening object rather low to the west at sunset. Jupiter will move up into the evening sky being a few days short of opposition at the end of the month. Saturn is mostly a morning object but will rise shortly before midnight by the end of March.

Mercury is virtually unobservable throughout March. It is at superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun at midday on the 7th, NZ time. At conjunction the planet will pass 1.5° south of the Sun as seen from the Earth. Mercury will then be 204 million km ( 1.36 AU) from the Earth placing it 55.8 million km beyond the Sun

Before conjunction it is a morning object, but rises only 30 minutes before the Sun on the 1st. After conjunction Mercury becomes an evening object, but even by the 31st it will set only 30 minutes after the Sun.

Evening planets, venus, mars and jupiter

Venus sets some 40 minutes after the Sun on March 1. It is a very low object, only 4° up, 15 minutes after sunset, 30° north of the position of the set Sun. The comet Encke at magnitude 5.2 will then be 9° to the left of Venus and slightly lower but too faint to observe.

The angular distance of Venus from the Sun steadily decreases during the month until the planet is at inferior conjunction late on the evening of March 25. At conjunction the planet will pass 8° north of the Sun as seen from the Earth. It will be 42 million km from us and 108 million from the Sun.

After conjunction Venus will move into the morning sky and rise about 35 minutes before the Sun on the 31st but will be too low for observation.

Mars will also be a low early evening object. On the 1st it will be about 10° up 40 minutes after sunset, at the time Venus sets. Mars will be a little to the right of the position of Venus. Uranus will be less than 2° to the left of Mars but at magnitude 5.9 a difficult binocular object in the twilit sky.

Mars manages to keep ahead of the Sun during March, it sets 100 minutes after the Sun on the 1st and 85 minutes after on the 31st. The magnitude of Mars dims from 1.3 to 1.5 during the month.

On the evening of March 2 the 16% lit crescent moon will be just over 6° from Mars, above and to the right of the planet. A rather similar meeting of Mars and the moon will occur on the 31st, with the moon then 13% lit.

Jupiter will be the planet of the evening sky during March, although on the 1st it will not rise until 90 minutes after the Sun sets. By the end of March it will be up only 16 minutes after the Sun goes down.

On the 1st it will be 10.30 pm before Jupiter is reasonably easy to see 9° up to the east with Spica 4° to the upper right of the planet. The two form a pair throughout March, by the 31st they will be 6° apart.

On the 14th, two days after full moon, the latter will be 6.5° to the left of Jupiter as seen late evening, by the following morning the two will just over 4° apart. The rotation of the sky will bring the moon below Jupiter with Spica above the planet. The three should make an interesting grouping throughout the night.

Saturn in the morning sky.

Saturn rises an hour after midnight on the 1st and close to 11 pm on the 31st. Thus it remains essentially a morning sky object. The planet is in Sagittarius but some distance from the brighter stars of the constellation.

The last quarter moon will be just over 4° from Saturn on the morning of 21st NZ time.

Outer Planets

Uranus, at magnitude 5.9, remains in Pisces throughout the month setting 95 minutes after the Sun on the 1st, but only 30 minutes later on the 31st. It starts the month a couple of degrees to the left of Mars, but the latter moves steadily away from Uranus during the month. Also on the 1st the 9% lit crescent moon will be 7° to the left of Uranus with Mars 2° on the opposite side of Uranus, the three forming an almost horizontal line. The following evening the moon will be to the upper right of Mars.

Neptune is another planet at conjunction with the Sun in March, on the 2nd. After conjunction it will become a morning object, rising nearly 2.5 hours before the Sun on the 31st. The planet at magnitude 8.0 remains in Aquarius throughout March.

Pluto is in the morning sky rising about 2.35 am on the 1st and 12.40 am on the 31st. It will remain in Sagittarius about 2.5° from the 2.9 mag star pi Sgr.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres is an early evening object, magnitude 9.1. It starts the month in Cetus but moves into Aries starting on the 3rd. By the 31st it will set about 9 pm and be 4.5° to the upper right of Mars with the crescent moon 5.5° to the upper right of Ceres, the three not quite in line.

