Our Star Charts are updated monthly. Keep checking back here for the latest guide to the stars above.
DOWNLOADABLE STAR CHARTS
Star Chart for January 2015 – Western Sky
Star Chart for January 2015 – Eastern Sky
Star Chart for December 2014 – Western Sky
Star Chart for December 2014 – Eastern Sky
SUMMER SKY GUIDE
DECEMBER 2014 I JANUARY 2015 I FEBRUARY 2015
Summer brings clear skies and warm air, great conditions for stargazing. Make the most of the holiday period and learn some of the well known constellations in the summer night sky. You might have to wait a little longer for the sky to darken but at least you don’t need to wear thermals and wet weather gear.
To get started learning the summer sky, there are some key landmarks to find. First look north and find the three bright stars in a line, often called ‘The Pot’. These stars make up Orion’s Belt, one of the most distinctive guides of the night sky.
Lower in the north you should pick out the Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux, and from them the rest of the constellation of Gemini.
The giant planet Jupiter is the brightest object in this part of the sky and reaches opposition on 7 February at which time it is rising in the east just as the Sun sets. On this date it is highest in the sky around 1am, which is the best time for viewing with a telescope. As the months go by Jupiter rises earlier each night so you don’t need to stay up quite so late to see it well. In summer, Jupiter is within the constellation Cancer but it moves into Leo later in the year. A good pair of binoculars, if held very steady, may show you Jupiter’s family of four large moons arranged in a line coinciding with the planet’s equator, which we see edge on.
The four moons are not always visible because some may be in front of the planet, behind it or eclipsed by Jupiter’s shadow.
Extend the line of the Belt stars to the right (east) and you will find Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Extending the line to the left (west) from the Belt and you will find the orange star, Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus. Continuing that line further to the left and you will find the beautiful star cluster the Pleiades (Matariki). Going back to Orion’s Belt, identify the bright stars Rigel (white) and Betelgeuse (reddish), which are respectively above and below the Belt. Those two bright stars, together with two slightly fainter ones, enclose most of Orion with the Belt in the middle.
Following a line up the sky through Orion towards the south brings you to Canopus, the second brightest star of the night sky. The final bright star to locate is Achernar, marking the end of the meandering constellation of Eridanus (the River).
Once you have located these bright landmarks in the sky, you can explore further by identifying some of the more prominent constellations.
Canopus, known as Atutahi in Maori, is the second brightest star of the night sky and dominates our view overhead. It is the brightest star of the important southern constellation Carina, yet is distance of 310 light-years has only been reliably determined in the last 20 years.
Mercury is not visible during December but can be just spotted very low in the west after sunset in the middle of January, together with much brighter Venus. We then lose Mercury as it passes between the Earth and Sun to be easily seen again in the pre-dawn eastern sky around 25 February.
Venus is not observable during December through February as it is too close to the Sun. You may spot it low on the western horizon (with much fainter Mars) soon after sunset.
This is not a good season to find Mars. It is low in the west and setting early during December. It then gets progressively closer to the Sun, making it unobservable through January and February.
In Leo, Jupiter is rising about midnight in mid-December and by 10pm in mid-January. It reaches opposition with the Sun on 7 February, rising just as the Sun sets. This will be the best time of the year for telescopic observations, as Jupiter is highest above the horizon by 1am. Just before opposition, the planet moves from Leo into Cancer.
Saturn is just visible very low in the eastern dawn sky in December. It rises earlier than the Sun by about two hours each month, so by the end of February it is rising at about midnight. It makes an interesting sight in the head of Scorpius in company with the red giant star, Antares.