The constellations in tonight’s sky host many familiar star patterns. For northern observers, spring is the best time of the year to see the Big Dipper in Ursa Major, the Little Dipper in Ursa Minor, and the Kite in Boötes. Observers in the southern hemisphere can catch the stars and deep sky objects around the Southern Cross, the Fish Hook in Scorpius, and the Teapot in Sagittarius.
The night sky tonight looks different depending on the location. The constellation maps below show the sky at 10 pm in the mid-northern, equatorial, and mid-southern latitudes.
For observers in the mid-northern latitudes, the constellations appearing high overhead include Draco, Hercules, Lyra, Boötes, and Corona Borealis. The Little Dipper in Ursa Minor is high in the northern sky, with Polaris pointing toward the horizon and the Dipper’s handle closer to the zenith.
The brighter and larger Big Dipper in Ursa Major can be used to identify the red giant Arcturus, the brightest northern star, and the Kite pattern in Boötes, the Herdsman. Arcturus appears along the imaginary curved line extended from the Big Dipper’s handle.
The Big and Little Dippers can be used to find the tail of Draco, which appears between the two asterisms. The rest of the Dragon constellation curves around the bowl of the Little Dipper in the direction of the Northern Cross in Cygnus. The Dragon’s eyes, marked by the stars Eltanin and Rastaban, are found by extending the line of the beam of the Northern Cross.
Tonight’s sky as seen from mid-northern latitudes, image: Stellarium
The bright Vega, the luminary of the constellation Lyra, is recognizable for the nearby parallelogram pattern that forms the main constellation figure of the celestial Harp. The neighbouring Hercules hosts the Keystone, an asterism used to find the Hercules Globular Cluster (Messier 13) and the globular cluster Messier 92.
The constellation figure of Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, appears between Arcturus and the Keystone. Alphecca, the constellation’s brightest star, marks the jewel in the Northern Crown.
The most prominent constellations in the eastern sky around 10 pm are Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila. Their brightest stars – Deneb, Vega and Altair – form a large asterism known as the Summer Triangle. The two bird constellations – the Swan (Cygnus) and the Eagle (Aquila) – are easily recognizable because they appear to be flying opposite each other in the sky. Deneb sits at the top of the Northern Cross and marks the Swan’s tail, and Altair can be identified as the bright star flanked by two other relatively bright stars, Tarazed and Alshain.
The smaller constellations Vulpecula (the Fox), Sagitta (the Arrow) and Delphinus (the Dolphin) lie in the area between Cygnus and Aquila. Sagitta and Delphinus are easy to identify because their main patterns resemble those of an arrow and a dolphin. The fainter Vulpecula appears near Albireo, the star that marks the Swan’s beak. The constellation hosts the Coathanger asterism, which can be spotted between Albireo in Cygnus and Okab in Aquila on a clear, dark night.
Eastern sky in the northern hemisphere, image: Stellarium
The constellations in the northern sky tonight include Ursa Minor, Draco, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Camelopardalis. Ursa Major, the largest northern constellation, appears in the northwest. These constellations are circumpolar (visible throughout the year) for observers in the mid-northern latitudes.
Ursa Minor hosts Polaris (the North Star), the nearest visible star to the north celestial pole. Polaris marks the end of the Little Dipper’s handle and the tip of the Little Bear’s tail. The head of Draco appears between the pole star and the Keystone in Hercules, while its tail lies between the Big and Little Dippers.
Two other prominent asterisms – the W of Cassiopeia and the House of Cepheus – are also visible in the northern sky. Cassiopeia’s W is formed by the five brightest stars of Cassiopeia. Schedar and Caph, the rightmost stars of the W, can be used to find Alderamin, the brightest star in Cepheus.
Camelopardalis, the celestial Giraffe, is faint and requires very clear, dark skies to be made out. Its brightest star, the supergiant or bright giant Beta Camelopardalis, shines at magnitude 4.02.
Northern sky in the northern hemisphere, image: Stellarium
The most prominent constellations setting in the west in the evening are the zodiac constellations Virgo and Leo. Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, is the second brightest star along the imaginary line extended from the handle of the Big Dipper (after Arcturus). Spica appears at the base of the Y of Virgo, an asterism that forms the most visible part of Virgo. At this time of the year, the crooked Y appears horizontal. One end of the Y points toward the faint Coma Berenices and the other toward Leo.
Leo is recognizable for the Sickle, an asterism that outlines the Lion’s head and mane. Regulus, marking the Lion’s heart, is the 21st brightest star in the sky.
Spica can be used to identify Corvus, the Crow. The rectangular asterism formed by the brightest stars in Corvus is known as the Sail or Spica’s Spanker. Virgo and Corvus are visible in the southwestern sky in the evening at this time of the year.
