Contributed by Dennis Goodman, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Observing the Geminids in December

Chart showing the sky surrounding the radiant of the Geminids.

The Geminid Meteor shower is one of the most active of the year, sometimes surpassed only by the Perseids in intensity.

The shower peaks on the morning of 15 December in New Zealand. The Geminids don't seem to have a sharp peak like the Leonids, and observations can be made for a week either side of the peak.

At it's height, the Geminids have a zenith hourly rate of about 80 meteors per hour. So, if for you the radiant was at the zenith, and you could observe the whole sky at once, you might expect to see 80 meteors an hour.

Alas, in New Zealand, the radiant is low. In fact it lies just a degree or two to the left of, and slightly below, Castor. So, in New Zealand we effectivly lose out on seeing 50% of the meteors before we start. But it is still a shower worth looking at. I have found from when I lived in Auckland, and if it was fine, seeing a dozen or more Geminids an hour around the peak was quite normal. And of course one cannot observe all the sky at once. Geminids are inclined to leave good trains, and some of those meteors travel long distances. One I observed appeared first near Sirius, and travelled overhead and a long way towards the southern horizon. Remember, meteors do not appear at the radiant, unless they are heading straight for you, but generally tens of degrees from it.

The best time to look for Geminids is any time after about 1 or 2 am through until dawn. Gemini will be approaching north. I would suggest you look for Geminids streaking through the sky in the region of Orion and the area of sky to the right of Orion. Make sure you have a dark sky from northwest sound to east, and at least up to the zenith. Keep glow from city lights to the south of you.

Most meteor showers are associated with cometary debris travelling in the orbit of the comets. The Geminids are a bit different. The appear to be travelling in the same orbit as Apollo asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Is this an asteroid that perhaps was once surrounded by and icy snowball of cometary matter?


Chart of Stars near the Geminid radiant, west to Orion.

Geminid Radiant

The chart shows a field of view to the north about an hour and a half before sunrise in mid December. From the mid South Island of New Zealand, the other pair of the twins, Pollux (just above Castor) will have an altitude of about 20° and be nearly due north. For observers further north, Pollux will be a little higher.

In 2011 the moon is going to hinder observation of the meteors. On the morning of December 15, the moon will be only a little past full, 84% lit and about 26° from the radiant, so is likely to reduce the number of meteors visible.
For 2012 the moon is favourable, new moon is on December 13.

Chart prepared with the aid of GUIDE 8.0.

Observing the Leonids

Contributed by Dennis Goodman, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

November brings an increase in the meteor activity we are likely to observe from New Zealand. In the early part of the month, the 2 Taurid meteors showers are with us, although they don't usually bring about spectacular meteor displays.

The shower that has excited meteor observers over the past few years is the Leonids. Normally a reliable, yet quiet meteor shower, every 33 years or so, the orbit of the Earth in relation to the path of Comet Temple-Tuttle means the Earth passes through the denser parts of the cometary debris that follows the orbit of the comet. The years 1998-2001 were years ago identified as years when the Leonid meteor shower were likely to be spectacular. There had been some quite spectacular displays in 1933 and 1966. So we may have to wait until he early 2030s for the next spectacular display.

I observed the Leonids from Hawaii on the morning of 17 November, 1998 (Hawaiian time) from a site on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea. I could only watch around 25% of the sky at any one time, but over a three hour period, I observed around 140 Leonid meteors. If I could have observed the whole sky, and the radiant had been near the zenith, I might have seen 4 or 5 times that number.

The peak of the Leonids, in view of observations made in the last few years, appears to be very short - just a very few hours. We like to think we know where the best observing place is likely to be, but predictions have proved to be a little astray in the past.

The problem we have in New Zealand is that the radiant point, which is within the 'sickle' of Leo, rises only an hour or two before the commencement of dawn.(the further south you are, the worse it is). Thus, from New Zealand we can only observe 30% or so of the meteors that might be seen if the radiant was high in the sky.

Given that the radiant is low in the north-east, observers will need a site with a dark sky to the north and east and from there up to the zenith. Almost all the meteors will be observed some distance from the radiant point. So it is much better to look a minimum of 15-20 degrees away from that point. You will be able to identify a Leonid meteor quite easily. Note it's path in the sky, and its length. Then take the point where you first saw the meteor, and trace a path back from that point in exactly the opposite direction to which the meteor travelled, and for about the same distance as the meteor travelled. If that brings you to a point around the 'sickle' of Leo, you will have observed a Leonid.

Leonids are noted for leaving brief trains and trails, which may be visible for several seconds. One Leonid I observed left a smokey trail visible for several minutes.

I am happy to receive observations from observers. Don't try and do anything fancy. Just count the meteors you see, and divide them into two groups - those that you can identify as Leonids i.e. they clearly originate from the 'sickle' arera of Leo, and any other meteors you see can be classified as 'sporadic' for the purposes of this exercise. Note the time you start observing, and the time you finish. Also note any cloud cover (10, 20% of the sky etc), and the limiting magnitude i.e. what is the approximate magnitude of the faintest star you can see. Try to do your observing in 30 or 60 minute chunks. The Hawaiian Meteor Group, which is associated with the American Meteor Society, will be advised of our results. Observations should be sent to me at PO Box 2214, Christchurch or (preferably) email them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - by the end of November.

