The Evening Sky in July 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 July 2016

Bright planets and bright stars are scattered over the evening sky. Golden Jupiter appears in the north soon after sunset and orange Mars in the northeast. Cream-coloured Saturn appears below and right of Mars as the sky darkens. Sirius, the brightest true star, 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. Midway down the north sky is orange Arcturus, similar in brightness to Saturn. 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.

Brilliant Venus (not shown) sets in the west about 25 minutes after the Sun at the beginning of the month so might be seen from places with a low western skyline. Its setting time gets steadily later. By the end of the month it sets more than an hour after the sun. Mercury (not shown) joins Venus in the first half of July. On the 17th the two planets will appear close together. Mercury will be much fainter than Venus. The apparent pairing is just a line-of-sight effect. Mercury is 194 million km from us, coming around from the far side of the Sun. Venus is 253 million km away on the far side of the sun. For the rest of the month Mercury will be above and right of Venus. On the 30th-31st Mercury will be passing Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. So all five naked-eye planets will be in the early evening sky in the second half of July.

Jupiter and Saturn are always worth a look in any telescope. Jupiter's four 'Galilean' moons can be seen lined up on each side of the planet. Sometimes one or two may be missing as they pass in front of, or behind, Jupiter. The Moon will be near Jupiter on the 9th. A small telescope shows Saturn's ring system and biggest moon Titan looking like a star about four ring-diameters from the planet. Big telescopes show fainter moons closer in. Jupiter is 890 million km away mid-month; Saturn is 1390 million km away. Mercury, Venus and Mars, though bright, are small in a telescope. Mars is 95 million km away mid-month and fading as we leave it behind.

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, above Saturn, is the orange star Antares, marking the heart 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. The Small Cloud is 200 000 light years and 3% of the Milky Way's mass.

*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

September Moon & Planet data for 2016


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 new Eclipse
September 2 Mercury 5.4 degrees south of Jupiter
September 2 Neptune at opposition
September 2 Mercury 5.7 degrees south of the Moon
September 2 Jupiter 0.3 degrees south of the Moon Occn
September 3 Venus 1.1 degrees south of the Moon Occn
September 5 Spica 5.6 degrees south of the Moon
September 6 Moon at apogee
September 8 Saturn 3.8 degrees south of the Moon
September 9 Moon first quarter
September 10 Moon southern most declination (-18.5 degrees)
September 11 Pluto 3.2 degrees south of the Moon
September 12 Mercury inferior conjunction
September 15 Neptune 1.1 degrees south of the Moon Occn
September 16 Moon full Eclipse
September 18 Moon at perigee
September 18 Uranus 2.8 degrees north of the Moon
September 18 Venus 2.4 degrees north of Spica
September 21 Mercury stationary
September 21 Aldebaran 0.2 degrees south of the Moon Occn
September 22 Equinox
September 23 Moon last quarter
September 23 Moon northern most declination (18.5 degrees)
September 26 Pluto stationary
September 26 Jupiter at conjunction
September 27 Regulus 1.6 degrees north of the Moon
September 29 Mercury greatest elong W(18)
September 29 Mercury 0.7 degrees north of the Moon Occn
September 30 Jupiter 0.8 degrees south of the Moon Occn
  • apogee: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
  • conjunction: Two astronomical objects are 'lined up' (have the same right ascension) when viewed from Earth. If only one object is mentioned the Sun is generally the other object.
  • declination: 'Latitude' for celestial objects. The distance in degress above (north) or below (south) the celestial equator.
  • inferior conjunction: Conjunction where a solar system object is between the Earth and the Sun
  • perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth

The Solar System in June 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.

The southern hemisphere winter solstice is on June 21 with the Sun furthest north at about 10am.

