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How to Observe Constellations

For the purposes of map-making, the celestial sphere is divided into six sections consisting of the northern and southern polar regions and four equatorial areas. These refer to the locations where you can view the sky section. If you're keen on seeing a certain constellation but you don't live where you can see it, you'll need to plan a grand expedition! (For example, stars that can be seen in the far northern latitudes cannot be seen in the far southern latitudes, and vice versa, because they do not rise above the horizon.) Some constellations, such as Orion, can be seen across most of the inhabited world. Sky maps look flat to us but that is so that they can fit inside a flat book. In reality, the sky is like a dome.

Note that there are 88 officially recognized constellations. Most amateur astronomers tend to look for those constellations that have notable features or recognizable star patterns. What you will be able to see when looking in a particular constellation not only depends on your geographic location but also on your equipment and local light pollution. Stars with a magnitude 6.5 and greater can usually be seen with the naked eye or with standard binoculars. You can also look for star clusters, nebulae, differently colored stars and galaxies. Many constellations have been known for thousands of years. In the time of ancient Greece, 48 constellations were noted by Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer.

The North Polar Sky

From here, look for the following constellations:

Ursa Major
Draco
Cygnus
Bootes
Canes Venatici
Camelopardalis
Lynx
Cepheus
Cassiopeia
Andromeda
Perseus
Auriga
Lacerta
Delphinus

Look for Polaris

This is also known as the Pole Star or the North Star. Owing to the fact that Earth's axis is aligned to a point near this star, it appears to us that this star stays in the same spot. This has been useful for navigators throughout history.

The South Polar Sky

From here, look for the following constellations:

Phoenix
Pavo
Telescopium
Grus
Indus
Tucana
Hydrus
Pictor
Horologium
Reticulum
Octans
Centaurus
Chamaeleon
Mensa
Carina
Vela
Apus
Eridanus
Crux
Dorado
Circinus
Triangulum Australe
Musca

Equatorial Sky Chart One

View the constellations for this sky chart during September, October and November. Look for the following constellations from this chart:

Perseus
Andromeda
Cassiopeia
Lacerta
Cygnus
Triangulum
Cetus
Sculptor
Fornax
Phoenix
Eridanus
Piscis Austrinus
Aquarius
Grus
Microscorpium
Delphinus
Vulpecula
Capricornus
Indus

Equatorial Sky Chart Two

View the constellations for this sky chart during June, July, August and September. Look for the following constellations from this chart:

Cygnus
Draco
Lyra
Hercules
Corona Borealis
Bootes
Serpens Caput
Vulpecula
Sagitta
Delphinus
Aquarius
Capricornius
Sagittarius
Corona Australis
Microscorpium
Ara
Norma
Lupus
Telescopium
Indus
Libra
Virgo
Ophiuchus
Serpens Cauda
Scorpius
Scutum
Aquila

Equatorial Sky Chart Three

View the constellations for this sky chart during March, April and May. Look for the following constellations from this chart:

Ursa Major
Canes Venatici
Coma Bernices
Leo Minor
Lynx
Bootes
Virgo
Crater
Corvus
Libra
Centaurus
Lupus
Hydra
Antlia
Vela
Pyxis
Sextans
Leo

Look for stars

In Bootes, you'll find Arcturus, which has a red coloring and is very bright. In the Virgo constellation, you'll find Spica, which has a blue color. Leo is probably the most well known constellation.

Equatorial Sky Chart Four

View the constellations for this sky chart during December, January and February. Look for the following constellations from this chart:

Auriga
Lynx
Orion
Perseus
Eridanus
Fornax
Columba
Lepus
Canis Major
Puppis
Hydra
Pyxis
Taurus
Cetus
Gemini
Monoceros
Canis Minor
Cancer
Aries
Horologium
Caelum
Pictor

Look for the bright stars

This part of the night sky contains a lot of the bright stars, making it a good place to look, especially if you're just learning to spot the constellations. In particular, look for the Orion constellation, which contains a line of three very bright stars that form "Orion's belt". Other bright stars include Aldebaran in the Taurus constellation and the Pleiades (the Seven Sisters), known as the M45 star cluster. The Canis Major constellation has Sirius (the Dog Star), which is the brightest star in our night sky.


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