Archive for the ‘Night Skies’ Category

Mars – Siding Springs Comet – A Close Call

Oh… to be on Mars this weekend (October 19th 18:30 UT) Thats about 4 am in the morning on Monday the 20th for us in Australia (Mars not Visible at closest to the comet in Australia) 

This is being billed as a once in a million years event and this is probably true.

While Comet  Siding springs is faint from our perspective, as it approaches Mars. It will be a spectacular sight from the fleet of Mars probes and rovers. It will not only give us delightful pictures, but will give a once off opportunity to study a first time Oort cloud comet up close. From our perspective in Australia we are about 10hrs ahead of the point of closest approach, when Mars is still visible in our western Sky. Remember, the comet is very faint (Mag11) and Mars very bright, so you will not see it with the naked eye. You may like to give it a go if you have a  medium to large Aperture (6″ and above) telescope though with the comet approaching Mars.

Check out NASA’s Mars-Comet page on this comet for all the info & I expect the follow up photos.

As we wait for this historic Comet to make its very close approach to Mars, we get an idea of what is to come on Mars with this fantastic Photo .

I eagerly await the pictures from NASA, ESA & others on this never before seen close approach of a comet to almost everyone’s favourite planet Mars.

On approach to Mars  Photo by CometCatcher (Kevin)

On approach to Mars
Photo by CometCatcher (Kevin)


A Meteor Shower or 3 !

Meteor Showers

The main meteor shower this month is the Delta Aquarids peaking on the 28th/29th with up to 15 meteors/ hr for that shower, however it is also joined by another shower close by with the Capricornids  adding another 5/hr. Just below these well known constellations is lesser known Piscis Austraids adding a further 5 meteors an hour.

Capricornius is is well up in the eastern sky by 9:30 pm with Aquarius just below. Best viewing time is around midnight when they are higher in the sky. I had a sneek preview tonight (27th July) and saw a couple of bright meteors over 15minutes. These were likely Capricornids as they were quite bright and easy to see in my location with clear skies, but with bright lights in the vicinity. So if you can brave the cool night air you may just get a few nights of meteors worth checking out. Each shower displays slightly different meteor colors and speeds. See if you can spot the difference in their speed, color, radiant point and brightness !

Update: 28/7/14

With clear skies tonight it was a good time to head out and check out the promised meteor showers. The viewing session began with a couple of bright Aquarids, well away from the center of the radiant. most however were faint and fast, distinguishing them from other members of this meteor shower cluster. A bit of patience was rewarded with a spectacular meteor lasting aprox 3 to 4 seconds traveling much slower than the aquariads & was I suspects a Piscis Austraid and was noticeably yellow in colour. Just to finish of the session after about an hour of viewing I was rewarded with a bright Capricornid, falling straight down from Alpha Capricorius. All up approx 15 meteors for the hour. I am sure their were more, but my field of view was limited by my need to shield from bright lights in the area.

I look forward to tomorrow night and what that might bring !

Update: 30/7/14

A quick look for 1/2 an hr this morning in the western sky, revealed 7 meteors.  5 were clearly Delta Aquarids, one was a bright and slow Piscis Austraid  and another a bright sporadic. All in all this has been a great meteor shower with such a diversity of meteor streams, each showing their different character.

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A go anywhere tabletop wide field telescope from NSS


Venus & The Moon

Venus, The Moon, Mt Whitfield Range and The Cairns Airport.

Venus, The Moon, Mt Whitfield Range and The Cairns Airport.

As I am always letting Night Sky Secrets subscribers know about the happenings in the night (and early morning) sky, I thought it only right to get up early myself this morning to check out the conjunction between Venus and the moon. While not as close as the previous morning, I was able to photograph this event . You can see the earth shine on the crescent moon & through the Telescope, Venus also showed a thin crescent phase. I was fortunate enough to catch a look at Mercury too, just before the gathering dawn washed out the morning sky.

The morning sky also featured Sagittarius & Scorpius in the east, So I was able to get a look at the Lagoon nebula and the Sagittarius star cloud before first light, always a magnificent sight.

With the new moon upon us this weekend & if the rain stays away in FNQ it will be prime time for an observing night.



Quadratids and Astronomy night -14th Jan 2014

 Quadratids Meteor Shower

Luckily I had consulted my Southern Sky Astronomy Calender and knew to look out for this Meteor shower. The Quadrantids Meteor shower is one that is generally considered to be a northern hemisphere event, so I was unsure what I would get when I set out to observe it on Saturday morning  the 4th of January 2014 from Gove NT, at a latitude of 12.2 degrees South. I was pleasantly surprised to at what I saw.

The first 2 Meteors were brief and faint but clearly Quadratids. I was then delighted to see a bright Quadratid rising up from the seaward horizon and lasting several seconds, like a bright marine flare !  There were several more like this and then the ones skimming the horizon, as the radiant rose higher, seemed to flare into visibility and disappear with a flash !

All in all we saw 7 Quadrantids  either rising up from the horizon or skimming it, as they did in the later part of the hour between 4 and 5 am.  The Quadranids are quite easy to pick being relatively slow moving compared to other showers. It was certainly well worth the effort of getting up for, at least from our northerly location. As luck would have it the clouds rolled in just as the sky started to brighten, so we got the best of it.

1st Observing Night – 2014

With the skies continuing to be clear I held an observing night for our Club Gove Amateur Astronomers.

For ease of setup I chose the clubs Meade LX-90 8″ Schmidt Cassegrain Go-To telescope. This proved to be a good choice as we got to see a few bright DSO’s (Deep Sky Objects) that I would not have normally picked up.

There were 6 other club members there on the night, making it easy to work our way across the sky. The typical favourites were the first to be observed, with the rapidly setting thin crescent moon, the first cab off the rank. For several members this was their first time looking through a telescope of a substantial size and quality, so they were blown away by the sharp detail of the craters and mountain ranges of the moon.

 Copernicus & Mare Ibrium

It’s not that hard to get great images of the moon either. This image of The Mare Ibrium and the bright crater Copernicus were taken by myself, with a simple point and shoot digital camera, albeit mounted on a 10″ scope , on a night of good “seeing” with a quality eyepiece.

 We moved on from the moon, to the #1 Eye candy nebula in the sky, the Great Orion Nebula, filling the field of view of the 40mm eyepiece. The 2nd best (arguably) Globular Cluster in the sky in 47 Toucana was the next target, showing a bright condensed core and a tight peppering of stars around the core.

The dark spidery arms of the Tarantula nebula was the next target with its huge expanse filling the field of view of a 32mm wide field Panoptic eyepiece. By this time Jupiter was ring high enough for good viewing with all of the moons visible & a clear view of the 2 cloud bands with occasional details apparent with a 13mm Nagler Eyepiece. Andromeda Galaxy spilled out of the edges of view with the telescope so the views through a 16×60 pair of Pentax binoculars gave a much better feel for the expanse of this galaxy of over 1 trillion stars 2.5 million light years distant. Its true size apparent, by the fact you can see this galaxy with the naked eye !

Using the dead accurate go-to capabilities of the recently serviced  LX-90 we were able to find and see the reminants of the 1056 Supernova in the Crab nebula & on to the planetary nebula “The Eskimo Nebula” the reminants of a nova star that blinks in and out of view each time you look away and back to it (a trick of our rod & cone optic cells of our eyes)

All in all it was a very satisfying evening of viewing with a peppering of meteors, most of which had a radiant close to the zenith (straight up). It is unusual to get such a clear night in January so it was greatly appreciate by all present. I look forward to our next observing night, but it might be a while as rain is now forecast, as you would expect at this time of the year.

Geminids Meteor Shower

The best of the Geminids is almost upon us, peaking as it does this Saturday morning the 14th Dec.
As luck would have it (touch Wood) skies are clear up here in Gove NT.
I have attached a chart showing the moon heading below the horizon around 3:30 am, so a good clear hour to observe up here at least.

Moonset on the Morning of the 14th Dec

Moonset on the Morning of the 14th Dec

Update 14/12/13:

This mornings Geminids peak was spectacular
from 3:30am to 4:50am we saw 101 Geminids.
Along with 2 other members of Gove Astronomers at a dark site on the beach with a good clear N – NW horizon.
When the Geminids apeared they were, as is often the case with meteor showers, in batchs. That is to say there were often  3 or 4 meteors headed in different directions, in a 10 second or so timeframe.
There were 2 bright fireballs, with one so bright behind us that it lit the ground momentarily …. WOW !
The number seen, despite the scattered sea cu’s drifting over, worked out at a rate of 75/ hr.
This is easily the best meteor shower of the year & luckily the early start to the wet in November has faded away for now.

“Like” NightSkySecrets on facebook to share your experience of the Geminids.

Stargazers New Years Pack

For that stargazer friend or family member in your life (or for you !),

I have put together this great value gift pack at a big discount.

The pack consists of:

One-  2014 Southern Sky Calendar: 

Southern Sky-  Front







 One – RED LED Solar light






 1 Pair – 7×50 Astronomy Binoculars







This will be a great start to getting out under the night sky this Christmas.

The usual cost for these products individually is $94.50

Christmas special for a limited time is just $75 posted to anywhere in Australia !

All product details are on the Astro Products page


[wp_cart:Stargazers New Years Pack:price:75:00:end]







Dobsonian Telescopes

Night Sky Secrets are pleased to bring you a range of Quality, affordable & easy to use telescopes from Kson Optics, manufacturers of quality optics since 1987.

Kson 102mm(4″) Telescope

A go anywhere tabletop wide field telescope, The KSON 102mm Newtonian reflector is a great Grab-N-Go scope to bring out at a BBQ, travelling, camping or any time you want, wherever you are. This scope is at its best looking at star clusters, bright nebulas & the moon.  Basic Specs: 102mm aperture, 640mm focal length f/6.3, precision mirror with diffraction limited resolution, higher reflectivity coating. 

 *Technical Specifications

$179 + Postage

– Currently Out of Stock –

**New Stocks Late May 2014**

102mm Scope – $179  Add Shipping as applicable below:

[wp_cart:Kson 102mm Freight-Cairns Region:price:10.00:end]   Cairns area – $10

[wp_cart:Kson 102mm Freight-Atherton Tableland:price:15.00:end] Atherton Tablelands -$15

*For all other areas, please contact us for a shipping quote*

Kson 160mm(6.3″) Telescope


A great First Telescope

The KSON 160mm Newtonian reflector is the next step up from the tabletop 102mm. With its larger aperture, this scope is at its best with the bright planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Venus & Mars) Bright nebulas, Galaxies, Star clusters and more.

Basic Specs:

Aperture: 160mm
Focal length: 1300mm – f/8.1 precision mirror with diffraction limited resolution. High reflectivity coating

*Technical Specifications

$397 + Freight


[wp_cart:Kson 160mm Telescope:price:397.00:end]

160mm Scope – $397 – Add Shipping as applicable below:

[wp_cart:Kson 102mm Freight-Cairns Region:price:10.00:end]   Cairns area – $10

[wp_cart:Kson 102mm Freight-Atherton Tableland:price:15.00:end] Atherton Tablelands -$15

*For all other areas, please contact us for a shipping quote*

Astronomy Binoculars

Our new Astronomy Binoculars are the KSON 7×50’s


When you take that first step and see what lies beyond the view of your naked eye, these lower powered Astronomy binoculars are just what you need. Giving an extra wide field of view with 7x magnification and a 50mm lens to draw in the light of the distant stars and nebulas, you will be amazed at what was hidden from your eyes ! The benifit of slightly less magnification is that dimmer objects will be easier to see, with more light gathered by the 50mm lens relitive to the lower 7 times magnification & they are easier to hold still (A bonus for kids especially). A great 1st pair of take anywhere Binoculars !

Including Postage Aust Wide $67 $59

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2014 Astronomy Calendars Released

The ever popular Astronomy Calendar with all the events set to grace the skies in 2014,monthly constellation positions, a fabulous lift out star chart and some of the best Astronomy images from Australia’s leading Astro photographers you will ever see is out now. This is complimented by an all new Southern Sky Astronomy Calendar with great nightscape  photos from some of Australia’s most visually stunning locations and still packed with the same great information as the Astronomy Calendar.

I personally use these calendars all the time to plan my observing events at a glance each month.

The Astronomy Calendars sell out every year , so get in early to get your copy now.

Ian Maclean

Astronomy Presenter & Writer

PS: As Bonus you can get 2 Souther Sky calendars at a discount (see below)Astronomy CalandarSouthern Sky-  Front

2014 Astronomy Calendar 2 remaining only !


2014 Astronomy Calendar –(Including Postage Aust Wide) $20

[wp_cart:Astronomy Calendar 2014:price:20:00:end]




** Save**

2 Southern Sky  Calendar’s 2014 –(Including Postage Aust Wide) $35

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Wallaby Creek Astronomy Tours

NightSkySecrets will be conducting astronomy tours  at Wallaby Creek Festival on the 28th & 29th of September 2012. The festival is near Rossville about 40km south of Cooktown.

I have been conducting Astronomy tours across Northern Australia for the past 10 years including the past 5 at the renowned Garma Festival of indigenous Culture in Arnhem Land NT.

Garma 2010 – Credit: Lachlan MacDonald – 3RF


The tours at Wallaby Creek from 8pm on Friday & Saturday nights will be a blend of Aboriginal Creations stories written in the stars, some not quite as Ancient Greek tales, of hero’s & Gods, blended with the science of astronomy, and some celestial navigation.

There will be 2 telescopes available, a wide field “PortHole to Space” telescope & a higher powered 250mm reflecting telescope to take in the finer details of glorious Galaxies, wispy Nebulas,  stunning Star clusters & more. 


NightSkySecrets will have a stall by day at the festival, with all the basics you need to get started in discovering the delights of the night sky. There will also be safe solar observing by day with the focus now turning to the upcoming total Solar eclipse of  November 14th.

If you love live music, art, performance and getting back to nature, come along to Wallaby Creek 2012.