(4) Vesta an evening object in March will have a magnitude rising from 7.2 to 7.6 during the month. It is stationary early in the month and will then move slowly to the east. The asteroid is in Gemini and will be only 2.4° from beta Gem, Pollux, magnitude 1.2 by the end of March.

A loose cluster of asteroids are bright enough to be seen in binoculars at the beginning of March. On the 1st they are probably best seen about 11pm when they will be between NNE and NE. The asteroids are (9) METIS, (14) IRENE and (29) AMPHITRITE in Leo and (15) EUNOMIA in Sextans. Irene, magnitude 9.1, is just under 7° to the lower left of Metis, 9.2, while Amphitrite, 9.2, is some 14° to the upper right of Metis. Eunomia, mag 9.4,is further away, 21° above Metis. Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, is near midway between Eunomia and Metis, a little closer to the latter. At 11 pm the star will be about 30° above the horizon.

All four asteroids fade during the month and are likely to be lost to binocular view by the 31st.

COMET P/Encke (2P) is in Pisces fairly close to Venus with a magnitude 5.5 on the 1st. But it will be too low in southern skies following sunset to observe.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in March 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 March 2017

Bright planets are low in the east and west at the beginning of the month. Venus (not shown on the chart) might be seen from places with a low western skyline, setting 40 minutes after the Sun at the start of the month. It sets steadily earlier, disappearing by mid-March. Golden Jupiter rises in the east around 9:30 pm at the beginning of the month. By mid-month it is up at dusk. The near-full Moon will be near Jupiter on the 14th and 15th. Less obvious is Mars (not shown), looking like a medium-brightness red star above the western skyline at dusk. It sets about 80 minutes after the sun throughout the month. On March 1st the thin crescent Moon will be level with Mars and above Venus. The Moon is by Mars again on the 30th.

Jupiter is the biggest planet by far. Its mass is greater than all the other planets put together. In a telescope it shows parallel stripes. These are zones of warm and cold clouds, made narrow by Jupiter's rapid rotation. Any telescope shows Jupiter's disk with its four bright 'Galilean' moons lined up on either side. They are roughly the size of our moon. Sometimes one or two moons can be seen in binoculars, looking like faint stars close to the planet. Io, the smallest and closest to Jupiter, has massive volcanoes. The other moons have crusts of ice, some with oceans beneath, around rocky cores. Jupiter is 680 million km from us in March.

Northwest of overhead is Sirius the brightest star in the sky. It is fainter than star-like Venus and Jupiter. Southwest of the zenith is Canopus, the second brightest star. Below Sirius are Rigel and Betelgeuse, the brightest stars in Orion. Between them is a line of three stars: Orion's belt. To southern hemisphere star watchers, the line of three makes the bottom of 'The Pot'. Orion's belt points down and left to a V-shaped pattern of stars. These make the face of Taurus the Bull. The orange star is Aldebaran, Arabic for the eye of the bull. Continuing the line from Orion down and left finds the Pleiades or Matariki star cluster.

Sirius is the brightest star in the sky both because it is relatively close, nine light years* away, and 23 times brighter than the sun. Rigel, above and left of Orion's belt, is a bluish supergiant star, 40 000 times brighter than the sun and much hotter. It is 800 light years away. Orange Betelgeuse, below and right of the line of three, is a red-giant star, cooler than the sun but much bigger and 9000 times brighter. It is 400 light years from us. The handle of "The Pot", or Orion's sword, has the Orion Nebula at its centre; a glowing gas cloud many light-years across and 1300 light years away.

Near the north skyline are Pollux and Castor marking the heads of Gemini the twins. Left of Jupiter is the star cluster Praesepe, marking the shell of Cancer the crab. Praesepe is also called the Beehive cluster, the reason obvious when it is viewed in binoculars. The cluster is some 500 light years from us.

Crux, the Southern Cross, is in the southeast. Below it are Beta and Alpha Centauri, often called 'The Pointers'. Alpha Centauri is the closest naked-eye star, 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 is also a very luminous distant star; 13 000 times brighter than the sun and 300 light years away.

