Category Archives: Constellations

A brief description and some very basic information about constellations visible at 40-degrees north latitude.

Crater (The cup)

CraterCrater is Latin for cup, and this constellation represents the cup of Apollo in Greek mythology. This is one of the 48 constellations identified by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. It is located below Leo’s feet, and behind Virgo’s back in the southern sky, sharing two stars with the constellation Hydra. This constellation reaches its highest nightfall ascension in April. Aside from a handful of NGC objects that are a challenge for amateur astronomers, there is not much to see in this constellation.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crater_(constellation)

IAU Crater chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Crater chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Pyxis (The mariner’s compass)

Pyxis is a small, dim southern constellation. Locate it by following Canis Major’s tail away from the dog’s body and through and just to the other side of Puppis. This constellation’s deep southern placement makes it difficult to see at all. It reaches its highest nightfall ascension in March. Although the Milky Way runs through this constellation, there are few deep space objects available to the amateur astronomer’s telescope.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyxis

IAU Pyxis chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Pyxis chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Monoceros (The unicorn)

MonocerosCCThe unicorn is a dim equatorial constellation that is in very close proximity to several major constellations that steal the show in the region of the sky. Monoceros is south of Canis Minor and Gemini, to the left of Orion, and north of Canis Major, and reaches its highest nightfall ascension in March. There is one Messier object, M50, and four named deep space objects: Rosette Nebula (NGC 2237, 2238, 2239, and 2246), the Christmas Tree Cluster (NGC 2264), the Cone Nebula (NGC 2264), and Hubble’s Nebula (NGC 2261).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monoceros

IAU Monoceros chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Monoceros chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Colomba (The dove)

Monoceros, Puppis, ColumbaColomba was originally named Colmba Noachi, latin for Noah’s Dove. This is a small, dim southern constellation located below the feet of Canis Major. It is so far south that it is only visible at nightfall for a few months centered on February, when it reaches its highest nightfall ascension. In addition to being visually uninteresting due to its small size, dimness, and far south placement, it is also telescopically uninteresting as well. Only one unremarkable globular star cluster (NGC 1851) can be found there with medium-sized amateur telescopes.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columba_(constellation)

IAU Columba chart, IAU and Sky Telescope magazine, June 5, 2011.
IAU Columba chart, IAU and Sky Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Puppis (The poop deck)

MonocerosPuppis, the poop deck, was once part of a much larger constellation, Argos Navis, the famous ship of Jason and the Argonauts. Puppis is the largest remnant, and Carina (keel and hull) and Vela (the sails) are the other modern constellations that were once part of Argos Navis. Puppis is located to the south and east of Canis Major, or just behind the dog’s tail. This constellation is visible just a few months of the year because of its far southern placement. It reaches its highest nightfall ascension in March, and is only visible at nightfall just a month or two before and after March. The Milky Way runs through Puppis, which accounts for the star clusters that are found there. M46 and M47 are two Messier clusters than can be seen in the same binocular field of view, and there is a third Messier cluster, M93, in the south of Puppis. There are several NGC star clusters in Puppis as well.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puppis

IAU Puppis chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnoff and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Puppis chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Canes Venatici (The hunting dogs)

Canes VenaticiCanes Venatici represents the hunting dogs of Bootes, the herdsman. This is a small northern constellation consisting of only two main stars, and it is located below the Big Dipper’s curved handle and to the right of Bootes. Canes Venatici reaches its highest nightfall ascension in May.

In spite of its small size, Canes Venatici is very interesting in its arrangement of galaxies. The Giant Void, the largest galactic supervoid known, exists along side several other notable galaxies. There are four Messier galaxies: M51 (the Whirlpool Galaxy), M63 (the Sunflower Galaxy), M94, and M106. A fifth Messier object in the M3 globular star cluster, which is bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye under a very dark sky.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canes_Venatici

IAU Canes Venatici chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg), June 4, 2011.
IAU Canes Venatici chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg), June 4, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Coma Berenices (Berenice’s hair)

Coma BerenicesComa Berenices represents the hair of Berenice II, queen of Eqypt and wife of 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. Surprisingly, this constellation is not one of the 48 that 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy cataloged. As a naked eye object, this constellation is not much to behold. Its three main stars are rather dim, and the form of the constellation is rather nondescript. It can be found nestled among the intersection of Leo, Virgo, and Bootes, and it reaches its highest nightfall ascension in May.

With binocular or telescopic aid, Coma Berenices is a wonder to behold. Most notable is the large Coma Berenices Open Cluster Coma_Berenices_photograph(Melotte 111). This star cluster is comprised of about fifty stars that are spread over a five-degree (the width of ten full moons) area of the sky. To look at Coma Berenices with binoculars is to see this cluster. This constellation is also home to the northern portion of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster where several Messier galaxies can be found, to include M85, M88, M91, M98, M99, and M100. There are two other named galaxies in Coma Berenices, the Black Eye galaxy (M64) and the Needle galaxy (NGC 4565).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coma_Berenices

IAU Coma Berenices chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Coma Berenices chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Fornax (The furnace)

Constellation FornaxFornax, the furnace, is a southern constellation that barely comes into view for observers at 40-degrees north latitude. It is south of Cetus, and flanked by Eridanus and Sculptor. It reaches its highest point in the sky at nightfall in January, but its dim stars and placement at only ten degrees above the horizon make this a very challenging constellation. The view beyond Fornax’s foreground stars is out of the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy. This accounts for the paucity of visible stars in this region, and is why it was chosen for one of the Hubble Deep Field photographs. This also explains why a relatively large number of the dwarf galaxies in the Milky Way’s galactic halo can be found in this direction with a telescope.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fornax

IAU Fornax chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Fornax chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Perseus (A Greek mythological hero)

PerseusCCThe constellation Perseus is located near several other constellations to which Perseus is related in Greek mythology: Cepheus, Andromeda, Pegasus, Cassiopeia, and Cetus. This constellation was one of the 48 constellations cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy that remain among the 88 modern constellations. This easily spotted constellation is well placed high in the northern sky and best seen in January. It is found between Cassiopeia and the Pleiades, and Mirfak (Alpha Persei) is its brightest star Its most interesting star Algol (Beta Persei) is an eclipsing binary star. Its variable brightness, which is noticeable to the naked eye, decreases by over one degree of magnitude for about ten hours on a cycle time of just under three days. This star is also known as the Demon Star, because the ancients perceived its variability as an ominous sign. Also notable in this constellation is theNGC869NGC884 Double Cluster (NGC 869 and NGC 884), which are naked eye objects under very dark skies. Perseus is home to two Messier objects, M34 and M76, and to the Perseids meteor shower. This meteor shower, one of the most consistently prominent meteor showers each year, lasts from mid-July to late August, peaking between the 9th and 10th of August.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perseus_(constellation)

606px-Perseus_IAU.svg
IAU Perseus chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Canis Minor (The lesser dog)

Canis MinorCanis Minor is the lesser dog that follows the great hunter, Orion. This constellation was one of the 48 constellations cataloged by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy that remains among the 88 modern constellations. This small, 71st-largest constellation is best seen in March, and is located east of Orion, south of Gemini, and northeast of Canis Major, the greater dog that follows Orion. Its brightest stars are Procyon (Alpha Canis Minoris) and Gomeisa (Beta Canis Minoris). This constellation contains the Canis-Minorids meteor shower, which lasts from 4-15 December, and peaks over the nights of 10 and 11 December. The Milky Way runs through this constellation, but it contains no Messier objects.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canis_Minor

610px-Canis_Minor_IAU.svg (1)
IAU Canis Minor Chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg), June 4, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net