A Gallery of Constellation Pictures

A Gallery of Constellation Pictures

Constellations are patterns of stars in the sky that humans have used since antiquity to navigate and to learn about space. Sort of like a game of cosmic connect-the-dots, stargazers draw lines between bright stars to form familiar shapes. Some stars are much brighter than others but the brightest stars in a constellation are visible to the unaided eye so it's possible to see constellations without the use of a telescope.

There are 88 officially recognized constellations, which are visible at different times throughout the year. Each season has distinctive star patterns because the stars that are visible in the sky change as Earth orbits the Sun. The Northern and Southern Hemisphere skies are very different from each other, and there are some patterns in each that cannot be viewed between hemispheres. In general, most people can see about 40-50 constellations over the course of a year.

The easiest way to learn the constellations is to see seasonal star charts for both the north and south latitudes. Northern Hemisphere seasons are the opposite for Southern Hemisphere viewers so a chart marked "Southern Hemisphere winter" represents what people south of the equator see in winter. At the same time, Northern Hemisphere viewers are experiencing summer, so those southern winter stars are actually summer stars for northern viewers.

Helpful Tips for Reading Charts

Keep in mind that many star patterns do not look like their names. Andromeda, for example, is supposed to be a lovely young lady in the sky. In reality, however, her stick figure is more like a curved "V" extending from a box-shaped pattern. People also use this "V" to find the Andromeda Galaxy.

You should also bear in mind that some constellations cover large swaths of the sky while others are very small. For example, Delphinus, the Dolphin is tiny compared to its neighbor Cygnus, the Swan. Ursa Major is medium-sized but very recognizable. People use it to find Polaris, our pole star.

It's often easier to learn groups of constellations together in order to be able to draw connections between them and use them to locate one another. (For example, Orion and Canis Major and its bright star Sirius are neighbors, as are Taurus and Orion.)

Successful stargazers "star hop" from one constellation to another using bright stars as stepping stones. The following charts show the sky as seen from latitude 40 degrees North at around 10 p.m. in the middle of each season. They give the name and general shape of each constellation. Good star chart programs or books can provide more information about each constellation and the treasures it contains.

Northern Hemisphere Winter Stars, North View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

In the Northern Hemisphere, winter skies hold some of the loveliest constellation views of the year. Looking north gives skygazers a chance to see the brightest constellations Ursa Major, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia. Ursa Major contains the familiar Big Dipper, which looks very much like a dipper or soup ladle in the sky with its handle pointing directly to the horizon for much of the winter. Directly overhead lie the star patterns of Perseus, Auriga, Gemini, and Cancer. The bright V-shaped face of Taurus the Bull is a star cluster called the Hyades.

Northern Hemisphere Winter Stars, South View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

In the Northern Hemisphere, looking south during the winter provides a chance to explore the rest of the bright constellations available during December, January, and February each year. Orion stands out among the largest and brightest of the star patterns. He's joined by Gemini, Taurus, and Canis Major. The three bright stars at Orion's waist are called the "Belt Stars" and a line drawn from them to the southwest leads to the throat of Canis Major, home to Sirius (the dog star), the brightest star in our night-time sky that is visible around the world.

Southern Hemisphere Summer Skies, North View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

While Northern Hemisphere skygazers experience colder temperatures during winter skygazing, Southern Hemisphere gazers are reveling in warm summer weather. The familiar constellations of Orion, Canis Major, and Taurus are in their northern sky while directly overhead, the River Eridanus, Puppis, Phoenix, and Horologium take over the sky.

Southern Hemisphere Summer Skies, South View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

The summer skies of the Southern Hemisphere feature incredibly beautiful constellations that run along the Milky Way to the south. Scattered among these star patterns are star clusters and nebulae that can be examined with binoculars and small telescopes. Look for Crux (also known as the Southern Cross), Carina, and Centaurus-which where you'll find Alpha and Beta Centauri, two of the closest stars to the Sun.

Northern Hemisphere Spring Skies, North View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

With the return of spring temperatures, Northern Hemisphere skygazers are greeted with a panoply of new constellations to explore. Old friends Cassiopeia and Cepheus are now very low on the horizon, while new friends Bootes, Hercules, and Coma Berenices are rising in the East. High in the northern sky, Ursa Major, and the Big Dipper command the view as Leo the Lion and Cancer claim the view high overhead.

Northern Hemisphere Spring Skies, South View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

The southern half of the spring skies show Northern Hemisphere skygazers the last of the winter constellations (such as Orion), and bring new ones into view: Virgo, Corvus, Leo, and a few of the more northerly Southern Hemisphere star patterns. Orion disappears in the west in April, while Bootes and Corona Borealis make their evening appearance in the east.

