Skygazing The Southern Autumn Skies


Australia has the best of the 88 constellations – and claer skies for most of the year. Why would you want to observe anywhere else?

Autumn in Australia, especially May,  is great for sky gazers. We have some of the best skies in the world full of bright stars, clusters, prominent constellations and fascinating celestial sights.

Lots of budding astronomers get their start before Winter sets in using telescopes they most likely got for a Christmas present. Maybe you’re one of them and need a target at which to point it, or perhaps you just want something to do on a warm, clear autumn night. Here’s a great suggestion, what about checking out the night sky? Really!  Now is a great time to step outside and learn something about our Solar System and the Universe around you.

It Isn’t Hard

Stargazing need not be complicated. If you can find the Moon, you’re on your way to becoming a backyard astronomer. Nothing in the night sky is easier to study than the Moon. With no equipment, you can make out the ‘face’ and see subtle colour differences on the surface. Binoculars or a small telescope will reveal stunning views of craters, especially on nights when the Moon is not full.

Many of these craters formed more than 4 billion years ago when asteroids and comet impacts were more common.Study the region where light and dark meet and shadows are deepest.

Equally as stunning and hard to miss at the moment is Venus shining brilliantly in the eastern sky, just before sunrise. Venus was called the ‘goddess of love’ in Greek mythology, but we know it better as the ‘morning’ and sometimes the ‘evening star.’

Size Is No Barrier

A small telescope will reveal an even more dazzling sight, Jupiter and his moons. You could see one, two, three or four pinpricks of light lined up in a row, very near the planet. They’re the moons of Jupiter. Jupiter is readily visible as an oval disc in binoculars, and is an amazing sight in a small telescope. Look for it as a brilliant bright object almost overhead after sunset.

Mars is easy to find during may too. It’s that bright red coloured starlike object in the west just after sunset. Mars is close to us at the moment and worth a look. Yellowish coloured Saturn rises in the east around 6.30pm and has always been a telescopic favourite. Since 2009 the rings have been getting wider after being closed for so long as the planet tilts in its orbit.

 It takes Saturn a little more than 29 years, in Earth time, to orbit the Sun.The ‘Lord Of  The Rings’ will make its closest approach of the year early this month and will be reflecting plenty of the sun’s light, making this the best opportunity to spot it. A medium telescope, about 5-8 inches, is needed to see the rings and some of the largest moons which will also be lit up from the sun.


Meteor watchers in May will be in for quite a skyshow!

 With any luck, you might catch a really cool meteor shower before dawn all this week.  Astronomers expect the Eta Aquarids meteor shower to put on an especially good display for early risers when the sky is clear on May 5 and 6. This shower is composed of dusty remnants of the famed Halley’s and the best time should be 2-6 a.m., when you might spot up to 50 meteors each hour!

The crescent moon should set just before midnight which will really improve conditions for spotting meteors. Though the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, it will appear that they are coming from the Aquarius constellation, so look eastward. If you miss out they will thin out around until month’s end.

Because you don’t need telescopes or other equipment, observing meteor showers is a great social activity. Relax in a reclining lawn chair and look up. Bring a thermos of hot tea or coffee and snacks and make it a party.

Get Away From City Lights

Whether you view the night sky with your naked eye, binoculars, or a telescope there are a few tips to enhance the experience. A dark location is always helpful. No matter how much light surrounds you, more is always worse. Turn off any lights you can. Also, allow 15 minutes or more for your eyes to adapt to the darkness; you’ll soon see more.

If you’re having a little trouble using your telescope, don’t worry. It takes a bit of practice to point the telescope at objects you want to see. So before you give up, head to Dave’s website www.davidreneke.com for some help, free advice and a free e-book called ‘The Complete Idiots Guide To Astronomy.’

Oh, and if you get this silly urge to wave up at the astronauts when you are watching the International Space Station pass over you … give in. I do it every time. How do you see it? Just visit www.heavens-above .com, choose your city from the database, and you’ll be able to get all the information you need to spot the space station and a few satellites zooming over your house. Story: Dave Reneke

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