The Libra constellation of the ‘scales’ that represents the Zodiac month from September 23 – October 22. However, in modern times the sun passes through the Libra constellation approximately 1 month later. The Libra constellation lacks bright stars. The constellation is between Virgo to the west and Scorpius to the east. Although the constellation itself is difficult to find, Scorpius provides good indication of where to locate the stars.
The Libra constellation is one of the original 48 constellations listed by the Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy, who lived under Roman rule in Alexandria in the 2nd century. These constellations formed the basis for the modern list agreed by the IAU. Constellations from the southern hemisphere, unable to be seen from the Mediterranean, represent the majority of additions to the list.
As the earth moves in its orbit around the sun, each night you are looking at a different portion of the sky. When looking at stars it is important to be aware of what is within your view. Northern hemisphere stargazers can group constellations into 3 groups; circumpolar, summer and winter constellations. The circumpolar constellations are in the north sky, appear to move around the north star and are visible throughout the year. The constellations in the south sky are only visible for part of the year and are grouped as either summer or winter constellations. Each is visible from between 4 to 10 months.
It is important to be aware of the specific time of year and hour of the night when deciding what to look for. These pages below show the constellations in each group so you can find the constellations that interest you.
CIRCUMPOLAR (year around) – Ursa Major – Cassiopeia – Ursa Minor – Draco – Cepheus
WINTER – Pegasus – Pisces – Aries – Auriga – Taurus – Orion – Canis Major – Canis Minor – Gemini – Lynx – Cancer – Leo – Winter Hexagon
SUMMER – Virgo – Libra – Scorpius – Bootes – Hercules – Lyra – Ophiuchus – Sagittarius – Aquila – Cygnus – Capricornus – Aquarius
Or use this guide to easily see which constellations are easiest to find right now:
Libra Quick Facts:
Symbolism: Scales of justice
Neighbouring constellations: Virgo (west), Scorpius (south east), Ophiuchus (north east)
Brightest star: Zubeneschamali, 2.61 magnitude (102nd brightest star in the night sky)
Stars brighter than 3 magnitude: 2
Primary stars: 5 (3 stars forming a triangle and 2 stars marking the hanging weights)
Latitude: 10 – 30 degrees south
Northern Hemisphere Season: Summer (December – August)
Which months can you see Libra constellation?
Libra constellation can be seen from December to August but can be found high in the sky at 21:00 during June:
- Early evening viewers (before 21:00) can find the constellation from May in the eastern sky until August in the western sky. Libra constellation will be visible overhead in July.
- Mid evening viewers (21:00-23:30) can find the constellation from April in the eastern sky until July in the western sky. Libra constellation will be visible overhead in June.
- Late evening viewers (after 23:30) can find the constellation from February in the eastern sky until June in the western sky. Libra will be visible overhead in May.
- Early morning viewers can find the constellation from December in the eastern sky to April in the western sky. Libra will be visible overhead in February.
As time passes the constellation will gradually appear earlier in the night with ranges below showing the window of opportunity in each month. Libra constellation sits between 10 – 30 degrees south latitude. Therefore, the further south your position the further north it will appear in the sky. At its maximum range it is possible to see Libra at latitudes between +60 and -90.
Best time to see Libra constellation:
Best visible at 21:00 in June
December: appear on the eastern horizon at 03:30. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 20 degrees above the south east horizon.
January: appear on the south east horizon at 01:30. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 40 degrees above the southern horizon.
February: appear on the south east horizon at 24:30, reaching its peak at 04:30, 45 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 40 degrees above the south west horizon.
March: appear on the south east horizon at 23:00, reaching its peak at 03:00, 45 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 35 degrees above the south west horizon.
April: appear on the south east horizon at 22:00, reaching its peak at 02:00, 45 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 20 degrees above the south west horizon.
May: appear on the south east horizon at 20:00, reaching its peak at 24:00, 45 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until 04:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the south west horizon.
June: 40 degrees above the south east horizon at sunset, reaching its peak at 22:00, 45 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until 02:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the south west horizon.
July: 40 degrees above the south horizon at sunset. It will continue moving west until 24:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
August: partially visible above the western horizon before sunset becoming difficult to observe from 22:00.
Trajectory: The constellation is between 10 – 30 degrees south which means that for those in low latitudes of the northern hemisphere is will pass in the southern sky. For those in higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere it will appear very low in the southern sky for limited time each night. Its peak trajectory in Wadi Rum is 45 degrees above the southern horizon from February through June.
