Which constellations can you find easily?

There are 88 constellations on the official International Astronomical Union’s, IAU, list. 48 of them are from the Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy’s publication, who lived in Alexandria during the 2nd century. Many of the constellations however are not so easy to find or are not so interesting. The IAU list intended to allocate the entire sky into constellation groups. In doing so many of the lesser known constellations shapes are not descriptive or have no prominent stars. This page aims to clarify which constellations are both easy to locate and which are easy to imagine from the formation of the stars. We focus on the prominent constellations, predominantly those from Ptolemy’s list. This includes many constellations that are important for navigation, include the brightest stars in the sky and form shapes that depict humans and animals. Ptolemy’s list included the majority of widely known constellations including the zodiacs, the many greek mythological constellations and those that identify the polar north.

Easiest constellations for first timer stargazers

Easiest constellations to find
  1. Orion
  2. Ursa Major
  3. Canis Major
  4. Scorpius
  5. Leo
  6. Sagittarius
Easiest constellations to visualise
  1. Leo
  2. Gemini
  3. Orion
  4. Scorpius
  5. Ursa Major
  6. Cygnus

Big Dipper and Orion’s belt best place to start in Winter

As can be seen from the lists above Orion and Ursa Major (which Bid Dipper is a part of) offer the best options for easy to find and then identify the shape of. It is for this reason that they are among the best known constellations and used frequently for navigation and to help identify other constellations. Ursa Major is visible throughout the year and Orion is visible only in the winter months. Once you are familiar with these 2 constellations you will be equipped with the ability to easy find the majority of the other constellations in the northern hemisphere winter sky.

Scorpius the most easy to find in Summer

Although for those at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere there will be short presence of Scorpius in the night sky and it will appear low in the southern sky. Due to the quantity of bright stars it remains easy to recognise. For viewers at more southern latitudes it will be the most prominent star grouping in the night sky throughout summer.

Finding star constellations

Evening constellations to find each month

All constellations that can be found in the northern hemisphere night sky each month with window of opportunity for each.

January:

Auriga (before 04:00), Bootes (after 23:30), Cancer (after 19:30), Canis Major (18:30 to 03:30), Canis Minor (18.30 to 05:00), Cassiopeia (before 01:00), Cepheus (before 21:30 and after 05:00), Gemini (after 18:00), Leo (after 20:30) Orion (before 02:00), Taurus, Ursa Major (after 03:00), Ursa Minor (all night)

February:

Auriga (before 02:00), Bootes (after 22:00), Cancer (before 04:00), Canis Major (before 01:00), Canis Minor (before 03:00), Cassiopeia (before 23:00), Cepheus (before 20:00 and after 03:00), Leo (18:30 to 05:30), Gemini (before 04:00), Orion (before 24:00), Taurus, Ursa Major (all night), Ursa Minor (all night)

March:

Auriga (before 01:00), Bootes (after 20:00), Cancer (before 02:00), Canis Major (before 23:30), Canis Minor (before 01:30), Cassiopeia (before 21:00), Cepheus (after 01:00), Leo (before 03:30), Gemini (after 02:00), Orion (before 23:00), Ursa Major (all night), Ursa Minor (all night)

April:

Auriga (before 24:00), Bootes (all night), Cancer (before 01:30), Canis Major (before 22:00), Canis Minor (before 01:00) Cassiopeia (after 04:00), Cepheus (after 24:00), Leo (before 02:30) Gemini (after 01:00), Orion (before 22:00), Ursa Major (all night), Ursa Minor (all night)

May:

Auriga (before 22:00), Bootes (all night), Cancer (before 23:30), Canis Major (before 21:00), Canis Minor (before 23:00) Cassiopeia (after 02:00), Cepheus (after 22:00), Leo (before 01:30), Gemini (after 23:00), Ursa Major (all night), Ursa Minor (all night)

June:

Bootes (before 03:30), Cancer (before 21:30), Cassiopeia (after 24:00), Cepheus (all night), Leo (before 23:30), Ursa Major (before 03:00), Ursa Minor (all night)

July:

Auriga (after 03:00), Bootes (before 02:00), Cassiopeia (after 22:00), Cepheus (all night), Leo (before 21:00) Ursa Major (before 01:00), Ursa Minor (all night)

August:

Auriga (after 24:30), Bootes (before 24:00), Canis Major (after 04:30), Cassiopeia (after 20:00), Cepheus (all night), Orion (after 03:00), Ursa Major (before 23:00), Ursa Minor (all night)

September:

Auriga (after 22:30), Bootes (before 22:00), Cancer (after 03:00), Canis Major (after 02:30), Canis Minor (after 02:30), Cassiopeia (all night), Cepheus (all night), Gemini (after 02:30), Orion (after 01:00), Ursa Major (before 21:30), Ursa Minor (all night)

October:

Aquarius, Auriga (after 21:00), Bootes (before 20:00), Cancer (after 01:00), Canis Major (after 01:00), Canis Minor (after 00:30), Cassiopeia (all night), Cepheus (all night), Gemini (after 24:30), Leo (after 02:30), Orion (after 23:30), Pegasus, Ursa Major (after 03:00), Ursa Minor (all night)

November:

Auriga (all night), Bootes (after 03:30), Cancer (after 23:30), Canis Major (after 22:00), Canis Minor (after 22:30), Cassiopeia (all night), Cepheus (before 01:30), Gemini (after 22:00), , Leo (after 23:30), Orion (20:30 to 05:30), Pisces, Ursa Major (after 24:00), Ursa Minor (all night)

December:

Aries, Auriga (all night), Bootes (after 01:30), Cancer (after 21:30), Canis Major (20:00 to 05:30), Canis Minor (after 20:30), Cassiopeia (before 03:00), Cepheus (before 22:30), Gemini (after 20:00), Leo (after 22:30), Orion (18:30 to 04:00), Perseus, Ursa Major (after 22:00), Ursa Minor (all night)

*bold best month to see high in evening sky

Starry night Wadi Rum

Where to start searching for constellations?

Usually there is a major asterism (prominent shape in the sky) that becomes the reference point for locating constellations and other stellar objects. Each season has a major constellation that is used to orient the stars in the sky. Similarly for northern hemisphere viewers the well known asterism of the Big Dipper is the major asterism for the northern night sky.

In the north sky

The Big Dipper which is part of the Ursa Major constellation is visible throughout the year in the northern hemisphere. It is the primary constellation for orienting yourself in the northern sky.

In winter

Orion’s belt is the most prominent asterism in the winter sky and is part of the Orion constellation. It is the primary constellations for locating others throughout winter.

In spring

The sickle which can be found in the Leo constellation is the main asterism for orientation throughout the northern hemisphere Spring.

In summer

Hercules is used to locate the summer constellations

In Autumn

Cygnus provides direction throughout Autumn.

Starry sky Wadi Rum Jordan

List of all constellations – when and how easy to find

Constellation –       Find       – Identify shape – Season – Visible during – Best month

Auriga

Canis Major      –   Very Easy   –       Very easy      –  Winter  –      Oct > Mar      –  February

Canis Minor      –       Easy       –            Easy          –  Winter  –      Oct > Mar      –  February

Gemini              –

Leo                    –    Medium    –          Easy            –  Winter  –    Oct > Jun         –  April

Orion                –   Very Easy   –           Easy           –  Winter  –      Oct > Mar      –  February

Taurus              –

Ursa Major       –   Very Easy   –        Medium       – All Year – 

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