Our Star Charts are updated monthly. Keep checking back here for the latest guide to the stars above.
DOWNLOADABLE STAR CHARTS
Star Chart for September 2016 – Western Sky
Star Chart for September 2016 – Eastern Sky
Star Chart for October 2016 – Western Sky
Star Chart for October 2016 – Eastern Sky
SPRING SKY GUIDE
SEPTEMBER 2016 I OCTOBER 2016 I NOVEMBER 2016
Spring brings a new set of constellations and great views of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.
As the Sun starts climbing higher in the New Zealand sky, it becomes more comfortable to get outside and explore the night sky wonders. The centre of our Milky Way Galaxy within Sagittarius and Scorpius is slowly sinking towards the west but it still provides stunning views with its numerous gas clouds and star clusters.
We are now starting to look away from the star-rich arms of the Milky Way so they appear lower in the sky. Their soft glow now hugs the western and eastern horizons during these spring evenings.
Looking towards the northern sky a large and quite distinctive square dominates the sky – the square of Pegasus (the winged horse). The square is the horse’s body and its head is a line of stars heading up and left from the top left star in the square. The legs of Pegasus extend in front and behind the winged horse as it gallops through the heavens.
Closely following Pegasus is Andromeda. It contains one of the sky’s showcase galaxies, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Through binoculars from a dark site it is seen as a faint smear of elongated light. This galaxy is slightly larger than our own Milky Way Galaxy and contains more stars. From Invercargill, the Andromeda Galaxy is much more difficult to spot as, at best, it is very low in the north. The Andromeda Galaxy is destined to merge with our Milky Way Galaxy in about five billion years, forming a new, much larger galaxy.
Spring is a good time to spot the Milky Way’s two satellite galaxies – the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. Much smaller than the Milky Way, they were named after the Portuguese navigator, Ferdinand Magellan, because he was the first European to describe them. To the naked eye they look like detached patches of the Milky Way. A dark rural sky is best for viewing these objects – and in this case the further south you are, the better the view.
Above Pegasus is Aquarius sitting adjacent to Pisces and Capricornus. Further east, Aries is rising. The stars of these constellations are only of average brightness and you will need the star charts to identify them.
South of Aquarius is the bright star Fomalhaut in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus. This young star (estimated to be only 5-10% of the age of the Sun) is one of our close neighbours, at a distance of 25 light-years. Interestingly, its planetary system is still forming and a large planet has been detected on recent images.
Not far from Fomalhaut is an even brighter star, Achernar. This star marks the start of Eridanus (the river) – a lazy meandering celestial path of faint stars that weaves all the way to Orion.
Mercury is low in the west after sunset. Moving closer to the Sun, it is soon lost for viewing. On 29 September it reappears in the morning sky low in the east and is farthest from the Sun. Moving back towards the Sun it passes the Sun at the end of October, to reappear low
in the western sky immersed in the evening twilight.
Venus becomes increasingly prominent in the western sky after sunset. It makes a striking conjunction with Saturn and Antares in Scorpius around 28 October.
Mars starts the spring months close to Antares and Saturn in Scorpius and is well placed for observing from sunset. Mars continues, night by night, to move eastwards passing from Scorpius into Sagittarius and finally into Capricornus by the end of November. Over the spring months Mars will continue to fade as the Earth’s faster orbital motion leaves it behind.
Jupiter is setting soon after the Sun in September but by November has appeared in the eastern pre-dawn sky. Unfortunately, it is poorly placed for observing.
Saturn is well placed for observing in the early evening during September but by November it is setting too early for useful viewing.