Prominent Constellations for January
One of the twelve constellations of the Zodiac,
Gemini has the Sun passing through it from late June
to late July.
It lies between Taurus-The Bull in the west and faint
Cancer-The Crab to the east. As darkness falls at the
of March its two brightest stars, Pollux and Castor
can be seen high in the northern sky and 4 degrees
southernmost and the brighter of the two, Pollux is an
orange giant star and the nearest giant star to the
at a distance of only 34 light years. It appears
yellowish to the naked eye. Castor, the second of the
twins is 52 light
years away and is actually a system of six stars all
bound to each other by gravity forming one of the most
remarkable examples of a multiple star system in the
To the naked eye Castor appears as a blue-white star
but even small telescopes will separate the two main
of this system into individual stars. These two stars
orbit a common centre of gravity once every 470 years.
Castor and Pollux represent the heads of the twins and
their bodies are depicted by two parallel lines of
heading off in a westerly direction like two stick
figures. The constellation is best observed in a dark
away from the town lights.
Gemini also contains quite a few nice star clusters
that are worth a look at through binoculars and the
meteor shower appears to radiate from this
constellation from December 7th to December 17th.
The planet Uranus and dwarf planet Pluto were both in
Gemini when discovered.
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Prominent Constellations for February
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Looking like fragments that have broken off the Milky
Way and lying very close to the South Celestial Pole,
Magellanic Clouds are only clearly visible from the
southern hemisphere. They are two of the nearest known
galaxies to the Milky Way Galaxy and are easily
visible to the naked eye high in the southern night
sky on a
moonless night. They were first reported in Europe by
the survivors of Ferdinand Magellan's voyage around
Earth in 1615 but were not given their present names
on star maps until much later. Their formal
names are "Nebecula Major" and "Nebecula Minor".
Though they appear quite close together in the sky
they are in fact around 75,000 light years apart.
There is a
stream of cold hydrogen gas being pulled from the
large cloud toward the Milky Way Galaxy, the result of
close passage of the Milky Way more than 200 million
years ago. The stream contains about 1 billion times
much mass as our Sun. Until recently they were thought
to be satellite galaxies of the Milky Way but current
studies of their radial velocity seem to indicate that
they are passing by at a rate of 480km/second, much
fast to be captured by the gravity of the Milky Way.
The large cloud lies at a distance of 160,000 light
years and is located in the constellation Dorado - The
It has a diameter of roughly 32,000 light years and
contains around 15 billion stars. To the naked eye it
as a fuzzy patch of light 12 times the apparent
diameter of the moon. Astronomers around the world
excited when on the 24th of February 1987 one of the
stars in the cloud exploded into a supernova and
10,000 times brighter than it normally is. At its
brightest it was brighter than all of the stars in the
together and was the first naked eye supernova since
The small cloud is 230,000 light years away and
resides in the constellation Tucana - The Toucan. It
around 4 billion stars and is visible to the naked eye
as a nebulous tadpole shaped patch 3.5 degrees across.
Both clouds are visible all year round from the
location of Mudgee.
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Prominent Constellations for March
The constellation Leo is one of the few
constellations that looks like the figure that it is
supposed to represent,
a crouching lion, even though it appears upside down
for us here n the southern hemisphere. The head of the
lion is marked by six stars in the shape of an upside
down question mark, the southern most star of these
being Regulus the brightest star in the constellation.
The body of the lion stretches out for about 28
to the star Denebola (the tail of the lion).
About twenty degrees to the west of Regulus you will
notice a small fuzzy diffuse patch of light. This is
commonly called the Beehive Cluster and consists of
about 75 stars in a group covering 1.5 degrees of the
This cluster is actually located in the constellation
of Cancer - the crab, where there are no bright stars
best observed with binoculars when there is no Moon in
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Prominent Constellations for April
Sirius-The Dog Star. About twenty degrees to the
south east of Orion's belt lies the constellation of
Major-The Greater Dog. This is an ancient
constellation which represents one of Orion-The
hounds. It contains many bright stars including
Sirius, the brightest star in the sky which, at a
8.6 light years it is one of the sun's nearest
neighbors. Sirius is actually a double star as it has
dwarf companion which orbits the main star once every
fifty years. This companion, Sirius B was the first of
this type of star to be found and its presence was
detected by the wobble it introduced into its parent
Because of the brightness of the main star it is very
hard to observe Sirius B in small to medium size
Also of interest in the constellation is the open
star cluster M41. It lies just four degrees to the
Sirius and can be seen with the naked eye under dark
sky conditions. A small telescope will show it as
a group of about fifty closely knit stars. M41 lies at
a distance of 2100 light years and covers an area of
the sky roughly equal to the full moon.