So I guess all I can say is - happy meteor watching. Don't forget to wrap up warm and have a hot drink handy. If you get cold, the quality of your observing will be compromised. Meteor watching is a good group activity, so get some of your colleagues in on the exercise. If you do this, don't forget to record what part of the sky each observer was designated to look at. Very important. OK - go to it.

Next month we'll take a look at the prospects for the Geminids.


Chart of Stars near the Leonid Radiant

Leonid Radiant. 8.2 kb

The chart shows a field of view to the north east about 1 hour before sunrise. The width of the field is about 45° and its height about 40°

The + near Regulus marks a point to the north east with an altitude of about 20° from mid South Island and about 4° higher from the central North Island. Stars to magnitude 5.5 are shown Those 3.5 or brighter are marked also have their magnitudes shown, without a decimal point.

Chart prepared with the aid of GUIDE 7.0.

Observing the Orionid Meteor Shower

Contributed by Dennis Goodman, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Orionid Meteor shower peaks around 21-22 October each year. This is one of the two meteor showers associated with Comet Halley, the other being the Eta Aquairids, visible early May.

The radiant point for the Orionids is a little below, and to the right of, Betelgeuse. So it is not a high radiant for NZ observers. Orionids tend to travel quite long distances, and often leave trains, which can sometimes be visible for several seconds.

The Orionids are not a rich shower, and if you see 10 an hour from our latitude, that's good. It is definitely more favourable viewing them from the northern tropics e.g. Hawaii. But, give it a go anyway.

It is best to have a good, dark sky to the north and overhead. Don't look at the radiant area, but at least 15-20 degrees away (see notes on this in the Leonid meteors). From our latitudes, the best area of the sky to watch is the upper part of Orion and higher, Taurus, and the area of sky to the right of Canis Minor.

Betelgeuse rises about midnight, NZ time. At about 4.30 am Aldebaran in Taurus, Betelgeuse and Procyon, in Canis Minor form an arc from north to north east as seen from New Zealand.

See how you get on, and send me your observations, if you wish. Observations should be sent to me at P O Box 2214, Christchurch or (preferably) email them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Evening Sky in April 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 bright planets Venus and Jupiter light up the twilight sky. Venus is in the northwest, brilliant and silver. Golden Jupiter is in the north. Venus sets before 8 pm NZST. As Venus sets Saturn rises on the opposite horizon. It isn't eye-catching like Venus and Jupiter but is the brightest 'star' low in the southeast sky.

On the night of April 4-5, Easter Saturday-Sunday, there is a total lunar eclipse. The moon enters the penumbra, the outer part of Earth's shadow, just after 10 pm NZDT. It will slowly darken on its right side. A more obvious darkening begins around 11:16 when it begins to move into the centre part of the Earth's shadow, the umbra. It is only just into the umbra at 1 a.m. when it begins to move out again. It is clear of the umbra at 2:45 a.m. NZDT which is 1:45 NZST if you have reset your clock. The moon is out of the penumbra at 3 a.m. NZST. This eclipse is the minimum that can be counted as a total eclipse. The moon is in the umbra for just five minutes: 12:58 to 13:03. So it should remain quite bright on its lower edge.

A small telescope will show the disk of Jupiter with its four bright 'Galilean' moons lined up on each side. Binoculars, held steady, will sometimes show one or two moons looking like faint stars close to the planet. Jupiter is 740 million km away mid-month. It sets in the northwest around midnight.

Venus, though bright, is small and featureless in a telescope like a tiny gibbous moon. It is catching up on Earth from the far side of the sun. As it does so it will increase its angle from the sun, causing it to set later in the night. At the end of the month Mercury might be glimpsed setting in the early twilight below and left of Venus. It sinks back into the twilight in May as it passes between us and the sun.

Saturn rises about 10 pm NZDT at the beginning of April; around 7 pm NZST by month's end. It is just below a curve of stars making the Scorpion's claws. Orange Antares is to the right of Saturn and fainter. A small telescope shows Saturn as an oval, the rings and planet blended. Larger telescopes separate the planet and rings and may show Saturn's moons looking like faint stars close to the planet. Titan, one of the biggest moons in the solar system, orbits about four ring diameters from the planet. Saturn is1370 million km away mid-month. The Moon will appear close to Saturn on the night of April 8-9.

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

Just left of Jupiter is a fuzzy patch of light, the Praesepe cluster, marking the shell of Cancer the Crab. Praesepe is also called the Beehive cluster, the reason obvious when it is viewed in binoculars. Lower and further left are Pollux and Castor, the heads of Gemini the twins, making a vertical pair.

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

The Milky Way is brightest in the southeast above Crux. The Milky Way can be traced to nearly overhead where it fades. It becomes very faint in the northwest, right of Orion. The Milky Way is our edgewise view of the galaxy, the pancake of billions of stars of which the sun is just one.

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

*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.

Notes by Alan Gilmore,
University of Canterbury's Mt John Observatory,
P.O. Box 56,
Lake Tekapo 7945,
New Zealand.
www.canterbury.ac.nz

 

Eclipses in 2015

There are four eclipses in 2015, two each of the Sun and moon. Four is the minimum number of eclipses there can be in a year.