Not the right time for Libra constellation? Have a look what constellations you can see tonight.
How to find Libra constellation?
Libra is a very faint constellation and it is difficult to find without any bright stars. The constellation can be found with the aid of neighbouring constellations. Scorpius is the best reference although it can appear low in the sky and for a short time for viewers at higher northern hemisphere latitudes. Spica the bright star in Virgo is another star that can be used to find the correct area of the sky to see Libra. Unfortunately even when the correct area is found it can be difficult to interpret the form as the stars are very faint with many bright stars in nearby Scorpius.
Option 1: Scorpius
The head of Scorpius point directly toward Libra. The north claw points towards the top of the scales and the south claw points towards the weights at the base of the scales.
- The handle at the top of the scales is directly in line with the north claw and around 3 times the length of the claw away from the end of the claw.
- The weights at the bottom of the scales is directly in line with the south claw at distances of 1 length of the claw and 3 times the length of the claw respectively
Option 2: Virgo
The bright star of Spica in Virgo is very prominent and is a good reference for nearby Libra. If you have identified Spica and Arcturus to the west of Libra then you can find Libra. From Spica you will need to most east. As Arcturus is north go from Arcturus to Spica and turn right 90 degrees you will find Libra around the same distance from Spica as Arcturus. The brightest stars in Libra are slightly closer to Spica than Arcturus.
Learn how to form the shape of Libra constellation
Although the shape of the Libra constellation is a simple shape, locating the stars is difficult because they are not prominent. In areas with light pollution they are difficult to see, however in areas with very little light they are difficult to differentiate from the thousands of stars in the night sky.
Recognising the shape is important. If you are able to use Scorpio to recognise the stars at the limits of the constellation then you can form the shape.
- The star at the top of the scales, Zubeneschamali, is in line with the top claw of Scorpius, 3 lengths of the claw away from the tip of the claw
- Southwest at a right angle from the Zubeneschamali, slightly further than the length of Scorpius’ claw is the right side of the scales
- Returning one length of the claw back towards Scorpius will find the star at the left side of the scales
Perpendicular to the line between the sides of the scales the stars representing the weights of the scales
- The left weight is 3 lengths of Scorpius’ claw from the scales
- The right weight is 2 lengths of Scorpius’ claw from the scales
Libra constellation in the Ancient World
Babylonian Origin and Greek mythology
Until modern times the scales are associated with truth and justice. The ancient Babylonians worshipped the sun god who was the guardian of truth and justice and often depicted with scales. The scales became broadly associated with balance and harmony, as well as the equilibrium between good and bad influences.
The Greek mythological goddess of justice was Themis. Depicted blindfolded and holding the scales. She was the daughter of Gaia, mother earth and presided over what was right and wrong. Themis set the guidelines for social interactions between people. Whenever Themis was disregarded Nemisis would bring about retribution. They were often depicted as kindred in their roles and temples were constructed jointly commemorated to them.
In ancient times the sun passed through Libra during the autumn equinox and has been suggested as the original representation of the balancing scales to reflect this constellation. It is theorised that as the equinox represents the length of day and night coming into equilibrium it would reflect the astronomical relevance of the scales to this section of the sky. The modern position has shifted but it would have been correctly located for early civilisations.
Main stars in Libra constellation
Zubeneschamali (+2.61m, 185ly, 117 suns, #102)
Zubeneschamali is from Arabic meaning ‘northern claw’ from ancient Arabic astronomers who viewed it as part of the neighbouring Scorpius constellation. It is the 102nd brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.61. The distance from earth is 185 light years. It is around 117 times the size of the sun. Zubeneschamali marks the handle at the top of the scales.
Zubenelgenubi (+2.64m, 75ly, double star, #105)
Zubenelgenubi is from Arabic meaning ‘southern claw’ from ancient Arabic astronomers who viewed it as part of the neighbouring Scorpius constellation. It is the 105th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.64. It is a double star with a distance from earth is approximately 75 light years. Zubenelgenubi marks the right balancing point of the scales.
Deep Sky Objects
NGC 5897 – Globular cluster of stars around a galactic core
Wadi Rum is one of the best locations in the world to see the full beauty of the stars. Combining high altitudes, clear skies and no light pollution. You may be surprised how many stars are visible to the naked eye. Come with us and spend a night under the stars.