Our Star Charts are updated monthly. Keep checking back here for the latest guide to the stars above.
DOWNLOADABLE STAR CHARTS
Star Chart for September 2014 – Western Sky
Star Chart for September 2014 – Eastern Sky
Star Chart for October 2014 – Western Sky
Star Chart for October 2014 – Eastern Sky
SPRING SKY GUIDE
SEPTEMBER 2014 I OCTOBER 2014 I NOVEMBER 2014
As we transition into Spring, we start to lose Scorpius and Sagittarius earlier in the western sky. The highlight of Spring will be the second total eclipse of the Moon of 2014, visible across all of the country if we get clear skies.
Our Spring sky features the setting of the important winter constellations of Libra, Scorpius and Sagittarius. Scorpius will be seen plunging head first into the western horizon and as it does so, Orion, the major constellation of our summer night sky, is rising in the east. Following Sagittarius along the ecliptic line are the Spring constellations of Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces and Aries. None are as striking as the winter ones we are losing in the west.
Early in September, the bright planets, Mars and Saturn, are together in Libra, joined by the Moon on 1 September. But Mars moves on towards the east into Scorpius, leaving Saturn behind. Over the Spring, Mars continues this movement, which can be seen almost from night to night. By the end of September Mars is passing the red giant star Antares, its name meaning ‘Rival of Mars’ and now you can see why. By the end of November, Mars will have almost passed through Sagittarius as well but will be setting quite early in the night.
Looking due north in early September you will see two bright stars. Vega is low down (and harder to spot in the south of the country) but Altair is higher up and easy to identify because it is flanked by two fainter stars. To the east of Altair is the small but quite distinctive constellation of Delphinus (the Dolphin).
Around the end of November, as soon as the sky is dark, you will easily identify the constellation of Pegasus. It’s notable feature is that it is shaped like a large square and often called ‘the Great Square of Pegasus’. The constellation Andromeda runs off the lower right-hand corner of the Great Square and if you trace that line with binoculars you may pick out the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). In truly dark sites with no Moon, most people can see this galaxy with their naked eye, even though it is some 2.5 million light-years away. Unfortunately, it never rises high in our skies.
Looking now to the south, from early September soon after dark, you should see Crux (the Southern Cross) on its side in the south-western sky. It is well marked by the two bright ‘Pointers’ above it. As the night goes on, as with the passing of days, Crux will be found lower and lower in our southern sky. Crux never actually sets in Aotearoa – it just skims the southern horizon when viewed from Cape Reinga but in Invercargill it is noticeably higher. Remember though that when Crux is near its lowest point in the sky, it may be hidden by trees, buildings or hills, depending on your location.
The two bright stars of the southern sky to learn are Canopus and Achernar. To find Achernar, it is easiest just to imagine a line extended through the long axis of the Southern Cross. Because they are on opposite sides of the southern circumpolar sky, when one is low on the horizon, the other is at its highest point.
Canopus is also easy to see because it’s the second brightest star in the sky after Sirius. The catch with Canopus is that for a brief period Canopus dips below the southern horizon, at least in the North Island. Apart from that, during early evenings in Spring, Canopus will be the found low in the southeast. During these times when it’s close to the horizon, the motion of the Earth’s atmosphere can cause Canopus to flash different colours and possibly also jiggle about. While this is a common meteorological phenomenon called ‘scintillation’, it frequently causes Canopus to be reported as a UFO. While this is seen for any bright star close to the horizon, the scintillation is more obvious on bright white stars like Canopus.
Low in the western sky after sunset. Close to Spica around 21 September and best viewed about this time. Passes the sun again by mid-October, moving into the eastern sky and visible before dawn through November.
Too close to the Sun for observation.
Moving up the western sky after sunset away from the Sun. Passes from Libra into Scorpius, close to Antares in late September.
Jupiter will be in the northeast dawn sky, rising earlier each day. It is moving from Cancer into Leo. Well placed for observation in November.
With Mars and the Moon on 1 September in the west, early evening. Sets earlier each night as it moves closer to the Sun, getting harder to see in October and too close to the Sun in November.