OUR SOLAR SYSTEM
Enjoy the night sky each week, as we give you the latest on stargazing.
SEE WITH THE NAKED EYE
Visible planets this month in order of disappearance: Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. If you are lucky to have a flat horizon in the northeast and like planet Venus, you will be seeing it in the morning sky. This month, Mercury will reach its highest point in the evening sky on the 2nd of October and Mars will be at opposition, closest to Earth, on the 14th of October. Thus we will be able to easily see features from Mars in a telescope.
SEE WITH BINOCULARS AND TELESCOPE
Of course, none of the planets make light of their own, what we see are the features of each planet illuminated by the light from the Sun that gets reflected by our Solar System companions.
After dark adaptation and under the very best observing conditions, the average limiting magnitude of the human eye is about magnitude 6.5.
The Milky Way’s centre is now on the western horizon after sunset. Scorpius and Sagittarius are the two constellations whose stars are between us and the galactic centre. We are very lucky here in New Zealand to see the centre of the Milky Way high in the sky, which means we are looking at it through less layers of atmosphere than in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, from mid latitudes, the centre of the Milky Way climbs only about 30 degrees above the horizon.
Check out our resource on how to find Scorpius. We made this for our light pollution campaign, look after our night sky.
October is a good month to still see many deep sky objects. The majority of them are around the galactic bulge. In Scorpius, our favourites are: Ptolemy’s cluster – M7 a beautiful open cluster of stars, the Butterfly Cluster – M6, which resembles a butterfly, and the globular clusters Messier 4 and Messier 80. The Bug Nebula NGC 6302 and The Cat’s Paw nebula – NGC 6334 are excellent astrophotography targets. Neighbouring Scorpius is Sagittarius. This is the constellation where we map the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Sagittarius’s famous asterism (grouping of stars) is the teapot, which is visible upside down here in New Zealand. Sagittarius cannot be seen from Scotland or Scandinavia. We are very lucky here to be able to observe it overhead.
The Milky Way is at its densest in Sagittarius. Inside the constellation, which is a patch of the sky, we can admire two beautiful Star Clouds, easily seen in binoculars: the Large Sagittarius Star Cloud and the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud – Messier 24. Some stunning deep sky objects in Sagittarius are Lagoon Nebula – M8, Omega Nebula or Swan Nebula and the Trifid Nebula, another famous one also known as M20. The Trifid Nebula is about 2 degrees from Lagoon Nebula.
In the circumpolar region, the Small Magellanic Cloud is in a good position to observe. Close to it, 47 Tucanae is one of the most beautiful and large globular clusters that adorn the night sky. 47 Tucanae is the second brightest globular cluster in the sky and one of the most massive clusters in the Galaxy. It’s angular diameter is roughly the size of the full Moon, that is the width of your pinky at arm’s length. It can be seen with the naked eye from Earth although it is far far away, about 13,000 light years from Earth.
The three famous crosses of the southern sky, the Southern Cross, Diamond Cross and the false cross are very low on the horizon, and for the next three months we will be looking at them through an extra layer of atmosphere.
Some notable deep sky objects this month are Helix Nebula in Aquarius, Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula and the Grus Quartet in Grus. Famous for its nickname “The Eye of Sauron” Helix Nebula is a very large planetary nebula. Dumbbell Nebula – M27 in Vulpecula is very bright and the first planetary nebula to be discovered. In Grus, a gathering of four interacting galaxies are known as the Grus Quartet. They are fascinating to see in a large telescope.
Beautiful bright stars are visible in the night sky. Right at the top of the sky, Antares, the red giant and main star from Scorpius shimmers in an incredibly beautiful red colour as seen through a telescope. On the southern horizon lays Canopus, glistening all colours, including red and green as we see it through the atmosphere. On the opposite side, on the northern horizon is Altair, the main star in Aquila.
Just after sunset, at the beginning of the month, you can catch a good view of planet Mercury, which now reaches its highest point in the sky and sets about two hours after the Sun. Jupiter and Saturn are evening objects, they are visible at Zenith. Mars is visible after 9 PM and Venus is just slightly visible in the morning, rising one hour before the Sun.
If you wish to attend a detailed presentation about the night sky, come every first Tuesday of the month to Astronomy on Tap. During these evenings we extend our live sky presentation and go deeper into space. This is a great opportunity to share thoughts and findings with other people interested in space over a refreshments and nibbles.
There are beautiful objects you can see in the night sky, some are circumpolar and some are seasonal.
From Wellington it is always a great time to learn the main asterisms (groupings of stars) that make the main constellations since our light pollution does allow us to observe only the brightest stars.
You can also observe craters on the Moon – here is a comprehensive map of it by Google Moon.
On average, the Moon rises or, if it’s already in the sky, sets about 50 minutes later than the previous day, every day.
New Moon: Sunday, November 15th 06:07:25PM
First Quarter: Saturday, October 24th 02:23:12AM
Full Moon: Sunday, November 1st 03:48:57AM
Last Quarter: Monday, November 9th, 02:46:17AM
Data compiled with Sky Safari Pro
Keep an eye out for our astronomy and space courses coming up, details are in our What’s On section.
At Space Place, we open our telescope for viewings every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night if the weather is on our side. Alternatively, the planetarium live shows is a great place to see our current night skies. Let us know how it went, or if you have any questions by visiting our Facebook.
Clear skies from our team!
13 December – 10 February
Monday 10am – 5:30pm
Tuesday 10am – 11pm
Wednesday 10am – 5:30pm
Thursday 10am – 5:30pm
Friday 10am – 11pm
Saturday 10am – 11pm
Sunday 10am – 5:30pm
Last entry is 10pm and 5pm
During the school term visitors are welcome;
Tuesday: 4pm – 11pm
Friday: 4pm – 11pm
Saturday: 10am – 11pm
Sunday: 10am – 5:30pm
Last entry is 10pm and 5pm
(2020 School Term dates; Term 1, Monday 10 February – Friday 10 April, Term 2, Tuesday 28 April – Friday 3 July, Term 3, Monday 20 July – Friday 25 September, Term 4, Monday 12 October – Friday 18 December)
Our team of Space educators are exciting young minds and helping to build our future in space exploration. We teach early childhood up to year 13 students.
School bookings available Monday-Friday during school hours, 9am-2.30pm.
Gold Card Holder / NZ Student (NZ ID required): $12
Child (4-16 years): $9
Preschool Child (0-3 years): Free
Family (2 adults and up to 3 children): $45
Friends of Museum Wellington: Free
Please note that children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
Bookings are essential for all schools and tour groups.
Parking is available at Skyline car park, located on Upland Road (charges apply). There are limited parking spaces outside Space Place reserved especially for mobility permit holders.
T: +64 4 910 3140 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
40 Salamanca Rd, Kelburn, Wellington 6012 located at the top of the Cable Car, just a short stroll from the terminus.