Sunrise, Sunset and Twilight Times in June

                            June  1  NZST                    June 30  NZST
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   7.34am,  set:  5.02pm    rise:   7.45am,  set:  5.04pm
Twilights
  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 as Shown By Guide)

          New moon:      June  5 at  3.00 pm (03:00 UT)
  First quarter: June 12 at  8.10 pm (08:12 UT)
  Full moon:     June 20 at 11.02 pm (11:02 UT)
  Last quarter   June 28 at  6.19 am (June 27, 18:19 UT)

The Planets in June

Mars, Saturn and Jupiter will be prominent in the evening sky with the latter low by late evening. Mercury will start June as an easy morning object in the dawn sky. It will brighten during the month but get too close to the Sun to observe towards the end of June.

Venus is at superior conjunction on June 7, it then becomes an evening object but remains too close to the Sun to observe.

Mercury starts June as a morning object rising more than 2 hours before the Sun on the 1st. With a magnitude 0.9 it will be 10° up an hour before sunrise. Look for Mercury in a direction nearly 30° north of east. The planet is at its greatest elongation 24° west of the Sun on the 5th. During the rest of June Mercury will slip back towards the Sun but also gain in brightness, reaching a magnitude -1.6 on the 30th. But by then it will rise only 30 minutes before the Sun.

On the morning of June 4 a very thin crescent moon will be 6° from Mercury, the moon to the lower right of the planet. An occultation of Mercury by the moon, shortly before midnight NZ time, will only be visible from parts of the southern Atlantic Ocean including South Georgia.

Venus is close to the Sun all month. Too close for observation. On the first it rises into the morning sky only 7 minutes before the Sun.

The planet is at superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun on June 7. At this conjunction Venus will pass behind the Sun as "seen" from the Earth. In fact the "occultation" of Venus by the Sun lasts from about 11 am on June 6 (June 5, 23hr UT) to 9am on June 8 (June 7, 21 hr UT), that is for some 46 hours. At conjunction Venus will be 108 million km (0.72 au) beyond the Sun

After conjunction Venus will become an evening object. By the end of June it will set only 25 minutes after the Sun.

Mars starts June at magnitude -2.0, the same as Jupiter. But the colours are very different, Mars being distinctly orange. Following conjunction late in May, the Earth will be pulling away from Mars during June. As a result the planet will dim a little, but still be at magnitude -1.6 on the 30th.

During June Mars will be in Libra moving to the west towards alpha Lib and away from Antares and Saturn. The planet is stationary on June 30.

The 90% lit moon will be at its closest to Mars for the month on the evening of the 17th when the two will be a little over 8° apart..

Jupiter will be best placed for viewing early evening as it sets shortly after midnight on the 1st and at 10.42 pm on the 30th. The planet remains in Leo, its position changes little during the month, being stationary on June 10.

The 41% lit moon will be about 5° below Jupiter an hour or so before they set on June 11. They will be considerably closer, while below NZ's horizon, a few hours later.

Saturn is at opposition on June 3, so will be rising close to the time of sunset and setting near the time the Sun rises. At opposition Saturn will be 1.35 billion km from the Earth (9.01 AU) and a further 150 million km from the Sun.

The planet is in Ophiuchus moving slowly to the west a few degrees below Antares, as seen in the evening. With a zero magnitude Saturn is noticeably brighter than Anatares or any other star near it. Mars, brighter still, is 18° from Saturn.

The moon passes Saturn on the 19th but the two will be closest soon after midday. By the time they are visible in the evening the almost full moon will be 5° below Saturn. The latter will be about 22° up to the east.

Outer Planets

Uranus is a morning object in Pisces at magnitude 5.9. It rises about 4 hours before the Sun on June 1 and 6 hours earlier on the 30th. The moon passes Uranus twice during June.

On the morning of June 2 at about 7am, the 15% lit crescent moon will be just over 3° from Uranus. The planet will be to the left of the moon and a little higher. It should be easy to spot Uranus using binoculars, there are two stars a little fainter than Uranus between the two.

The moon passes Uranus again on the 29th. This time the two are closest at midday, at 7am they will again be just over 3° apart, with the 38% lit moon above and a little to the left of Uranus..

