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

SPRING

The 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 yellow ecliptic line are the spring constellations of Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces and Aries. None are as striking as the winter ones setting in the west.

Early in September the bright planets, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, are prominent overhead, while Jupiter is setting early. Earth is leaving Mars behind so you see the movement of Mars almost night-to-night in Capricornus.

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 compact 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, 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).

Looking now to the south, from early September, soon after dark, you will see Crux (the Southern Cross) on its side in the south-western sky. It is well marked by the two bright ‘Pointers’ above it. Crux never actually sets in Aotearoa – it just skims the southern horizon when viewed from Cape Reinga but in Invercargill, it is noticeably higher.

The two bright stars of the southern sky to learn are Canopus and Achernar. To find Achernar it is easiest just to extend a line 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. During early evenings in spring Canopus will be found low in the south-east. For a brief period, Canopus dips below the southern horizon, at least in the North Island. During these times when it’s close to the horizon, the motion of Earth’s atmosphere can cause Canopus to flash different colours and possibly even appear to jump about.

A Special sighting

As the twilight fades on the nights 15-18 October, you can see Venus and Mercury very low in the west following the Sun, with Jupiter above them and Saturn, the Moon and Mars nearly overhead. It is rare to be able to see all six objects together in a single view.

MERCURY

Mercury passes behind the Sun on 21 September but gradually reappears in the early evening western sky, briefly visible soon after sunset late in October. On 29 October Mercury is next to Jupiter, low in the west and moving up the sky noticeably each night. If you have a clear view of the western horizon then very low down you will see the slim crescent Moon, with Jupiter, Mercury and the star Antares and Saturn and Mars higher above them.

VENUS

In September, Venus is the brightest object low in the western sky after sunset, slowly getting closer to the Sun and therefore harder to spot. It passes the Sun on 27 October and reappears low in the eastern sky just before sunrise, in company with the star Spica in Virgo.

MARS

We overtook Mars on 27 July and are now leaving it behind. It is still high in our sky and while now shrinking in size as it recedes in the distance, it remains well placed and is well worth viewing through a telescope during September. Don’t leave it too long because by the end of November Mars will be only 38% of the apparent size it reached at opposition in July.

JUPITER

Jupiter is now low in the western sky soon after sunset and is no longer worth viewing through a telescope. Catch it again from March 2019.

SATURN

Saturn is well placed for early evening viewing and always a spectacular sight during September and October. It will be too low in the western sky to give views during November.