Our Star Charts are updated monthly. Keep checking back here for the latest guide to the stars above.
DOWNLOADABLE STAR CHARTS
Star Chart for June 2016 – Western Sky
Star Chart for June 2016 – Eastern Sky
Star Chart for July 2016 – Western Sky
Star Chart for July 2016 – Eastern Sky
WINTER SKY GUIDE
| JUNE 2016 | JULY 2016 | AUGUST 2016
Winter is a special season as Matariki first appears and the magnificence of the Milky Way is clear in the night sky.
Winter is the best season to stargaze. Earth’s South Pole is pointing away from the Sun giving us short days and long, crispy nights. It also places the bright centre of the Milky Way Galaxy high overhead in New Zealand, giving us one of the best celestial views on Earth. Slip on a warm jacket and get outside to enjoy the plethora of stars and the twisting glory of our galaxy glittering with its 200 billion stars. It is also time to start thinking about how you will celebrate Matariki, the Maori new year, in June.
Dominating the sky overhead is Scorpius – one of the few constellations that actually looks like its namesake. At the heart of the scorpion is Antares, a gargantuan red giant star that would swallow Earth if placed where the Sun is. This star is so red that its name, Antares, means the ‘rival of Mars’. This is apt since Mars, the red planet, lies fairly close in Libra during this season. Not far from Mars is the ringed planet Saturn wandering through Ophiuchus. Chick it out through a telescope! Also, sweep binoculars through Scorpius and neighbouring Sagittarius as there are many celestial treasures just begging to be enjoyed! Sagittarius contains the heart of our galaxy. Viewed from a truly dark site on a moonless night the billions of stars populating the centre of our galaxy is one of nature’s greatest spectacles.
Moving north, following the ghostly glow of the Milky Way, is Aquila (the eagle) enjoying its vantage point as it looks down on Sygnus (the swan). To the west of Cygnus, low in the north is the small rectangular constellation of Lyra (the harp) with its bright star Vega. Remember that Vega will be noticeably higher in the northern sky in Auckland than in Invercargill due to the big difference in latitude.
Further west is Hercules. This looks like a large box in the sky with sprawling arms and legs – a true mythological legend! Even further west is Bootes (the herdsman). Its bright star, Arcturus, is a key feature in the northern sky.
Crux and Centaurus have now passed their highest positions in the sky and are starting to head into the southwestern sky. This region certainly rewards exploration with binoculars.
In the predawn sky Matariki (the Pleiades) is starting to rise just before the Sun in mid-to late-June. Now is the time to enjoy the Matariki celebrations and the Maori new year celebrated across the land. Perhaps your community is staging a pre-dawn celebration?
Look low in the eastern sky just before dawn on 6 June to find Mercury. However, it reaches its maximum separation from the Sun o n 17 August in the early evening western sky, together with Jupiter and Venus. This is probably the best opportunity to see Mercury in 2016.
Venus is too close to the Sun to view but starts to reappear low in the west soon after sunset. By mid-August it can be seen in a dance with Jupiter and Mercury.
During the winter months Mars initially moves westward towards the Sun away from Antares and Saturn.While it is more accessible for early evening viewing, Mars will also be getting smaller as the Earth leaves it behind. In early July the westward motion of Mars reverses and it begins to move back towards Scorpius, again forming a nice conjunction with Antares and Saturn. Mars is closest to Antares on 22 August.
Jupiter can be found in Leo and is well placed for observing from sunset earlier in winter. During late August it makes a nice conjunction with Venus and Mercury low in the wets shortly after sunset.
Saturn reaches opposition to the Sun on 3 June, rising at sunset and is high in the sky around midnight. This is the ideal time for telescopic viewing. It is in the constellation Ophiuchus and close to the bright star Antares (in Scorpius) and Mars.