Southern Hemisphere Autumn Skies, North View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

While Northern Hemisphere folks enjoy the spring season, people in the Southern Hemisphere are entering the autumn months. Their view of the sky includes the old summer favorites, with Orion setting in the west, along with Taurus. This view shows the Moon in Taurus, although it appears in different places along the zodiac throughout the month. Eastern sky shows Libra and Virgo rising, and along with the stars of the Milky Way, the constellations of Canis Major, Vela, and Centaurus are high overhead.

Southern Hemisphere Autumn Skies, South View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

The southern half of the Southern Hemisphere sky in autumn showcases the bright constellations of the Milky Way overhead and the far south constellations of Tucana and Pavo along the horizon, with Scorpius rising in the East. The plane of the Milky Way looks like a fuzzy cloud of stars ‚Äčand contains many star clusters and nebulae that can be spied with a small telescope.

Northern Hemisphere Summer Skies, North View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

The skies of summer in the Northern Hemisphere bring the return of Ursa Major high in the northwestern sky, while its counterpart Ursa Minor is high in the northern sky. Closer overhead, stargazers see Hercules (with its hidden clusters), Cygnus the Swan (one of the harbingers of summer), and the sparse lines of Aquila the Eagle rising from the east.

Northern Hemisphere Summer Skies, South View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

The view toward the south during Northern Hemisphere summer shows the brilliant constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius low in the sky. The center of our Milky Way Galaxy lies in that direction between the two constellations. Overhead, Hercules, Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, and the stars of Coma Berenices surround some deep-sky objects such as the Ring Nebula, which marks the spot where a star similar to the Sun died. The brightest stars of the constellations Aquila, Lyra, and Cygnus form an unofficial star pattern called the Summer Triangle, which remains visible well into autumn.

Southern Hemisphere Winter Skies, North View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

While Northern Hemisphere viewers enjoy summer weather, skygazers in the Southern Hemisphere are in the throes of winter. Their winter sky contains the bright constellations Scorpius, Sagittarius, Lupus, and Centaurus directly overhead, along with the Southern Cross (Crux). The plane of the Milky Way is overhead, as well. Farther north, southerners see some of the same constellations as northerners do: Hercules, Corona Borealis, and Lyra.

Southern Hemisphere Winter Skies, South View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

The winter night sky to the south from the Southern Hemisphere follows the plane of the Milky Way to the southwest. Along the southern horizon are smaller constellations such as Horologium, Dorado, Pictor, and Hydrus. The long stanchion of Crux points down to the southern pole (although it has no star equivalent to Polaris at the north to mark its location). To best see the hidden gems of the Milky Way, observers should use a small telescope or binoculars.

Northern Hemisphere Autumn Skies, North View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

The viewing year ends with brilliant skies for Northern Hemisphere autumn. The summer constellations are sliding west, and the winter constellations are starting to appear in the east as the season wears on. Overhead, Pegasus guides viewers to the Andromeda Galaxy, Cygnus flies high in the sky, and tiny Delphinus the Dolphin glides along the zenith. In the north, Ursa Major is sliding along the horizon, while W-shaped Cassiopeia rides high with Cepheus and Draco.

Northern Hemisphere Autumn Skies, South View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

Northern Hemisphere autumn brings skygazers a look to some Southern Hemisphere constellations that are just visible along the horizon (depending on where the viewer is located). Grus and Sagittarius are heading south and west. Scanning the sky up to the zenith, observers can see Capricornus, Scutum, Aquila, Aquarius, and parts of Cetus. At the zenith, Cepheus, Cygnus, and others ride high in the sky. Scan them with binoculars or telescope to find star clusters and nebulae.

Southern Hemisphere Spring Skies, North View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

Spring skies in the Southern Hemisphere are enjoyed with warmer temperatures by the folks south of the equator. Their view brings Sagittarius, Grus, and Sculptor high overhead, while the northern horizon glitters with the stars of Pegasus, Sagitta, Delphinus, and parts of Cygnus and Pegasus.

Southern Hemisphere Spring Skies, South View

Carolyn Collins Petersen,

The Southern Hemisphere spring sky view to the south features Centaurus on the far southern horizon, with Sagittarius and Scorpius headed west, and the river Eridanus and Cetus rising in the east. Directly overhead are Tucana and Octans, along with Capricornus. It's a great time of year for stargazing in the south ‚Äčand brings the year of constellations to a close.


Rey, H.A. "Find the Constellations." HMH Books for Young Readers, March 15, 1976 (original publication, 1954)