The Solar System In October 2016

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 October

                            October  1  NZDT               October 30  NZDT
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   6.52am,  set:  7.28pm    rise:   6.06am,  set:  8.03pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 6.27am,  ends: 7.55pm    starts: 5.39am,  ends: 8.31pm
  Nautical: starts: 5.55am,  ends: 8.27pm    starts: 5.03am,  ends: 9.07pm
  Astro:    starts: 5.21am,  ends: 9.01pm    starts: 4.24am,  ends: 9.46pm

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

          New moon:      October  1 at  1.11 pm (00:11 UT)
  First quarter: October  9 at  5.33 pm (04:33 UT)
  Full moon:     October 16 at  5.23 pm (04:23 UT)
  Last quarter   October 23 at  8.14 am (Oct 22, 19:14 UT)
  New moon:      October 31 at  6.38 am (Oct 30, 17:38 UT)

The planets in October 2016

Mercury is too close to the Sun for observation throughout October as is Jupiter for most of the month. Venus climbs a little further into the evening sky and passes Saturn. Mars remains well placed in the evening sky.

Mercury starts October as a morning object but rises only 24 minutes before the Sun. During the rest of October it gets closer to the Sun until at superior conjunction on the 28th. The planet will then be 214 million km from the Earth (1.43 AU) and some 65 million km beyond the Sun. By the end of October Mercury, nominally an evening object, will set about 10 minutes after then Sun

Venus becomes even more prominent in the evening sky in October. It sets two hours and forty after the Sun on the 1st increasing to three and a quarter hours later on the 31st, that is after 11 pm. The planet starts the month in Libra, moves into Scorpius on the 18th and on into Ophiuchus on the 25th. A night later Venus will be 3° from Antares. On the 30th it will be 3° from Saturn. Its path in Ophiuchus takes it about midway between Antares and Saturn with the three virtually in line on the evening of the 28th.

Much earlier in the month, a thin crescent moon is 7° from Venus on the evening of October 4.

Mars remains an evening object in Sagittarius during October setting about 2 am by the end of the month. It slowly dims a little during the month as the Earth pulls away from the planet

On the 7th Mars will be only 12 arc minutes from the star lambda Sgr, magnitude 2.8, that is less than half the diameter of the full moon. Later, in mid October Mars will be just over a degree from Nunki, at magnitude 2.1 the brightest star in the "handle" of the "teapot". The moon, a little short of first quarter, is 8° from Mars on the 8th.

Jupiter was at conjunction with the Sun on September 26. Consequently it has moved into the dawn sky but is too close to the Sun for observation for most of October. By the 31st it rises about an hour earlier than the Sun, and May be visible very low to the east half an hour before sunrise.

Saturn remains in Ophiuchus during October, a few degrees to the right of Antares as seen in the mid evening sky. By the end of October Saturn sets about 11 pm. The crescent moon will be at its closest to Saturn for the month, 4° to the right of, and slightly lower than, the planet. Towards the end of the month Saturn is passed by Venus.

Outer Planets

Uranus, at magnitude 5.7, is in Pisces. It is at opposition on October 15, so in the sky all night. It is then just under 19 AU, 2835 million km, from the Earth and one more astronomical unit from the Sun.

Neptune is in Aquarius at magnitude 7.8 to 7.9. By the end of October it will set about 4 am. An occultation of Neptune by the moon on October 13 is visible from the extreme east of Siberia, Alaska and northwest Canada.

Pluto at magnitude 14.4 is also in the evening sky during October setting after midnight. The planet remains in Sagittarius, by the end of the month it will be about 15 arc-minutes from the magnitude 3.7 star omega Sgr. Mars' path will take it past Pluto during October. The two are closest on the 19th with Mars 3.3° from Pluto.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres is in Cetus during October and is at opposition on October 25. Its magnitude will then be 7.4.

(18) Melpomene is also in Cetus about 7° from Ceres. Melpomene is at opposition with a magnitude 8.0, a few days after Ceres.

(4) Vesta starts October as a morning object in Gemini 8° from the 1.2 magnitude star Pollux. It crosses into Cancer on the 10th. By the end of the month its magnitude will be 7.9. It will then rise about 2 am.