Western sky in the northern hemisphere, image: Stellarium
The constellations that take up most of the southern sky are Libra, Serpens and Ophiuchus. The brightest stars in Libra appear as the extended claws of the celestial Scorpion. Antares and the Scorpion’s claws are visible just above the horizon in the evening. Shaula and Lesath, the stars that mark the Scorpion’s stinger, may or may not be visible low above the horizon, depending on location and geography.
Ophiuchus is the 11th largest constellation in the sky, but it does not really stand out next to its zodiac neighbours Scorpius and Sagittarius. The Serpent Bearer appears between the Keystone in Hercules and the constellation figures of the Scorpion and the Archer. It divides the constellation Serpens in two. The head of the Serpent can be found just below Corona Borealis, while its tail is visible between the constellation figures of Ophiuchus and Aquila on a clear night.
Southern sky from the northern hemisphere, image: Stellarium
Observers in equatorial latitudes see many of the same constellations as those in mid-northern locations, but these constellations do not appear in the same place. Additionally, observers near the equator can see many constellations in the southern sky that are invisible to northern observers.
Ophiuchus, Scorpius, Libra, and Serpens appear high overhead in the evening. Rasalhague, the brightest star in Ophiuchus, lies about halfway between the bright Vega in Lyra and Antares in Scorpius. The orange giant Unukalhai, the luminary of Serpens, appears below the asterism that outlines the head of the Serpent. It forms an equilateral triangle with the brighter Arcturus in Boötes and Alphecca in Corona Borealis.
Scorpius is one of the most recognizable constellations in the night sky. Its brightest star, the red supergiant Antares, is the 15th brightest star in the sky. It is part of the Fish Hook asterism, which curves in the direction of the Teapot in Sagittarius, and connects the Fish Hook with the Scorpion’s claws.
Tonight’s sky as seen from equatorial latitudes, image: Stellarium
The most prominent constellations in the northern sky are Draco, Boötes, Corona Borealis, and Hercules. The Big and Little Dippers appear on the northern horizon, but may not be entirely visible from locations too close to the equator or south of it. The bright Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila, the constellations of the Summer Triangle, lie in the northeastern sky.
Draco is found between the Dippers, the Keystone asterism in Hercules, and the Northern Cross in Cygnus. Arcturus sits at the base of the Kite in Boötes, which appears upside down, while the main asterism of Corona Borealis is found between Arcturus and the Keystone. Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, can be found using the handle of the Big Dipper.
Northern sky from equatorial latitudes, image: Stellarium
The constellations that dominate the eastern sky in the evening are Aquila and Sagittarius. The celestial Eagle is recognizable for its bird-like shape, with the bright Altair at the bird’s head or neck forming an asterism known as the Shaft of Aquila (or Family of Aquila) with the two fainter stars flanking it, Alshain and Tarazed.
The Shaft of Aquila can be used to find the faint, V-shaped constellation figure of Capricornus, which appears close to the eastern horizon at this time of the year.
Two small, but distinctive constellations are easily visible near Altair: Sagitta (the Arrow) and Delphinus (the Dolphin).
Sagittarius in the southeast is easily identified by the Teapot asterism, formed by its eight brightest stars. On a very clear night, the Milky Way appears as steam coming from the spout of the Teapot. The fainter Scutum, the home of the Wild Duck Cluster (Messier 11), can be made out between the tail of Aquila and the Teapot.
Eastern sky from equatorial latitudes, image: Stellarium
The two largest constellations in the sky – Hydra and Virgo – appear in the western sky in the evening. Hydra may not be seen whole before it sets, but Virgo is very easy to make out because its bright stars form a Y-shaped asterism. Spica, the constellation’s luminary, appears at the base of the Y. The Y of Virgo can be used to find the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, which appears roughly halfway between Vindemiatrix in Virgo and Denebola in Leo. The faint Coma Berenices, the home of the Coma Star Cluster, is found between the Y of Virgo and the handle of the Big Dipper.
Corvus, the Crow, appears near Spica. Its brightest stars form a quadrilateral asterism called Spica’s Spanker or the Sail. The fainter Crater constellation, representing the cup of Apollo, is more difficult to make out. Its brightest star, the orange giant Delta Crateris, shines at magnitude 3.56.
Western sky from equatorial latitudes, image: Stellarium
The brightest constellations in the southern sky are Centaurus, Crux, and Triangulum Australe. Centaurus is one of the brightest and largest constellations in the sky. It is home to the Southern Pointers, the first-magnitude stars Alpha and Beta Centauri. Known by the proper names Rigil Kentaurus and Hadar, these stars point to the top of the Southern Cross, an asterism used to find the south celestial pole.
The Southern Cross is the most visible part of the constellation Crux. Formed by the bright stars Acrux, Mimosa, Gacrux, Imai and Ginan, the asterism is the most recognizable feature of the far southern sky. Alpha and Beta Centauri help distinguish it from the larger and fainter False Cross, formed by four bright stars in the constellations Vela and Carina.
Southern sky from equatorial latitudes, image: Stellarium
Triangulum Australe (the Southern Triangle) is one of the smallest constellations in the sky, but easily recognizable because its three brightest stars – Alpha, Beta and Gamma Trianguli Australis – form the triangle asterism that gives the constellation its name. Triangulum Australe is found near Alpha and Beta Centauri. The faint Circinus lies between the Southern Pointers and Triangulum Australe. It represents the Compass (the drafting tool).
Lupus, the Wolf, appears between the claws of the Scorpion and the Southern Pointers, and the fainter Norma (the Level) lies between the Pointers and the Fish Hook of Scorpius. The brighter Ara (the Altar) is visible between the stinger of Scorpius and Atria, the brightest star in Triangulum Australe. Pavo (the Peacock), one of the Southern Birds, appears east of Atria. The constellation is relatively faint, but hosts the bright Peacock (Alpha Pavonis), one of the 58 navigational stars.
The brightest constellations high overhead in the evening for observers in the southern hemisphere are Scorpius and Centaurus. Scorpius is recognizable for the Fish Hook and the Scorpion’s claws, with the bright Antares, the star that marks the Scorpion’s heart, connecting the two star patterns. The brightest stars of the fainter Libra appear as the extended claws of the Scorpion.
Centaurus hosts Alpha and Beta Centauri, the 3rd and 11th brightest stars in the sky. The two stars point toward the Southern Cross, an asterism in Crux constellation that includes the 13th, 20th and 25th brightest stars: Acrux, Mimosa, and Gacrux. Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to the Sun, is home to Proxima Centauri, our nearest neighbour. The fainter Lupus can be found in the region between Antares and Hadar (Beta Centauri).
Triangulum Australe appears high above the horizon in the evening near Alpha and Beta Centauri. Its brightest star, Atria, is the 42nd brightest star in the sky and one of the stars listed for use in celestial navigation. The fainter Ara and Norma lie in the region between Triangulum Australe and Scorpius.
Tonight’s sky as seen from the southern hemisphere, image: Stellarium
Most of constellations that appear in the northern sky at this time of the year do not really stand out. Libra is found northwest of the Scorpion’s claws and Ophiuchus to the northeast. Ophiuchus divides the constellation Serpens in two: Serpens Caput (the Serpent’s Head) and Serpens Cauda (the Serpent’s Tail).
Three faint but distinctive patterns appear close to the northern horizon. The Kite of Boötes, with the bright Arcturus at the base, hangs upside down. The Keystone asterism, which outlines the torso of Hercules, lies between Arcturus and Vega, and Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown) appears between the Kite and the Keystone. The harp-shaped Lyra constellation lies in the northeast.
Northern sky in the southern hemisphere, image: Stellarium
The most prominent constellations in the eastern sky are Sagittarius and Aquila. The faint Capricornus can be seen on a clear, dark night between the Teapot of Sagittarius and the horizon. The smaller but distinctive Delphinus and Sagitta appear below Altair, Aquila’s brightest star, and the faint Scutum is found between the tail of Aquila and the Teapot.
Eastern sky in the southern hemisphere, image: Stellarium
Hydra, the largest constellation in the sky, sets in the west in the evening for observers in the southern hemisphere. Hydra is large, but not particularly bright and requires clear, dark skies to be made out.
The brighter Virgo, the second largest constellation in the sky, sits in the northwest. Its brightest star, Spica, can be used to identify the brightest stars in Corvus, which form an asterism called Spica’s Spanker or the Sail.
Western sky in the southern hemisphere, image: Stellarium
The southern sky hosts several small, faint constellations that require good conditions to be seen. Octans, the home of the south celestial pole, is a challenging target from light-polluted areas. Its brightest star, the orange giant Nu Octantis, shines at magnitude 3.73. Polaris Australis (Sigma Octantis), the nearest visible star to the pole, is barely visible at magnitude 5.47. Hydrus, Chamaeleon, and Musca occupy the region between the bright Achernar in Eridanus and Acrux in Crux, and Reticulum is found between Achernar and Canopus.
Tucana, Phoenix, Grus and Pavo, representing the Toucan, the Phoenix, the Crane and the Peacock, are collectively known as the Southern Birds. They appear in the southeastern sky. Tucana hosts 47 Tucanae, one of the brightest globular clusters in the sky, and most of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy near the Milky Way and one of the most distant objects visible to the unaided eye. The nearby Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way’s closest neighbours, lies in the constellations Dorado and Mensa. The Magellanic Clouds are easily visible without binoculars on a clear night; the LMC has an apparent magnitude of 0.9 and the SMC, 2.7.
Southern sky in the southern hemisphere, image: Stellarium