Neptune rises at midnight on June 1 and nearly 2 hours earlier on the 30th. So the planet is beginning to move into the evening sky, but will still be best placed for viewing in the morning a while before sunrise. The planet, at magnitude 7.9, is in Aquarius.

Neptune is stationary on June 14 after which it will start to move slowly to the west. It will be about half a degree from the 3.7 magnitude star lambda Aqr. The planet will be to the upper right of the star. No stars as bright as Neptune are between the two.

Pluto at magnitude 14.3 rises early evening during June, less than half an hour after sunset by the end of the month. The planet remains in Sagittarius. It passes the 2.9 magnitude star pi Sgr during June, with the two only 3 arc-minutes apart, one-tenth the diameter of the full moon, on the 25th.

Minor Planets

(1) Ceres, magnitude 9.3, is in Cetus during June. It rises at 2.45 am on the 1st and just under an hour earlier by the 31st.

(4) Vesta is a dawn object in Taurus. At the beginning of June it rises half an hour before the Sun, by the end of the month some 95 minutes before the Sun. Mercury passes Vesta during June as the two move east. They are closest on the mornings of June 22 and 23 when Vesta (magnitude 8.4) will be 2° to the upper right of Mercury (magnitude -0.8)

Brian Loader
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in June 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 June 2016

Bright planets light up the evening sky along with the brightest stars. Golden Jupiter appears midway up the north sky soon after sunset. Orange (tending apricot-coloured) Mars is due east. By 8 pm, the chart's time, Jupiter is in the northwest and Mars is northeast of the zenith. Jupiter and Mars are similar in brightness. Cream-coloured Saturn is below and right of Mars and fainter. It is directly below orange Antares, the brightest star in Scorpio. The Moon will be near Jupiter on the 11th and 12th and passing by the Mars-Saturn region on the 17th to 19th.

Low in the west at dusk is Sirius, the brightest true star. It sets around 9 pm mid-month, twinkling like a diamond. Canopus, the second brightest star, is in the southwest. It is a 'circumpolar' star: one that never sets. Sirius appears bright both because it is 20 times brighter than the sun, and because it is relatively close at nine light years*. Canopus, the second brightest star, is higher in the southwest sky, circling lower into the south later on. Canopus is 310 light years away and 13,000 times brighter than the sun. Arcturus is a lone bright star in the northeast. Its orange light often twinkles red and green when it is low in the sky. It sets in the northwest in the morning hours.

Jupiter and Saturn are both worth a look in small telescopes. Jupiter's disk is obvious, even in binoculars. A telescope shows its four 'Galilean' moons lined up on either side. It is 830 million km away. A small telescope shows Saturn's rings and its biggest moon, Titan, about four ring-diameters from the planet. Saturn is 1350 million km away mid-month. Mars, though bright, is small in a telescope. It is 80 million km away. We are leaving it behind after passing it at the end of May.

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, marking the scorpion's heart, 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. Antares will end in a spectacular supernova explosion in a few million years. 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 dim the light of distant stars in the Milky Way. They 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 particles in size, 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%.

Mercury is in the northeast dawn sky. At the beginning of the month it rises two hours before the sun. It sinks lower through the month. Around the 17th it will be left of orange Aldebaran. Further left of Mercury will be the Pleiades/Matariki star cluster just appearing in the dawn twilight.

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

Newsletter editor:

