What's in the sky at this time of year?

Because the stars are so far away, the don't appear to change from year to year. What does change, however, is the position of the sun. As the Earth orbits the sun, the "day" side of the Earth changes, meaning the "night sky", which is the sky away from the sun, changes. This is why some constellations are visible around December, but up during the day in June (like Orion) and constellations that are up at night in June and up during the day in June (like Scorpio).

Of course, the planets move around in their orbits, so unlike the stars we can't include them here and say they'll be in any particular position at any time of the year.


Summer solstace.

Horsehead Nebula




Co-ordinates (RA / Dec)


Horsehead Nebula (B 33)

Dark nebula


05h 41' / -02° 28'

OK, this is a serious challenge. It's only visible in a very large telescope, so go to the ASV's open night and look through their 40" monster. Astrophotographers love this, especially if you can get the Flame Nebula and the Horsehead in one shot, along with the velvet curtain on the other side of the Horsehead. It's the most aesthetic view in the whole sky (IMHO).

Large Magellanic Cloud (ESO 56-115)



05h 24' / -69° 45'

The LMC is a huge bright cloud of stars and nebulosity. People sometimes actually mistake it for a cloud. No, not even close, it's a fair dinkum galaxy, not far from the Milky Way. On a dark night with no Moon, you won't even need a telescope to see it. In a small telescope, you'll see inside to find all manner of complexity.;

Southern Pleiades (IC 2602)

Open cluster


10h 43' / -64° 24'

The Southern Pleiades is a pleasing and somewhat underappreciated cluster in Carina. It's under-rated because it's so close to the Carina Nebula, which people tend to concentrate more on. Owners of small telescopes will tend to appreciate the cluster a bit more as the nebula is dimmer, so will be less visible to those scopes.

Andromeda Galaxy (M 31)



00h 43' / 41° 16'

Really, really difficult - not because it's dim, but because it's so low to the horizon. You'll need good clear skies, because you'll be looking through a lot of atmosphere, but this is one you'll want to see. Seriously, it's enormous.

Triangulum Galaxy (M 33)



01h 34' / 30° 39'

This galaxy is bigger than the Sculptor, but it's face-on, and in a small telescope it might look very diffuse. In a large scope you'll be able to see spirals. It's mainly a Northern Hemisphere object, and never gets higher than 22 degrees from Melbourne, so you'll be looking through a lot of atmosphere.

Orion Nebula (M 42)

Diffuse Nebula


05h 35' / -05° 23'

M42 is rightly known as the Great Nebula in Orion. If you know where it is, you can see it with your naked eye, even from very light-polluted areas. Orion is a hunter, and he has a belt of three stars. Hanging from that belt is a sword, also of three stars (from Melbourne Orion is standing on his head, so the sword is actually above the belt). Using even the smallest telescope, have a close look at the middle "star" in the sword, and you'll see it's not a star at all, but a cloud. In a large telescope (like a 10" dob) you might be able to tell that it's a pink cloud. Astrophotographers have trouble photographing M42 as its core over-exposes very easily.

De Mairan's Nebula (M 43)

Bright nebula


05h 36' / -05° 16'

This is the blob that hangs off the bottom of M42. You can see it in even a small telescope from light polluted Melbourne. It's separated from M42 by a dark dust lane.

Pleiades (M 45)

Open cluster


03h 47' / 24° 07'

The Pleiades are a naked-eye star cluster, even from Melbourne. Appearing low in the north-east at about this time of the year, it never gets very high, mostly being a northern hemisphere object. It's often known as the Seven Sisters. Through a small telescope it looks very clean, with the stars having a blue tinge. Through a large scope (say more than 250mm) you can see a faint nebulosity around the stars. The nebulosity and the blue colour suggests they're in a star-forming area.


Globular cluster


05h 24' / -24° 31'

M79 is a nice little gloular cluster which doesn't have a name, poor thing.

Hyades (Mel 25)

Open cluster


04h 27' / 16° 00'

The Hyades is properly known as an asterism, meaning it's a group of stars that isn't a whole constellation but looks as though it should be. It's an A shape (or V if you're in the Northern Hemisphere) and is part of the constellation Taurus. The bright star at the bottom is Aldebaran. The whole thing is probably too large for a telescope. Binocuars are probably more appropriate.

47 Tucanae (NGC 104)

Globular cluster


00h 24' / -72° 05'

47 Tuc (as it's called) is one of the absolute best globular clusters, and it's close to the Small Magellenic Cloud. Well worth a look in the smallest scope. Spend some time trying to count how many stars is in that sucker.

Running Man (NGC 1977)

Bright nebula


05h 35' / -04° 51'

This really does look like a man running! It's a nebula close to the Orion Nebula, and is often overlooked because M42 is just so bright and obvious. From the Orion Nebula, move about a tenth of the way towards the belt stars. You'll have to hop over M43 on the way.

Flame Nebula (NGC 2024)

Diffuse nebula


05h 42' / -01° 51' 

A bright tree-shaped nebula next to the star Alnitak (right-most star in Orion's belt). You'll probably need a lot of light-gathering to see it, like 10" or above.

Tarantula Nebula (NGC 2070)

Bright nebula


05h 39' / -69° 06'

The Tarantula Nebula is a complex mess of blobs near the Large Magellenic Cloud. It's called the Tarantula because it reminded its discoverer of a giant spider web. A large telescope will show more detail, including filaments of clouds and shockwaves all over the place, but even a small telescope should show that there are many lobes to this nebula.

Diamond Cluster (NGC 2516)

Open cluster


07h 58' / -60° 45'

This is a very nice, and quite large cluster. It's flanked on one side by two very bright yellow stars.

Cat's Eyes (p Eridani)

Double star


01h 40' / -56° 12'

Really nice double star. I'm not sure who called it Cat's Eyes, because it's not found by Google under that name. It's right next to Achernar in the constellation of Eridanus.

Zeta 1 Reticuli

Double star


03h 18' / -62° 31'

Clear, widely-spaced double. Trivia of the day: Zeta 1 Reticuli is "well known" as the home of the Grey Aliens. Just ask Google!

Rosette Nebula

Cluster with nebulosity


06h 32' / 05° 01'

The Rosette itself might be too dark to see with anything but a large telescope, but it also has a rather pleasant star cluster in the middle. It's also huge - a 1.3 degrees, so you'll need a very wide angle eyepiece - the longest focal length you've got.

Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis)

Variable Red Star


05h 55' / 07° 24′

This star is a candidate for a supernova explosion. There's a reasonable chance that a supernova this close to the Earth is going to affect us. Somehow…?