Star Charts

Downloadable Star Charts:

Star Chart for March 2014 – Western Sky
Star Chart for March 2014 – Eastern Sky
Star Chart for April 2014 – Western Sky
Star Chart for April 2014 – Eastern Sky
Star Chart for May 2014 – Western Sky
Star Chart for May 2014 – Eastern Sky

 

AUTUMN SKY GUIDE

MARCH 2014  /  APRIL 2014  /  MAY 2014

As the cooler constellations of Autumn replace those of Summer we have a lot to look forward to. April is particularly busy with an interesting total eclipse of the Moon plus the chance to see Mars at its closest for the next two years.

AUTUMN HIGHLIGHTS

By mid April the sky has moved around and the Summer landmark, Orion, is now setting in the early evening followed soon after by the ‘Dog Star’, Sirius. Looking north, there are a series of zodiac constellations with familiar names dating back to antiquity. From west to east we can see Gemini, marked by the two bright stars, Pollux and Castor. Cancer though is quite inconspicuous and hard to pick out if you are competing with city lights or bright moonlight.

On the other hand, Leo, the next constellation moving west to east is easy to pick out because of its bright, orange star Regulus. East of Leo is Virgo, easily identified by its bright star, Spica. Spica is brilliantly white or meaning it’s very hot, much hotter than our Sun. Near to Spica there is a conspicuous quadrilateral marked by four stars forming a handy signpost – the constellation of Corvus (the Crow). This procession of zodiac constellations will cross the northern sky from east to west as the night goes on, followed later by Libra, Scorpius and Sagittarius. In the southern sky, the key landmark to locate is Crux (the Southern Cross), the iconic constellation of the Southern Hemisphere. At this time of year, face south and look up high and you should pick it out without difficulty. Just to be sure, check that the two bright stars of Centaurus (commonly called ‘the Pointers’) are pointing to the top of the Cross.

Following an imaginary line up the sky from the Pointers, on through Crux you will find the constellations of Carina, Vela and Puppis. There are a number of different patterns you will come to recognise here but most people notice the distinctive shape of the ‘False Cross’. It isn’t a constellation but it is so obvious that astronomers call it an asterism. It actually consists of two stars from Carina and two from Vela, all having roughly equal brightness. The brightest star in Carina is the brilliant Canopus. It is the second brightest star, second only to Sirius and the most luminous star within 700 light-years.

Continuing our imaginary line past the False Cross, essentially following the centre of the Milky Way, we find the large constellation of Puppis. While this isn’t a household name, it is quite bright and passes overhead in New Zealand.
This trio of important southern constellations − Carina, Vela and Puppis − once made up a single, huge constellation called Argo Narvis (being the mythical ship of Jason and the Argonauts) which had been created in the 2nd Century before being divided into more manageable constellations in the 17th Century.

At this time… if you can see the Autumn sky on a moonless night away from city lights, you can easily pick out the disk of the our galaxy − The Milky Way. It looks like a ghostly cloud, being the combined light of some of the estimated 200 billion stars that make up our galaxy running from the south-eastern horizon passing through the Pointers, Crux, Carina, Vela and Puppis and on across the sky passing between Orion and Gemini in the north-west.

Mars at Opposition

The closest Mars comes to Earth in 2014 will be on 14 April when it will be about 93 million kilometres away. The diagram on page 16 shows the relative sizes of Mars over 2014 so you can see that the best telescopic viewing times are really limited to just a few weeks either side of that date. This is a brief window of opportunity that won’t be open again until May 2016 when Earth and Mars are again passing each other in orbit.

 

Mercury

In the east pre-dawn in March, passing the Sun mid-April. Reappears low in the western sky, setting soon after the sun by late May.

Venus

Very bright in the eastern sky before dawn during March, April and May.

Mars

Rising with Spica late evening through March and reaches opposition in early April. This will be the best time to look at Mars through a telescope for another two years. It will be due north by 8.30pm late in May.

Jupiter

An early evening object during March, after which it sets nearer to the Sun.

Saturn

Rising after midnight in March, Saturn is visible during most of the night in Libra. It reaches opposition in early May being high in the north around midnight. Best time for telescope viewing of Saturn in 2014.