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.
Star chart March 2023
Star chart April 2023
Star chart May 2023
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 is easy to see in the evening twilight though is only briefly visible before setting. Dimmer Jupiter is extremely close to it before they set on the 2nd. Part-way up the sky in the mid-evenings, orange Mars remains quite bright between north and northwest. The Moon visits Venus on the 24th and Mars on the 28th. In the closing days of March opportunities exist to spot Uranus with binoculars as Venus passes below.
Orion (the hunter) is the dominant constellation with its brightest star Rigel at top left and second brightest, orange Betelgeuse, at bottom right. Drifting from north to northwest as the evenings pass, Orion’s belt stars become increasingly vertical. They point down through Taurus (the bull) to Matariki, and up to the brightest star of the night sky, Sirius, of Canis Major (the big dog).
Partway up the sky, the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux can be found crossing the northern meridian east to west, as the evenings pass. Above them, Canis Minor’s two brightest stars, the most prominent named Procyon, lie at a similar angle. To the twins’ right, Leo (the lion) approaches from the northeast, the stars of his head resembling an inverted question mark or sickle. The brightest star in the sickle is Regulus. Meanwhile, the distorted quadrilateral of Corvus (the crow) stands out in the east. Below Corvus, bright Spica of Virgo (the maiden) is just rising.
Partway up the south-eastern sky, Crux (the southern cross) is on its side pointing back to Corvus. Canopus of Carina (the keel), the night’s second brightest star, is very high in the south, outshone only by Sirius further north. Together these stars drift lazily westward during March. The Milky Way threads its way through Crux towards the so-called ‘winter’ triangle in the northern sky, formed by Sirius, orange Betelgeuse, and Procyon.
Prior to sunrise, pale yellow Saturn becomes the brightest object low in the east, save for a beautiful crescent Moon that visits on the 20th.
SKY GUIDE AUTUMN 2023
MARCH, APRIL, MAY 2023
The nights are getting longer and cooler as we pass the autumn equinox. Orion, the dominant constellation of summer, is moving off the celestial stage, chased by the cooler but rich constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius.
Canis Major and Orion / Tautoru
During March, early in the night, Canis Major (the great dog) and Orion (the hunter) are well placed for viewing and well-worth exploring with binoculars. High in the north there are three bright stars in a line. These stars make up the ‘Belt of Orion’ - also known to us in Aotearoa as Tautoru. They are one of the most distinctive landmarks of the night sky.
Sirius, Aldebaran, and Matariki
Extending the line of the belt stars upward and to the right you will find Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Extend the line down and left from the belt and you will find the orange star, Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus. Continue that line further and you will find the beautiful Pleiades cluster, known to us in Aotearoa as Matariki.
By mid-April, Matariki is low in the northwest after sunset and is becoming more difficult to see. This year, be sure to watch over Easter weekend and the following days, as dazzling Venus passes just above the cluster. In May our line of sight is broken by the Sun and the glimmering stars of Matariki are lost from our view until June.
Back at Orion’s Belt, identify the bright stars Rigel (white) and Betelgeuse (reddish) which, in early autumn, are above left and below right of the belt, respectively. Those two bright stars, together with two slightly fainter ones enclose most of Orion with the belt being in the middle. A small line of fainter stars above and left of the belt marks Orion’s sword. One of these ‘stars’ is the magnificent Orion Nebula (M42), the closest massive star forming region to us. It is a stunning sight even in backyard telescopes.
Scorpius / Maui's fishhook
In the south-eastern sky, Scorpius, also known as Maui’s fishhook, is seen rising around midnight in March. By the month of May, it will be rising in the early evening just as Orion is setting, Thus, Scorpius will become the dominant feature of our evening sky until spring. Further south, Crux, Carina and Centaurus are also major features of our autumn and winter skies.
Canopus / Atutahi
During March, Canopus of Carina is high overhead. Canopus, or Atutahi, was a key guide star used by the Polynesian voyagers and today it is used to guide interplanetary spacecraft. By May, Canopus will have moved to the southwest while Crux (the Southern Cross) will be high in the south-eastern sky. This is a very rich stellar region to explore with binoculars. So too is the densest region of the Milky Way, the galactic centre, seen rising with the scorpion’s tail late in autumn.
PLANETS VISIBLE WITH THE NAKED EYE DURING AUTUMN 2023
Absent for most of the season, Mercury becomes well-placed for early morning viewing from mid-May, just north of east. Much brighter Jupiter will reside above and to its left making Mercury easier to identify. A crescent Moon completes a triangle with the pair on the 18th of May.
Venus is the ‘evening star’ in autumn’s north-western sky. In March it sets during twilight then becomes more prominent as the season progresses. Over the Easter weekend and the days following it passes over beautiful Matariki. A crescent Moon is close-by on March 24th and April 23rd.
Mars remains quite bright in the north to north-western sky throughout autumn. The Moon is close-by on March 28th. By the end of the season, although fading, it is still easily spotted setting west of northwest around 9pm.
On March 2nd Jupiter is very close to brighter Venus low in the sky just north of west. Over the following days it is gathered into the Sun’s glare and lost from view. In late April Jupiter returns to the morning sky, soon becoming prominent just north of east.
Saturn returns to the eastern sky in the mornings from early March. By the end of May it is high in the north as the sky brightens. Close passes of the Moon occur on March 20th and May 14th.