Star Charts

Check our website each month to download free star charts for night sky exploring. These simple star charts will help beginners recognise the major landmarks of the night sky and follow the motions of the bright planets. Click the month to download the pair of star charts – one looking east, the other west.

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How to use the star charts

There are some key landmarks to find to begin learning about the summer sky. 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 in the night sky. Below Orion’s Belt is the bright orange-coloured star Betelgeuse, a massive star that is a supernova in waiting. Directly above the Belt is Rigel, another luminous supergiant star, which is much hotter and tinted blue.

Both these stars are much more massive and luminous than our Sun. Below Orion near the horizon, you will see the Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux. Extend the line of the Belt stars to the right (east) to find Sirius, the brightest star in the sky and a celestial neighbour at only eight light-years distant. Now extending the Belt line to the left (west) you will find the orange star, Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus marking the bull’s eye. Continue that line further to the left and you will find the beautiful star cluster, the Pleiades (Matariki). The unaided eye shows about seven stars but many more are viewable with binoculars.

Following a line up through Orion towards the south brings you to Canopus, the second brightest star in the night sky after Sirius. 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 using the charts to identify more of the constellations.

Venus is brilliant in the western sky early in the evening with much dimmer Mars. Jupiter is high in the northeast in the hours before dawn, while Orion sets in the west. Canopus, known as Atutahi to the Māori, dominates our view overhead during the summer. It is the brightest star in the major southern constellation of Carina and lies about 40 times farther from us than Sirius.

MERCURY
The best opportunities to observe Mercury over the summer months are around 11 December in the western sky soon after sunset when it is very bright and then again around 20 January in the east just before dawn.

VENUS
Brilliant in the west early evening during December near Mars and reaches maximum elongation from the Sun on 13 January. Venus continues to brighten through February, reaching maximum brilliance on 19 February.

MARS
During summer Mars is in the western sky after sunset above much brighter Venus and on 2-3 January they are joined by the crescent Moon. By February both planets are low to the western horizon, setting soon after the Sun. By March Mars is very hard to spot after sunset

JUPITER
During December Jupiter is in Virgo, low in the  northeast just before dawn and near to the star Spica. By early February it is well placed for viewing due north before sunrise.

SATURN
Saturn is behind the Sun and cannot be seen in December. By January it is rising just before the Sun and is well up in the northwest pre-dawn sky during February.