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

August Moon & Planet data for 2016


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 new
August 4 Venus 2.8 degrees north of the Moon
August 4 Regulus 1.6 degrees north of the Moon
August 4 Mercury 0.6 degrees north of the Moon Occn
August 5 Venus 1.0 degrees north of Regulus
August 6 Jupiter 0.2 degrees north of the Moon Occn
August 8 Spica 5.5 degrees south of the Moon
August 9 Moon at apogee
August 10 Moon first quarter
August 12 Saturn 3.6 degrees south of the Moon
August 13 Saturn stationary
August 14 Moon southern most declination (-18.5 degrees)
August 15 Pluto 3.1 degrees south of the Moon
August 16 Mercury greatest elong E(27)
August 18 Moon full
August 19 Neptune 1.0 degrees south of the Moon Occn
August 22 Moon at perigee
August 22 Uranus 2.8 degrees north of the Moon
August 22 Mercury 4.0 degrees south of Jupiter
August 24 Mars 4.4 degrees south of Saturn
August 24 Mars 1.8 degrees north of Antares
August 25 Moon last quarter
August 25 Aldebaran 0.2 degrees south of the Moon Occn
August 27 Moon northern most declination (18.5 degrees)
August 27 Venus 0.1 degrees north of Jupiter
August 29 Mercury 5.0 degrees south of Venus
August 30 Mercury stationary
August 31 Regulus 1.6 degrees north of the Moon
  • apogee: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
  • declination: 'Latitude' for celestial objects. The distance in degress above (north) or below (south) the celestial equator.
  • perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth

The Solar System in May 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 May

                            May  1  NZST                     May 31  NZST
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   7.05am,  set:  5.29pm    rise:   7.33am,  set:  5.03pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 6.39am,  ends: 5.56pm    starts: 7.05am,  ends: 5.31pm
  Nautical: starts: 6.07am,  ends: 6.29pm    starts: 6.31am,  ends: 6.06pm
  Astro:    starts: 5.34am,  ends: 7.01pm    starts: 5.58am,  ends: 6.39pm

May PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)

          New moon:      May  7 at  7.30 am (May  6, 19:30 UT)
  First quarter: May 14 at  5.02 am (May 13, 17:02 UT)
  Full moon:     May 22 at  9.14 am (May 21, 21:14 UT)
  Last quarter   May 30 at 12.12 am (May 29, 12:12 UT)

The planets in May

Mercury is at inferior conjunction on May 9 when it will transit the Sun, an event visible from the opposite side of the Earth to NZ. After conjunction Mercury becomes a morning object and will be readily visible towards the end of May. Mars is at opposition on May 22 when it will be as bright as Jupiter. Mars will be close to Antares and Saturn.

Mercury starts May as an evening object, but sets only 24 minutes after the Sun on the 1st, so is not observable. It is at inferior conjunction between the Earth and Sun on the morning of May 10 NZST.

At the May conjunction Mercury will transit the Sun. The transit starts at 11:12 pm on 9 May (NZST) and ending at 6:42 am on 10 May (NZST); UT date and times are May 9, 11:12:18 and 18:42:14 respectively. The end is about half an hour before sunrise at Wellington. Thus the transit is not visible from New Zealand nor from Australia. The Middle East, Europe and Africa are well placed for viewing the start of the transit, the later stages are visible from the Americas. Apart from much of the Atlantic Ocean, Greenland and Brazil are the best places for seeing the entire event.

After conjunction Mercury becomes a morning object moving away from the Sun fairly rapidly. By May 24 the planet, at magnitude 1.8 will be some 7.5° above the horizon an hour before sunrise. A week later Mercury, now magnitude 1.0, will be nearly 10° up an hour before sunrise. Look for Mercury in a direction about 25° north of east.

Venus, in the morning sky, is close to the Sun all month. At the start of May its elongation is 10° with the planet rising 50 minutes before the Sun. By the 31st it will rise only 9 minutes before the Sun. So viewing is going to be difficult.

Mars, which has been steadily brightening recently, is at opposition on May 22. At magnitude -2.1 it will briefly be as bright as Jupiter. Mars will be close to Antares, the two just under 9° apart. The star at magnitude 1.1 is looking almost dim compared to the planet. Saturn will be about 12° from Mars and on the evening of May 22, the just past full moon will be 9° distant.

Mars is closest in its orbit to the Earth on May 31 when the two will be just over 75 million kilometres apart.

Jupiter will be best placed for viewing early evening, although it doesn’t set until after midnight. The planet is in Leo, its position changes little during the month, being stationary on May 10.

The 66% lit moon will be just over a degree from Jupiter on May 15.

Saturn rises an hour and three quarter after the Sun sets on May 1, and just 6 minutes after sunset on the 31st. So it is best viewed later evening. The planet, in Ophiuchus, is a few degrees from Antares. Saturn’s magnitude brightens from 0.2 to 0.0 during the month.