Both the solar eclipses are polar events, the first in March is total, with the path mostly in the Arctic. The second in September is annular, but only partial on the Earth's surface, mostly over the Antarctic continent. In both cases part of the eclipse is off the Earth's surface. This is particularly true in the case of the second solar eclipse where the path of annularity misses the Earth's surface altogether. No part of either eclipse is visible from New Zealand or Australia.

By contrast the two lunar eclipses on April 4 and September 28 are both total. The first is entirely visible from New Zealand, although the duration of totality is only just over 7 minutes. The second is visible from the other side of the Earth with totality much longer, lasting 72 minutes. The two lunar eclipses are the last of four successive total eclipse of the moon, known as a tetrad. The other two were in 2014.

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.

 

Total eclipse of the Sun 2015 March 20

This total eclipse of the Sun is a northern hemisphere event. The band of totality starts in the northern Atlantic to the south of Greenland. It moves to the east to pass between Iceland and Scotland with the Faeroe Islands on its southern edge. A swing to the northeast takes it across most of the islands of Spitzbergen after which it continues north to move off the surface of the Earth from the Arctic.

A partial eclipse is visible from Europe and on into western parts of Asian Russia as far east as Lake Baikal where the Suns sets during the eclipse. The deepest partial eclipse is visible from northwest Europe and Iceland. From Glasgow, Scotland 94% of the Sun's disk will be covered by the moon, 90% at Oslo, Norway and 87% from London. For these places the eclipse is at a maximum a little after 9:30 UT. A less deep partial eclipse is also visible from northern and northwest Africa.

No part of the eclipse is visible from anywhere in the southern hemisphere, nor in the Americas apart from the end of a partial eclipse in Newfoundland as the Sun rises. South and east Asia also sees no part of the eclipse.

 

Total eclipse of the Moon 2015 April 4/5

The total phase of this lunar eclipse is very brief, lasting just over 7 minutes. The entire event lasts close to 6 hours, while part of the moon is in the dark Earth's shadow for three and a half hours. The entire event is visible from New Zealand, Pacific Ocean Islands and eastern Australia. The total part of the eclipse is visible from all of Australia and Indonesia as well as eastern Asia. On the other side of the Pacific western parts of Canada and the USA will also see much of the eclipse.

Times or the eclipse are shown in the diagram, which also shows the parts of the Earth the various stages are visible from. Note that on the diagram showing the passage of the moon through the Earth's shadow the three stages of start, mid and end of totality are so close that the positions of the moon almost completely overlap.

As can be seen from the diagrams, the moon will move through the northern edge of the Earth's shadow with the edge of the moon close to the edge of the shadow. As a result the northern edge of the moon is likely to remain comparatively bright due to refraction of sunlight through the Earth's atmosphere. The southern parts of the moon will be deeper in the shadow and so are likely to be darker. From New Zealand, the moon's south will be at the top.

As seen from New Zealand, the moon enters the Earth's dark shadow at 11:15:30 pm, NZDT (10:15:30 UT), totality starts at 12:56:55 am on the morning of the 5 and ends at 1:04:16 am. The moon finally leaves the dark shadow at 2:46:16 am while it finally leaves the partial, penumbral shadow 3:59:29 am, NZDT. However no effects of the eclipse will be detectable by eye during most of the penumbral stages.

In New Zealand NZDT ends on the night of the eclipse, resulting in the last part of the eclipse occurring after the clocks should be set back an hour.

 

Partial eclipse of the Sun 2015 September 13

This eclipse is nominally annular, with the moon appearing too small to completely cover the Sun's disk. In general an annular eclipse is only visible as such along a fairly narrow path, similar to the case for a total solar eclipse. Outside the path a partial eclipse may be visible. In the case of the September 13 eclipse, the path of annularity passes south of the Earth so is not visible, only a partial eclipse occurs in some southern regions.

The area of visibility for the September 13 eclipse is in the main the southern Indian Ocean and the Antarctic continent to its south. Apart from the Antarctic, the only major land area the eclipse is visible from is southern Africa up to about latitude 15°S. The Sun rises in partial eclipse as seen from the west coast of South Africa and Namibia. The partial eclipse is also visible from southern part of the Malagasy Republic. After that the northern edge of the eclipse swings to the southeast, ending at sunset well south of Australia where the Sun sets while eclipsed.

 

Total eclipse of the Moon 2015 September 28

This eclipse is visible from the opposite side of the Earth to the April lunar eclipse with countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean well placed for seeing the event. South America is particularly well placed. The eclipse is not visible from Asia, the Pacific, Australia or New Zealand.

At this eclipse the moon will be deeper into the Earth's shadow than at the April eclipse,. As a result the totality last much longer, some 70 minutes and the entire moon is likely to be dark.


 

Eclipses in 2016

There are four eclipses in 2016, two each of the Sun and moon. Four is the minimum number of eclipses there can be in a year.

The first solar eclipse is on March 9, it is total with a path starting in the eastern Indian Ocean. It crosses parts of Indonesia before heading off across the Pacific Ocean between the equator and latitude 30° north. The maximum duration of totality is just over 4 minutes. The second solar eclipse is on September 1, it is annular. The path of annularity starts in the Atlantic Ocean just south of the equator. The path passes through central Africa to swing south through northern Madagascar and across the south Indian Ocean to end at sunset a little short of Western Australia. 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. Both are partial penumbral events with no part of the moon entering the full shadow of the Earth. The first lunar eclipse is on March 23, 2 weeks after the total eclipse of the Sun. At its maximum just over three-quarters of the moons diameter will be in the penumbra making it difficult to detect. In the southern hemisphere the eclipsed moon will be visible from Australia and New Zealand. The second lunar eclipse is on September 16 (UT) when the moon will move a little deeper into the penumbra than in March. At its maximum 91% of the moons diameter will be in the penumbra with the northern edge of the moon closest to the full shadow. This part of the moon is likely to be noticeably duller, but still in no way dark.

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.

 

Total eclipse of the Sun 2016 March 9

The total eclipse of the Sun on March 9 starts in the eastern Indian Ocean to the west of Sumatra. The Sun rises totally eclipsed in a position a little south of the equator. At first its path is almost due east passing across the southern part of Sumatra and then south Borneo. The path then begins to swing to the north as it crosses Sulawesi (Celebes) and Halmahera Island in the northern Moluccas where is moves north of the equator. The total eclipse path continues across the Pacific gradually getting further north reaching a latitude north 30° when it will be north of Hawaii. The eclipsed sun sets to the northeast of the Hawaiian Islands. The maximum duration of totality will be 4 minutes, 9 seconds while it is crossing the Pacific.

To the north of the path of totality, a partial eclipse is visible at sunrise from much of India. In the early morning a partial eclipse occurs in Indochina, much of China and the Philippines. A little later in the day the partial eclipse will be visible from Korea and Japan then the Kamchatka Peninsula while the low to setting eclipsed sun will be visible from most of Alaska.

To the south the partially eclipsed Sun will be visible from Western Australia except the extreme south, the Northern Territory of Australia and South Australia except the southeast. The majority of Queensland will also get a view as well as the southern islands of Indonesia and Pacific Islands to the east of them.

No part of the eclipse is visible from Victoria, New South Wales or from New Zealand.

March 9 total eclipse

 

Partial Penumbral eclipse of the Moon 2016 March 23

At this eclipse of the moon a maximum of just over 75% of the moon’s diameter moves into the Earth’s penumbral shadow. That is, almost one-quarter of the moon diameter will be outside even this slight shadow.

In the penumbra there is only a partial eclipse. In this case an observer on the southern part of the moon facing the Sun would see part of the Sun covered by the dark Earth. As the observer moved to the north on the moon less of the Sun would be covered until in the far north no part of it would be hidden. That is the most northerly part of the moon will be fully sunlit.

On the Earth the entire eclipse occurs while the moon is visible as seen from New Zealand as well as eastern and central Australia. In the west of Australia, the moon rises while the eclipse is in progress. Visually there will be very little to see. Although the northern parts of the full moon’s face will be somewhat dulled, it is doubtful if it will be detectable visually.

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

March 23 partial penumbral eclipse of the Moon

 

Annular eclipse of the Sun 2016 September 1

At an annular eclipse the moon is too small to completely cover the Sun's disk. The smaller than average size of the moon is due to its greater than average distance from the Earth. That is the eclipse occurs near to the date of the moon’s apogee (on September 6). An annular eclipse is only visible as such along a fairly narrow path, similar to the case for a total solar eclipse. At this eclipse the greatest the width of the annular path is slightly less than 100 km. With over 97% of the Sun’s diameter covered by the moon only a very thin ring of the Sun will be visible for an observer in the middle of the path. Even so some sort of eye protection would be necessary to prevent eye damage.

In this case the annular eclipse starts at sunrise in the mid Atlantic Ocean west of central Africa. The path starts to cross central Africa just south of the equator, but soon swings to the south so that it crosses northern Madagascar. It then crosses the Indian Ocean to end at sunset well to the west of the Southwest Australia. A partial eclipse is visible from the rest of Africa except the north and from southwest Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

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.

Annular eclipse of the Sun 2016 September 1

 

Partial penumbral eclipse of the Moon 2016 September 16

The start of the eclipse is visible from New Zealand, but the moon sets during the eclipse. The full eclipse is visible from countries round the Indian Ocean including most of Africa, much of Europe, most of Asia and westerly parts of Australia.

At this eclipse the moon will be deeper into the Earth's penumbral shadow than at the April eclipse. At its greatest just on 91% of the moon’s diameter will be eclipsed. Even so there will only be a little dimming of the moon. This time it is the northern part of the moon which will be deepest in the earth’s shadow with the extreme north very close to the total shadow. As a consequence it is likely that the north of the moon will be noticeably dull. But it will not be as dark as a total eclipse.

Total eclipse of the Moon 2016 September 16

Sun Rise and Set in New Zealand

The table gives the times of Sun rise and Sun set for four centres in New Zealand. These can be used for any year as times will not vary by more than a minute or two on the same date from year to year. Times are for a horizon level with the observer and do not allow for hills or mountains obscuring the horizon.

This page also includes New Zealand dates for equinox and solstice events over the next few years. See the bottom of the page for the table.

