Accessible Page Links

Page Tools

Main page Content

Science News

Star Gazing in April and May
April and May are great months for star-gazing in Australia.  Firstly, Jupiter is big and bright and rising in the East at desk. Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system — it's a gas giant with a mass more than double that of all the other planets in our solar system combined. It also has lots of moons — 67 that we know of. It is visible all night long. It is very easy to spot – you can see it shining even before the sun sets. Jupiter is a good telescope target from about 8 pm onwards and the dance of its four largest moons - Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa - is visible even with a good quality set of binoculars or a camera with a good zoom. This is Jupiter and 4 of its moons (the moons have phases just like ours) as photographed last year in May with a point-and-shoot Nikon camera by Miss Cooper.
Saturn is visible in the late evening skies in the north-east. Venus is currently seen as “the morning star”.
It is rising in the East in the early hours of the morning.
In April, the constellation Crux (the Southern Cross) lies on its side between 7 - 8pm — and becomes more upright as the night progresses. To find the cross, look for the two very bright “Pointer Stars” Alpha and Beta Centauri and follow their line towards the Southern Cross. As their names suggest, these stars are part of the constellation Centaurus.
It's hard to miss the star Sirius — it's the brightest star (not the brightest object) in the night sky. Known as the Dog Star because it sits in the constellation of Canis major, Sirius is also the ultimate twinkling star. Look high in the sky towards the north-west to see Sirius in April.
In the western sky, below and to the left of Sirius, is one of the most easily recognised constellations – Orion.  Orion is the hunter and the 3 bright stars that form his belt are very easy to spot. This constellation was named by people in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, though, Orion is upside down. So his belt and sword become what many Australians call “the saucepan”. In the handle of the saucepan lies one of the most spectacular deep sky objects — the Orion Nebula. Under dark skies the middle star looks like a fuzzy patch, but through binoculars you can make out several stars embedded in a pearly haze. Four stars form a rectangle around the saucepan. The two brightest are Rigel — a white star in the top left corner — and Betelgeuse a red supergiant star in the bottom right corner. Betelgeuse will probably explode soon (well if you call 100,000 years soon) and become a bright supernova.
In the eastern sky, we are just starting to see the constellation Scorpio. To the ancient Greeks, Scorpio was a scorpion and Orion a mighty hunter. In Greek mythology, Orion was a mighty and fearless hunter, so great in fact that he vowed to kill every animal on the Earth. Gaia, the goddess of the Earth and protector of the animals, was angered by Orion and asked Scorpio, a giant scorpion, to kill Orion before he could harm the animals. Scorpio attacked Orion and stung him with his stinger. As a reward for his bravery and for saving the lives of all of the animals, Gaia placed Scorpio in the night sky but Scorpio still hunts Orion all year as he is seen chasing Orion across the sky during the year. When we see Scorpio rising in the east, Orion will be starting to set in the west.
Adapted from ABC Science Online Article by Bernie Hobbs and other sources.