The moon passes Saturn on the 22nd but will be closest well after they set in NZ. The two are about 7° apart on the evening of May 22 and about 7.5° apart the following evening with the moon the opposite side of Saturn.

Outer planets

Uranus is a morning object in Pisces at magnitude 5.9. It rises about 100 minutes before the Sun on the 1st increasing to 4 hours earlier on the 31st.

Neptune is in the morning sky, rising just after midnight by May 31. The planet, at magnitude 7.9 is in Aquarius. Neptune is moving to the east past the 3.7 magnitude star lambda Aqr. The two are closest mid month when less than half a degree apart. Neptune will be to the upper right of the star. No stars as bright as Neptune are between the two.

Pluto at magnitude 14.4 rises close to 9.30 at the start of May and 2 hours earlier by the end of the month. The planet remains in Sagittarius less than 1° from the 2.9 magnitude star pi Sgr.

Minor planets

(1) Ceres, magnitude 9.3, is in Cetus during May. It rises just before 4 am on the 1st and just over an hour earlier by the 31st.

(4) Vesta, magnitude 8.4, is in Taurus. Its starts May as an evening object setting less than an hour after the Sun. It is at conjunction with the Sun on the 24th when the two will appear about 3.5° apart.

(7) Iris is at opposition on May 29 with a magnitude 9.2. The asteroid will be in Ophiuchus, 3° from Antares, just under 6° from Saturn and 9.5° from Mars. The 5th magnitude star rho Oph will be just over 13 arc minutes from Iris. The star has two close companions easily visible in binoculars at magnitudes 6.8 and 7.3, each about 2.5 arc minutes from brighter star.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in May 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 May 2016

Three bright planets and the brightest stars share the evening sky this May. Soon after sunset golden Jupiter appears in the north and orange Mars in the east. As the sky darkens Saturn appears below Mars and Sirius, the brightest star, appears northwest of the zenith. Canopus, the second brightest star, is southwest of overhead. Midway up the southeast sky are 'The Pointers', Beta and Alpha Centauri. Soon after dusk Arcturus appears in the northeast, often twinkling red and green as the air breaks up its orange light.

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 very luminous 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.

Orange Antares, right of Mars, marks the body of Scorpius, the Scorpion. Antares means 'rival to Mars' in Greek for the planet and star are often similar in colour and brightness (but not now). Antares is a red-giant like Betelgeuse; 600 light years away and 19 000 times brighter than the sun.

Arcturus, in the northeast, 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.

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.

Mars is closest to Earth at the end of May. It will then be 75 million km away. It is a small planet, half the diameter of Earth, so never looks big in a telescope. At this approach one needs to magnify Mars 100 times to make it appear as big as the full Moon does to the naked eye. We catch up on Mars and pass it by every 26 months. At the next pass or 'opposition' in 2018 Mars will be 58 million km away and appear 1/3rd bigger than now.

At the beginning of May Jupiter sets around 2 a.m., reducing to around midnight by month's end. Jupiter is 750 million km away. It is always worth a look in a telescope. Its four big 'Galilean' moons look like faint stars near the planet. One or two can be seen in binoculars. All four are easily seen in any telescope magnifying 20x or more. Sometimes one or more of the moons will be invisible as they pass in front of, or behind, Jupiter. The Moon will be near Jupiter on the 15th.

Saturn is a great sight in any telescope with its rings now near maximum tilt. It is 1360 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.

*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 the sun's light 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 2016


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 at perigee
July 2 Aldebaran 0.5 degrees south of the Moon Occn
July 3 Moon northern most declination (18.6 degrees)
July 4 Mercury 5.6 degrees north of the Moon
July 4 Moon new
July 4 Earth at aphelion
July 5 Venus 5.1 degrees north of the Moon
July 6 Venus 5.6 degrees south of Pollux
July 7 Mercury superior conjunction
July 7 Pluto at opposition
July 7 Regulus 1.7 degrees north of the Moon
July 9 Jupiter 0.8 degrees north of the Moon Occn
July 10 Mercury 5.0 degrees south of Pollux
July 12 Moon first quarter
July 12 Spica 5.3 degrees south of the Moon
July 13 Moon at apogee
July 16 Saturn 3.4 degrees south of the Moon
July 16 Mercury 0.5 degrees north of Venus
July 18 Moon southern most declination (-18.6 degrees)
July 19 Pluto 3.0 degrees south of the Moon
July 19 Moon full
July 23 Neptune 1.0 degrees south of the Moon Occn
July 26 Uranus 2.8 degrees north of the Moon
July 26 Moon last quarter
July 27 Moon at perigee
July 29 Aldebaran 0.3 degrees south of the Moon Occn
July 30 Uranus stationary
July 30 Mercury 0.3 degrees north of Regulus
July 31 Moon northern most declination (18.5 degrees)
  • aphelion: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Sun
  • 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 April 2016

NZDT ends on Sunday April 3 at 3am, clocks should then be set back one hour. Dates and times shown are NZDT (UT + 13 Hours) up to the change and then as 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 April

                            April  1  NZDT                   April 30  NZST
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   7.34am,  set:  7.14pm    rise:   7.04am,  set:  5.30pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 7.09am,  ends: 7.40pm    starts: 6.38am,  ends: 5.57pm
  Nautical: starts: 6.37am,  ends: 8.12pm    starts: 6.06am,  ends: 6.30pm 
  Astro:    starts: 6.05am,  ends: 8.44pm    starts: 5.33am,  ends: 7.02pm

April PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)

          Last quarter:  April  1 at  4.17 am (Mar 31, 15:17 UT)
  New moon:      April  7 at 11.24 pm (11:24 UT)
  First quarter: April 14 at  3.59 pm (03:59 UT) 
  Full moon:     April 22 at  5.24 pm (05:24 UT) 
  Last quarter   April 30 at  3.29 pm (03:26 UT)

The planets in April

Jupiter will dominate the evening sky particularly early and late in the month when the moon is absent. Mercury is likely to be lost in evening twilight, setting soon after the Sun. Mars and Saturn will be to the east later in the evening, with Mars brightening to magnitude -1.5 during the month. Venus is rather low in the dawn sky.

Mercury is nominally in the evening sky in April but virtually unobservable. On the 1st it sets about 20 minutes later than the Sun, on the 30th about 26 minutes later. At its greatest, mid month, when the planet is at its greatest elongation 20 ° east of the Sun, it sets later.

Venus is a low object in the morning sky in April. On the 1st it will be about 16° up as the Sun rises just north of east. By the end of the month it will be only 8.5° at sunrise, so a low but not impossible object to spot shortly before the Sun appears.

Uranus will be less than a degree to the lower left of Venus on the morning of the 23rd, but with a magnitude of 5.9 it is very doubtful the fainter planet will be visible in binoculars in the twilight.

The moon, as a very thin crescent, will be 7° above Venus on the morning of the 6th, the following morning the moon will be a similar distance below Venus. As a hair line crescent, less than 1% lit, the moon will be very difficult to spot.

Mars brightens during April by a magnitude from -0.5 to -1.5 as its distance from the Earth decreases leading up to its opposition in May. The planet rises at 9.40 pm (NZDT) on the 1st and 6.40 pm (NZST) on the 30th so by then is visible most of the night.

The planet starts April in Scorpius, 6° from Antares. It crosses into Ophiuchus on the 3rd when it will be some 8.5° from Saturn. But on the 17th Mars is stationary and then starts moving back to the west to cross back into Scorpius on the last day of the month. As a result it remains quite close to the similarly coloured Antares all month.

The moon, just past full, is closest to Mars on the 25th, when Mars, Saturn and the moon will form a near equilateral triangle with Mars at the upper apex.

Jupiter, having been at opposition early March, will be a prominent evening object throughout April. It will be in Leo moving slowly to the west towards Regulus, with the star 15° to the left of the planet as seen in the evening sky.

