These free, printable Sky Maps (star charts) by astrononer Jeff DeTray will help find your way around the night sky!
Each month, Jeff's Sky Maps highlight a wonderful event in the evening sky—including beautiful stars, constellations, planets, conjuntions with the Moon, meteor showers, and other amazing celestial objects.
Sky Map October 2014
By Jeff DeTray, Almanac astronomer writer
Visit Jeff's site at AstronomyBoy.com
This month's highlights: Simple Shapes in the Sky.
With a few notable exceptions, the constellations of the night sky barely resemble their namesakes. Orion and Pegasus can be said to look more or less like a Hunter and a Winged Horse, but most constellations require considerable imagination to be seen as the figures they represent. Sometimes, it’s easier to find your way around the sky by looking for simpler shapes in the stars. Such shapes are called “asterisms,” which means “pattern of stars.” Asterisms are not full-blown constellations but are instead easily recognized smaller patterns within constellations. A good example is the Big Dipper.
The Big Dipper
Shown in the lower portion of this month's Sky Map, the Big Dipper is one of the most easily recognized asterisms in the night sky. It comprises the brightest stars of the constellation Ursa Major, the Greater Bear. While the whole of Ursa Major can be difficult to recognize, the Big Dipper is easily perceived at a glance, especially when it is oriented “right side up” as it is on October evenings. At other times of the night and in other seasons of the year, the Big Dipper will be upside down or perhaps standing on end. However, if you learn its distinctive shape you will be able to find it no matter its orientation.
The Little Dipper
The two stars that form the outer side of the Big Dipper's bowl are the Pointers, leading you to Polaris, the North Star. Once you have found Polaris, you have found the brightest star in the Little Dipper asterism, part of the constellation Ursa Minor, the Lesser Bear. The Little Dipper is smaller and fainter than the Big Dipper. The Little Dipper is always positioned so that it appears to be pouring its contents into the bowl of the Big Dipper. Remember: Find the Big Dipper and follow the Pointers to the Little Dipper.
Cepheus and Cassiopeia
If you follow the Pointers past Polaris, you come to the peak of the House, the main stars of Cepheus, the King of Ethiopia in Greek mythology. The main body of Cepheus resembles a child’s drawing of a house. On this month’s map, the House is upside down. Just to the right of the House is the Big W, the main stars of Cassiopeia, the Queen of Ethiopia. The Big W is standing on end on our map, but at other times of night and seasons of the year, the Big W may be right side up or upside down. What’s important is that while its orientation my change, the distinctive shape of the Big W is the same on every night of the year. Far to the right of the Big W is the long skinny shape of Triangulum, the Triangle, another easily recognized asterism.
More Shapes in the Sky
Now cast your eyes back to the left, past the Big W, past the House, and see if you can spot the Dragon’s Head. This 4-sided figure represents the head of Draco, the Dragon, whose long sinuous body slithers around the Little Dipper and almost all the way to the Big Dipper. To the left of the Dragon’s Head is the Keystone, a larger 4-sided shape that forms the torso of Hercules, the Warrior. The Keystone asterism is so-called because of its resemblance to the wedge-shaped keystone in the center of a stone arch.
Below Hercules is the Big C, the lovely curve of stars comprising Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. We're lucky to be viewing the Big C on an October evening, when it is oriented just right. Again, try to learn the shape of this asterism so that you’ll still recognize it when it is backward or upside down, which it will be at other times of night and other times of the year.
Finally, to the lower left of the Big C, try to spot the strange Kite-shaped asterism in Boˆtes, the Herdsman. It’s an oddly shaped asterism, but with a bit of imagination, it does look somewhat like a Kite.
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott's Skymap Pro
Click for Printable October Sky Map (PDF)
Just click, print, and bring outside!
See our Sky Watch page for more highlights of the monthly sky, courtesy of The Old Farmer's Almanac.