Skynotes January 2018


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Month Highlights

The year starts without any planets visible in the evening sky. Venus is too close to the Sun to be seen at all this month, while the other naked-eye planets are all in the early morning sky.

But you can watch the Moon pass by the planets in mid-January. On the morning of the 11th and 12th, the Moon will be near Jupiter and Mars. Then on the 15th, the Moon meets Saturn and Mercury, low to the horizon.

Total Lunar Eclipse - January 31

The month ends with a Total Lunar Eclipse late on the evening of Wednesday 31st. Join us at the Melbourne Planetarium to share in the experience of the Midnight Moon.

During a lunar eclipse, the Earth’s shadow falls upon the Moon. It’s lovely to watch and best of all, you don’t need any special equipment to see it happening.

The eclipse will begin with the Moon in the north-east and by the peak of totality the Moon will have risen high in the north.

During totality, when the Earth comes between the Sun and the Moon, the Moon takes on a reddish-orange glow. This is because stray sunlight still manages to reach the Moon, as it travels through the Earth’s atmosphere.

Partial Eclipse Begins: 10:48pm
Total Eclipse Begins: 11:52pm
Maximum Totality: 12:31am
Total Eclipse Ends: 1:08am
Partial Eclipse Ends: 2:11am

On the night of Wednesday 31st come along to Midnight Moon,  an event that includes a special planetarium show, telescope viewing and expert commentary guiding you through the eclipse. It’s a great opportunity to start the year by enjoying a magical natural wonder.

Summer School Holidays

Scienceworks will be opened daily from 10am – 4:30pm during the school holidays (26th December - 29th January). Planetarium session times are:

12pm: Tycho to the Moonmeet Tycho, a dog who doesn’t just howl at the Moon but wants to go there!

1pm: Solar System Odyssey stowaway on a mission to explore the Solar System.

2pm: Starlight uncover the mysteries of the stars and the curiosity they inspire.

3pm: Black Holes: Journey into the Unknown imagine a place where time stands still and the known laws of physics break down.

See the Melbourne Planetarium's What's On listing for more details.

Sunrise & Sunset Times

Date Rise Set
Monday 1st 6:01 8:45
Thursday 11th 6:10 8:45
Sunday 21st 6:20 8:41
Wednesday 31st 6:32 8:34

Moon Phases


Phases Date
Full Moon Tuesday 2nd
Last Quarter Tuesday 9th
New Moon Wednesday 17th
First Quarter Thursday 25th

The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Monday 15th at a distance of 406,459 km.

The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Tuesday 2nd at a distance of 356,565km.

Let the Moon be Your Guide

The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky:

  • Late on the 2nd, the Full Moon sits above the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux.
  • Then on the 3rd, the waning gibbous Moon rises to the right of Castor and Pollux.
  • During the early hours of the 6th, the Moon is near the bright star Regulus (Leo, the lion).
  • Before sunrise on the 9th, the First Quarter Moon sits to the left of Spica (Virgo).
  • On the 11th, the waning crescent Moon is to the left of Jupiter and Mars before sunrise.
  • Then on the 12th, the Moon is below Jupiter and Mars.
  • During early morning twilight on the 15th a thin crescent Moon sits to the left of Saturn and Mercury.
  • The waxing gibbous Moon is near the red star Aldebaran (Taurus, the bull) on the 27th.
  • On the 30th the Moon joins Castor and Pollux (Gemini), once again.


Mercury is low to the eastern horizon before sunrise. During early morning twilight on the 14th, it can be seen just to the right of Saturn. Then on 15th, both Saturn and the crescent Moon sit to the left of Mercury.

Venus is too close to the Sun to be seen this month.

Earth will be at perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on Wednesday 3rd, at a distance of 147 million km. However, this is not why summer is warm. The seasons happen because the Earth’s axis is tilted and as the Earth moves along its orbit, that tilt changes the Sun’s position in the sky. During summer, the Sun travels high in the sky, the days are longer and the sunlight hitting the ground is more concentrated.

Mars and Jupiter are stilled paired together in the east before dawn. They begin the month with Mars just above Jupiter, then on the 7th they have a close conjunction. They’ll be close enough to fit within a telescope’s field of view. On the morning of the 8th, Mars will sit just to the right of bright Jupiter, and then they will start to part ways, with Mars moving below Jupiter. The Moon will be alongside Mars and Jupiter on the morning of the 11th.