The moon and Jupiter will be closest on June 18, when the 87% lit moon will be about 3° from Jupiter mid evening.

Saturn will rise about 10.15 pm on the 1st, advancing to 7.20 pm on the 30th. It will not set until after sunrise. The planet remains in Ophiuchus heading slowly to the west towards Mars. The two are closest mid month when about 7° apart.

As noted for Mars, the moon will form a triple with the two planets on the evening of the 25th. In fact the moon is closest to Saturn on the morning of the 26th with the two 4° apart shortly before sunrise.

Outer planets

Uranus is at conjunction on the far side of the Sun on April 9, so will not be observable during April. At conjunction Uranus will be 20 arc-minutes south of the Sun's limb. Distance wise it will be 20.0 AU from the Sun and 21 AU (3137 million km) from the Earth.

By the end of April Uranus will rise 90 minutes before the Sun and will be 8° above Venus. The two are closest on the morning of April 23.

Neptune, in the morning sky, starts April some 8° above and a little to the left of Venus. By the end of the month the two will be about 50° apart, due to the rapid motion of the inner planet. Neptune will then rise close to 2 am.

On the morning of April 5, Neptune will be 3.5° to the lower right of the crescent moon.

Pluto at magnitude 14.4 rises just after midnight at the beginning of April and about 9.35 pm on the 30th. The planet remains in Sagittarius. It is stationary on April 18 and is about 1° from the 2.9 magnitude star pi Sgr.

Minor planets

(1) Ceres, magnitude 9.2, starts April in Aquarius just under 7° to the right of Venus in the dawn sky. It crosses into Cetus on the 2nd where it soon falls behind Venus. This in fact means it gets steadily higher in the morning sky and will rise at 4 am by April 30.

(4) Vesta, magnitude 8.4, is in Aries until the 30th when it moves into Taurus. It sets 90 minutes after the Sun on the 1st, less than an hour later on the 30th.

The 5% lit crescent moon will be just over 1° to the right of Vesta on April 9. At 6.30 pm the two will be 8° above the horizon as seen from Wellington. Vesta will be about level with the upper lit cusp of the moon.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in April 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 April 2016

Jupiter is the 'evening star', appearing in the northeast soon after sunset. The bright real stars, Sirius and Canopus, appear soon after. Reddish Mars and off-white Saturn appear in the southeast. Mercury might be glimpsed low in the northwest twilight mid-month.

A small telescope will show the disk of Jupiter with its four bright 'Galilean' moons lined up on each side. Binoculars, held steadily, will sometimes show one or two moons looking like faint stars close to the planet. Jupiter is 700 million km away mid-month. The moon will be near Jupiter on the 18th.

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.

Mars, looking like a bright reddish-orange star, appears in the southeast around 10 pm NZDT at the beginning of the month. To its right is Antares, similar in colour but fainter. Creamy Saturn follows Mars about 40 minutes later, rising directly below Antares. By the end of the month both planets are up around the end of twilight. The moon will appear near Mars and Saturn on the 25th.

Mars will brighten steadily through the month as we catch up on it. Its distance shrinks from 118 million km away at the beginning of April to 88 million km away at the end of the month. It remains a small object in a telescope. At mid-month a telescope needs to magnify130 times to make Mars look as big as the Moon does to the naked eye. We pass 75 million km from Mars at the end of May.

Saturn rises after 10:20 pm NZDT at the beginning of April; around 7:20 NZST by month's end. It is straight below Antares. 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 is1400 million km away mid-month.

Mercury (not shown) might be seen setting in the bright twilight mid-month. It looks like a lone bright star on the northwest skyline. It sinks back into the twilight in May as it passes between us and the sun.

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.

Low in the north is 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. Lower and further left are Pollux and Castor, the heads of Gemini the twins, making a vertical pair of stars. 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.

Venus is the brilliant 'morning star, rising due east about an hour before the sun.

*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 GilmorePhone: 03 680 6817
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Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand