As seen from around the world on the night of March 8, 2014, the moon passes right in front of the big loop of stars known to those in the Northern Hemisphere as the Winter Circle or the Winter Hexagon. This huge star formation makes even the constellation Orion the Hunter look small. Orion sits in the southwest corner of the Winter Circle. And, in March 2014, the Winter Circle stars share the spotlight with an object second only in brightness to the moon: the planet Jupiter.
Dazzling Jupiter outshines even Sirius, part of the Winter Circle, and the sky’s brightest star. Use the moon these next few evenings to find Jupiter, and then use Jupiter for the next several months to to locate the Winter Circle stars.
The Winter Circle is an asterism – a noticeable pattern of stars that is not a constellation. Its northernmost star is Capella, the brightest in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. The southernmost star is Sirius, the Dog Star – the brightest of all stars to light up Earth’s nighttime sky.
Can you connect all the “dots” – that is, stars – to find the Winter Circle’s place in the starry heavens?
As seen from mid-northern latitudes at dusk and nightfall, Capella beams high overhead, while Sirius shines farthest down, rather close to the southern horizon. But as seen from mid-southern latitudes – like those in Australia – Sirius stands at the top of the Winter Circle, and Capella marks the bottom, lurking close to the northern horizon.
Bottom line: Whether you are in the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern Hemisphere on the night of March 8, 2014, let the moon be your guide to Jupiter and the stars of the Winter Circle.