As we head towards cooler and longer nights in South Africa, Orion (hunter) sets earlier in our evening skies, a few hours after sunset. From Orion, follow the path of the Milky Way Galaxy, past the brightest star in our night sky, Sirius (in Canis Major, big dog) towards Vela (sail) directly overhead. Between Vela and Carina (keel) lies the 'False Cross', not to be confused with the Southern Cross further south-east. The Southern Cross also includes the Pointer stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri. The former is a triple star system, which includes Proxima Centauri: currently the closest star to us, after the Sun.
Low in the south-east, the Winter constellation Scorpius (Scorpion) returns to our early evening skies. In the south, look out for our neighbouring galaxies, the Small (SMC) and Large Magellanic Clouds (LMC). Using binoculars on the southern edge of the SMC will reveal the spectacular globular cluster 47 Tucanae, which contains about half a million stars tightly bound together by gravity.
Mars sets in the early evening and Jupiter and Saturn rise a few hours after midnight. The moon will be in the evening sky until 3 April and again from 14 April, with Full Moon on 27 April. This month’s Full Moon is also called the ‘Diamond Moon’ in South Africa (visit https://cfah.org.za/fullmoon/ to find out more).