As April begins, Canis Major can be found high
overhead and just west of the meridian.
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Prominent Constellations for May
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The constellation Virgo is the second largest
constellation in the sky and the only female among the
constellations of the Zodiac. It lies between the
constellations of Libra-The Scales and Leo-The Lion.
She is often seen as a beautiful and virtuous maiden,
the Roman goddess of justice, with neighboring
Libra representing her scales of justice.
The Sun passes through Virgo from mid-September to
early November and thus is within Virgo's
boundaries as the Sun crosses the celestial equator on
its southward journey at the beginning of
Spring in the southern hemisphere.
The constellations brightest star, Spica is the
sixteenth brightest star in the sky and is a blue
with a companion that passes in front of it every four
days. This eclipsing star lowers the brightness of
the main star very slightly but not enough to be
readily noticeable with the naked eye. Spica is twice
the size of the Sun but is in fact two thousand times
brighter than the Sun and lies at a distance of 262
light years from The Earth. At the beginning of April
it rises at 6:00pm and is visible all night long,
crossing the meridian just after midnight about 60
degrees above the northern horizon. Don't be fooled
by another star Arcturus which is much brighter and 32
degrees closer to the northern horizon.
Virgo contains a rich cluster of galaxies, some of
which can be seen in moderately sized telescopes.
This cluster is the nearest major galactic cluster to
us and is 65 million light years away containing
around 3000 members.
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Prominent Constellations for June
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Scorpius is one of the few constellations which
clearly appears like the creature it represents and
bright stars that form its shape can easily be seen
against the fainter stars of the Milky Way. Its heart
marked by its brightest star Antares, a name that
means "the rival of Mars" because of its reddish
This star is a red supergiant that is at least 300
times the size of the Sun and lies at a distance of
light years. The star at the end of the scorpion's
tail is Shaula, the sting, which is a blue-white star
light years away. Dschubba, the forehead, is the star
that marks the head of the scorpion is also a
blue-white star that lies at a distance of 400 light
There are some interesting open and globular star
clusters in the Scorpius part of the sky and it can be
very rewarding to take a look around this area with a
telescope or even binoculars if you have them.
In ancient mythology, Scorpius was the creature that
killed Orion, the mighty hunter, with his sting. Orion
still flees from the scorpion, for as Scorpius rises
over the eastern horizon Orion sets in the west.
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Prominent Constellations for July
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The Southern Cross (Crux) is the smallest of the 88
constellations and probably the most recognized by
Southern Hemisphere dwellers. It consists of four
bright stars forming the well known cross shape and a
fifth star which appears as a "misplaced central
Its stars decrease in brightness in a clockwise
direction starting at its brightest star Acrux which
bottom star in the long arm of the cross and lies at a
distance of 360 light years. To the naked eye this
star appears as a single star but a telescope shows it
to consist of two blue-white components lying very
The second brightest star, Beta Crux (Mimosa) is also
a blue-white star which fluctuates in brightness
every 6 hours and is 370 light years away. These
changes in brightness are very subtle and delicate
instruments are required to detect them.
The top star in the cross, Gamma Crux and the third
brightest is a red giant and lies at a distance of 88
light years. If you look closely you can detect a
definite orange tinge to it.
Delta Crux is the faintest star that makes up the
shape of the cross and is a white star 470 light years
To the south-east of Beta Crux and only 1 degree away
lies the beautiful Jewel Box star cluster which ,
to the naked eye, appears as a faint fuzzy patch of
light. A telescope reveals a group of around 50 stars
of various colours mostly blue, white and orange
resembling a sparkling piece of multicoloured jewelry.
Just below the Jewel Box and lying 600 light years
away is the Coalsack, a vast cloud of interstellar
which blocks the light of distant stars and forms what
seems to be a large hole in the Milky Way. It is
easy to see with the naked eye and is one of the sky's
largest and densest dark nebulae.
In July the Southern Cross can be found high in the
southern sky just after nightfall.
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Prominent Constellations for August
The constellation of Sagittarius is one of the
ancient constellations and depicts a centaur, half man
half beast, with a raised bow and arrow. The arrow is
aimed at the heart of Scorpius, The Scorpion, and
its nearest western zodiacal neighbor. Sagittarius was
seen by the ancient Sumerian civilization as
Nergal, their archer god of war. The centre of the
Milky Way Galaxy lies in Sagittarius making this area
of sky very rich in galactic nebulosity and star
fields. Many people identify the constellation by the
of a teapot outlined by its brightest stars with the
clouds of the Milky Way representing the steam rising
from its spout.
The sun passes through the constellation from
mid-December to mid-January during the summer solstice
when it is at its maximum distance south of the
equator. After sunset early in November Sagittarius
be found in the western sky just above the hooked
shape of the Scorpion's tail.
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Prominent Constellations for September
Capricornus has been known since Babylonian and
Chaldean times. It is represented as a goat with the
tail of a fish. It is also one of the dimmest
constellations in the sky. Most of the stars are 3rd
or dimmer. This constellation contains the globular
cluster M30. Alpha Capricorni is a nice multiple star.
Cygnus the Swan has the famous "Albirio" a beautiful
yellow and blue double star at the tip of the "beak".
Deneb, the brightest star in Cygnus, forms a large
triangle with two other stars, Altair and Vega. This
prominent formation of bright stars is known as the
summer triangle. The well known but faint "Veil"
Nebula is a whispy super nova remnant.
Vulpecula, the Fox, was introduced by Johannes
Hevelius. The constellation resembles a flying gull
seen face-on. This is the home of the Dumbbell Nebula.
This planetary nebula gets its name from its
hourglass shape, which resembles a dumbbell used for
Delphinus, the Dolphin, is located just west of
Pegasus. It bears a remarkable resemblance to a
leaping out of the water. Because of this shape, it is
easy to recognize in the sky.
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Prominent Constellations for October
Tucana was invented by Johann Bayer and is one of
three exotic birds, which are grouped around the
South Pole. Home of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a
satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. Next to it the
magnificent globular cluster NGC 104 is viewed, it is
also known as 47 Tuc.
Aquarius is represented as a man pouring water from a
bucket. This ancient constellation has its roots
in many a number of cultures. In Greek mythology,
Aquarius was Ganymede, the cupbearer to the gods.
The notable "Helix" nebula is high and a well known
target for southern observers.
Grus the Crane looks like a radio telescope dish and
hosts several nice galaxies.
Pegasus is visible from August through December. It
represents the son of Neptune and Medusa who
eventually became the thundering horse of Zeus and the
carrier of his lightning bolts. Visible from
southern sky as the great square. Home to the globular
cluster M15 and several nice galaxies.
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Prominent Constellations for November
Situated in the constellation of Andromeda this great
galaxy lies at a distance of 2.5 million light years
and is the most distant object detectable with the
naked eye. It is the nearest large galaxy to the Milky
Way Galaxy in which our own Sun resides. Recent
observations reveal that it contains 1 trillion stars
and is 141,000 light years wide, making it about 50%
larger than our own galaxy. It is hurtling toward
the Milky Way at a speed of 300 kilometers per second
and the two galaxies will probably merge in
around 3 billion years. Seen from the Earth it has a
15 degrees tilt from the edge on position and as
December begins it can be seen as a faint elliptical
shaped fuzzy patch about 12 degrees above the
north western horizon.
It is best observed with binoculars when there is no
moon in the sky and away from the lights of the town.
It lies due north at midnight on September the 30th,
at 11pm October the 15th, and at 10pm October the
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Prominent Constellations for December
Aries is an ancient constellation, which was known as
the Ram to the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the
Greeks and the Persians. In Greek mythology, it
represents the ram from which the golden fleece was
obtained in the story of Jason and the Argonauts.
Cetus represents the sea monster sent by Neptune to
devour Andromeda. Cetus was turned to stone
when Perseus showed the monster the head of Medusa.
Cetus has also been identified as the Biblically
famous whale that swallowed Jonah. Hosts the bright
cored galaxy M77 and several other nice ones.
Mira (Omicron Ceti) is a famous variable star also
known as the "Demon" star.
Triangulum is one of the original 48 constellations
first drawn by Ptolemy. In ancient times, its
shape of three stars was called Deltoton. It is host
to the nearby galaxy M33 about 2.5 million light
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