Saturn returns to the morning sky at the start of the month, as it follows Mercury. The two are side by side on the morning of the 14th with the Moon sitting up above. Then as Mercury heads towards the horizon, Saturn continues to move higher in the eastern sky.


The year starts slowly for meteor showers. The month’s most active shower, the Quadrantids, is a strong Northern Hemisphere shower. Sometimes it is possible to spot some long-pathed meteors around the peak of the shower on the 4th but this year, they’ll be drowned out by the Full Moon.

The shower best suited for viewing in the Southern Hemisphere is the Eta Carinids which is active from 14th to 27th. Unfortunately this year it will be affected by the late-setting Moon. The meteors are typically faint, with hourly rates of only 2 or 3 at the shower’s peak around the 21st. The shower is centred near the faint star Eta Carina, which is one of the most massive stars in our Galaxy. Eta Carina is found near the Southern Cross and is high in the south from midnight to dawn, the ideal time for meteor observing.

Stars and Constellations

Orion, the hunter, is now high in the north-eastern sky and easily located by the three bright stars that form his belt. In Australia, we recognise the belt as the base of the Saucepan. The handle of the Saucepan (also known as the sword of Orion) contains a spectacular nebula that is a birthplace of new stars. This cloud of glowing gas is 1,500 light-years away but is still easily visible through binoculars. Above the Saucepan is the blue-white supergiant star Rigel and below is the red supergiant star Betelgeuse.

On the western side of Orion is the hunter’s prey Taurus, the bull. A small triangle depicts the face of the bull with the brightest star in the group being the red giant, Aldebaran. Aldebaran sits in front of a widely spread cluster of about 200 stars called the Hyades. Taurus also contains a second cluster, the Pleiades (or Seven Sisters), which is the brightest and most famous star cluster in the sky. Approximately seven stars can be seen with the naked eye but binoculars reveal many more.

The Southern Cross and the Two Pointers are low in the south-east, which means that the Magellanic Clouds, two of our nearest galaxies, are high in the sky. They sit opposite the Southern Cross and away from city lights, they appear as two fuzzy patches or ‘clouds’.

International Space Station

The ISS orbits the Earth every 90 minutes at an average distance of 400 km. The ISS appears as a bright star that steadily moves across the sky. It can often be seen from Melbourne, for example at:

11:27pm – 11:30pm on Monday 1st January.

The Station will appear in the south-west and disappear as it travels right through the Southern Cross.

Predictions of when to see the ISS can be obtained from the website:

On this Day

1st 1801, the first asteroid, Ceres (now called a dwarf planet), was discovered by Giuseppi Piazzi (Italy).

2nd 1839, Louis Daguerre (France) takes the first photograph of the Moon.

2nd 1959, Luna 1 (USSR) was launched and became the first spacecraft to fly by the Moon and orbit the Sun.

4th 1958, the first satellite, Sputnik (USSR), fell back into the atmosphere and disintegrated.

5th 1972, the Space Shuttle (USA) program was launched.

6th 1892, an aurora was first photographed.

7th 1610, Galileo Galilei discovered the Jupiter's four largest moons: Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede.

9th 1839, Thomas Henderson (South Africa) is the first person to measure the distance to a star other than the Sun, Alpha Centauri.

9th 1998, an international team including Australians announces the discovery that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating.

10th 1946, the US Army Corps bounce a radar signal off the Moon, showing that radio waves could penetrate the atmosphere.

11th 1787, Sir William Herschel discovered the first two moons of Uranus, Titania and Oberon.

22nd 1997, Lottie Williams (USA) becomes the only person known to have been hit by space junk when she is struck in the shoulder by a piece of metal, believed to have been part of a Delta II rocket.

24th 1986, Voyager 2 (USA) made the first flyby of Uranus and sent back close-up pictures of the planet.

27th 1967, the Apollo 1 (USA) fire kills crew of 3.

28th 1986, the space shuttle Challenger (USA) explodes after lift-off killing all seven crew members.

31st 1958, Explorer 1, was the first USA satellite launched.

Banner image: Stages of a lunar eclipse. Phil Hart