Launceston, look up! The night sky has been home to some spectacular events the last few months and there is no sign of that slowing down.
Martin George, planetarium coordinator at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery shared the best night gazing moments to watch out for over the next few months, with public interest in astronomy growing.
“There is an increasing interest in what’s going on in the night sky. Especially now because people have been looking for things to do while they are stuck at home,” he said.
“Going out and looking at the stars in the evening is a wonderful thing to do.”
In other news:
Winter and early Spring are a great time for stargazing according to Dr George. The Milky Way is clearly visible for those in the southern hemisphere and the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius sit high in the sky, easily viewed with or without binoculars.
There are also other clear markers such as the Southern Cross which Tasmanian’s can always see clearly because it never dips lower than our view of the horizon.
When viewing the Moon, aim to catch it when it is about half full as the light from the Sun and the shadows produced from this make the details stand out. An eclipse of the moon will occur on November 30 but will be hard to see due to the position of the Earth’s shadow.
Dr George said through this period we have a fine view of Jupiter and Saturn appearing close together in the evening sky, rising higher as the night goes on. The closeness of the two planets is also known as a ‘great conjunction’ and only occurs once about every 20 years. It will be best viewed on the nights of December 20 and 21.
This occasion is extra special as Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer than they have done since the year 1623, so make sure to free up your nights mid December.
Dr Martin George’s Tips
- Use binoculars
- Be patient
- Try to view the night sky away from the city as the lights will make fainter objects harder to see
- Give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness of the sky
If you want to invest in a good pair of binoculars, Dr George says you will be able to see the four brightest moons of Jupiter as long as they are not in front of or hiding behind the planet. Unfortunately though, you will need to invest in a telescope to see the rings of Saturn.
Mars, more affectionately known as the Red Planet, is currently visible on clear nights later in the evening, by about 10:45pm. However, it will slowly rise earlier each night. By early October the Red Planet will be able to be seen before 8pm.
“Some people ask me can you actually see Mars in the night sky without a telescope? You bet you can! It is quite prominent,” Dr George said.
“It is sometimes brighter than the brightest stars.”
According to Dr George there are two main meteor showers you should add to your calendar. In October, sometime around the 21stthe Orionid meteors, made from debris of Comet Halley will be visible.
The second are the Geminid meteors, which will reach their peak on December 14 and are from a Paethon, a cross between an asteroid and comet. Tasmania is expected to view between 20 and 30 showers per hour which will be a stunning sight.
For both meteor displays, you will need to be prepared to stay up past midnight to get a good glimpse of the showers, face towards the north, and make sure you have a clear view of a wide expanse of sky.
Dr George said it is easy for anyone and everyone to participate in stargazing.
“It’s free and it’s something everyone can do. Anyone can go out on a clear night as long as there’s no rain, cloud or snow, and take a look up.”
For more information on astronomy, there are events held at the planetarium located at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. Science Week also starts Saturday with some events also geared towards astronomy. For more information visit www.qv,ag.tas.gov.au