If you've been stargazing lately, looking for Matariki, you may be wondering what all that other sparkly junk is up there. It's not the clearance counter at Michael Hill, it's space, man! This winter provides some great viewing conditions for the boundless void, so snuggle up with this handy, somewhat accurate guide to the night sky.
Rain! No, it's Jupiter. As the old proverb says, when glorious Jupiter is above, like a very distant shiny hat, the sun is somewhere under your hot water cupboard.
The Northern Sky
Quick guide: the sunny bit
Celestial bodies have cool names. Sirius, Vulpecula, Andromeda; there are very few Nevilles of the night sky. One exception is Bootes. Bootes is the constellation directly above your wine glass if your deck is north-facing, as it should be. Bootes is not a boot but a herdsman, although like all constellations it looks more like a fish drawn by a toddler. The main star you'll see of his is Arcturus, which is a very cool star name. It even has a cool abbreviation, Alpha Boo, which is definitely its Twitter handle.
The Southern Sky
Quick guide: the cold bit
It wouldn't be a star guide without the Southern Cross — or Crux, if you want to alienate people at dinner parties. The bright pointer stars that lead to it are the very famous Alpha Centauri and its less successful younger brother Beta Centauri. Crux (sorry) never leaves our sky, although it's hidden in the daytime by all these rainclouds, and sometimes it goes upside down. Because it can, that's why. Well, because it revolves around the south celestial pole. Except it doesn't, we do. Sort of. Ask your mum, okay?
The Western Sky
Quick guide: the bit where the sun goes down
Over here is Venus, a true diamond of a star. The lyrical genius who came up with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was probably thinking of Venus, or possibly where they could get some more of these very good drugs. Matariki is towards the southwest. First find the Southern Cross, then lose it again, then follow the second star on the right and straight on 'til morning, then go to bed. Matariki is a star cluster, not a constellation. What's the difference? A star cluster is a bunch of stars that hang out together, like Chelsea Winstanley and Taika Waititi. A constellation is a bunch of stars that seem close but may in fact be very distant from each other, like the Kardashians.
The Eastern Sky
Quick guide: the bit where the sun comes up
This is a great bit of sky for looking at. If there's a moon (a proper night moon, not one of those apocalyptic death-star day-moons) then it's coming up here. If there's no moon, you've still got Mars, which this year is close to Earth. It's a nice big red obvious planet that we'll all be living on one day, although by then it will be called Musktopia. Watch Mars long enough and Saturn will come up behind it just after you should have gone to bed, like a Netflix episode you just didn't have the willpower to turn off.
What's your star sign? Norma the carpenter's square, Antila the air pump, or maybe Puppis the poop deck? Thankfully these actual constellations were cut from the horoscope in the early auditions. To be in the zodiac you have to be on the ecliptic arc, the path the sun takes during the year. You probably can't point to your own birth constellation, but if you gesture vaguely somewhere along this arc you won't be far wrong. Also, "hmm, it's kind of an ecliptic arc" is a good answer for when people ask you what music you're into and you don't want to say Atomic Kitten.
Who knows? Honestly, the moon is more confusing than the continuing existence of the Backstreet Boys.
Fun fact: it's the same moon Cleopatra looked at, or any historical figure you want to think about sharing something with. Only this is where it starts to get tricky. In the Northern Hemisphere the crescents go the other way, so their waning moon is our waxing moon, and a gibbous moon just isn't worth thinking about, on the off-chance you were trying. It's also upside down, with all the dark bits (craters and such) at the top like undissolved Milo. So we're not seeing what Cleopatra saw unless she was looking at it while doing handstands in a mirror, which is a thing that could have happened but sadly Shakespeare left out of the play.
So that's the night sky! Look up and see it sparkle. Benjamin Disraeli called it "a celestial cheese, churned into light", so even if you can only say "wow", you're doing better than him.