(11) Parthenope reaches a magnitude 9.2 when at opposition at the beginning of October. It is then in Cetus but moves on into Pisces on the 11th. Parthenope fades quite rapidly following opposition to 10.0 by the end of the month.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in October 2016

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 2016

Venus is the brilliant evening star appearing in the west at sunset. Above it is Saturn with orange Antares to its left. Higher again is Mars, brighter than Saturn and distinctly orange-red in colour. Venus and Mars hold their elevations, night to night, but Saturn and the stars slip lower. In the last days of the month Venus is between Antares and Saturn. The crescent moon is well to the right of Venus on the 4th, Saturn on the 6th and Mars on the 8th.

The apparent proximity of planets is just a line-of-sight effect. We are moving to the far side of the sun from slow distant Saturn. It is 1590 million km away mid-month. We are also leaving Mars behind but it more nearly matches Earth's speed, hence it is slipping only slowly down the sky. It is 172 million km away on the 15th. Venus is catching us up on the inside lane, 193 million km away mid-month. Saturn is the only one worth a look in a telescope. Venus and Mars are small gibbous disks.

Antares marks the heart of the Scorpion. (Scorpions don't actually have hearts, but this is star lore not entomology.) 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.

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 three or 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 around Venus, 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, many centuries ago.

At the end of the month golden Jupiter is on the dawn horizon at 5 a.m.

*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 2016


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 1 Moon southern most declination (-18.9 degrees)
December 2 Pluto 2.8 degrees south of the Moon
December 3 Venus 5.8 degrees south of the Moon
December 5 Mars 2.9 degrees south of the Moon
December 6 Neptune 0.7 degrees south of the Moon Occn
December 7 Moon first quarter
December 9 Uranus 2.9 degrees north of the Moon
December 10 Saturn at conjunction
December 10 Mercury greatest elong E(21)
December 12 Moon at perigee
December 13 Aldebaran 0.5 degrees south of the Moon Occn
December 14 Moon full
December 14 Moon northern most declination (18.9 degrees)
December 18 Regulus 1.0 degrees north of the Moon Occn
December 19 Mercury stationary
December 21 Moon last quarter
December 21 Solstice
December 22 Jupiter 2.3 degrees south of the Moon
December 23 Spica 5.8 degrees south of the Moon
December 25 Moon at apogee
December 27 Saturn 3.6 degrees south of the Moon
December 28 Mercury inferior conjunction
December 29 Moon southern most declination (-19.0 degrees)
December 29 Mercury 1.8 degrees south of the Moon
December 29 Moon new
December 29 Uranus stationary
December 30 Pluto 2.7 degrees south of the Moon
  • 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 2016

Dates and times shown are NZST (UT + 12 hours) until the start of NZDT (UT + 13 hours) on Sunday 25 September at 2 am when clocks should be put forward 1 hour.

The southern spring equinox is on September 23 at 2:22 am.

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

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in September

                            September  1  NZST               September 30  NZDT
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   6.43am,  set:  5.58pm    rise:   6.54am,  set:  7.27pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 6.18am,  ends: 6.24pm    starts: 6.29am,  ends: 7.53pm
  Nautical: starts: 5.46am,  ends: 6.56pm    starts: 5.56am,  ends: 8.26pm
  Astro:    starts: 5.14am,  ends: 7.28pm    starts: 5.23am,  ends: 9.00pm

September phases of the moon (times as shown by Guide)

          New moon:      September  1 at  9.03 pm (09:03 UT)
  First quarter: September  9 at 11.49 am (11:49 UT)
  Full moon:     September 17 at  7.05 am (Sep 16, 19:05 UT)
  Last quarter   September 23 at  9.56 pm (09:56 UT)

The planets in September 2016

Mercury, Venus and Jupiter start the month as a close group low to the west after sunset. Mercury will disappear after a few days and Jupiter after a few more days as they move into conjunction with the Sun.

Saturn and Mars remain prominent throughout the evening in the vicinity of Antares.

Mercury Venus and Jupiter

Mercury starts September as an evening object setting an hour and forty-five minutes after the Sun on the 1st. That evening, three-quarters of an hour after sunset, the planet at magnitude 1.4, will be almost due west and some 10° above the horizon. Finding it will be made easier by the presence of Venus 6.5° to its right and a little higher. Jupiter will also be present below Venus and slightly to its left.

Two evenings later the moon will join the group with the thin crescent of the two day old moon between Venus and Jupiter.

Over the next few nights Mercury will rapidly get lower in the evening sky to disappear in the twilight. On the 13th it is at inferior conjunction between the Earth prior to becoming a morning object. Towards the end of September, Mercury will rise about half an hour earlier than the Sun so remaining more or less unobservable.

