What's Up in Space
Download this months Star Chart.
This weekend’s night sky (23 – 24 August 2014)
Mars and Saturn are still easily visible in our north-western evening sky. They will be at their closest on Monday, so should make a lovely sight this weekend. When close together, the contrast in their colours (red for Mars, yellowish for Saturn) should be easy to see.
The Pointers and Crux, the Southern Cross, can be found on their side in the south west and the Diamond and False Crosses are lower down. During the night these stars will move along our southern horizon. As we move towards new moon on the 26th, the Moon won’t rise until shortly before the Sun in our morning sky. This makes it a good time to look out for some fainter objects.
Next to the Southern Cross is a dark area called the Coalsack Nebula or te Pātiki. This is a huge cloud of dust and gas about 600 light years away, which is so thick and dense that it obscures the light from more distant stars, appearing as a dark patch against the brightness of the Milky Way. Between the Coalsack and Beta Crucis (the second brightest star in the Southern Cross) is a compact cluster of stars known as the Jewel Box cluster. To the naked eye it appears as a hazy ‘star’ just to the southeast of Beta Crucis, but with binoculars or a small telescope it is an impressive sight because of the bright different coloured stars that give it its name. The colours of these stars tell us how hot they are, with the red stars the coolest and the blue stars the hottest.