Stagazing with Dave Reneke

Griffith is isolated on the edge of Australia’s expansive flat and arid landscape – welcome to the best skies in the world.

Wednesday night’s anticipated blue moon will see Australians, and more specifically Griffith and MIA residents, have access to the beat seats in the house to the rare phenomena.

So what can we expect on Wednesday night?

This is the first time in three years that we have the chance to see a total lunar eclipse from Australia, and the Moon will spend just over three hours passing through Earth’s shadow.

The great thing about lunar eclipses is that they are lovely to watch and no special equipment is needed to see the events unfold.

But there’ll be plenty to see in our night skies beyond the rare lunar phenomena.

Out of the 88 constellations we’ve got the pick of the crop. 

So, it’s just you, me and the starry night.

Depending on your age and your eyesight, you can see up to about 1500 to 2000 stars on a clear night.

You’ll need a blanket to sit on, a pair of binoculars, and a pillow.

The eclipse can be seen by the entire night side of the globe and everyone will experience the event at precisely the same moment. What affects the eclipse timings are local time zones

The eclipse can be seen by the entire night side of the globe and everyone will experience the event at precisely the same moment. What affects the eclipse timings are local time zones

If you’ve ever wondered how many stars there are in the Universe, think about this.

There are more stars in the Universe than heartbeats for every human being who ever lived. Fantastic isn’t it?

Ordinary stargazing need not be complicated.

If you can find the Moon, you’re on your way to becoming a backyard astronomer.

Australian astronomer, and writer for Australian Science magazine Dave Reneke says on some

nights, like tonight, the Moon can serve as a great locator to help find other objects, including the constellations and planets.

“Once you’ve found the constellations you can then identify a handful of bright stars, even if you live in a city.

The brightest is Sirius, which can be found just to the right of the famous constellation we call the ‘Saucepan’ and its visible all night long.

 A lunar eclipse over San Francisco Bay in 2014 (note the moons have been enlarged slightly for clarity). John 'K'/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

A lunar eclipse over San Francisco Bay in 2014 (note the moons have been enlarged slightly for clarity). John 'K'/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Download an app called ‘Star Chart’ to find it easily.

You don’t need a telescope to view it – a pair of binoculars will do just fine.

Sirius is 8.6 light-years away, meaning that the light you see tonight took 8.6 years just to get here!

You’ve now learned to look back in time.

Remember stars rise about 4 minutes earlier every night, that’s about 2 hours a month.

Looking at the Moon is a sneaky way to look back in time too.

Most of the craters are ancient, many having formed more than 3 billion years ago by impacting meteors.

Look also for bright streaks radiating outward from craters.

These are formed by material cast out by those impacts. What violence!

Equally as stunning and hard to miss at the moment is reddish Mars shining brilliantly in the Eastern sky an hour or two before sunrise with brilliant Jupiter close by.

Venus is coming into the evening sky later this month. It’s our closest planet but we know it better as the ‘evening star.’

“You’re looking back in time with all these objects,” Dave said.

“It kinda gives you a sense of perspective, doesn’t it?

“Here’s something else to think about, if the sun were the size of a dot on a sheet of A4 paper then the nearest star would be 16 kilometres away.

“Cool huh?”

David Reneke is one of Australia’s leading astronomers, lecturers and teachers. He’s a feature writer for Australasian Science magazine.