Our Star Charts are updated monthly. Keep checking back here for the latest guide to the stars above.
DOWNLOADABLE STAR CHARTS
Star Chart for May 2014 – Western Sky
Star Chart for May 2014 – Eastern Sky
Star Chart for June 2014 – Western Sky
Star Chart for June 2014 – Eastern Sky
Star Chart for July 2014 – Western Sky
Star Chart for July 2014 – Eastern Sky
Star Chart for August 2014 – Western Sky
Star Chart for August 2014 – Eastern Sky
WINTER SKY GUIDE
JUNE 2014 I JULY 2014 I AUGUST 2014
While the nights are cold, the winter night sky offers many special treasures to make it well worth putting on the warm gear. Matariki and the winter solstice fall in June and there are several interesting clustering of bright planets.
The zodiac constellations of winter are Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius and Capricornus. The first three are particularly distinctive and once identified, they won’t be forgotten.
During winter, the Sun is low in our daytime sky so any planets opposite the sun will be nearly overhead during the middle of the night, providing some of the best planet viewing opportunities of the year. The solid blue line marked on the star charts is called the Ecliptic, this is the plane of our Solar System on the sky along which the Sun and the planets are always found. In 2014 we will have both Saturn and Mars in this favoured position.
You will also notice that the Ecliptic crosses the plane of the Milky Way near the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius. During our mid-winter nights the Ecliptic passes nearly overhead around midnight so any planets near these constellations are ideally placed for viewing through a telescope. This year, Saturn will be in Libra, changing the look of that constellation quite a lot. From our Southern Hemisphere vantage point during our winter, we will continue to see the ringed planet particularly well over the next five years or so. The best time to view Saturn through a telescope will be from April through to July, the later times being earlier in the night.
Mars is also easily seen, initially near Spica in Virgo. Over June and July, Mars will slowly get closer to Spica, closest around 13 July. Again, the red planet changes the familiar pattern of the constellations but once located, you will be able to watch its movement week by week. By late August Mars will join Saturn in Libra being closest together around 24 August. In the northern sky over the early winter the orange star Arcturus is the main feature. It is the fourth brightest star of the night sky and the brightest in the constellation Bootes. By late winter Arcturus has been replaced by the two bright stars, Vega in Lyra and Altair in Aquila as the most prominent starry landmarks. In the far south of the country, these northern stars don’t rise very high but are very familiar to those in the north.
Looking south in early winter, the spectacular constellations of Crux, Centaurus and Carina are high up and the further south you are the better the view. These regions are richly packed with stars and star clusters that are well worth exploring with binoculars. By early August, the Scorpius-Sagittarius region is the one to explore during the early evening. This is the brightest and densest part of the Milky Way and it is seen best from the latitude of Aotearoa. When not competing with the light pollution of towns and cities (or the Moon), the light from billions and billions of stars combine to make ‘star clouds’ that can even be seen with the naked eye. When looking at Sagittarius you are looking straight towards the heart of our galaxy with its massive black hole at its centre.
The Southern Hemisphere winter solstice marks the time when the sun reaches its northern-most point in our sky − and therefore the lowest in the sky at noon. In 2014 the solstice falls on 21 June (at 10:51pm NZST) and signals the shortest day of the year. After that time the sun begins moving south again, extending our days and shortening the nights.
Matariki and the Winter Solstice
The Māori know the beautiful star cluster in Taurus as Matariki. It is known to Europeans as ‘the Pleiades’ or the ‘Seven Sisters’ but many other cultures have their own names for it as well. Astronomers usually just call it M45. About seven stars are usually seen with the naked eye but many more can be seen with binoculars.
The Māori calendar is based on the Moon so it needs to be realigned each year to the seasons. With the sighting of Matariki in the dawn sky around mid-June, the calendar is restarted on the next new moon. Matariki is also a celebratory period, lasting about a month, that is very important in the Māori culture.
Close to the Sun in the west in early June; joins Venus in the east before dawn in early July. Moves back towards the Sun and into the western sky, setting after the Sun by late August.
Venus is very bright in the east before dawn but rising nearer to the Sun by late August. Close to Jupiter around 18 August.
Mars is very well placed for viewing. Moves from Virgo into Libra and will be close to Saturn by late August. Watch Mars moving from night to night.
Too close to the Sun to view easily but close to Venus, low in the east by dawn around 18 August.
Very well placed for evening observation, in Libra.