Category Archives: Constellations

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

Cancer (The crab)

CancerCC_croppedCancer, the crab, is a zodiacal constellation of rather dim stars that can be difficult to see in light polluted skies. It is one of the 48 constellations cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. Cancer is located on the ecliptic, half way between Pollux in Gemini and Regulus in Leo, and is highest in the sky at nightfall in March. If Cancer’s stars are not visible, try using binoculars, and then look again once the various stars in the constellation have been located. Cancer is home to two Messier objects, M44 (the Beehive Cluster, or Praesepe) and M67.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer_(constellation)

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

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

Auriga (The charioteer)

AurigaAuriga is named for a mythological Roman charioteer. This constellation was one of the 48 constellations cataloged by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy that remain among the 88 modern constellations. This 21st-largest constellation is located above (north and west of) Orion’s head, and it can best be located by identifying its brightest star, Capella (Alpha Arigulae). The brighter stars form a rather large and distinct pentagonal asterism.

Auriga has many interesting deep sky objects, including three open star clusters (Messier M36, M37, and M38) that are very striking, and easily located with a modest telescope. Also very prominent is the Flaming Star Nebula.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auriga_(constellation)

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

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

Gemini (The twins)

Constellation GeminiGemini, the twins, is a zodiacal constellation that was also one of the 48 constellations cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy that remain among the 88 modern constellations. This constellation located above Orion’s left shoulder, and between Taurus and Cancer on the ecliptic. It is highest in the sky at nightfall in March, and is quickly identified by two rather bright stars of approximately equal brightness, Castor and Pollux, that represent each of the Gemini twins. The ecliptic reaches its northernmost separation from the celestial equator in Gemini, and the Sun’s arrival at this point marks the Summer Solstice.  The annual Geminids is a prominent annual meteor shower that peaks between December 13th and 14th. Only one Messier object, M35, is located in Gemini.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemini_(constellation)

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

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

Taurus (The bull)

Constellation TaurusTaurus, one of the zodiacal constellations, is most easily identified by it’s distinct and bright V-shaped asterism that represents the face of the bull. Taurus was one of the 48 constellations cataloged by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy that remains among the 88 modern constellations. This constellation reaches its highest nightfall ascension in February, and is found by tracing Orion’s belt stars to the right  to Aldebaran (Alpha Tauri), the bright reddish star nearby. The outlying stars in this constellation can be difficult to locate in light polluted skies.

With the exception of the brightest star, Aldebaran, the V-shaped asterism previously mentioned are stars withing the Hyades open star cluster, which is the closest open star cluster to us here on Earth. Many more stars in this cluster can be detected with binoculars or a small telescope. Also in Taurus is the brightest an most distinct open star cluster that we can see from Earth, The Pleiades (M45, or The Seven Sisters), which is located northwest of the V-shaped astersm toward and near Perseus. This open star cluster, sometimes mistakenly thought to be the Little Dipper, becomes even more beautiful with even the slightest magnification. The only other Messier object is M1, the Crab Nebula, which was created by a supernova explosion that was bright enough to be seen in the daytime sky in July of 1054.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taurus_(constellation)

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

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