Northern Winter / Southern Summer

North Winter South Summer-lowThis chart shows the night sky as it appears during northern winter / southern summer when backyard astronomers located at mid-northern latitudes will see the brilliant star Capella in Auriga located at or around the overhead point. Many more prominent stars are in evidence which makes the job of picking out the various star patterns that much easier. Brilliant Capella is the leading star in the constellation Auriga (the Charioteer). This conspicuous group resembles a large circlet of stars, the overall shape of which includes El Nath, a star which is actually a member of the neighbouring constellation Taurus (the Bull).

The equally-prominent constellation Gemini (the Twins) can be found a little way towards the south east of Auriga, its two leading stars Castor and Pollux particularly prominent, as is Procyon, the brightest star in Canis Minor (the Little Dog) located a little way to the south of Pollux.

The conspicuous form of Perseus is seen to the west of Auriga, its famous variable star Algol located a little way to the south of Algenib. Somewhat less obvious is the straggling line of faint stars that forms the constellation Lynx (the Lynx) which can be made out to the northeast of Gemini.

Immediately to the east of Gemini and Canis Minor we see the faint constellation Cancer (the Crab) which itself lies just to the north of the tiny circlet of stars forming the Head of Hydra (the Water Snake). The rest of the long and winding form of the constellation Hydra is depicted on the chart of Northern Spring / Southern Autumn stars.

Pride of place for stargazers at this time of year goes to Orion the four brightest stars of which form a distinctive quadrangle. Betelgeuse and Rigel are unmistakeable, as is the trio of regularly-spaced stars spanning the central region of the group. Representing the Belt of Orion, these three stars act as pointers to two neighbouring constellations. Following the line formed by the Belt of Orion towards the north west we first of all reach Aldebaran, the leading star in Taurus (the Bull). Extending the line further brings us to the Pleiades, a prominent open star cluster located in the north western reaches of Taurus. Following the line of stars in the Belt of Orion towards the south east brings us to Sirius, the brightest star in Canis Major (the Great Dog) while just to the south of Orion we see the small gathering of stars forming the constellation Lepus (the Hare).

The faint constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn) can be found to the east of Orion and located between the two celestial dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor. The long and winding trail of faint stars forming Eridanus (the River) stretches away from the star Cursa, located just to the north west of Rigel at the foot of Orion. Eridanus flows southwards to a point deep inside the southern sky, its southernmost point marked by the brilliant star Achernar.

Achernar provides a good reference point from which a number of fainter constellations in this region of the sky can be tracked down, including Horologium (the Pendulum Clock), visible as an extended trail of faint stars roughly following the southern route of Eridanus and Reticulum (the Net) located just to the east of Horologium. Lying just to the north of Horologium is the tiny constellation Caelum (the Graving Tool) which is adjoined by the distinctive shape of Columba (the Dove). Slightly to the south of these are Dorado (the Goldfish) and Pictor (the Painter’s Easel), both of which are found to the west of the brilliant Canopus, the leading star of Carina (the Keel).

Adjoining Carina to the north are Puppis (the Poop or Stern) and Vela (the Sail). Two stars in Carina and two in Vela together make up the prominent asterism the ‘False Cross’ which, as its name suggests, is often confused with nearby Crux (the Cross) located some way to the east (see Northern Spring / Southern Autumn stars).

The three constellations Carina, Puppis and Vela were drawn up by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille from the stars forming the old Argo Navis (the Ship Argo). Lacaille considered Argo Navis as being far too large and unwieldy and he divided the celestial ship into the three separate constellations that grace modern star charts. This leads us nicely on to our final port of call (a suitable expression given the nautical theme of this particular region of sky), which is the tiny constellation Pyxis (the Mariner’s Compass) which lies immediately to the east of Puppis.

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