Jupiter will also continue to get lower in the evening sky to be at conjunction on the far side of the Sun on the 26th. It will then be 5.45AU, 8.15 million km beyond the Sun.

Venus on the other hand will get a little higher in the evening sky, setting just over two and a half hours after the Sun on the 30th.

Mars and SATURN will also be in the evening sky forming a fairly close group with Antares at the beginning of the month. During September Mars will move away from Antares while the much slower moving Saturn will remain about 6° from the star.

Mars starts September in Scorpius, joins Saturn in Ophiuchus on the 3rd but moves on into Sagittarius on the 22nd. The moon, near first quarter, will join the two planets in Ophiuchus on September 9.

Outer Planets

Uranus, at magnitude 5.7, is in Pisces. By the end of September it will rise just over an hour after the Sun sets making it observable late evening.

Neptune is at opposition on September 2 when it will be 4330 million km, almost 29 astronomical units, from the Earth. The planet is in Aquarius at magnitude 7.8.

Pluto at magnitude 14.4 is also in the evening sky during September setting well after midnight. The planet remains in Sagittarius some 1.5° from the magnitude 2.9 star pi Sgr and less than half a degree from the magnitude 3.7 star omega Sgr.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres is in Cetus during September and brightens from magnitude 8.4 to 7.8 making it the brightest asteroid. It is at its best as a morning object, although it will rise close to 10 pm on the 1st and close to 9 pm on the 30th.

(18) Melpomene is also in Cetus and close to Ceres, the two being less than a degree apart between September 6 and 10. Melpomene starts the month at magnitude 9.0 and ends it at 8.3, similar to Vesta.

(2) Pallas, in the evening sky, starts September at magnitude 9.3 in Equuleus. It moves into Aquarius on the 26th, dimming a little to 9.7 by the end of the month.

(4) Vesta rises close to 4 am on September 1, remaining in Gemini throughout the month. On the morning of the 3rd it will be only 10 arc-minutes from the 4th magnitude star zeta Gem. The asteroid brightens slightly during the month from magnitude 8.5 to 8.3. By the end of September it will rise about 3.40 am NZDT.

(11) Parthenope is another asteroid which brightens during September, from magnitude 9.8 to 9.2 when at opposition at the end of the month. It is also in Cetus although over 20° from Ceres and Melpomene.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in September 2016

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 2016

All five naked-eye planets are visible in the evening sky at the beginning of the month. Mercury, Venus and Jupiter are low in the west, setting 90 minutes after the Sun. Venus is the brightest, with golden Jupiter below it. Mercury is fainter and left of the bright pair. (Jupiter and Mercury are not shown on the chart.) Venus remains the 'evening star' while Jupiter and Mercury slip into the twilight over the following nights. We are leaving Jupiter behind on the far side of the Sun. Venus is catching us up. Mercury is passing between us and the Sun. The thin crescent Moon will be between Jupiter and Venus on the 3rd. At the beginning of the month Mercury is 104 million km from us, Venus 230 million km, Jupiter 960 million km.

Orange Mars and cream-coloured Saturn are northwest of the zenith at dusk. Orange Antares is on their left and fainter. Saturn stays near Antares as both drift lower through the month. Mars holds its elevation night-to-night so moves upward away from Saturn. Saturn is worth a look in any telescope. Good binoculars will show it as an oval, the planet and rings blended together. It is 1530 million km away mid-month. Mars is 146 million km away and tiny in a telescope. The first-quarter Moon will be below Saturn and Mars on the 9th.

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, 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 Venus 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.

*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 2016


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 Saturn 3.7 degrees south of the Moon
November 4 Moon southern most declination (-18.7 degrees)
November 5 Pluto 3.0 degrees south of the Moon
November 6 Mars 5.3 degrees south of the Moon
November 7 Moon first quarter
November 9 Neptune 1.0 degrees south of the Moon Occn
November 12 Uranus 2.7 degrees north of the Moon
November 14 Moon at perigee
November 14 Moon full
November 15 Aldebaran 0.5 degrees south of the Moon Occn
November 17 Moon northern most declination (18.8 degrees)
November 19 Mercury 2.8 degrees north of Antares
November 20 Neptune stationary
November 21 Moon last quarter
November 21 Regulus 1.2 degrees north of the Moon
November 23 Mercury 3.4 degrees south of Saturn
November 25 Jupiter 1.8 degrees south of the Moon
November 25 Venus 3.5 degrees south of Pluto
November 25 Spica 5.6 degrees south of the Moon
November 27 Moon at apogee
November 29 Moon new
November 30 Saturn 3.6 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 August 2016