New Zealand Standard Time (NZST) is used in the winter months and New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT) is used in the summer months. NZDT starts on the last Sunday in September and ends on the first Sunday in April. Times in the table are in NZST or NZDT as is appropriate.

NZST is 12 hours ahead of Universal Time (UT), NZDT is 13 hours ahead of UT. UT is virtually the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). For more information on Universal Time consult the USNO Universal Time page.

Sun or Moon rise and set tables for any location.

Tables of the daily times of Sun or Moon rise and set, and the times of twilight, civil, nautical or astronomical for any location for a selected year, can be easily generated at the USNO web site. The times of Moon rise and set change much more from day to day than those of sun rise and set. They are best generated for a given locality on a daily basis. To use the USNO site to generate them you will need your longitude and latitude. Times of twilight can also be generated at the same site.


Sunrise and sunset tables for Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Sun rise and set times starting in:   January       March       May       July       September      November

Sun rise and set in other parts of New Zealand.

Detailed times of Sunrise and Sunset for other places in New Zealand are on the LINZ astronomical information web pages.

Date Auckland Wellington Christchurch Dunedin
NZDT Rise Set Rise Set Rise Set Rise Set
Jan 1 06:05 20:43 05:51 20:57 05:52 21:14 05:51 21:31
Jan 11 06:13 20:43 06:01 20:56 06:02 21:12 06:02 21:29
Jan 21 06:24 20:40 06:12 20:51 06:14 21:06 06:15 21:23
Jan 31 06:35 20:33 06:25 20:43 06:28 20:57 06:30 21:12
Feb 10 06:46 20:24 06:38 20:32 06:42 20:45 06:45 20:59
Feb 20 06:56 20:12 06:50 20:18 06:55 20:30 07:00 20:43
Mar 2 07:06 19:59 07:02 20:03 07:09 20:14 07:14 20:25
Mar 12 07:16 19:45 07:14 19:47 07:21 19:57 07:28 20:07
Mar 22 07:25 19:30 07:25 19:30 07:33 19:39 07:42 19:47
Apr 1 07:34 19:15 07:36 19:14 07:45 19:21 07:55 19:28
In 2017 NZDT ends on the first Sunday of April, that is at 3 am on the 2nd.
Date Auckland Wellington Christchurch Dunedin
NZST Rise Set Rise Set Rise Set Rise Set
Apr 11 06:42 18:01 06:46 17:57 06:57 18:04 07:08 18:10
Apr 21 06:51 17:48 06:57 17:42 07:09 17:47 07:21 17:52
May 1 07:00 17:36 07:07 17:28 07:20 17:32 07:34 17:36
May 11 07:08 17:26 07:18 17:16 07:32 17:20 07:46 17:22
May 21 07:16 17:18 07:27 17:07 07:42 17:10 07:58 17:11
May 31 07:24 17:13 07:36 17:01 07:51 17:03 08:08 17:03
Jun 10 07:30 17:11 07:42 16:58 07:58 16:59 08:15 16:59
Jun 20 07:33 17:11 07:47 16:58 08:03 16:59 08:20 16:59
Jun 30 07:35 17:14 07:48 17:01 08:04 17:02 08:21 17:02
Jul 10 07:33 17:19 07:46 17:07 08:01 17:09 08:18 17:09
Jul 20 07:29 17:26 07:40 17:15 07:55 17:17 08:11 17:18
Jul 30 07:22 17:33 07:31 17:24 07:46 17:27 08:01 17:29
Aug 9 07:12 17:41 07:20 17:33 07:33 17:37 07:47 17:40
Aug 19 07:00 17:50 07:07 17:43 07:19 17:48 07:32 17:52
Aug 29 06:47 17:58 06:52 17:53 07:03 17:59 07:14 18:05
Sep 8 06:33 18:06 06:35 18:03 06:45 18:10 06:56 18:17
Sep 18 06:18 18:14 06:18 18:13 06:27 18:21 06:36 18:29
Sep 28 07:02 19:22 07:01 19:23 07:09 19:32 07:17 19:42
In 2017 NZDT starts on the last Sunday of September - the 24th.  
Date Auckland Wellington Christchurch Dunedin
NZDT Rise Set Rise Set Rise Set Rise Set
Oct 8 06:47 19:30 06:44 19:34 06:51 19:44 06:58 19:55
Oct 18 06:33 19:39 06:28 19:45 06:34 19:56 06:39 20:08
Oct 28 06:21 19:49 06:14 19:57 06:18 20:09 06:22 20:22
Nov 7 06:10 20:00 06:01 20:09 06:05 20:22 06:07 20:37
Nov 17 06:02 20:10 05:51 20:21 05:54 20:36 05:55 20:51
Nov 27 05:57 20:20 05:44 20:33 05:46 20:48 05:46 21:05
Dec 7 05:55 20:30 05:41 20:43 05:42 20:59 05:42 21:17
Dec 17 05:56 20:37 05:42 20:51 05:43 21:08 05:42 21:26
Dec 27 06:01 20:42 05:47 20:56 05:48 21:13 05:47 21:30

Sun rise and set times for other parts of New Zealand

The times of Sun rise and set for other places in New Zealand can mostly be estimated within about 5 minutes from the times in the tables. Note that for places with the same latitude, a difference of 1° in longitude makes a difference of 4 minutes. Times are earlier for places to the east and later for places to the west. Thus Sun rise and set times for places on the west coast are mostly about 12 to 15 minutes later than those for places on the east coast.

