The Spring Sky

The Spring Sky

Some constellations can be seen any time of year because they are above the north or south pole of the earth. In the northern half of the earth, you can see the Big Dipper (part of the constellation Ursa Major), Cassiopeia, and the Little Dipper (part of the constellation Ursa Minor) all year long. These star patterns seem to go around Polaris, the North Star (found at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper), in a circle throughout the night. If you could look at these constellations at the same time every night for a year, you would see them do the same circle around Polaris as the year went by.

Most other constellations can only be seen part of the year. The rest of the time, they are out during the day when the brightness of the closest star, the sun, hides the more distant stars. What are the easiest constellations to find in the evening sky during spring?

First, there are several easy to find winter constellations still visible in the western sky. Look for the Hunter, Orion, as it sets earlier each night. By late spring it will only be out during the day. Next to Orion is Canis Major, the Big Dog, which has the second brightest star in the sky, Sirius. Gemini, the Twins, has been out in the evening for months but still can be found in the spring sky. Leo, the Lion, has been rising earlier in the evening as winter changes to spring. Look for a backwards question mark and triangle which make Leo easy to find in the sky.

Some new spring constellations can now be found in the eastern sky. Two of these are best found by starting at the Big Dipper in Ursa Major. Follow the curving line made by the dipper's handle and the first bright star you come to will be Arcturus in the constellation Boötes, the Herdsman. If you can keep following the same curving line you will find a second bright star, Spica, in the constellation Virgo, the Virgin. Many beginning astronomers have learned this way of finding Boötes and Virgo in the evening sky in spring by the rhyme "arc to Arcturus and speed on to Spica."

For other helpful websites, visit our Astronomy Resource page.
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