Tonight – March 15, 2016 – the moon resides inside the Winter Circle – a large star configuration made of seven brilliant stars. We in the Northern Hemisphere will see the Winter Circle fill up much of the south to southwest sky at nightfall. Elsewhere in the world, the moon will also be in the midst of these stars, though as seen from temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, the Winter Circle will appear “upside-down,” with the star Sirius at top and the star Capella at bottom.
As evening deepens, as seen from around the globe, the bright stars we in the Northern Hemisphere know as the Winter Circle will swing westward across the sky at the rate of about 15o per hour.
If, at early evening, you see a star-like object that shines more brilliantly than any of the Winter Circle stars – to the east of the Winter Circle and near the horizon – you are looking at the bright planet Jupiter. At present, Jupiter shines in front of the constellation Leo the Lion. Sometimes called the year star, Jupiter stays in front of a constellation of the Zodiac for roughly a year. Next year at this time, you’ll find Jupiter in front of the constellation Virgo the Maiden.
The Winter Circle – sometimes called the Winter Hexagon – is not one of the 88 recognized constellations. Rather, it’s an asterism – a pattern of stars that’s fairly easy to recognize. Our sky chart cannot adequately convey the Winter Circle’s humongous size! It dwarfs the constellation Orion the Hunter, which is a rather large constellation, occupying the southwestern part of the Winter Circle pattern.
Here’s how to locate the Winter Circle from mid-northern latitudes. At dusk or nightfall, look high up for the bright star Capella. This star marks the top (or more properly, the northern terminus) of the Winter Circle.
As darkness falls, look for the constellation Orion the Hunter to prowl in the south to southwest sky. Draw a line downward through Orion’s Belt to find Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. This star marks the bottom (the southern tip) of the Winter Circle.
We include this sky chart to help you connect the Winter Circle stars.
By the way, tonight’s moon shows you where the sun resides (more or less) in front of the backdrop stars in late June. So enjoy the Winter Circle. And contemplate the sun being in this part of the sky when summer returns to the Northern Hemisphere!
Bottom line: On March 15, 2016, the moon resides inside the Winter Circle – a large star configuration made of six brilliant stars.