Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Dazzling Local Autumn Sky Show

By Dave Reneke

A spectacular alignment will occur on 26-27 March.

Autumn in Australia is great for sky gazers. We have some of the best skies in the world. The sky is full of bright stars, prominent constellations and fascinating celestial sights. Sometimes, when conditions are right, the skies put on an awesome show just for our viewing pleasure.

Get set for one of those rare events because your view of the evening night sky is going to be spectacular on March 26. It’s an alignment of planets with the Moon, and they don’t happen all that often!

The Moon, Venus and Jupiter are the three brightest objects in the night sky.
Go out at sunset and look west. Venus and Jupiter pop out of the twilight even before the sky starts to fade. The two brilliant planets surrounded by evening blue is a spellbinding sight.

This is worth going outside to see at any time but it gets better as the thin crescent Moon comes between them forming an amazing trio. You could cover all of them with a couple of fingers stretched at arm’s length.

They’re best observed as the sky starts to darken and try to get away from city lights if you can. Very close conjunctions are just a grand naked eye spectacle and great to try and photograph. Bracket your shots though and use a tripod.

It can be very exciting to see more than one planet in the same field of view of your telescope. Who could forget the beautiful ‘Smiley Face’ conjunction of December 1st, 2008?

The planets should stay together the following night 27 March before they start to drift apart. Viewers in Sydney and Melbourne will also see the International Space Station pass overhead a few minutes past nine the same night. For Adelaide it happens half an hour before.

This year we’re being treated to two more special sky events. Something nobody alive will ever see again, the Transit of Venus is happening in June and on November 14 we’ll be treated to a total eclipse of the Sun. For free fact sheets about these events and special solar glasses to view them with go to David’s website www.davidreneke.com

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Click on the PDF link above for this month's star chart.