STAR CHARTS & SKY SPOTTER, Stardome Observatory and Planetarium
STAR CHARTS & SKY SPOTTER
DOWNLOAD FREE STAR CHARTS FOR NIGHT SKY EXPLORING
These charts help beginners recognise the major landmarks of the night sky and follow the motions of the bright planets.
There's also the monthly Sky Spotter update (below) which tells you what's visible for the current month, and the Sky Guide for a three-month overview of the planets and their positions.
Click the month to download the pair of star charts – one looking east, the other west. Only the most prominent constellations are shown.
HOW TO USE THE STAR CHARTS
The star charts show two views of the night sky for each month. One view shows the western sky and the other shows the eastern sky. A small piece of the northern and southern sky is not shown so that we can show you a better scale for the charts.
Each chart will match the sky at the times given in the table on each page.
Venus dazzles in the morning sky between east and northeast and is at its brightest on the 19th.
In the evenings fading Mars slips slowly towards the setting Sun becoming harder to see. Meanwhile yellow Saturn climbs ever higher in the east northeastern sky and is well placed for telescope viewing. A nearly full Moon is close-by on the 27th. Golden Jupiter rises in the late evenings and is not far from a gibbous Moon as they rise after 11 p.m. on the 4th.
Spica of Virgo (the maiden) follows Mars into the dusk and high above Virgo is Scorpius. Early in September about 8pm, the scorpion’s tail, Corona Australis (the southern crown), and the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius (the archer), lie overhead. The teapot’s spout appears to tip into the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Also early in September, orange Arcturus of Boötes (the herdsman) twinkles as it sets west of northwest. To its right, beyond the faint constellations Corona Borealis and Hercules, the bright star Vega of Lyra (the lyre) stands out in the north. As the night goes on, as with the passing of days, Deneb of Cygnus (the swan) rises to Vega’s right. Together they form the baseline of the ‘Summer Triangle’. At the triangle’s apex, midway up the sky, is Altair of Aquila (the eagle).
Just below Altair lies faint little Sagitta (the arrow). To its right is Delphinus (the dolphin) and then Equuleus (the little horse), making three little constellations in a row.
Later in the month mighty Pegasus (the winged horse) emerges from the northeastern horizon.
Fainter Pisces (the fishes) rises below Saturn and Cetus (the whale) is to its right. High in the southeast, three equidistant stars, Fomalhaut, Al Nair, and Peacock, form a long crooked line angling up the sky. Lower in the southeast is Achernar, while Canopus 'may' be seen twinkling on the southern horizon. In the southwest Crux is on its side with the Southern Pointers Alpha and Beta Centauri above.
SKY GUIDE SPRING 2023
SEPTEMBER, OCTOBER, NOVEMBER 2023
The spring night sky shows the clear transition from winter into summer, as the major winter constellations slip away to the west and Orion, the famous summer constellation returns in the east.
Our spring sky features the setting of the important winter constellations of Libra, Scorpius, and Sagittarius. Scorpius will be seen plunging into the western horizon and as it does so Orion, the major constellation of the summer night sky, rises 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 setting in the west.
Planets Saturn and Jupiter, the latter entering the mid-evening sky later in the season, are by far the brightest objects in their respective constellations, Aquarius and Aries. Little Mercury makes brief appearances in late November’s evening twilights. Venus rises at the beginning of morning twilight for the entire season and dominates the lower predawn eastern sky.
Looking due north, in early September you will see two bright stars in the evening sky. Vega is low down (and harder to spot from 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 Aquila, with its bright star 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. Its notable feature is its large square shape, commonly 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 famous 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 the New Zealand sky and is a challenge to see from Southland.
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 behind 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 to imagine a line extending through the long axis of the Southern Cross. Because they are on opposite sides of the southern circumpolar sky, when one is low near the horizon, the other is at its highest point.
As the second brightest star in the sky after Sirius, Canopus is also easy to spot. The catch with Canopus is that for a brief period it dips below the southern horizon, at least in the North Island. Apart from that, during early evenings in spring, Canopus will be found low in the southeast. 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 jiggle about. While this is a common meteorological phenomenon called ‘scintillation’, it frequently causes Canopus to be reported as a UFO. Scintillation is commonly seen for any bright star close to the horizon, but it is more obvious on bright white stars like Canopus.
PLANETS VISIBLE WITH THE NAKED EYE DURING SPRING 2023
Mercury stays too close to the Sun for most of the season but from around mid-November becomes visible low in the west-south-western sky soon after sunset.
Venus is a very prominent object in the pre-dawn east to north-eastern sky over the spring months. Viewed through a telescope it moves from being a thin crescent in early September to being 2/3rd illuminated in late November. Venus will look striking next to a crescent Moon as they rise together about 4:30 a.m. on November 10th.
In September after sunset Mars is low in the western sky below brighter Spica of Virgo. A crescent Moon visits the pair on September 17th. By late September the red planet becomes increasingly difficult to see as it slips further into the glare of the setting Sun.
Jupiter is rising before midnight in early September and at sunset in late October when it will be visible throughout the night. On November 3rd the planet is at opposition, an ideal time for late night viewing, being at its closest approach for this cycle. Jupiter rises close to the Moon late on September 4th and on October 29th. They form a close pair again on November 25th.
Saturn passes high overhead and provides us with stunning telescope views over spring. A bright Moon is close-by on September 27th and is very close on the night of 24th October. Another nice pairing occurs as they set together around 2 a.m. on November 21st.