Eclipses in 2017

There are four eclipses in 2017, two each of the Sun and moon. Four is the minimum number of eclipses there can be in a year.

The first solar eclipse on February 26 is annular with a path starting at sunrise in the south Pacific Ocean well west of Southern Chile. Its path takes it over Southern Chile and Argentina before heading off across the Atlantic Ocean towards Africa. It make landfall again in southern Angola near the time of sunset. The eclipse ends at sunset in the southern-most part of the Congo Republic near its border with Zambia. The second solar eclipse is total, it starts at sunrise in the northern Pacific and crosses the continental U.S.A. from Oregon to South Carolina. The eclipse ends at sunset in the Atlantic west of Africa. No part of either solar eclipse is visible from New Zealand.

By contrast to the solar eclipses, the two lunar eclipses are very paltry affairs. Neither are total; the first on February 11 is penumbral, the second on August 7 is partial. The lunar eclipse on February 11 takes place 2 weeks before the annular eclipse of the Sun. It is entirely a penumbral event, with the Earth only obscuring part of the solar disk as seen from the moon. 98.9% of the moon’s diameter will be in the penumbra while a sliver, 1.1% of the diameter wide, near the moon’s south pole, will remain in full sunlight. No part of the moon’s disk will enter the Earth’s full shadow. The entire eclipse will be best seen from Africa, Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. At the second lunar eclipse on August 7 the moon will move a little more deeply into the Earth's shadow so that at its maximum almost one-quarter of the moon’s diameter will be completely shaded from the Sun. The remaining 75% will be in the part shadow, the penumbra. In this case the southern quarter of the moon will be darkened. The remainder, still partly sunlit, will be somewhat dimmed. The start of the eclipse will be visible from New Zealand, with the moon setting after mid eclipse. Australia sees the whole of the eclipse.

More information on eclipses can be obtained at the NASA eclipse pages: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/.

Diagrams, maps and the tables showing times of phases of lunar eclipses have been prepared using David Herald's Occult 4 program.

Viewing Eclipses of the Sun and Transits of Planets across the Sun

Whenever the Sun is to be observed safe viewing methods must be used. Any attempt to view the Sun directly could result in instant blindness.

The safest way is to project the image of the Sun onto a suitable screen. Alternatively a suitable, specially designed, Solar filter may be placed in front of the telescope.

It is not safe to use a filter at the eyepiece as the focussed heat from the Sun could shatter it. If unsure of safe methods consult your local astronomical society about suitable ways of observing Solar events.

Penumbral eclipse of the Moon 2017 February 11

At this eclipse of the moon a maximum of 98.9% of the moon’s diameter moves into the Earth’s penumbral shadow, with 1.1% remaining in full sunlight. The uneclipsed sliver will be near the moon's south pole, while the most northerly parts of the moon will be close to, but not in, the umbra. So we may expect this part of the moon to be distinctly dulled, with the surface brightening further south.

In a penumbral eclipse an observer on the moon would see part of the Sun covered by the dark Earth. In this eclipse the greatest amount covered would be seen in the north. As the observer moved south on the moon less of the Sun would be covered until in the far south no part of the very low Sun would be hidden.

As seen from the Earth the moon will be visible from northeast Canada and eastern South America, Europe. Africa and the Middle East throughout the eclipse. Changes in the moon's brightness will not be very marked. In the remainder of north and south America the moon will rise during the eclipse. As seen from much of eastern Asia, the moon will set during the eclipse, as it will from most of Indonesia. No part of the eclipse is visible from Australia, New Zealand or the western parts of the Pacific, including Japan and the Philippines.

Times of the start, maximum and end of the eclipse are shown on the diagram, which also shows the parts of the Earth from which the various stages are visible. The coloured circles at the top left shows the path of the moon (outlined and numbered 1, 4 and 7) through the penumbral part of the Earth’s shadow.

Annular eclipse of the Sun, 2017 February 26

The annular eclipse of the Sun on February 26 starts in the southern Pacific Ocean well west of Southern Chile. The Sun will rise in annular eclipse at a point about 3500 km west of the southern coast of Chile and about 1000 km south of Easter Island (I. de Pasaua). As it rises, 97.7% of the diameter of the solar disk will be covered by the moon. The width of the annular path will be 96 km and the duration of the annular eclipse 82.4 seconds.

At first the annular path will move slightly south of due east to cross the coast of Southern Chile about 18 minutes later at the I. Rivero. Inland in Chile it passes close to Coihaique and then Facundo in Argentina. By then the Sun will be 98.6% covered and the annular phase will last 64.5 seconds. The annular path leaves the east coast of Argentina close to Cape Dos Bahias some 11 minutes after it crossed the west coast.