In the North Island, Auckland and Wellington are virtually the same longitude, so for places like Hamilton, Taumarunui, Wanganui and Palmerston North, between them, times can be determined by proportion.

Also note that in midsummer, December and January, times of Sun rise for all places on the east coast of New Zealand are almost the same. This is true from East Cape, north of Gisborne in the North Island to Dunedin and Stewart Island in the South Island and includes Wellington. The same applies to the time of Sun set in winter, June and July.

Near the equinoxes, in March and September, latitude is unimportant, the times of Sun rise and set depend on longitude as explained above. That is, places at the same longitude have similar times of sunrise and sunset, whatever their latitude.

In summer for places with the same longitude, sunrise is earlier and sunset later the further south one goes, ie the hours of daylight are longer. The reverse is true in winter, hours of daylight are less in the south, that is the sun rises later and sets earlier in the south compared to the north, again for places at the same longitude.

New Zealand Equinoxes and Solstices

The following table gives dates and approximate times for equinox and solstice events for New Zealand over the next few years.

 autumnal equinoxwinter solsticespring equinoxsummer solstice
YearDateTimeDateTimeDateTimeDateTime
2015 March 21 11:45 June 22 04:38 Sep 23 20:20 Dec 22 17:48
2016 March 20 17:30 June 21 10:34 Sep 23 02:21 Dec 21 23:44
2017 March 20 23:28 June 21 16:24 Sep 23 08:02 Dec 22 05:28
2018 March 21 05:15 June 21 22:07 Sep 23 13:54 Dec 22 11:22
2019 March 21 10:58 June 22 03:54 Sep 23 19:50 Dec 22 17:19
2020 March 20 16:49 June 21 09:43 Sep 23 01:30 Dec 21 23:02

Note that March and December times are NZDT and other times are NZST.

The Evening Sky in March 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.

Chart produced by Guide 8 software; www.projectpluto.com.

Whole sky chart for Mar 2015

Two bright planets light up the twilight sky. Silver Venus appears low in the west. Golden Jupiter appears in the north-east. Venus soon sets, but Jupiter stays in the northern sky all night, setting in the northwest in the morning hours. Bright stars are overhead and down into the southeast sky.

Jupiter is the biggest planet by far. Its mass is greater than all the other planets put together. In a telescope it shows parallel stripes. These are zones of warm and cold clouds, made narrow by Jupiter's rapid rotation. Any telescope shows Jupiter's disk with its four bright 'Galilean' moons lined up on either side. They are roughly the size of our moon. Sometimes one or two moons can be seen in binoculars, looking like faint stars close to the planet. Io, the smallest and closest to Jupiter, has massive volcanoes. The other moons have crusts of ice, some with oceans beneath, around rocky cores. Jupiter is 680 million km from us in March. The Moon will be near Jupiter on March 3rd and 30th.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturn rises in the southeast before midnight at the beginning of March. It is on the lower end of a curve of stars making the Scorpion's claws. To its right, slightly higher in the sky and fainter, is orange Antares, marking Scorpio's heart. By the end of the month, Saturn is up around 10 p.m. A telescope magnifying 20x shows Saturn's rings. Saturn is 1430 million km away in mid-March. The Moon is by Saturn on the 12th.

Mercury (not shown) ends its best morning sky appearance of the year during March. At the beginning of the month it rises around 5 a.m., a little south of due east. It is the brightest 'star' in that part of the sky. By the end of the month it is rising at 7 a.m. less than an hour before the sun. It is tiny in a telescope.

*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.

Notes by Alan Gilmore,
University of Canterbury's Mt John Observatory,
P.O. Box 56,
Lake Tekapo 7945,
New Zealand.
www.canterbury.ac.nz

March Moon & Planet data for 2015


The Solar System in March 2015

All dates and times are NZDT (UT +13 hours) unless otherwise specified. 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                      March 31             
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening     
            rise:   6.58am,  set:  8.07pm    rise:   7.32am,  set:  7.17pm
Twilights                                                                 
  Civil:    starts: 6.33am,  ends: 8.33pm    starts: 7.07am,  ends: 7.43pm
  Nautical: starts: 5.59am,  ends: 9.07pm    starts: 6.35am,  ends: 8.15pm
  Astro:    starts: 5.23am,  ends: 9.42pm    starts: 6.03am,  ends: 8.47pm

March Phases of the Moon (times as shown by guide)

  Full moon:     March  6 at  7.05 am (Mar  5, 18:05 UT)
  Last quarter:  March 14 at  6.48 am (Mar 13, 17:48 UT)
  New moon:      March 20 at 10.36 pm (        09:36 UT)
  First quarter: March 27 at  8.43 pm (        07:43 UT)

The Planets in March

Venus and Mars remain early evening objects, setting soon after the Sun. Jupiter, just past opposition, will be prominent all evening, Saturn rises late to mid evening so will be visible low to the east an hour later. Mercury is an easy morning object in the first part of March.

MERCURY continues to be well placed for morning viewing before sunrise, during the first part of March. It rises more than 2 hours before the Sun on March 1st The planet will be 12° above the horizon in a direction a little to the south of east at the beginning of nautical twilight (Sun 12° below the horizon), about 6 am. At magnitude 0.0 the planet will be the brightest object low to the east.

Mercury starts March in Capricornus. As it moves to the east through the stars, it will pass the asteroid Vesta, magnitude 7.9, early in the month. The two are closest on the morning of March 5 when Vesta will be 50 arc-minutes to the upper right of Mercury. On that morning the star iota Cap, magnitude 4.3, will be 25 arc-minutes above Mercury with Vesta 40 arc minutes to the right of the star. They should be easy to pick up in binoculars while the sky is still nearly dark.

Mercury moves on into Aquarius on March 12 still rising 2 hours before the Sun and readily visible an hour before sunrise. A week later, on the morning of March 19, Mercury will rise only 100 minutes before the Sun, so making it lower in the morning sky at the equivalent time. The planet will be a little brighter at magnitude -0.3. On that morning Mercury will appear close to Neptune, the latter 1.6° to Mercury's left. At magnitude 8.0 Neptune will not be easy in binoculars. The moon will also be quite close, a very thin crescent some 5° to the two planets left and a little higher.

During the rest of the month Mercury will get lower in the morning sky. By the 31st it will rise less only 50 minutes before the Sun making it difficult to find even though now at magnitude -1.0.

VENUS and MARS, together with Uranus, are all quite close in the early evening sky. But they will be low. On the 1st, half an hour after sunset, at the end of civil twilight, Venus will be 7.5° above the horizon, at magnitude -4.0 easy to find. Mars, much fainter, magnitude 1.3, will be a 3° left of, and slightly lower than Venus. It will need binoculars to locate. Uranus, fainter still at 5.9, will be 4° to the right of Venus and a little higher. But it is not likely to be visible even in binoculars.

On the 1st Mars will set just an hour after the Sun, Venus about 10 minutes later and Uranus just over 10 minutes later again.

As the month progresses the two inner planets will move past Uranus. Venus will be closest to Uranus on the 4th and 5th. On the 4th it will be to the lower left of Uranus, on the 5th to its upper right, the separation of the two planets being just over half a degree, the diameter of the full moon, on both nights. Mars passes Uranus on the 11th and 12th and will be slightly closer to Uranus than Venus was. By then, Mars will set less than 1 hour after the Sun, making it a difficult object – Uranus just about impossible!

By the end of March, Mars will be setting only 45 minutes after the Sun, but Venus on the other hand will set nearly 90 minutes later than the Sun, as its elongation from the Sun increases.

On the 22nd the 5% lit crescent moon will be just under 5° to the upper right of Mars. The following night, now 12% lit, will be just over 5°to the upper right of Venus.

JUPITER will be easily visible to the northeast by the time Venus is lost to view. It will remain in the sky until well after midnight. The planet is in Cancer, moving slowly to the west through the stars, its westerly motion being due to the faster moving Earth overtaking it.

Jupiter motion in Cancer is towards the Praesepe cluster, By the end of March they will be some 5° apart. Their separation won't get much less as Jupiter reverses direction early in April when it starts moving to the east again.

The moon passes Jupiter twice in March. On the 3rd the nearly full moon will be 5° from Jupiter. On the 30th the moon coming round for a second time will be about half a degree closer. It will then be 78% lit.

Mutual Events of Jovian Satellites

There are about 27 mutual events of Jupiter's Galilean satellites observable from NZ during March. Now Jupiter is visible in the evening sky, some of these take place at a more convenient time. They include:

* March 8, Ganymede occults Callisto mid event ca 10:38pm. The two merge about 10:20 and separate again about 10:55. * March 14, Io eclipses Ganymede. Maximum ecl just after 9 pm Starts ca 8:50, ends ca 9:10, mag change 0.5 * March 15, Europa occults Io mid event 9:24 pm merge ca 9:20, separate ca 9:28 * March 27, Io eclipses Europa. Maximum eclipse ca 8:56 pm Starts ca 8:53, ends ca 8:59, mag change 1.0 Europa will be only 13” from Jupiter's limb * March 31, Ganymede eclipses Europa. Maximum eclipse ca 10:22 pm Starts ca 10:18, end ca 10:26, mag change 0.5

Useful observations and timings of these events can be made by those set up for the video observation of minor planet occultations.

Users of Dave Herald's Occult program can generate their own predictions of these and other events. Hristo Pavlov's Occult Watcher programme will also list them and has diagrams showing the satellites relative to Jupiter. Details can also be found on the IMCCE web site, http://www.imcce.fr/phemu/ where predictions and requirements for observing and reporting information are available.

SATURN rises just before midnight on 1st March. By the 31st it will rise a little before 10 pm so getting abut 4 minutes earlier each night. The planet is in Scorpius and is stationary mid month. As a result the position of Saturn changes very little during the month. It will be less than 2° from the 2.6 magnitude double star beta Sco. The companion of beta has a magnitude 4.5 and is 14” from the brighter star. Binoculars will show up the star's double nature.

On the 12th the gibbous moon, 62% lit, will be 3.5° from Saturn, with the moon on the opposite side of Saturn to beta Sco. At midnight on the 12th, Saturn will be visible low in a directions a little south of east, having risen about an hour earlier.

At present Saturn's north pole is tilted 25° towards the Earth. This brings the northern surface of the rings well into view. They should be visible in binoculars, although a small telescope is likely to give a better view.

Outer Planets

URANUS remains in Pisces in March, an evening object magnitude 5.9. It will set 80 minutes after the Sun on the 1st, but only 15 minutes later than the Sun on the 31st. So even at the beginning of the month it will be a difficult binocular object in the Sunset glow. The close approach of Venus on the 4th and 5th may make locating Uranus using binoculars easier

NEPTUNE was at conjunction with the Sun on February 26. It becomes a morning object in March. By the 31st it rises 2 hours before the Sun. The planet is in Aquarius at magnitude 8.

PLUTO is in Sagittarius rising near 2.30 am on the 1st and 2 hours earlier on the 31st. Its magnitude is 14.4

Brighter Asteroids:

(1) Ceres is a morning object in Sagittarius with magnitude 9.2. On the 1st it will be just over 6° from Pluto and rise 4 minutes later. On the 31st Ceres crosses into Capricornus, it then rises about 1.20 am.

(3) Juno is an evening object in Cancer during March. It loses brightness steadily during the month as its distance from the Earth increases. Its magnitude ranges from 8.8 in the 1st to 9.6 on the 31st.

(4) Vesta is in Capricornus at the start of March. It moves into Aquarius on the 22nd. On the morning of the 16th it will be just over a quarter degree, half the diameter of the full moon, to the left of the star delta Cap, magnitude 2.9. This should make Vesta easy to locate in binoculars. About 6am would be a good time to look for the two. Don't confuse Vesta with an 8.8 magnitude star a little to its right.

(7) Iris is in Leo and at opposition at the beginning of the month. Its magnitude will then be 8.9. It moves into Sextans on the 7th, and fades to magnitude 9.5 by the 31st.


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 3 Jupiter 5.3 degrees north of the Moon
March 4 Regulus 3.8 degrees north of the Moon
Venus 0.1 degrees north of Uranus
March 5 Moon at apogee
Moon full
March 9 Spica 3.3 degrees south of the Moon
March 11 Mars 0.3 degrees north of Uranus
March 12 Saturn 2.2 degrees south of the Moon
March 13 Moon last quarter
March 14 Moon southern most declination (-18.3 degrees)
Saturn stationary
March 15 Pluto 3.1 degrees south of the Moon
March 18 Mercury 1.5 degrees south of Neptune
Neptune 3.5 degrees south of the Moon
March 19 Mercury 4.9 degrees south of the Moon
Moon at perigee
March 20 Moon new Eclipse
Equinox
March 21 Uranus 0.1 degrees south of the Moon Occn
Mars 0.9 degrees north of the Moon Occn
March 22 Venus 2.8 degrees north of the Moon
March 25 Aldebaran 0.9 degrees south of the Moon Occn
March 26 Moon northern most declination (18.2 degrees)
March 27 Moon first quarter
March 30 Jupiter 5.4 degrees north of the Moon
March 31 Regulus 3.9 degrees north of the Moon
  • apogee: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
  • declination: 'Latitude' for celestial objects. The distance in degress above (north) or below (south) the celestial equator.
  • perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth

The Evening Sky in February 2015

Chart produced by Guide 8 software; www.projectpluto.com.


Whole sky chart for Feb 2015

Bright planets appear on opposite sides of the sky at dusk. Brilliant Venus appears low in the west soon after sunset. Jupiter appears low in the northeast, shining with a steady golden light. Above and right of Venus, for most of the month, is the red planet Mars. It is much fainter than Venus but is the only other brightish ‘star’ in that vicinity. Venus keeps its position in the twilight all month. Mars slips down the sky. Venus and Mars will be close together around the 21st. After that Mars disappears into the twilight. Their closeness is just a line-of-sight effect. On the 21st Venus is 213 million km from us; while Mars is 329 million km away. The crescent moon will be near the pair of planets on the 21st.

A telescope will easily show Jupiter’s four bright moons. Binoculars, steadily held, often show one or two of them looking like faint stars very close to the planet. Jupiter is 652 million km from us mid month, the closest it gets this year. The planet is 11 times Earth's diameter and 320 times Earth's mass. It sets in the northwest at dawn.

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

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

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

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

The Milky Way is brightest in the southeast toward Crux. It can be traced up the sky, fading where it is nearly overhead. It becomes very faint east, or right, of Orion. The Milky Way is our edgewise view of the galaxy, the pancake of billions of stars of which the sun is just one.

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

Saturn (not shown) rises in the southeast before 2 a.m. at the beginning of the month; at midnight by the end. It has a creamy colour. To its right and fainter is the orange star Antares, marking the Scorpion's heart. Saturn is 1506 million km away mid month. It is always worth a look in a telescope.

Mercury (not shown) makes its best morning sky appearance of the year in February and March. It moves rapidly up the eastern dawn sky in the first week of February. By the 14th it is rising two hours before the sun, the only bright star in the east. It remains prominent in the morning sky through March.

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

Notes by Alan Gilmore,
University of Canterbury's Mt John Observatory,
P.O. Box 56,
Lake Tekapo 7945,
New Zealand.
www.canterbury.ac.nz