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

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

Sunrise, Sunset and Twilight Times in August

                            August  1  NZST                  August 31  NZST
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   7.26am,  set:  5.28pm    rise:   6.45am,  set:  5.57pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 6.59am,  ends: 5.56pm    starts: 6.20am,  ends: 6.23pm
  Nautical: starts: 6.26am,  ends: 6.29pm    starts: 5.48am,  ends: 6.55pm
  Astro:    starts: 5.53am,  ends: 7.01pm    starts: 5.16am,  ends: 7.27pm

August phases of the moon (times as shown by Guide)

          New moon:      August  3 at  8.45 am (Aug  2, 20:45 UT)
  First quarter: August 11 at  6.21 am (Aug 10, 18:21 UT)
  Full moon:     August 18 at  9.27 pm (09:27 UT)
  Last quarter   August 25 at  3.41 pm (03:41 UT)

The Planets in August

August is a month of planetary conjunctions. All the planets are visible at some time in the evening sky.

Mercury, Venus and Jupiter, early evening objects

Towards the end of August a fine grouping of the three planets will be visible in the early evening sky as the sky darkens following sunset. Between August 18 and 22 Mercury will be about 4° to the left of Jupiter. On the 18th Jupiter will be a little higher than Mercury. Over the next few evenings Jupiter will move down and become the lower of the two. Venus will be a few degrees below the pair.

Over the following evenings Venus will close in on Jupiter. On the 27th it will be 42 arc minutes below Jupiter, the following evening Venus is 19 minutes above Jupiter. Mercury, at magnitude 0.9 nearly 3 fainter than Jupiter will 5° to the left of the pair and a little higher.

At their closest just before midday, NZST, on the 28th, the two planets will be about 4 arc minutes apart. In NZ skies they are about 32° up at an azimuth of 52°, ie 52° from north round to east. In a clear sky Venus should be readily visible in binoculars or a small telescope. Having found Venus, Jupiter, about 2 magnitudes fainter, should be visible at least in a small telescope. The pair will be some 22° from the Sun.

On the 29th Venus is at its closest to Mercury. The two will be some 5° apart with Jupiter 1.3° below Venus. The line from Venus to Jupiter is almost at right angle to the line from Venus to Mercury.

The moon passes the three planets early in the month. For NZ it is closest to Venus on the evening of the 4th, when the very thin crescent moon, Venus and Regulus will form a triangle, just over 2° on each side. The moon is 3° above Mercury on the 5th and half a degree from Jupiter on the 6th. The moon occults both Mercury and Jupiter this month, but neither events are visible from NZ.

For good measure Venus is about a degree from Regulus, magnitude 1.4, on August 5 and 6.

Mars, Saturn and Antares

Not to be outdone, Mars and Saturn are also in conjunction towards the end of August. They are at their closest on the 24th, with Mars between Saturn and Antares. Mars, brightest at magnitude -0.4, will be 1.8° from Antares, mag 1.0, with Saturn, mag 0.4, in the opposite direction. The three will be easily seen all evening, they don't set until well after midnight.

Mars, moving quite rapidly, starts August in Libra but crosses into Scorpius on the 2nd. Its path takes it between delta and pi Sco (mags 2.3 and 2.9 respectively) on the 9th and 10th. As it passes between Saturn and Antares in the fourth week of August, Mars will cross a corner of Ophiuchus before returning to Scorpius on the 27th.

Saturn, in Ophiuchus, is stationary on the 13th so its position changes very little during the month.

The moon, a day after first quarter will join the group on the 12th. It is closer to Saturn, the two about 4.5° apart during the evening.

Outer planets

Uranus, at magnitude 5.8, is in Pisces. It rises nearly half an hour before midnight on August 1 and by 10 pm later in the month.

Neptune rises at 8am on the 1st and as the Sun sets on the 31st. (Opposition is on September 2). The planet is at magnitude 7.8.

Pluto at magnitude 14.3 is also in the evening sky during August setting well after midnight. The planet remains in Sagittarius. Late in the month it will be just under half a degree north of the 3.7 magnitude star Omega Sgr.