As the path moves out across the Atlantic Ocean it swings more to the northeast. Maximum eclipse occurs well out in the Atlantic Ocean at about longitude 31° W and latitude 35° south at near local midday. At the maximum 99.2% of the solar disk will be covered by the moon, and the annular phase will last only 44 seconds. The increase of the amount of Sun covered and the consequent shortening of the annular phase are due to the Earth’s surface being closer moon when the latter is highest.

After eclipse maximum the path of the eclipse continues across the Atlantic passing well south of St Helena. It crosses the coast of Africa in southern Angola a little to the north of Mocamedes. By then the Sun will be near setting, a little way inland it will indeed set before the end of the eclipse although the annular phase will remain visible as it crosses Angola and enters the extreme south of the Congo Republic along the border with Zambia. The annular eclipse ends as the sun sets to the northwest of Lubumbashi about 3 hours 15 minutes after it started in the Pacific. At its end 97.8% of the solar disk will be covered, with the annular phase lasting 77.4 seconds.

No part of the eclipse is visible from Australia nor from New Zealand.

Partial eclipse of the Moon 2017 August 7

At this eclipse a maximum of just under 25% of the moon's diameter will be immersed in the umbral, full shadow of the Earth. In this case it will be the southern part of the moon which is darkened. The remainder of the moon will be in the penumbra, partial shadow, of the Earth. The entire eclipse is visible from the east coast of Africa central Asia except the north Indonesia and Australia except the eastern seaboard. The moon rises during the eclipse as seen from the rest of Africa, Europe and western Asia. Further east the moon will set during the eclipse as seen from much of the remainder of Asia, Indonesia and Australia. From the New Zealand the eclipse will start with the moon low to the west. All parts will see the beginning of the umbral phase, visible in its entirety from the South Island, before the moon sets.

Total eclipse of the Sun 2017 August 21

The total eclipse on August 21 starts at sunrise in the north Pacific Ocean about half way between Hawaii and the eastern most part of Siberia. The total eclipse moves eastwards to enter the U.S.A. in Oregon a little south of Portland with Salem in the path. After crossing the U.S.A. the eclipse leaves the country from South Carolina with Charleston in the path. It heads across the Atlantic Ocean towards Africa, but ends at sunset still west of the continent and to the south of the Cape Verdi Islands.

The greatest duration of totality is just over 160 seconds and occurs along a belt from south of St Louis, Missouri, to north of Nashville in Tennessee. The maximum path width of totality is 155 km.

No part of the eclipse is visible from New Zealand or Australia apart from the western coast of the latter where the eclipse starts as the Sun sets.

For a detailed map showing the path across the U.S.A. Eclipse path

Total eclipse of the Sun 2017 August 21

 

June Moon & Planet data for 2016


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 Venus 5.2 degrees north of Aldebaran
June 1 Uranus 2.3 degrees north of the Moon
June 3 Saturn at opposition
June 3 Mercury 0.7 degrees north of the Moon Occn
June 3 Moon at perigee
June 4 Aldebaran 0.5 degrees south of the Moon Occn
June 5 Venus 4.9 degrees north of the Moon
June 5 Moon new
June 5 Mercury greatest elong W(24)
June 6 Moon northern most declination (18.6 degrees)
June 6 Venus superior conjunction
June 10 Regulus 1.9 degrees north of the Moon
June 11 Jupiter 1.4 degrees north of the Moon
June 12 Moon first quarter
June 14 Neptune stationary
June 15 Spica 5.1 degrees south of the Moon
June 15 Moon at apogee
June 19 Saturn 3.2 degrees south of the Moon
June 19 Mercury 3.8 degrees north of Aldebaran
June 20 Moon full
June 20 Moon southern most declination (-18.6 degrees)
June 20 Solstice
June 21 Pluto 2.9 degrees south of the Moon
June 25 Neptune 1.1 degrees south of the Moon Occn
June 27 Moon last quarter
June 29 Uranus 2.6 degrees north of the Moon
June 30 Mars stationary
  • 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 2016

Dates and times shown are NZDT (UT + 13 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 March

                        March  1  NZDT                   March 31  NZDT
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   6.59am,  set:  8.06pm    rise:   7.33am,  set:  7.16pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 6.34am,  ends: 8.32pm    starts: 7.09am,  ends: 7.42pm
  Nautical: starts: 6.00am,  ends: 9.06pm    starts: 6.36am,  ends: 8.17pm 
  Astro:    starts: 5.25am,  ends: 9.41pm    starts: 6.03am,  ends: 8.46pm

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

          Last quarter:  March  2 at 12.11 pm (Mar  1, 23:11 UT)
  New moon:      March  9 at  2.55 pm (01:55 UT)
  First quarter: March 16 at  6.03 am (Mar 15, 17:03 UT) 
  Full moon:     March 24 at  1.01 am (Mar 23, 12:01 UT) 
  Last quarter   April  1 at  4.17 am (Mar 31, 15:17 UT)

ECLIPSES in March

March 9: Total eclipse of the Sun. The path of totality crosses southern Sumatra soon after sunrise then crosses southern Borneo and the Celebes. It then heads east and northeast across the Pacific to end at sunset to the north of Hawaii. The maximum length of totality is 4 minutes 9 seconds. A partial eclipse is visible from most of southeast Asia including Japan and from most of Alaska. In the south a partial eclipse is visible from Australia except the south and southeast. A map showing the path is available on the RASNZ web site.

March 23/24: A partial penumbral eclipse of the moon. At maximum only part of the moon passes into the penumbra of the Earth's shadow. No part is totally eclipsed. The decrease in brightness of the moon will be small and it is unlikely any change will be noticed by eye. The eclipse starts at 10.39 pm NZDT, maximum eclipse is at 12.47 am, the eclipse ends at 2.55 am NZDT. The moon is visible throughout the eclipse in New Zealand and in Australia except the start in Western Australia.

The planets in March

Jupiter is at opposition on March 8 so will be visible all evening by the end of the month. Mars will rise late evening, it and the other planets are in the morning sky. By the end of the month Mercury will have disappeared while Saturn will rise before midnight.

Mercury rises about 90 minutes before the Sun on March 1st. 45 minutes before sunrise the planet, magnitude -0.3, will be some 8.5° above the horizon in a direction a little to the south of east. Mercury will be 9° below and slightly to the right of Venus.

Mercury will steadily close in on the Sun during the first 3 weeks of March. By the 11th, now at magnitude -0.7, the planet will be only a couple of degrees up 45 minutes before sunrise. It will still be a few degrees below Venus.

On March 24, Mercury will be at superior conjunction. At conjunction the planet will be 202 million km from the Earth and some 53 million km beyond the Sun. At this conjunction it will pass to the south of the Sun, their minimum separation appearing to be just over 1 degree.

After conjunction Mercury will become an evening object setting after the Sun. By the 31st it will set about half an hour later, so is not likely to be visible despite its -1.6 magnitude.

Venus rises nearly 2 hours before the Sun on March 1, reducing to 90 minutes earlier on the 31st. As a result the planet will remain easily visible low in the dawn sky all month. It starts the month in Capricornus but moves into Aquarius on the 11th. On the morning of the 21st, Venus will be half a degree to the right of Neptune. This May give an opportunity to find Neptune using binoculars.

On the morning of March 7 the 7% lit crescent moon will be 8.5° to the upper left of Venus. By the following morning the moon will be only 2.4% lit and 6.8° below Venus. Also Mercury will be 6° to the right of and a little lower than the moon.

Mars rises close to 11 pm on the 1st advancing to 9:45 pm by the 31st so will then be visible to the east late evening. It will also brighten during the month from magnitude 0.3 to -0.5 as the distance between Earth and Mars decreases.

The planet starts March in Libra but moves on into Scorpius on March 13. By the 31st Mars will be 6° from Scorpius and considerably brighter than its rival star.

The moon makes a close approach to Mars on the night of February 29/March 1 At midnight the 64% lit waning moon will 5.5 degrees to the left of Mars. Six hours later the moon, now 62% lit will be 4 below the planet.

A second close approach of the moon to Mars occurs on the night of 28/29 March. For New Zealand viewers the two are closest shortly before dawn when the 78% lit moon will be 4.8 degrees below Mars.

Jupiter is at opposition on March 10, so will then be visible all night. At opposition Jupiter will be 663.5 million km (4.435 AU) from the Earth and nearly another 150 million km further from the Sun.

By the end of the month Jupiter will rise an hour before the Sun making it well placed for viewing by the time the sky darkens. The planet will be in Leo moving to the west. The almost full moon will be a few degrees from Jupiter on the 22nd. Early evening the two will be 3 degrees apart with the moon to the right of Jupiter. Their distance apart will increase during the rest of the night as the moon moves away from the planet.

Saturn begins to move into the evening sky during March. At the start of the month it rises just after midnight, by the end it will rise at 10.20 pm. The planet is in Ophiuchus all month about 9° from Antares and, at the end of March, a similar distance from Mars.

The north pole of Saturn is tilted at an angle of over 26 degrees towards the Earth. The ring system is consequently wide open and readily visible in a small telescope.

The moon passes Saturn twice during the month. On the morning of March 3 the 43% lit moon will be 6 degrees below Saturn at about 4 am, the distance apart increasing to 7 degrees shortly before sunrise. For NZ viewers the two bodies will be closer on the morning of March 30 with the two less than 4 degrees apart at 4 am. Late evening shortly after they rise, the two will 4.5 degrees apart.

Outer planets

Uranus remains in Pisces during March at magnitude 5.9. It sets just after 8.30 pm, 90 minutes after the Sun, on the 1st. So it will be low by the time the sky darkens. By the end of March the planet will set only 20 minutes after the Sun.

Neptune moves up into the dawn sky during March. At first it will rise only 40 minutes before the Sun, increasing to a good 2.5 hours by the end of the month.

The planet is in Aquarius, magnitude 8.0. As Neptune moves up in the sky it will be passed by Venus. On the morning of March 21 the two will be only half a degree apart with Venus to the right of Neptune, the latter slightly lower. There will be no stars brighter than Neptune between the two, although the magnitude 3.7 star lambda Aqr will be 1.5 degrees below it. The window of opportunity to see Neptune in binoculars close to Venus will be fairly short between the time Venus becomes visible and the sky getting too bright to see Neptune.

On the previous morning, the 20th, Venus will be just over a degree above Neptune and on the 22nd it will be a similar distance to the lower right of the faint planet. On the 19th and 23rd the separation will be about 2.5 degrees.

Pluto continues to be in Sagittarius, magnitude 14.4. On the 1st it will be half a degree below the 2.9 magnitude star pi Sgr. At 6 am they will about 37 degrees above the horizon and almost due east. By the end of March the two will be almost a degree apart with Pluto to the lower right of the star

Minor planets

(1) Ceres starts the month only 8 degrees from the Sun. Conjunction is on March 4 after which Ceres will become a morning object.

By the 31st Ceres will rise 90 minutes before the Sun, just before Venus. Ceres at magnitude 9.1 will be almost 7 degrees to the right of the brighter planet.

(4) Vesta, magnitude 8.4, starts March in Pisces, moves into Cetus on the 13th and on into Aries the last day of the month. It is an evening object setting at 10.15 pm on the 1st. By the 31st it will set 90 minutes after the Sun.

The crescent moon will be 5.5 degrees to the right of Vesta on March 12.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in March 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 March 2016

Golden Jupiter appears in the east at dusk, the brightest 'star' in the sky. At midnight it is due north. By dawn it is low in the west. Bright stars are overhead and down into the southeast evening sky.

Jupiter is the biggest planet by far. Its mass is greater than all the other planets put together. Any telescope shows Jupiter's disk with its four bright 'Galilean' moons lined up on either side. Sometimes one or two moons can be seen in binoculars, looking like faint stars close to the planet. Jupiter is 660 million km from us in March. The Moon is near Jupiter on the 21st and 22nd.

Northwest of overhead is Sirius. It is the brightest true star in the sky but fainter than Jupiter. Southwest of the zenith is Canopus, the second brightest star. Below 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 stars makes the bottom of 'The Pot'. Orion's belt points down and left to a V-shaped pattern of stars. This makes the face of Taurus the Bull, upside down to us. The orange star Aldebaran is at one tip of the V. 'Aldebaran' is Arabic for the eye of the bull. Continuing the line from Orion down and left finds the Pleiades or Matariki star cluster. It is about 440 light-years away.

Sirius is the brightest star both because it is relatively close, nine light years* away, and 23 times brighter than the sun. Rigel is a bluish supergiant star, 40 000 times brighter than the sun and much hotter. It is 800 light years away. Orange Betelgeuse is a red-giant star, cooler than the sun but much bigger and 9000 times brighter. It is 400 light years from us.

Near the north skyline are Pollux and Castor marking the heads of Gemini the twins. Above and right of them 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. It 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 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.

Mars and Saturn (not shown on the chart) appear in the late night sky. Mars rises after 11 pm, a little south of due east. It looks like an orange-red star. Well to its right is the star Antares, also orange but a bit fainter than Mars. 'Antares' is Greek for 'rival to Mars'. Now Mars is brighter than its rival and will continue to brighten as we catch up on it. Over the month Mars will move down and right as it passes Antares.

Saturn is directly below Antares, looking like an off-white star a little brighter than Antares. Saturn stays put through March, rising a little earlier each night. A telescope magnifying 20x shows Saturn's rings. By the end of the month Mars, Antares and Saturn make a large triangle in the east at 11p.m.

Venus, the brightest planet, rises due east around dawn. At the beginning of the month Mercury is below and right of Venus. Mercury slips lower as it moves to the other side of the sun. It disappears mid-month.

A total solar eclipse occurs on March 9 but is not seen from New Zealand. The moon's shadow crosses Indonesia and the western Pacific. On March 23-24 the full moon grazes the edge of the Earth's shadow. Around midnight the top edge of the Moon will look a little darker than the lower edge.

*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
P.O. Box 57Email: 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 2016


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 Neptune 1.6 degrees south of the Moon
May 5 Uranus 2.1 degrees north of the Moon
May 6 Moon at perigee
May 6 Venus 2.6 degrees north of the Moon
May 6 Moon new
May 7 Mercury 5.1 degrees north of the Moon
May 8 Aldebaran 0.5 degrees south of the Moon Occn
May 9 Mercury inferior conjunction
May 9 Moon northern most declination (18.5 degrees)
May 9 Jupiter stationary
May 13 Moon first quarter
May 13 Mercury 0.4 degrees south of Venus
May 14 Regulus 2.2 degrees north of the Moon
May 15 Jupiter 1.9 degrees north of the Moon
May 18 Spica 4.9 degrees south of the Moon
May 18 Moon at apogee
May 21 Moon full
May 21 Mercury stationary
May 21 Mars 5.9 degrees south of the Moon
May 22 Mars at opposition
May 22 Saturn 3.2 degrees south of the Moon
May 24 Moon southern most declination (-18.5 degrees)
May 25 Pluto 2.9 degrees south of the Moon
May 29 Moon last quarter
May 29 Neptune 1.4 degrees south of the Moon
May 30 Mars nearest to Earth
  • apogee: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
  • declination: 'Latitude' for celestial objects. The distance in degress above (north) or below (south) the celestial equator.
  • inferior conjunction: Conjunction where a solar system object is between the Earth and the Sun
  • perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth

the solar system in February 2016

Dates and times shown are NZDT (UT + 13 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 February

                            February  1  NZDT                February 29  NZDT
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   6.23am,  set:  8.44pm    rise:   6.58am,  set:  8.07pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 5.55am,  ends: 9.13pm    starts: 6.32am,  ends: 8.34pm
  Nautical: starts: 5.17am,  ends: 9.51pm    starts: 5.58am,  ends: 9.07pm 
  Astro:    starts: 4.34am,  ends:10.33pm    starts: 5.23am,  ends: 9.43pm

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

          Last quarter:  February  1 at  4.28 pm (03:28 UT)
  New moon:      February  9 at  3.39 am (Feb  8, 14:39 UT)
  First quarter: February 15 at  8.47 pm (07:47 UT) 
  Full moon:     February 23 at  7.20 am (Feb 22, 18:20 UT)

The planets in February

Jupiter will be in the sky from soon after sunset by the end of February. The other planets remain objects of the morning sky. Venus and Mercury are a close pair in the dawn sky and will be an interesting to watch as their distance apart vary during the month. The asteroid (5) Astraea is at a particularly good opposition mid February.

Mercury and VENUS form a pair of planets rather low in the dawn sky throughout February. At the beginning of the month both planets will be in Sagittarius. During February they move into Capricornus, Mercury on the 14th and Venus 3 mornings later.

On the morning of the 1st, Mercury rises almost 2 hours before the Sun, with Venus rising some 35 minutes earlier. Mercury will be half a degree below the 2.9 magnitude star pi Sgr, with Venus some 7 degrees above Mercury.

During the first half of February Venus will close in on Mercury until the two are some 4 degrees apart mid month. After that as Mercury's rate of motion increases it will draw further ahead of Venus until the two are again 7 degrees apart by the end of the month. Mercury will remain a few degrees below Venus and a little to its right all month.

Mercury's magnitude brightens from 0.1 to -0.3 during February. It reaches its greatest elongation, 26 degrees west of the Sun on the 7th. By the end of February Mercury rises some 95 minutes before the Sun, with Venus rising half an hour earlier. An hour before sunrise, Mercury will be only 6 degrees above the horizon

Mars rises half an hour after midnight on the 1st advancing to 11:45 pm by the 29th. The planet is in Libra, near the wide binary star alpha Lib at the beginning of the month. The two are closest on the 2nd when Mars, magnitude 0.8, will be a degree below the pair, with the 45% lit moon 4.5 degrees lower than Mars. For the rest of the month Mars makes its way eastwards through Libra but doesn't pass close to any bright stars.

At midnight on the 29th February the moon will again be near Mars, some 5.5 degrees from the planet which will have brightened to magnitude 0.3. A few hours later, on the morning of March 1, the two will be 4 degrees apart

Jupiter is in Leo during February. On the 1st it rises about 10.20 pm, by the end of February it will rise almost 2 hours earlier, some 15 minutes after the Sun sets, so the planet should be readily visible by mid evening.

In the late evening of February 24, the almost full moon will be 4 degrees to the left of Jupiter; their separation increases to 6.5 degrees a little before sunrise the following morning when Jupiter will appear below the moon.

Saturn rises shortly after 2 am on the 1st and 20 minutes after midnight on the 29th. So it is still a morning object. The planet is in Ophiuchus about 8 degrees below Antares, as seen in the morning sky. At magnitude 0.5, Saturn is a little brighter than the star.

On the morning of February 4, the 26% lit moon will be 4 degrees to the lower left of Saturn

Outer planets

Uranus remains in Pisces during February at magnitude 5.9. It is an evening object setting just before 11.30 pm on the 1st and just after 8.30 pm, 90 minutes after the Sun, on the 29th.

Neptune, in Aquarius, sets about 70 minutes after the Sun on February 1. It is at conjunction with the Sun on the 29th. At conjunction Neptune will be half a degree south of the Sun as seen from Earth. The planet will then be 4.63 billion km, 30.95 AU, from Earth and 29.95 AU beyond the Sun.

Pluto continues to be in Sagittarius throughout February at magnitude 14.4. It is close to Mercury at the beginning of the month, the two separated by just over half a degree on the 1st. Five nights later Venus will be just over 1 degree from Pluto. These close approached will occur close to the star pi Sgr, magnitude 2.9. Pluto is less than 6 arc-minutes from the star on the 14th. At magnitude 14.4 a moderate telescope is needed to see, or image, the dwarf planet. Low altitude and dawn twilight will make this very difficult.

A better chance of finding Pluto close by pi Sgr will occur in June when Pluto's retrograde motion takes it less than 3 arc minutes from the star.

BRIGHTER ASTEROIDS: (1) Ceres is in Aquarius during February but getting close to the Sun. By the 29th the two will be only 8 degrees apart.

(4) Vesta, magnitude 8.3, starts February in Cetus. On the 1st, Vesta will set just before midnight. Early in the month the asteroid is just over 5 degrees from Uranus. On the 12th Vesta joins Uranus in Pisces but their distance apart will gradually increase. By February 29 Vesta will set about 10.20 pm.

(5) Astraea. This 125 km diameter asteroid is in Leo and starts February at magnitude 9.3. On the 1st it will rise at 9.19 pm at Wellington. The asteroid will then be just over half a degree above Regulus, mag 1.4, with no other star as bright as Astraea between the two. This will make finding Astraea fairly easy in the late evening.

Astraea is at opposition mid February with a magnitude 8.7. By then it will be some 3 degrees left of Regulus as seen late evening. At opposition it will be 2.086 AU from the Sun, very close to its perihelion, and 1.1 AU from Earth. The relatively close approach makes this a particularly favourable opposition for observation.

By the end of February, Astraea will be back to magnitude 9.3

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in February 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 February 2016

In February bright stars are nearly overhead. Sirius, the brightest star, is north of the zenith. Canopus, the second brightest star, is south of the zenith. Below and left of Sirius are Orion's bright stars: bluish Rigel and reddish Betelgeuse. Between them is the line of three stars making Orion's Belt. The Belt line points left and down to orange Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull. Continuing the same line finds a tight bunch of fainter stars making the Pleiades/Matariki star cluster.

In the late evening, at the beginning of the month, Jupiter rises due east. It is brighter than any of the stars and shines with a steady golden light. Later on Jupiter is already up at dusk, appearing in the eastern sky soon after sunset. Any telescope will easily show Jupiter's four bright moons. They were first seen by Galileo in 1610. Binoculars, steadily held, often show one or two. Jupiter is 680 million km from us mid-month. The planet is 11 times Earth's diameter and 320 times Earth's mass. The full moon appears close to Jupiter on the 24th.

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. 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 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'. The handle of the pot is Orion's sword. The Orion Nebula at its centre; a glowing gas cloud many light-years across and around 1300 light years away.

The belt stars point to orange Aldebaran. It is at one tip of a V-shaped pattern of stars making the face of Taurus the bull. The V-shaped group is called the Hyades cluster. It is 130 light years away. Orange Aldebaran, Arabic for 'the eye of the bull', is not a member of the cluster but merely on the line of sight, half the cluster's distance from us.

Low in the northwest is the Pleiades or Matariki star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters and Subaru. Six stars are seen by most eyes. Dozens are visible in binoculars. The cluster is 440 light years from us. Its stars formed around 100 million years ago. From northern New Zealand the bright star Capella is on the north skyline. It is the sixth brightest star in the sky.

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, nearby for galaxies. The Large Cloud is about 5% the mass of the Milky Way galaxy; the Small Cloud about 3%.

At dawn all the bright planets are visible. Golden Jupiter is midway up the northwest sky. Reddish Mars is in the northeast of the zenith. Creamy-white Saturn is midway up the eastern sky. Above Saturn but fainter is the orange star Antares, the heart of Scorpius. Brilliant Venus is lower in the east. Mercury is below and right of Venus. Mars, Saturn and Mercury are the same brightness, roughly. The moon is near Mars on the morning of February 2nd; near Saturn on the 4th; and passing the region of Venus and Mercury on the 6th and 7th.

*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
P.O. Box 57Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

April Moon & Planet data for 2016


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

April 1 Pluto 3.3 degrees south of the Moon
April 4 Neptune 1.8 degrees south of the Moon
April 6 Venus 0.6 degrees south of the Moon Occn
April 7 Moon new
April 7 Uranus 1.9 degrees north of the Moon
April 7 Moon at perigee
April 8 Mercury 5.0 degrees north of the Moon
April 9 Uranus at conjunction
April 10 Aldebaran 0.4 degrees south of the Moon Occn
April 12 Moon northern most declination (18.3 degrees)
April 14 Moon first quarter
April 16 Regulus 2.4 degrees north of the Moon
April 17 Mars stationary
April 18 Jupiter 2.1 degrees north of the Moon
April 18 Mercury greatest elong E(20)
April 18 Pluto stationary
April 21 Spica 4.8 degrees south of the Moon
April 21 Moon at apogee
April 22 Moon full
April 22 Venus 0.8 degrees south of Uranus
April 25 Mars 4.8 degrees south of the Moon
April 25 Saturn 3.3 degrees south of the Moon
April 27 Moon southern most declination (-18.4 degrees)
April 28 Pluto 3.1 degrees south of the Moon
April 29 Mercury stationary
April 30 Moon last quarter
  • 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 January 2016

Dates and times shown are NZDT (UT + 13 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 January

                            January  1  NZDT                January 31  NZDT
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   5.48am,  set:  8.59pm    rise:   6.21am,  set:  8.45pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 5.17am,  ends: 9.31pm    starts: 5.53am,  ends: 9.14pm
  Nautical: starts: 4.34am,  ends:10.14pm    starts: 5.15am,  ends: 9.52pm 
  Astro:    starts: 3.43am,  ends:11.04pm    starts: 3.33am,  ends:10.34pm

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

          Last quarter:  January  2 at  6.30 pm (05:30 UT)
  New moon:      January 10 at  2.30 pm (01:30 UT)
  First quarter: January 17 at 12.26 pm (Jan 16, 23:26 UT) 
  Full moon:     January 24 at  2.46 pm (01:46 UT)

The Earth is at perihelion on January 3 at noon NZDT (Jan 2, 23 hrs UT). It will then be 147 million km from the Sun (0.9833 AU).

The planets in January

At the beginning of January only Mercury of the naked-eye planets will be in the evening sky. But, at best, it will be very difficult to see. After conjunction mid month, Mercury joins the other four naked eye planets in the morning sky. The early evening sky will then be bereft of naked eye planets. By the end of January, Jupiter will rise about 10.30 pm so be easily visible to the east by midnight.

Mercury starts January as an evening object setting some 80 minutes after the Sun. On the 1st its magnitude will be -0.3 but with an altitude only 3.5 degrees, 45 minutes after sunset, it will be a difficult object. The Sun will be 8 degrees below the horizon so the westerly sky will still be bright making the planet difficult to see.

During the next few days Mercury gets closer to the Sun, especially after it is stationary on January 5 when the planet will start moving to the west and so towards the easterly moving Sun. Inferior conjunction is on January 14 when Mercury will be just under 50 million km from the Sun with the Earth 100 million km further out.

After conjunction Mercury becomes a morning object rising shortly before the Sun. The planet's westerly movement will take it quite quickly further from the Sun making it visible in the dawn sky. It is again stationary on January 26 by which date its motion away from the Sun will have slowed. On the last morning of January Mercury will rise almost 2 hours before the Sun. An hour after it rises the planet will be 8 degrees above the horizon with Venus the same distance above and to its left. At magnitude 0.3 Mercury should be fairly easy to see especially with Venus to act as a guide. But this is at about 5.30 am.

Venus remains a morning object rising about 140 minutes before the Sun all month. It starts January in Scorpius but moves into Ophiuchus on the morning of the 6th. Venus moves into Sagittarius on the 21st. On January 8 Venus will be 6 deg from Antares and on the 30th 3 degrees from the 2.8 magnitude star lambda Sgr.

As it moves to the east through the stars, Venus will overtake Saturn on January 9. At their closest, at about 5 pm, the two planets will be just over 5 arc minutes apart, about 1/6th of the moon's diameter. From NZ on the 9th at 5 am the two planets will be just over half a degree apart with Venus to the left of Saturn. They will be a similar distance apart on the 10th but with Venus now on the right of Saturn.

The crescent moon is closest to the two planets on the morning of January 7 when it will be 5 degrees left of Venus and 7.5 degrees from Saturn. The following morning the moon as a thinner crescent will below and a little to the right of the planets.

Mars rises 4 hours before the Sun on January 1 and nearly 6 hours before it on the 31st. Mars will be considerably higher than Venus. The planet starts the month at magnitude 1.3 in Virgo, 6 degrees below Spica. On the 18th Mars moves into Libra where it ends month a little brighter, magnitude 0.8. The morning of the 31st finds Mars 1.5 degrees from the star alpha Lib, magnitude 2.73

The moon, 36% lit, is closest to Mars on the morning of the 4th. The moon will be 2.5 degrees to the left of Mars.

Jupiter starts January in Leo with the 65% lit moon less than a degree to its upper left. On the 1st Jupiter rises about 12.30 am, by the end of January it will rise just before 10.30 pm so becoming visible late evening.

The planet is stationary on the 9th so its position changes little during the month. It gets to within a quarter of a degree of the boundary of Leo with Virgo, but as it starts moving back to the west retreats from the latter constellation.

The moon, now 82% lit, returns to the vicinity of Jupiter towards the end of January. On the morning of the 28th the two will be close to 4 degrees apart just before sunrise. Later in the morning, well after they set, the two will be just over a degree apart

Saturn rises just under two hours before the Sun on January 1, over four hours before the Sun on the 31st. It is in Ophiuchus all month at magnitude 0.5. See the notes for Venus for further details.

Outer planets

Uranus remains in Pisces during January at magnitude 5.8 to 5.9. It is an evening object. By the end of January it will be setting about 11.30 pm.

Neptune is also an evening object throughout January, by the end of the month it will set at 10.00 pm. The planet, magnitude 7.9, is in Aquarius.

Pluto continues to be in Sagittarius throughout January at magnitude 14.4. It is at conjunction with the Sun on January 6, after which it becomes a morning object rising as much as 2 hours before the Sun by the 31st. At conjunction Pluto will be nearly 5.1 billion km, 34 AU from the Earth and just over 33 Au beyond the Sun.

BRIGHTER ASTEROIDS: (1) Ceres is an evening object setting just before midnight on the 1st. It starts January in Capricornus at magnitude 9.3; on the 15th it moves into Aquarius. By the 31st, when it sets at 10.18, Ceres will be just over 10 degrees from Neptune.

(4) Vesta is in Cetus during January. It fades a little during the month from magnitude 8.0 to 8.3. The asteroid will be 6 degrees from Uranus on the 31st when it will set just before midnight.

(15) Eunomia is an evening object in Pisces during January, its magnitude fading from 9.5 to 9.8. It sets just before 11 pm on the 31st.

(27) Euterpe starts January in Gemini at magnitude 8.8 and is in the sky almost the whole night. By the 31st it will be a magnitude fainter and sets by 3am. The asteroid moves into Taurus on January 6.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in January 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 January 2016

Bright stars appear in the eastern half of the evening sky in January. There are no bright planets.

Sirius, the brightest true star, appears high in the east at dusk. Called 'the Dog Star' it marks the head of Canis Major the big dog. A group of stars to the right of it make the dog's hindquarters and tail, upside down just now. 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. Procyon, in the northeast below Sirius, marks the smaller of the two dogs that follow Orion the hunter across the sky.

Left of Sirius as the sky darkens are Rigel and Betelgeuse, the brightest stars in Orion the hunter.

Between them, but fainter, is a line of three stars making Orion's belt. Rigel is a bluish supergiant star, 70 000 times brighter than the sun and much hotter. It is 800 light years away. Orange Betelgeuse, below Orion's belt, is a red-giant star, cooler than the sun but hundreds of times bigger: a ball of extremely thin hot gas. To southern hemisphere star watchers, Orion's belt makes the bottom of 'The Pot' or 'The Saucepan'. A faint line of stars above and right of the belt is the pot's handle or Orion's sword. It has a glowing cloud at its centre: the Orion Nebula.

Left of Orion is the V-shaped pattern of stars making the face of Taurus the Bull. The V-shaped group is called the Hyades cluster. It is 150 light years away. Orange Aldebaran, Arabic for 'the eye of the bull', is not a member of the cluster but on the line of sight, half the cluster's distance.

Left again, toward the north and lower, is the Pleiades/Matariki/Seven Sisters/ Subaru star cluster. Pretty to the eye and impressive in binoculars, it is 440 light years from us. From northern NZ the bright star Capella is on the north skyline. It is 90,000 times brighter than the sun and 3300 light years away.

Low in the south are Crux, the Southern Cross, and 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 very luminous and distant: 13 000 times brighter than the sun and 300 light years away.

The Milky Way is in the eastern sky, brightest in the southeast toward Crux. It can be traced towards the north but becomes faint below Orion. The Milky Way is our edgewise view of the Galaxy, the pancake of billions of stars of which the sun is just one. Binoculars show many star clusters and a few glowing gas clouds in the Milky Way, particularly in the Carina region. The Milky Way is faint left, or north, of Orion because we are looking toward its thin outer edge. The centre region of the Galaxy, in Sagittarius, is hidden by the sun at this time of year.

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

The bright planets are all in the late night or dawn sky. Jupiter rises due east before 1 a.m. at the beginning of the month. It is a very bright golden 'star' shining with a steady light. The Moon will be close to Jupiter on New Year's morning. By the end of January Jupiter will be up after 10:30. The disk of Jupiter is seen in a small telescope with its four 'Galilean' moons lined up on each side like stars, changing positions from night to night. It is 720 million km away mid-month.

Brilliant Venus rises after 3:30 a.m. through the month; up about 2½ hours before the sun. It is the brightest 'star' in the sky by far. While Venus stays put, the stars and the other planets creep higher and westward through the month. At the beginning of the month Saturn is below and right of Venus, looking like a bright creamy-white star. Around January 9-10 Saturn will make a close pairing with Venus as it passes the brighter planet. Mars is midway between Jupiter and Saturn, a medium brightness orange 'star'.

*A light year 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.

Notes by:

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