Circumpolar (year round) constellations
Circumpolar constellations are those that cycle around the north star Polaris and do not set throughout the year. Depending on your latitude you will have a greater or lesser number of year round constellations. Those at lower latitudes will have less constellations visible throughout the year but in contrast will have additional visibility over seasonal constellations and be able to see a greater total number of constellations from their location.
All Major Circumpolar Constellations
Ursa Major (big bear) and Big Dipper (saucepan)
The Big Dipper (also known as the plough or the saucepan) is part of the Ursa Major or Big Bear constellation. It is easy to locate as a circumpolar asterism with all 7 stars in the formation with apparent magnitudes below 3.3. The 3 stars of the handle Alkaid, Mizar and Alioth are easy to identify as 3 bright stars in a line in the north sky. Once you have identified the handle the pan is simple to identify, with the 4 stars of Megrez, Phecda, Merak, Dubhe. The two stars furthest from the handle form a straight line to Polaris. To locate the north star move 5 times the distance between the 2 stars upward from the saucepan.
The Big Dipper forms the tail and the back half of the torso of the big bear. The handle of the saucepan is the tail and the pan forms half of the torso. The 7 stars of the big dipper are brighter than any other stars in the constellation. The nose and feet of the big bear although not as bright as the Big Dipper stars are still prominent in the night sky.
The back legs are long and extend down from the star at the base of the pan closest to the handle (Phecda). The front half of the torso extends out from the pan and has a pointed tip of the nose (Muscida). The front legs extend down and the two front feet are marked by clear stars in close proximity to each other (Talitha).
You may notice that many stars have Arabic names, this is the legacy of the great Arabic astronomers of the middle ages who made significant advancements in the field.
Cassiopeia is the second reference marker. It is another asterism that forms part of the Cassiopeia constellation. Cassiopeia is the constellation that represents the seated queen. Cassiopeia is a 5 star formation in the shape of a W, including Schedar, Caph, Gamma Cassiopeia, Ruchbah, Segin. Each of these stars has an apparent magnitude of below 3.3 and is easy to locate in the north sky. Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper appear on opposite sides of Polaris. From the W formation in Cassiopeia move from the central star 2/5 of the distance towards the Big Dipper to find Polaris. Although other minor stars form part of this constellation, they do not make the figure easier to visualise.
Ursa Minor (small bear) and Small Dipper (saucepan)
From Polaris (the north star) if you draw a direct line down to the horizon this will determine due north. From here you have your co-ordinal points and can determine where to find other constellations.
The north star (Polaris) forms the end of the handle of the smaller bear or saucepan. It also has 7 stars with 3 forming the handle and 4 forming the pot. Unlike Ursa Major, the small bear is a much simpler shape and is only represented by the 7 stars.
Draco is the dragon constellation. The tail of the dragon runs between Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. The head of the serpent is directly below the pan of the Ursa Minor approximately double the distance of Polaris at the end of the handle in the perpendicular direction. Thuban is the head of the serpent and is a significant as it was the north star 4000 years ago. The early pyramids in Egypt point towards Thuban. The constellation has 14 main stars, with 4 forming the head and 10 forming the tail of the dragon. From the head the tail heads towards Polaris before bending back upon itself and curving around Ursa Minor towards Ursa Major.
Cepheus is a constellation that is often simplified as being a simple house (triangle on top of a square). It is also referenced as being a kings crown although it is more identifiable as a bishops head dress (mitre). Cepheus is the king constellation detailed by Ptolemy. Cepheus is directly alongside the queen constellation of Cassiopeia. Midway between Draco and Cassiopeia. Another reference is that the pointed top of the house is half the distance past the North star from the Big Dipper.
The full constellation of Cepheus also includes some additional stars that form the brim of the hat or balconies of the house. The brightest stars in Cepheus from the wall of the house farthest from Cassiopeia. The stars of Alderamin, Alfirk & Alkidr are the 3 brightest forming the wall and balcony facing Draco.
Most visible early evening constellations by month
January: Ursa Minor
Each of these constellations will be visible in the north sky. Ursa Minor will remain due north the same angle above the horizon as your latitude. For those at high latitudes many of these constellations will be visible year round, but in contrast you will have lesser visibility of the summer and winter constellations. For those at lower latitudes the constellations will circle around Ursa Minor and may be obstructed by the horizon for parts of the evening. The constellations listed are for viewing in early evening.
See the pages for winter constellations and summer constellations for the additional seasonal constellations viewable for your specific time of the year. Alternatively you can visit our page that helps identify all stars visible for your specific location and timing.