Minor planets

(1) Ceres is in Cetus during August and brightens from magnitude 8.9 to 8.4. It is essentially a morning object, although it will rise just after 10 pm on the 31st.

(2) Pallas starts August at magnitude 9.4 in Pegasus. It then rises at 8pm. Its retrograde motion takes Pallas into Equuleus on August 21 having been at opposition on August 13 at magnitude 9.2.

(4) Vesta rises close to 5 am on August 1. It is in then the most northerly part of Orion some 15° north of Betelgeuse. By the 7th it will have moved on into Gemini. At the end of August, Vesta will rise just before 4am. Its magnitude is 8.5 to 8.4.

(18) Melpomene starts August in Pisces at magnitude 9.6 it moves to the east into Cetus on the 16th. By the month it will have brightened to magnitude 9.0 and be less than 2° from Ceres when it will rise just after 10 pm

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in August 2016

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 2016

All five naked-eye planets are visible in the early evening sky. Mercury, Venus and Jupiter are low in the west and shuffle around through the month. Mars and Saturn are north of overhead near Antares. Bright stars are widely scattered. Vega on the north skyline is balanced by Canopus low in the south. Orange Arcturus is in the northwest. The Southern Cross, Crux, and the Pointers are midway down the southwest sky. The Milky Way spans the sky from northeast to southwest.

Venus, the brilliant silver 'evening star' sets in the west an hour after the sun at the beginning of the month, extending to nearly two hours by the end. Jupiter, higher in the west and golden-coloured, sets steadily earlier through the month: at 9 pm at the start of August and before 8 pm at the end. Mercury makes its best evening sky appearance of the year. It is roughly midway between Jupiter and Venus at the beginning of the month. Around the 20th Mercury will be left of Jupiter but much fainter. It begins to sink back into the twilight at the end of the month. On August 27-28 Jupiter and Venus will be close together, easily included in the same view in a telescope.

At the beginning of August Mars, Saturn and Antares make an isosceles triangle north of the zenith. Mars is the brightest of the three and the same colour as Antares. Saturn is cream-coloured. Saturn stays put against the background stars. Mars moves steadily eastward. On the 25th Mars will be two degrees, four full-moon diameters, from Antares making a striking pairing of orange 'stars'. The planet groupings are line-of-sight effects, of course. On the 25th, when the planets are in groups, Mercury is 118 million km away, Venus 233 million, Mars is 128 million, Jupiter 951 million and Saturn 1475 million km.

Canopus, the second brightest star, is near the south skyline at dusk. It swings upward into the southeast sky through the morning hours. On the opposite horizon is Vega, one of the brightest northern stars. It is due north in mid-evening and sets around midnight.

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.

Arcturus, in the northwest at dusk, is the fourth brightest star and the brightest in the northern hemisphere. It is 120 times the sun's brightness and 37 light years away. When low in the sky Arcturus twinkles red and green as the air splits up its orange light. It sets in the northwest around 10 pm.

Antares marks the heart 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.

*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 2016


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 1 Moon new
October 2 Spica 5.5 degrees south of the Moon
October 3 Venus 4.9 degrees south of the Moon
October 4 Moon at apogee
October 6 Saturn 3.7 degrees south of the Moon
October 8 Moon southern most declination (-18.5 degrees)
October 9 Pluto 3.2 degrees south of the Moon
October 9 Moon first quarter
October 11 Mercury 0.8 degrees north of Jupiter
October 13 Neptune 1.1 degrees south of the Moon Occn
October 15 Uranus at opposition
October 16 Uranus 2.7 degrees north of the Moon
October 16 Moon full
October 17 Moon at perigee
October 19 Aldebaran 0.4 degrees south of the Moon Occn
October 19 Mars 3.3 degrees south of Pluto
October 20 Moon northern most declination (18.6 degrees)
October 21 Mercury 3.2 degrees north of Spica
October 22 Moon last quarter
October 25 Regulus 1.5 degrees north of the Moon
October 26 Venus 3.1 degrees north of Antares
October 27 Mercury superior conjunction
October 28 Jupiter 1.3 degrees south of the Moon
October 29 Spica 5.5 degrees south of the Moon
October 30 Venus 3.0 degrees south of Saturn
October 30 Moon new
October 30 Mercury 4.2 degrees south of the Moon
October 31 Moon at apogee
  • 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 July 2016

