Our Star Charts are updated monthly. Keep checking back here for the latest guide to the stars above.
DOWNLOADABLE STAR CHARTS
Star Chart for November 2015 – Western Sky
Star Chart for November 2015 – Eastern Sky
Star Chart for December 2015 – Western Sky
Star Chart for December 2015 – Eastern Sky
SPRING SKY GUIDE
SEPTEMBER 2015 I OCTOBER 2015 I NOVEMBER 2015
The spring night sky shows the clear transition from winter into summer, as the major winter constellations disappear below the western horizon and Orion, the well-known summer constellation rises in the east.
Our 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 ecliptic line are the spring constellations of Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces, and Aries. None are as striking as the winter ones we are losing in the west.
In September, the bright (tawny coloured) planet Saturn, having been in Libra las year, has moved westward and while still within the boundary of Libra, is close to the head of Scorpius. Saturn is joined by the Moon on 17 September making a fine sight in this richregion of the sky.
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 si flanked by two fainter stars. To the east of 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 that it is shaped like a large square and 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). 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 our skies and is difficult to see in the deep south.
Looking now to the south, from early September soon after dark, you should see Crux (the Souther 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 by 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 just to imagine a line extended through the long axis of the Southern Cross. Beacuse 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 because it’s the second-brightest star in the sky after Sirius. The catch with Canopus is that for a brief period Canopus 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 south-east. During these times when it’s close to the horizon, the motion of the Earth’s atmosphere can cause Canopus to flash different colours and possibly jiggle about. While this is a common meteorological phenomenon called ‘scintillation’, it frequently causes Canopus to be reported as a UFO. While this can be seen for any bright star close to the horizon, the scintillation is more obvious on bright white stars like Canopus.