The Milky Way is brightest in the southeast toward Crux. It becomes broader lower in the southeast toward Scorpius. Above Crux the Milky Way can be traced to nearly overhead where it fades. It becomes very faint in the north, right of Orion. The Milky Way is our edgewise view of the galaxy, the pancake of billions of stars of which the sun is just one. We are 30,000 light years from the galaxy's centre.

The Clouds of Magellan, LMC and SMC are high in the south sky, easily seen by eye on a dark moonless night. They are two small galaxies about 160 000 and 200 000 light years away.

Saturn rises in the southeast around 1 a.m. at the beginning of the month; at 11 pm by the end. It looks like a lone bright star, cream-coloured, shining with a steady light. Well above it is Scorpius with orange Antares, marking Scorpio's body. A telescope magnifying 20x shows Saturn's rings. The rings are at their most 'open' now. Saturn is 1500 million km away in mid-March. The Moon is below Saturn on the 20th.

*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

May Moon & Planet data for 2017


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

May 2 Mercury stationary
May 3 Moon first quarter
May 4 Regulus 0.5 degrees north of the Moon Occn
May 7 Jupiter 2.0 degrees south of the Moon
May 9 Mercury 2.3 degrees south of Uranus
May 10 Moon full
May 12 Moon at apogee
May 13 Saturn 3.1 degrees south of the Moon
May 14 Moon southern most declination (-19.3 degrees)
May 15 Pluto 2.4 degrees south of the Moon
May 18 Mercury greatest elong W(26)
May 19 Moon last quarter
May 20 Neptune 0.4 degrees north of the Moon Occn
May 22 Venus 2.2 degrees north of the Moon
May 23 Uranus 3.7 degrees north of the Moon
May 24 Mercury 1.6 degrees north of the Moon
May 25 Moon new
May 26 Moon at perigee
May 26 Aldebaran 0.6 degrees south of the Moon Occn
May 27 Mars 5.3 degrees north of the Moon
May 27 Moon northern most declination (19.4 degrees)
May 31 Regulus 0.2 degrees north of the Moon Occn
  • 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 February 2017

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

Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in February

                            February  1  NZDT                 February 31  NZDT
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   6.24am,  set:  8.43pm    rise:   6.58am,  set:  8.07pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 5.56am,  ends: 9.12pm    starts: 6.32am,  ends: 8.34pm
  Nautical: starts: 5.18am,  ends: 9.50pm    starts: 5.58am,  ends: 9.08pm
  Astro:    starts: 4.36am,  ends:10.32pm    starts: 5.23am,  ends: 9.43pm

February phases of the moon (times as shown by guide)

          First quarter: February  4 at  5.19 pm (04:19 UT)
  Full moon:     February 11 at  1.33 pm (00:33 UT)
  Last quarter   February 19 at  8.33 am (Feb 18, 19:33 UT)
  New moon:      February 27 at  3.59 am (Feb 26, 14:59 UT)

Eclipses

Neither the penumbral eclipse of the Moon on February 11 nor the annular eclipse of the Sun on the 26th, are visible from New Zealand. Further details of both eclipses can be found on the RASNZ web page, <www.rasnz.org.nz/in-the-sky/eclipses>.

The planets in February 2017

Venus remains the obvious bright planet in the evening sky but gets considerably lower, setting earlier, during the month. Mars, much fainter, is only a few degrees higher. Jupiter begins to move into the late evening sky; in the morning sky it will be joined by Saturn and, during the first part of the month, by Mercury.

Evening planets, venus and mars

Venus will remain brilliant in the evening sky throughout February reaching magnitude -4.8 by the 28th. It will get much lower in the western sky during the month, setting before 9 pm, about 45 minutes after the Sun, at the end of February. The planet is in Pisces all month.

Mars will be about 5.5° above and to the right of Venus on the 1st, with the crescent moon less than 3° away on the other side of Mars. With a magnitude 1.1, while still quite bright, Mars will have less than 1% of the brilliance of Venus.

For the first few days of February the relative positions of two planets will change little, both moving to the east through the stars. Later in the month, as Venus' apparent motion slows, Mars will draw away from it. Venus is stationary early in March

Towards the end of February, Mars will pass Uranus. The two are closest on the evening of the 27th, when Uranus will be just over half a degree to the upper left of Mars. With a magnitude 5.9, Uranus will be an easy binocular object, with no star of a similar magnitude close by.

By the end of February Mars will set about 100 minutes after the Sun and nearly an hour later than Venus.

Late evening and morning

Jupiter rises near 11.30 pm on the 1st and 9.40 on the 28th. So by then it will be an obvious late evening object to the east. Anyone who has seen Jupiter in the morning sky recently will know that it is close to the first magnitude star Spica. Early in the month their separation will be 3.6°. On the 6th Jupiter is stationary, after that date it will start moving slowly to the west as the faster moving Earth begins to catch up with the planet. The resulting retrograde motion of Jupiter after the 6th will increase its distance very slightly from Spica.

On the night of the 15th and 16th the 80% lit waning moon will pass Jupiter. The two are closest at about 5 am on the 16th when the moon will be 3° below Jupiter with Spica 3.6° above the planet, the three forming a line near to dawn.

Morning

Saturn rises about 2.40 am on the 1st and an hour after midnight on the 28th. The planet is in Ophiuchus until the 21st when it moves into Sagittarius. The 32% lit waning moon will be 5° to the left of Saturn on the morning of February 21.

Saturn's ring system is now wide open as seen from the Earth. The planet's north pole is tilted towards us by over 26°. This is sufficient to bring the far edge of the ring system into view over the north pole of Saturn. Also the satellites, visible in a fairly small telescope, will appear scattered around the planet in a pattern changing from night to night.

Mercury rises about an hour and three-quarters before the Sun on February 1 so it should be visible in the morning sky about an hour before sunrise. The planet will then be a low 7° a little to the south of east. On the 1st Mercury is in Sagittarius at magnitude -0.2, it will be a little below the handle of the "teapot". During February Mercury moves out of Sagittarius, first into Capricornus on the 7th and then into Aquarius on the 24th. At the same time, its elongation from the Sun will steadily decrease. As a result the planet will be lost to view in the twilight glow by about the middle of the month.

The moon, as a very thin crescent, will be 5° to the left of Mercury on the morning of the 26th.

Outer Planets

Uranus, at 5.8 to 5.9, remains in Pisces and is best observe early evening. On the 1st about 12.30 am and about 10.30 pm on the 28th. As noted above it is close to Mars at the end of the month giving an easy opportunity to locate the outer planet in binoculars. On the 2nd, the 30% lit waxing moon will be just under 3° to the upper left of Uranus.

Neptune is in Aquarius at magnitude 8.0 throughout February. Nominally in the evening sky, it will be too close to the Sun to observe. It sets just 7 minutes after the Sun on the 28th.

Pluto was at conjunction with the Sun on January 7, so will be moving into the morning sky during February. The planet is still in Sagittarius and will rise at 2.40 am on the 28th.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres is an early evening object. It starts the month in Pisces but moves across a corner of Cetus starting on the 13th. The asteroid is a 9th magnitude object.

(4) Vesta is also an evening object in February with a magnitude fading from 6.6 to 7.1 during the month. It will move to the west through Gemini and will be between 3 and 4° from beta Gem, Pollux, magnitude 1.2.

Four other asteroids brighten sufficiently to be visible in binoculars during the month. Three of them (9) METIS, (14) IRENE and (29) AMPHITRITE are in Leo, although Irene crosses a spur of Leo Minor from the 3rd to the 12th. The fourth, (15) Eunomia is in Sextans. All four brighten to between magnitude 9.0 and 9.2. Three of them are at opposition during February, Eunomia February 16/17, Irene February 23/27 and Metis the following night. Amphitrite brightens from 9.8 on the 1st to 9.2 on the 28th. It is at opposition in March.

Comets.

Up to 3 comets May be visible in binoculars during February. Magnitudes shown are estimates for the whole comet, the nucleus is likely to be fainter.

P/Encke (2P) is in Pisces fairly close to Venus. It brightens during the month from magnitude 11.4 on the 1st to 5.5 on the 28th. Unfortunately as it brightens so it gets lower in the western early evening sky. By the 28th it will set only 34 minutes after the Sun making it virtually un observable.

P/Honda-Mrkos- Pajdusakova (45P) moves into the morning sky at the beginning of February. On the 8th it will be at magnitude 8.3. Two mornings later (10th) at 8.5 it will 6° to the lower left of alpha Oph (2.1). On the 13th 2° below alpha CrB (2.2) and on the mornings of 15 and 16 Feb at mag 9.2 it will be 12.5°below Arcturus (mag 0.2). Thus it will remain a very low object for NZ observers.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in February 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 February 2017

Brilliant Venus is the 'evening star', appearing due west soon after sunset. It sets progressively earlier: 90 minutes after the sun at the beginning of the month, shrinking to 30 minutes after sunset at the end. A telescope shows Venus as a thinning crescent as it comes between us and the sun. It is 66 million km away mid-month. Mars is above and right of Venus, a lone reddish 'star' much fainter than Venus. Mars sets more than 90 minutes after the sun all month. At mid-month Mars is 291 million km away on the far side of the sun. The moon will be above Mars on the 1st.

Jupiter rises due east before midnight at the beginning of the month; before 10 pm at the end. It is the brightest 'star' in the late-night sky and shines with a steady golden light. A telescope will easily show Jupiter’s four bright moons. Binoculars often show one or two of them looking like faint stars close to the planet. Jupiter is 725 million km from us mid-month. It is 11 times Earth's diameter and 320 times Earth's mass. Beside Jupiter is Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. The Moon, past full, will be near Jupiter on the night of the 15th-16th.

Sirius, 'the Dog Star', marks the head of Canis Major the big dog. A group of stars above and right of it make the dog's hindquarters and tail, upside down. Procyon, in the northeast below Sirius, marks the smaller of the two dogs that follow Orion the hunter across the sky. Sirius is eight light years* away.

Below and left of Sirius are bluish Rigel and orange Betelgeuse, the brightest stars in Orion. Between them is a line of three stars: Orion's belt. To southern hemisphere star watchers, the line of three makes the bottom of 'The Pot'. The handle of The Pot is Orion's sword, a fainter line of stars above the bright three. At its centre is the Orion Nebula; a glowing gas cloud around 1300 light years away.

Orion's belt points down and left to the orange star Aldebaran. Continuing the line finds the Pleiades or Matariki star cluster. Aldebaran is Arabic for 'the eye of the bull'. It is on one tip of an upside-down V that makes the face of Taurus. The V-shaped group is called the Hyades cluster. It is 130 light years away. Aldebaran is not a member of the cluster but merely on the line of sight, 65 light years from us. It is 145 times brighter than the sun. The Pleiades/Matariki star cluster is also known as the Seven Sisters and Subaru among many names. Six stars are seen by eye; dozens are visible in binoculars. The cluster is 440 light years from us. From northern New Zealand the bright star Capella is on the north skyline. It is 90,000 times brighter than the sun and 3300 light years away.

Crux, the Southern Cross, is in the southeast. Below it are Beta and Alpha Centauri, often called 'The Pointers'. Alpha Centauri is the closest naked-eye star, 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 is also a very luminous distant star; 13 000 times brighter than the sun and 300 light years away.

The Milky Way is brightest in the southeast toward Crux. It can be traced up the sky, fading where it is nearly overhead. It becomes very faint east, or right, of 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 Clouds of Magellan, LMC and SMC are high in the south sky, easily seen by eye on a dark moonless night. They are two small galaxies about 160 000 and 200 000 light years away.

Saturn (not shown) rises in the southeast before 3 a.m. at the beginning of the month; around 1 a.m. by the end. It has a creamy colour and is the brightest 'star' in that part of the sky. It is always worth a look in a telescope. Saturn is 1570 million km away mid-month. The Moon will be near Saturn on the 21st.

Mercury appears below and right of Saturn, rising around 4:30 a.m. at the beginning of the month, two hours before the sun. It slowly sinks into the twilight and disappears before month's end as it moves to the far side of the sun. It is 200 million km away mid-month.

*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