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

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

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in July

                            July  1  NZST                    July 31  NZST
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   7.44am,  set:  5.04pm    rise:   7.27am,  set:  5.27pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 7.16am,  ends: 5.33pm    starts: 7.00am,  ends: 5.55pm
  Nautical: starts: 6.42am,  ends: 6.08pm    starts: 6.27am,  ends: 6.28pm
  Astro:    starts: 6.08am,  ends: 6.41pm    starts: 5.54am,  ends: 7.01pm

July phases of the Moon (times as shown by GUIDE)

          New moon:      July  4 at 11.01 pm (11:01 UT)
  First quarter: July 12 at 12.52 pm (00:52 UT)
  Full moon:     July 20 at 10.57 am (July 19, 22:57 UT)
  Last quarter   July 27 at 11.00 am (July 26, 23:00 UT)

The planets in July

All five naked eye planets are visible during some part of the evening by late July. Mercury becomes easily visible in the early evening sky towards the end of the month. Venus will be lower Mercury from the second part of July. Mars remains prominent although fading a little while Jupiter gets lower to the east. Saturn will not be far from Mars.

Mercury is at superior conjunction on July 7, when it will be 47 million km (0.314 AU) beyond the Sun and 199 million km (1.33 AU) from the Earth. Before conjunction Mercury will be too close to the Sun to observe, after conjunction it becomes an evening object setting after the Sun. By the end of July the planet will set nearly 2 hours later than the Sun. On the evenings of the 30th and 31st Mercury will be less than a degree from Regulus with Mercury at magnitude -0.1, 1.5 magnitudes brighter than Regulus. About an hour after sunset the two will be 7° up in a direction half way between west and northwest.

Earlier in July on the 16th, Mercury and Venus will be less than a degree apart. But the two planets will set only 45 minutes after the Sun, making observation difficult. At 5.30 with the Sun only 4° below the horizon, the planets will be a low 4° above it. Venus at magnitude -3.9 May be detectable, Mercury's magnitude being-1.1.

Venus, in the very early evening sky will set less than half an hour after the Sun on the 1st and about 50 minutes after the Sun on the 31st. So it will be a very low object at best.

Venus starts the month in Gemini, moves across Cancer between July 10 and 26 and ends the month in Leo heading towards Regulus.

Mars remains a prominent evening object although loses a little of its brightness during July as the Earth recedes from it. By the end of the month it will still be bright at magnitude -0.8.

The planet will be in Libra moving rather slowly to the east after being stationary at the end of June. By the end of July, Mars will be poised to cross into Scorpius, heading towards its rival Antares.

The moon passes Mars mid month, but the two do not get very close. They are about 10° apart on the nights of July 14 and 15.

Jupiter becomes an early evening object during July, setting just after 9pm on the 31st. It remains in Leo.

The 25% lit crescent moon will be just over 1° from Jupiter on July 9. An occultation of the planet is only visible from the Southern Ocean to the south of Australia and parts of Antarctica beyond.

Saturn is well paced for evening viewing during July, a bright object about 6° from Antares which it will outshine by nearly a magnitude. The colour of the two makes a contrast. The planet is in Ophiuchus moving slowly in a retrograde sense to the west.

The 87% lit moon will be just under 4° from Saturn on the evening of July 16.

Outer planets

Uranus, at magnitude 5.9, is a morning object in Pisces although it will rise just before midnight by the end of July. It is stationary on the 30th , with its position changing only slightly during the month.

Neptune rises near 10 pm at the beginning of the month advancing to 8am by the month's end. The planet, at magnitude 7.9, is in Aquarius and will be about half a degree from the 3.7 magnitude star lambda Aqr. In the mid to late evening Neptune will be to the right of the star early in the month gradually moving up to be at the star's upper right by the end of the month. There are no stars as bright as Neptune between them to cause confusion.

Pluto at magnitude 14.3 is also in evening sky during July. The planet remains in Sagittarius. It moves away from the 2.9 magnitude star pi Sgr during July, starting only 8 arc-minutes from the star on the 1st, the distance increasing to almost a degree by the 31st.

Minor planets

(1) Ceres, is in Cetus during July moving to the east. It brightens slightly through the month, from 9.2 to 8.9.. It rises at 1.30 am on the 1st and close to midnight on the 31st.

(4) Vesta rises 100 minutes before the Sun on July 1 and just after 5 am on the 31st. Starting the month in Taurus, Vesta will be less than half a degree from the magnitude 3 star zeta Tau on the morning of the 14th. On the 21st the asteroid will cross into Orion.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand