March Moon & Planet data for 2016


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

March 1 Moon last quarter
March 2 Saturn 3.5 degrees south of the Moon
March 3 Moon southern most declination (-18.2 degrees)
March 4 Pluto 3.2 degrees south of the Moon
March 7 Venus 3.4 degrees south of the Moon
March 8 Mercury 3.7 degrees south of the Moon
March 8 Jupiter at opposition
March 8 Neptune 1.9 degrees south of the Moon
March 9 Moon new Eclipse
March 10 Moon at perigee
March 11 Uranus 1.8 degrees north of the Moon
March 11 Mercury 1.4 degrees south of Neptune
March 14 Aldebaran 0.3 degrees south of the Moon Occn
March 15 Moon first quarter
March 16 Moon northern most declination (18.2 degrees)
March 20 Equinox
March 20 Regulus 2.4 degrees north of the Moon
March 20 Venus 0.5 degrees south of Neptune
March 22 Jupiter 2.0 degrees north of the Moon
March 23 Moon full Eclipse
March 23 Mercury superior conjunction
March 25 Spica 4.9 degrees south of the Moon
March 25 Saturn stationary
March 25 Moon at apogee
March 28 Mars 4.1 degrees south of the Moon
March 29 Saturn 3.5 degrees south of the Moon
March 30 Moon southern most declination (-18.2 degrees)
March 31 Moon last quarter
March 31 Mercury 0.6 degrees north of Uranus
  • 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 December 2015

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. The southern summer solstice occurs on December 22 at 5.48 pm NZDT (04:48 UT) SUNRISE, SUNSET and TWILIGHT TIMES in December

                    December  1  NZDT                December 31  NZDT
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   5.40am,  set:  8.39pm    rise:   5.47am,  set:  8.59pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 5.10am,  ends: 9.10pm    starts: 5.16am,  ends: 9.31pm
  Nautical: starts: 4.28am,  ends: 9.51pm    starts: 4.33am,  ends:10.14pm 
  Astro:    starts: 3.40am,  ends:10.40pm    starts: 3.42am,  ends:11.05pm

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

  Last quarter:  December  3 at  8.40 pm (07:40 UT)
  New moon:      December 11 at 11.29 pm (10:29 UT)
  First quarter: December 19 at  4.14 am (Dec 18, 15:14 UT) 
  Full moon:     December 26 at 12.12 am (Dec 25, 11:12 UT)

The Planets in December

Only Mercury will be an evening object during December and it will be difficult to see. The remaining naked eye planets will be spread across the morning sky. Saturn too close to the Sun for observation early in the month, all 4 spread widely across the easterly morning sky at the end of December.

Mercury, an evening object, will set some 40 minutes after the Sun on the 1st, only 10 minutes after the end of civil twilight. As a result it will be too low to observed despite a -0.8 magnitude The planet moves rather further from the Sun during December until it reaches its greatest elongation 20° east of the Sun on the 29th. Even then it will set only 75 minutes after the Sun at the end of Nautical twilight. 45 minutes after sunset, Mercury will be only 4.5° above a level horizon towards the west-north-west, so still not an easy object despite its -0.4 magnitude.

Venus, MARS, JUPITER and SATURN in the morning sky during December.

Saturn was at conjunction on the last day of November, so will be too close to the Sun to see during the early part of December.

On the 1st as seen at 5am, the other three planets will be spread out across the evening sky. Most obvious will be Venus, due east and just on 13° up. Mars, magnitude 1.5, will be 14° away to its upper left with an altitude 20°. Jupiter will be 20° beyond Mars and nearly 27° up. Mars and Venus will be in Virgo with the latter 4° below Spica. Jupiter will be in Leo.

During December all three planets will be moving to the east through the stars, Venus most rapidly and Jupiter the slowest. As a result they will spread further apart. Venus will be in Libra by the 12th while Mars will pass Spica on the 24th some 3.5° below the star. Jupiter will remain in Leo but be close to the constellation’s boundary with Virgo by the end of the month. Saturn, in Ophiuchus, will move further into the morning sky to become visible by the end of December.

On the morning of the 31st the 4 planets, from Saturn, through Venus and Mars to Jupiter will be spread across some 77° of sky. Added to that, the Moon, 74% lit, will be 13° beyond Jupiter making a spread of a full 90° in all. At 5am with the Sun just over 8° below the horizon (at Wellington), Venus will be 15.5° up and in a direction 10° south of east. Saturn at magnitude 0.5, will be some 9° up just over 10° to the lower right of Venus. Mars will be on the opposite side of Venus 33° away and 33° above the horizon. Jupiter will be another 35° beyond Mars and 41° above the horizon. Finally the moon will be another 13° beyond Jupiter but at the same altitude.

Earlier in the month, the moon passes the planets. On the morning of December 5 the moon, 37% lit, will be 5.5° from Jupiter, 2 mornings later the moon now 20% lit will be 7° from Mars and the next morning, the 8th, just over 1° from Venus.

Outer Planets

Uranus remains in Pisces during December at magnitude 5.7. It is an evening object. By the end of December it will be setting about 1.30 am.

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

Pluto continues to be in Sagittarius throughout December at magnitude 14.4. At the end of the month it sets a few minutes after the Sun.

BRIGHTER ASTEROIDS: (1) Ceres is in Capricornus during December with a magnitude 9.3. It is about 20° from Neptune and like the planet will set close to midnight at the end of December.

(4) Vesta is in Cetus during December although it crosses a corner of Pisces mid month. Its magnitude fades from 7.5 to 8.0 during December. Vesta will be about 15° from Uranus, and will set at a similar time to the planet.

(15) Eunomia starts December in Pegasus but moves into Pisces on the 23rd. Its magnitude fades from 8.9 to 9.4 during December. It is an evening object, by the end of December it will set just after midnight.

(27) Euterpe is in Gemini, it starts December at magnitude 9.4, its brightness peaks at magnitude 8.4 when at opposition on December 25 and drops back to 8.9 by December 31. Euterpe is close to two red stars during the month. On December 14, with a magnitude 8.9, it will be half a degree below mu Gem, mag 2.9. Eight nights later Euterpe, at 8.6, will be 43 arc minutes below eta Gem, mag 3.3. In both instances it will be the brightest object immediately below the star.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in December 2015

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 December 2015

Mercury is the only planet in the evening sky. At the beginning of the month it appears as a bright star setting in the south-west an hour after the sun. It moves slightly higher in the twilight, setting 80 minutes after the sun by the end of the month. In a telescope it looks like a tiny gibbous moon; a moon between first quarter and full.

The brightest true stars are in the east and south. Sirius, the brightest of all the stars, is due east at dusk, often twinkling like a diamond. Left of it is the bright constellation of Orion. The line of three stars makes Orion's belt in the classical constellation. To southern hemisphere skywatchers they make the bottom of 'The Pot'. The faint line of stars above and right of the three is the Pot's handle. At its centre is the Orion Nebula, a glowing gas cloud nicely seen in binoculars. Rigel, directly above the line of three stars, is a hot blue-giant star. Orange Betelgeuse, below the line of three, is a cooler red-giant star.

Left of Orion is a triangular group making the upside down face of Taurus the bull. Orange Aldebaran is the brightest star in the V shape. Aldebaran is Arabic for 'the eye of the bull'. Still further left is the Pleiades /Matariki/Seven Sisters/Subaru cluster, impressive in binoculars. It is 440 light years* away.

Canopus, the second brightest star, is high in the southeast. Low in the south are the Pointers, Beta and Alpha Centauri, and Crux the Southern Cross. In some Maori star lore the bright southern Milky Way makes the canoe of Maui with Crux being the canoe's anchor hanging off the side. In this picture the Scorpion's tail can be the canoe's prow and the Clouds of Magellan are the sails.

The Milky Way is wrapped around the horizon. The broadest part is in Sagittarius low in the west at dusk. It narrows toward Crux in the south and becomes faint in the east 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. The thick hub of the galaxy, 30 000 light years away, is in Sagittarius now low in the west. The nearby outer edge is the faint part of the Milky Way below Orion. A scan along the Milky Way with binoculars will show many clusters of stars and a few glowing gas clouds.

The Clouds of Magellan, LMC and SMC, high in the southern sky, are two small galaxies about 160 000 and 200 000 light years away, respectively. They are easily seen by eye on a dark moonless night. The larger cloud is about 1/20th the mass of the Milky Way galaxy, the smaller cloud 1/30th.

Very low in the north is the Andromeda Galaxy seen in binoculars in a dark sky as a spindle of light. It is a bit bigger than our Milky Way galaxy and nearly three million light years away.

Jupiter, Mars and Venus are all the morning sky, so not shown on the chart. Saturn joins them at the end of the month. At the beginning of December Jupiter rises around 2:30 a.m.; reducing to 12:30 a.m. by the 31st. It is a bright golden-coloured 'star' shining with a steady light. Venus is up around 4 a.m., a brilliant object bright enough to cast shadows in dark locations. Mars is between the two bright planets, looking like a medium-bright reddish star. Jupiter and Mars rise steadily earlier while Venus stays put in the dawn. In the second half of the month Mars is near, then passing below, the bluish-white star Spica the brightest star in Virgo. At the end of the month Saturn emerges from the dawn twilight below and right of Venus, at the bottom end of the diagonal line of planets. The crescent moon will be close to Venus on the morning of December 8th.

A small telescope shows Jupiter's disk with its four big moons like faint stars lined up on each side. They change sides from night to night as they orbit the planet. Jupiter is 794 million km away mid-month.

The Geminid meteor shower peaks on the morning of the 15th. The meteors appear to come from the constellation of Gemini, low in the northeast at midnight, moving to the north by dawn. The meteors are clumps of dust from a comet. Friction with the air heats them up and makes the air around them glow.

*A light year (l.y.)is the distance that light travels in one year: nearly 10 million million km or 1013km. 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

February Moon & Planet data for 2016


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

February 1 Moon last quarter
February 1 Mars 2.6 degrees south of the Moon
February 3 Saturn 3.4 degrees south of the Moon
February 5 Moon southern most declination (-18.3 degrees)
February 6 Venus 1.1 degrees south of Pluto
February 6 Pluto 3.2 degrees south of the Moon
February 6 Venus 4.3 degrees south of the Moon
February 6 Mercury 3.7 degrees south of the Moon
February 7 Mercury greatest elong W(26)
February 8 Moon new
February 9 Neptune 2.0 degrees south of the Moon
February 11 Moon at perigee
February 12 Uranus 1.6 degrees north of the Moon
February 15 Moon first quarter
February 16 Aldebaran 0.4 degrees south of the Moon Occn
February 17 Moon northern most declination (18.3 degrees)
February 22 Regulus 2.4 degrees north of the Moon
February 22 Moon full
February 24 Jupiter 1.6 degrees north of the Moon
February 26 Spica 4.9 degrees south of the Moon
February 27 Moon at apogee
February 28 Neptune at conjunction
February 29 Mars 3.5 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.
  • perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth

The solar system in November 2015

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 November

                    November  1  NZDT                November 30  NZDT
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   6.06am,  set:  8.03pm    rise:   5.40am,  set:  8.38pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 5.39am,  ends: 8.31pm    starts: 5.10am,  ends: 9.09pm
  Nautical: starts: 5.03am,  ends: 9.07pm    starts: 4.29am,  ends: 9.50pm 
  Astro:    starts: 4.24am,  ends: 9.46pm    starts: 3.41am,  ends:10.38pm

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

  Last quarter:  November  4 at  1.24 am (Nov  3, 12:24 UT)
  New moon:      November 12 at  6.47 am (Nov 11, 17:47 UT)
  First quarter: November 19 at  7.27 pm (06:27 UT) 
  Full moon:     November 26 at 11.44 am (Nov 25, 22:44 UT)

The planets in November

Saturn will be the only naked eye evening planet during October, and that only for the first part of the month. There is more interest in the morning with Venus, Mars and Jupiter forming a loose cluster in the dawn sky. Mercury is not likely to be visible.

Mercury is at superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun on the night November 17/18 NZ time. The planet starts November as a nominal morning object but rises only 18 minutes before the Sun. After conjunction the planet becomes an evening object. By November 30 it will set 40 minutes later than the Sun, but is not likely to be visible in the evening twilight.

At this conjunction, Mercury passes behind the Sun as "seen" from the Earth. The planet moves behind the Sun at about 9.25 pm, an hour after sunset, and doesn't emerge again until about 6.29 am on the 18th, 40 minutes after sunrise the following morning. (Times are as shown by GUIDE 9). So Mercury is behind the Sun for about 9 hours. At conjunction the planet will be 216 million km (1.446 AU) from the Earth and 0.457 AU (68 million km) beyond the Sun.

Venus, MARS and JUPITER in the morning sky during November.

The three planets will start the month as a close group in Leo, although Venus and Mars both move into Virgo within a day. On the 1st Jupiter is about 6° from the other two planets.

Venus and Mars start October close together, within a degree of each other for the first 5 days of the month. On the morning of the 3rd they will be three-quarters of a degree apart with Mars below Venus. The following morning, the two will be very slightly closer, with Mars now to the lower left of Venus.

To see the pairing it will be necessary to look for the planets at least half an hour before sunrise. By then Mars may be lost to naked eye view in the brightening twilight, although Venus should still be easily seen. Binoculars will then readily show Mars, magnitude 1.7. Obviously viewing earlier will make it easier to see Mars, but the two will be low: they rise a little short of two hours before the Sun.

The crescent moon joins the group of planets on the 7th when it will be 2° to the right of Jupiter. By the following morning the moon will have moved past Mars to be 2° to the right of Venus.

For the rest of October, Venus and Mars move across Virgo, with slower moving Mars dropping behind Venus. As a result by the end of October Mars will be higher in the sky than Venus, rising two and a half hours before the Sun while Venus still rises just under two hours before it. Jupiter will be higher still rising over 3 hours before the Sun.

Saturn is heading for its conjunction with the Sun at the end of November. It starts the month setting two hours after the Sun. On the 1st, an hour after sunset, Saturn will be visible 10° up and a good 15° round to the south of due west. Antares will be some 8.5° above the planet, the constellation Scorpius appearing as an upright curled fern with Saturn at its root. During the following nights, Saturn and the constellation will get steadily lower, so that by mid month it will be lost in the evening twilight.

On the 13th the moon, as a very thin crescent, will be just over 4° to the right of Saturn, providing a possible last chance to find Saturn, or maybe an opportunity to find the crescent moon about 36 hours after new. 40 minutes after sunset with the Sun some 8° below the horizon, Saturn and the moon will be less than 4° above the horizon.

At conjunction on the 30th, Saturn will be 11AU, 1644 million km, from the Earth and 10AU beyond the Sun. As "seen" from the Earth, Saturn will pass 1.5° north of the Sun.

Outer planets

Uranus remains in Pisces during November at magnitude 5.7. Opposition was on October 12, so the planet will be visible throughout the evening, setting several hours after midnight.

There is yet another occultation of the Uranus by the moon on November 23. It occurs in the morning after Uranus sets and is visible at night from the south Indian and Southern Oceans to the west of Australia.

Neptune is also an evening object throughout November, setting after midnight but about 90 minutes before Uranus. The planet is at magnitude 7.9 and is in Aquarius throughout the month.

Pluto continues to be in Sagittarius throughout November at magnitude 14.4.

BRIGHTER ASTEROIDS: (1) Ceres starts November in Sagittarius and ends in Capricornus, having crossed a corner of Mica between the 7th and 17th. The asteroid is an evening object setting after midnight, its magnitude dimming slightly from 9.1 to 9.3

(4) Vesta is in Cetus throughout November, its magnitude ranging from 6.9 to 7.5. The asteroid is stationary mid month.

(15) Eunomia remains in Pegasus during November its magnitude varying from 8.4 to 8.9. Also an evening object, it is stationary on the 7th.

(29) Amphitrite is in Pisces all month, its magnitude fading from 8.9 to 9.6. It will be just over 1° north of the mag 3.6 star eta Psc mid month. It sets well after midnight all month.

(192) Nausikaa is in Perseus and rather low in NZ skies. It starts November at magnitude 9.4 a little over a degree from the magnitude 2.9 star zeta Per. During November Nausikaa brightens to magnitude 9.0 at opposition on the 17th. By the end of November it will have faded again to 9.3 The asteroid rises about 11 pm on the 1st and at sunset on the 30th.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

The Evening Sky in November 2015

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 November 2015

The brightest stars are in the eastern sky. Midway up the southeast sky is Canopus, the second brightest star. Sirius, the brightest star, rises in the later evening at the beginning of the month. It is in the sky at dusk by month's end, twinkling like a diamond as the air disperses its light.

Left of Sirius is the constellation of Orion, with 'The Pot' at its centre. Rigel, a bluish supergiant star, is directly above the line of three stars; Betelgeuse, a red-giant star, is straight below. Left again is orange Aldebaran. It is at one tip of a triangular group called the Hyades cluster. The Hyades and Aldebaran make the upside down face of Taurus the bull. Still further left is the Pleiades or Matariki star cluster, also called the Seven Sisters, Subaru and many other names. Six stars are visible to the eye; dozens are seen in binoculars. The cluster is 440 light years away and around 70 million years old.

Sirius is the brightest star both because it is relatively close, nine light years* away. Seen up close it would be 23 times brighter than the sun. By contrast, Canopus is 300 light years away and 13 000 times brighter than the sun.

Saturn is the only naked-eye planet in the evening sky. It sets in the southwest two hours after the sun at the beginning of the month. It looks like a medium-bright creamy-white star directly below orange Antares, the brightest star in the Scorpion. Because it is low in the sky it will look rather fuzzy in a telescope. By mid-month it is disappearing in the dusk.

The Milky Way is low in the sky, visible around the horizon from the northwest, through south into the eastern sky. The broadest, brightest part is in Sagittarius, to the right of the Scorpion's sting. 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 is 30 000 light years away in the direction of Sagittarius.

Low in the south are the Pointers, Beta and Alpha Centauri, and Crux the Southern Cross. In some Maori star lore the bright southern Milky Way makes the canoe of Maui with Crux being the canoe's anchor hanging off the side. In this picture the Scorpion's tail can be the canoe's prow and the Clouds of Magellan are the sails. Alpha Centauri is the closest naked-eye star; 4.3 light years away.

The Clouds of Magellan, (LMC and SMC), high in the southern sky, are two small galaxies about 160 000 and 200 000 light years away, respectively. They are easily seen by eye on a dark moonless night. The larger Cloud is about 1/20th the mass of the Milky Way galaxy, the smaller Cloud 1/30th. That's still billions of stars in each. The globular star cluster 47 Tucanae looks like a slightly fuzzy star near the top-right edge of the SMC. It is 'only' 16 000 light years away and merely on the line of sight to the SMC. Globular clusters are spherical clouds of stars many billions of years old.

Very low in the north is the Andromeda Galaxy, easily seen in binoculars in a dark sky and faintly visible to the eye. It appears as a spindle of light. It is similar in shape to our galaxy but is a little bigger and nearly three million light years away.

Venus, Mars and Jupiter are in the eastern dawn sky. The three planets are close together at the beginning of the month, rising after 4 a.m. Venus is brightest, with Jupiter a close second. Mars is a fainter red 'star', just below Venus. Venus continues to rise two hours before the sun while Jupiter and Mars rise progressively earlier. By mid-month Jupiter is leading the three up the eastern sky. Venus is at the lower right end of the line; Mars is in the middle. They keep this order as the gaps between the three grow. The grouping is just a line-of-sight effect, of course. At mid-month Venus is 126 million km away; Mars is 313 million and Jupiter 860 million km away. There is an old and unreliable rule that stars twinkle and planets don't. It works for Jupiter and usually for Venus.

*A light year (l.y.)is the distance that light travels in one year: nearly 10 million million km or 1013km. 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

January Moon & Planet data for 2016


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

January 2 Moon last quarter
January 2 Moon at apogee
January 2 Earth at perihelion
January 3 Spica 4.5 degrees south of the Moon
January 3 Mars 1.4 degrees south of the Moon
January 5 Mercury stationary
January 6 Pluto at conjunction
January 7 Venus 3.1 degrees south of the Moon
January 7 Saturn 3.3 degrees south of the Moon
January 8 Moon southern most declination (-18.4 degrees)
January 8 Jupiter stationary
January 9 Venus 0.1 degrees north of Saturn
January 9 Pluto 3.1 degrees south of the Moon
January 10 Moon new
January 10 Mercury 2.1 degrees south of the Moon
January 13 Neptune 2.2 degrees south of the Moon
January 14 Mercury inferior conjunction
January 15 Moon at perigee
January 16 Uranus 1.4 degrees north of the Moon
January 16 Moon first quarter
January 20 Aldebaran 0.5 degrees south of the Moon Occn
January 21 Moon northern most declination (18.4 degrees)
January 23 Mercury 1.6 degrees north of Pluto
January 24 Moon full
January 25 Mercury stationary
January 26 Regulus 2.4 degrees north of the Moon
January 28 Jupiter 1.3 degrees north of the Moon
January 29 Mercury 0.6 degrees north of Pluto
January 30 Moon at apogee
January 30 Spica 4.8 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
  • perihelion: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Sun

The Solar System in October 2015

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 October

                    October  1  NZST                 October 31  NZDT
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   6.54am,  set:  7.28pm    rise:   6.07am,  set:  8.02pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 6.29am,  ends: 7.54pm    starts: 5.40am,  ends: 8.30pm
  Nautical: starts: 5.56am,  ends: 8.26pm    starts: 5.04am,  ends: 9.06pm 
  Astro:    starts: 5.23am,  ends: 9.08pm    starts: 4.26am,  ends: 9.45pm

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

  Last quarter:  October  5 at 10.06 am (Oct  4, 21:06 UT)
  New moon:      October 13 at  1.06 pm (00:06 UT)
  First quarter: October 21 at  9.31 am (Oct 20, 20:31 UT) 
  Full moon:     October 28 at  1.05 am (Oct 27, 12:05 UT)

Lunar occultations of planets

An occultation of Venus by the moon on the morning of October 9 will be visible from New Zealand. Despite being a day time event, the occultation should be readily visible in binoculars or a small telescope and probably with the unaided eye for those with good vision.

Later in the month, on the evening of October 26, the moon, only one day short of full, will occult Uranus, again visible from most of New Zealand.

More information on these events is given in the section for the planet.

The planets in October

Only Saturn is visible in the evening sky, best viewed following sunset as the sky darkens. Mercury remains too close to the Sun to observe all month, while Venus, Mars and Jupiter have a get together in the dawn morning sky,

Mercury is at inferior conjunction between the Earth and Sun on the morning of October 1 at about 4 am. At conjunction the planet will pass about 2.4° south of the Sun and as seen from the Earth. Mercury will be 0.656 AU, 98 million km from the Earth and 0.347 AU, 52 million km from the Sun.

After conjunction, Mercury becomes a morning object rising before the Sun. At its best, in mid October, the planet will rise 30 minutes before the Sun; by the end of October only 20 minutes earlier. In effect Mercury will not be visible at any time during the month.

Venus, MARS and JUPITER in the morning sky during October.

The three planets will start the month well spread out in the dawn sky.

Venus will be readily visible as a brilliant point of light in the dawn sky throughout October. It rises 2 hours before the Sun on the 1st, reducing to about 105 minutes earlier by the 31st. It will be the furthest of the three from the Sun at the start of October.

Mars rises some 75 minutes before the Sun on the 1st, and 100 minutes earlier on the 31st, so then little different to Venus.

Jupiter rises 1 hour before the Sun on the 1st, almost 2 hours earlier on the 31st. So it starts October as the closest of the 3 planets to the Sun and ends the furthest.

As a result of these changing positions there will be some close passes during the month. On the morning of October 18.Mars and Jupiter will be 24' apart, a little less than the diameter of the full moon. Mars, magnitude 1.7 will be to the lower left of the far brighter Jupiter (-1.8). The planets will be low while the sky is still dark enough to see them. Half an hour before sunrise Mars will be just 9° up as seen from Wellington. At magnitude 1.7 Mars is likely to be difficult to see but Jupiter should be fairly easy to spot, at an azimuth nearly 20° to the north of east. Binoculars will then show Mars if it is not visible to the eye. The elongation of the planets, 40° from the Sun, means the worst of the glare should be to the right of the planets

Eight mornings later, on the 25th, Venus will be 1° above Jupiter. Half an hour before sunrise Jupiter will be some 12° up, so now a little better placed. The brightness of Venus will make locating the pair simple.

Finally the last morning of October will find Mars some 1.7° to the lower right of Venus. This is not their closest approach: that will be on October 3.

The crescent moon will pass Mars and Jupiter on the morning of October 10 when it will be at the apex of a triangle formed by it and the two planets defining its base. The moon, 9% lit, will be just under 3° from each of the planets. The three will be low with the moon a little over 7° up 40 minutes before sunrise.

OCCULTATION of VENUS, morning of October 9, NZDT

In NZ the occultation takes place well after sunrise. Even so both phases of the occultation will be observable with binoculars or a small telescope. The light intensity of Venus will exceed that of the sunlit edge of the moon making the disappearance against the moon's lit limb observable. For New Zealand the occultations will take place fairly centrally round the moon's limb. The moon will be a 15% lit crescent

It will take about 90 seconds for the moon to cover the full diameter of Venus (30 arc second). But Venus will be only 40% lit, with the moon covering and exposing the unlit half first. Hence from the observer's point of view the occultation will start at about the time given in the table below for the mid event. The lit portion of Venus will be hidden or exposed to view over the following three-quarters of a minute.

The predicted times (NZDT am) for a number of places in NZ are given below, D = Disappearance and R = Reappearance:

Auckland:      D 8:11:59,  R 9:52:32
Hamilton:      D 8:14:35,  R 9:54:33
Palmerston N:  D 8:20:14,  R 9:57:26
Wellington:    D 8:20:34,  R 9:56:01
Nelson:        D 8:17:51,  R 9:52:16
Christchurch:  D 8:21:35,  R 9:52:01
Dunedin:       D 8:23:31,  R 9:48:01
Invercargill   D 8:21:44,  R 9:43:22

Times for other places will of course vary, even in different parts of the same city. Those who have the Occult program should generate their own predictions, otherwise Venus should be easily visible, weather permitting, a few minutes before the disappearance.

The occultation is also visible from the eastern half of Australia where the disappearance occurs in a dark sky and the reappearance around the time of sunrise.

Saturn will be the only naked eye planet in the evening sky. It sets just before midnight on the 1st and soon after 10pm on the 31st. So even it will be low especially by the end of the month when it will set an hour after the end of nautical twilight (Sun 13° below the horizon)..

The planet starts the month in Libra but crosses into Scorpius on the 17th. Saturn will be about 10° below Antares, getting a little closer as the month progresses.

The 10% lit crescent moon will be about 5° below Saturn on the 16th. The following night it will be 9° to the upper right of Saturn.

Outer planets

Uranus is in Pisces during October, being at opposition on October 12. It will then be 19.0 AU, 2840 million km from the Earth and 20 AU, 2992 million km from the Sun. Being at opposition mid October means it is in the dark sky all night throughout the month.

OCCULTATION OF URANUS. On the evening of October 26 an occultation of Uranus by the moon will be visible in NZ for places from just north of Auckland southwards. A grazing occultation occurs just south of Wellsford. The path of the graze is very close to the one for the graze of Uranus on the morning of September 2.

At the October graze the disappearance will be nominally at the unlit limb of the 98.3% sunlit moon, near its north pole. With the moon so near full, the disappearance of Uranus will be very close to the terminator of the sunlit region, especially in the northern half of the North Island.

Times of the disappearance vary from 11:09:17 at Auckland, the planet taking 36.2 seconds to completely disappear, to Hamilton 10:03:36 (21.4 seconds), Wellington 10:52:39 (12.8 seconds), Christchurch 10:46:54 (11.4 seconds), Dunedin 10:41:58 (10.4 seconds) and Invercargill 10:35:59 (10.4 seconds). The times are for the 50% occultation of the planet.

The reappearance takes place some time later ranging from 11:26:26 at Auckland where the planet will be behind the moon for just over 17 minutes to 11:30:54 at Invercargill with Uranus behind the moon for 55 minutes. This will be at the sunlit limb of the moon.

Neptune was at opposition at the beginning of September, so it will be visible all evening throughout October. The planet will continue to be in Aquarius at magnitude 7.8 to 7.9, so is quite easily seen in binoculars. The 77% lit gibbous moon is closest to Neptune on October 23 when the planet will be 6° to the right and rather higher than the moon. The following night the two will be 10.5° apart with Neptune to the moon's upper left.

Pluto continues to be in Sagittarius all October with a magnitude 14.4.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is in Sagittarius during October its magnitude ranging from 8.7 to 9.1. Ceres will be moving to the east through Sagittarius towards the constellation's triple boundary point with Microscopium and Capricornus

(4) Vesta is in Cetus throughout October its magnitude ranging from 6.2 to 6.9 during the month. It is at opposition on October 3, when it is brightest. The asteroid will be moving to the west, 9 to 10° from beta Cet, Diphda (magnitude 2.0). On the 17th it will be on the line from beta Cet to iota Cet (3.5), with Vesta a little under 2° from the latter.

(15) Eunomia is in Pegasus during October its magnitude varying from 8.0 to 8.3 as the Earth moves away from the asteroid following its end of October opposition. The asteroid moves in an arc through Pegasus more or less centered on gamma Peg (2.8), 8.4° away.

(29) Amphitrite starts October at magnitude 9.3 in Aries. It is at opposition on the 23rd at magnitude 8.7 and crosses into Pisces 4 nights later. By the end of October its magnitude will be back to 8.9. During October, Amphitrite will be moving to the west about 3° from beta Ari (2.6). On the 23rd, gamma Ari (4.6) will be close to midway between beta and Amphitrite.

(471) Papagena will be at opposition in Cetus on October 21 with a magnitude 9.5. It will then be 1.5° from tau Cet (3.5) The two are closest on the 17th with Papagena 1.26° to the lower left of the star.

Brian Loader

The Evening Sky in October 2015

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 2015

Saturn is the only planet in the evening sky. It is midway down the western sky at dusk and sets in the southwest around 10 pm mid-month. The moon is just below Saturn on the 16th and well to its right on the 17th. Above it, and fainter, is orange Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius.

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 opposite skyline is Vega, setting in the late evening. Vega is 50 times brighter than the sun and 25 light years away. Vega is the 5th brightest star.

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 way; 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. One sees a faint broad column of light passing through 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.

Bright planets appear in the eastern dawn sky. Brilliant silver Venus rises two hours before the sun through October. That's around 5 a.m. at the beginning of the month. Golden Jupiter is on the dawn horizon at 6 a.m. below and right of Venus. Between the two bright planets, at the beginning of the month, are the white star Regulus and the reddish planet Mars. They are similar in brightness but much fainter than the bright planets. Jupiter moves up the dawn sky. By mid-month it is passing Mars. The pair are less than a full-moon's width apart on the morning of the 18th. Around the 26th Jupiter passes by Venus, making an eye-catching pairing

of bright planets in the dawn. Jupiter and Mars are on the far side of the sun. Jupiter is 920 million km away; Mars 345 million km. Venus is on our side of the sun, 92 million km away on the 15th.

*A light year (l.y.) is the distance that light travels in one year: nearly 10 million million km or 10^13 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

The solar system in September 2015

Dates and times are NZST (UT + 12 hours) unless otherwise specified up to September 26. From September 27 they are NZDT (UT + 13 Hours). NZDT commences on Sunday September 27 at 2am when clocks should be put forward one hour.

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

The southern spring equinox is on September 23, with the Sun on the celestial equator at 8:21 pm

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in September

                     September  1  NZST                 September 30  NZDT
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
       SUN: rise:   6.44am,  set:  5.58pm    rise:   6.55am,  set:  7.27pm
Twilights
  Civil:    starts: 6.19am,  ends: 6.24pm    starts: 6.30am,  ends: 7.53pm
  Nautical: starts: 5.47am,  ends: 6.56pm    starts: 5.58am,  ends: 8.25pm 
  Astro:    starts: 5.15am,  ends: 7.28pm    starts: 5.24am,  ends: 8.59pm

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

  Last quarter:  September  5 at  9.54 pm (09:54 UT)
  New moon:      September 13 at  6.41 pm (06:41 UT)
  First quarter: September 21 at  8.59 pm (08:59 UT) 
  Full moon:     September 28 at  3.51 pm (02:51 UT)

Eclipses

A partial eclipse of the Sun on September 13 will be visible from southern parts of Africa, the southern half of the Malagasy Republic, the South Indian Ocean and Antarctica. No part of the eclipse is visible from Australia of New Zealand. This is an annular eclipse but the path of annularity misses the Earth.

A total eclipse of the moon on September 28 is also not visible from Australasia. The total phase of the eclipse, lasing some 82 minutes, is best seen from countries either side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The planets in September

Mercury will be well placed for evening viewing during the earlier part of the month. Venus, Mars and Jupiter are all morning objects rising a little before the Sun. Saturn, in the evening sky, will set before midnight. An occultation of Uranus by the moon on the morning of September 2 will be visible from most of NZ.

Mercury is an easy early evening object during the first half of September, setting 2 hours or more after the Sun. On the 1st, 50 minutes after sunset the planet, magnitude 0.2, will be some 15° above the horizon to the west. On the 4th Mercury is at its greatest elongation 27° east of the Sun. For nearly two weeks after that its evening altitude slowly declines as its easterly motion through the stars slow. Then on the 17th the planet is stationary before starting to move back to the west, following a path through the stars close to the one it took in the first part of September.

The return means the distance of Mercury from the Sun rapidly declines in the latter part of September as does its evening altitude so that it slips out of view. Mercury is at inferior conjunction between the Earth and Sun at the very end of the month. The actual conjunction is at about 4 am on the morning of October 1.

Venus was at inferior conjunction mid August, so September find it moving up into the morning sky. It rises nearly 100 minutes before the Sun on September 1. On the 5th Venus is stationary, after which it will start moving east towards the Sun. But the Sun itself will be moving to the east through the stars a little more rapidly. As a result the time Venus rises before the Sun will continue to slowly increase, up to almost 2 hours earlier on the 30th.

Venus starts the month in Cancer. Its easterly motion takes it into Leo on the 24th. Before that on the morning of the 10th the 11% lit crescent moon with be 7° to the left of Venus.

Mars is also a morning object, but rather lower than Venus. It rises just under an hour before the Sun on the 1st and 70 minutes before the Sun on the 30th. Mars will be at magnitude 1.8 all month.

Like Venus, Mars starts the month in Cancer, moving on into Leo on the 6th. In Leo it will move towards Regulus, alpha Leo, and is closest to the magnitude 1.4 star on the morning of September 25, when the two will be about 50 arc-minutes apart. Mars, at magnitude 1.8 will be slightly fainter than Regulus and to the lower left of the star.

The moon, a 6% lit waning crescent, will be just under 4° above Mars on the morning of the 11th, one day after it passes Venus.

Jupiter is the third planet in the morning sky that rises shortly before sunrise. It is in Leo all month, moving away from Regulus. It was at conjunction with the Sun on August 26, so will rise only 3 minutes earlier than the Sun at the beginning of September. By the end of the month this will have increased to nearly an hour before the Sun, but the planet will be only 5° above the horizon twenty minutes before sunrise making it a difficult object to see.

Saturn will be the only naked eye planet left in the evening sky once Mercury has slipped out of it. It sets at 12.40 am at the beginning of September and 11.56 pm (NZDT) on the 30th. Hence it will be readily visible in the earlier part of the evening. It will be in Libra about 12° below Antares all month, Saturn moving slightly closer to Antares as the month progresses.

The moon a 29% broad crescent will be some 3.5° to the right of Saturn on September 19.

Outer planets

Uranus remains in Pisces during September. It rises around 9.14 pm on the 1st and 8.15 pm (NDST) on the 30th. The planet will be at magnitude 5.7 so readily seen in binoculars.

OCCULTATION OF URANUS. On the morning of September 2 an occultation of Uranus by the moon will be visible in NZ for places just north of Auckland southwards. A grazing occultation occurs just south of Wellsford. The disappearance will be at the bright limb of the of the 88% lit moon so difficult to observe. The reappearance at the unlit limb will be a lot easier to see using a small telescope.

Unlike stellar occultations, the occultation of Uranus will not be instantaneous due to the angular diameter of the planet. In the South Island the reappearance will take about 6 seconds, but this time will increase further north, nearer the graze path, to almost 20 seconds at Auckland.

The time of the reappearance is near 5 am; for most places a little before, but for Wellington and places near the east coast of the North Island Uranus will reappear shortly after 5am. Users of Occult will be able to generate accurate times for their position.

A second lunar occultation of Uranus occurs on September 29. It is only visible from the south of South Africa, the ocean areas to the south and parts of Antarctica.

Neptune is at opposition on the 1st. It then rises 15 minutes before sunset and sets a few minutes after sunrise. By the end of the month Neptune sets an hour before sunrise. The planet remains in Aquarius at magnitude 7.8, so is quite easily seen in binoculars. The near full moon is closest to Neptune on September 26.

Pluto continues to be in Sagittarius all September with a magnitude 14.3 to 14.4.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is in Sagittarius during September fading a little from magnitude 8.2 to 8.7 during the month. The dwarf planet will be slow moving in Sagittarius, being stationary on the 15th. It will then be about 3.5° from the M55 globular cluster.

(4) Vesta is in Cetus throughout September brightening from magnitude 6.7 to 6.3 during the month. The asteroid rises at 8.16 pm on the 1st. By the end of September it will rise about 40 minutes before sunset and set nearly an hour after sunrise.

(9) Metis is in Aquarius, starting the month at magnitude 9.2. It will then rise at the time of sunset but not set until well after sunrise. The asteroid is at opposition on September 6. By the end of the month it will have dimmed slightly to magnitude 9.6

(15) Eunomia starts September in Andromeda with a magnitude 8.4. It moves into Pegasus on the 22nd. Opposition is at the end of September when Eunomia will have brightened to 7.9. It will then be the second brightest asteroid in the sky. , having crossed into Pegasus on the 22nd.

(29) Amphitrite starts September at magnitude 9.9. It is in Aries and stationary on the 7th. By the 30th it will have brightened to magnitude 9.3 and be just under 5° from the star beta Ari.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand