Constellations of the Southern Summer Help

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 16, 2011

Constellations of the Southern Summer—Canis Major and Lepus

Finally, let’s look at the late-evening sky in the middle of January. Here are the prominent new constellations of the southern-hemispheric summer as they appear from the latitude of Sydney, Buenos Aires, or Cape Town around 10:00 local time.

Canis Major And Lepus

Just north of the zenith are Canis Major , the big dog, and Lepus , the rabbit (Fig. 3-30). Canis Major is easy to spot because of the brilliant white star, Sirius , nearly overhead at this latitude in the evening at this time of the year. Sirius is also called the Dog Star and is the brightest star in the sky except for the Sun.

The Sky “Down Under” Constellations Of The Southern Summer Canis Major And Lepus

Figure 3-30. Canis Major, the big dog, and Lepus, the rabbit.


Somewhat below and to the left of Sirius, but still high in the sky, is Orion , the hunter (Fig. 3-31). If you look at Orion’s central region with good binoculars or a wide-angle telescope, you will see the Great Nebula in Orion , a vast, glowing cloud of gas and dust in which new stars are being born. Orion contains two bright stars, Betelgeuse (also spelled Betelgeux ), a red giant, and Rigel , a blue-white star.

The Sky “Down Under” Constellations Of The Southern Summer Taurus And The Pleiades

Figure 3-31. Orion, the hunter, contains a nebula and two well-known bright stars.

Taurus And The Pleiades

Low in the north-northwest sky is Taurus , the bull (Fig. 3-32). This constellation contains the bright star Aldebaran . Below Taurus is a group of several stars known as the Pleiades . At this latitude, the Pleiades are less spectacular than they are as seen from the northern hemisphere, but on an especially dark night, with a good wide-angle telescope, their splendor shines through. From extreme southern latitudes, the Pleiades never rise above the northern horizon.

The Sky “Down Under” Constellations Of The Southern Summer Taurus And The Pleiades

Figure 3-32. Taurus, the bull, and the Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters (although there are really far more than seven of them).

Eridanus and Gemini


Beginning at the feet of Orion and winding its way high across the western sky into the circumpolar region is a string of relatively dim stars. This constellation is Eridanus , the river. It, like Cetus, the whale, contains a star, Epsilon Eridani , that is thought by many scientists to have a solar system like ours.


Gemini is low in the north-northeast sky. This constellation has the general shape of a long, thin, backward letter C if you stand facing north and look up at it (Fig. 3-33). At the right-hand extreme are two relatively bright stars, Castor and Pollux, named after the twin sons of the mythological Greek god Zeus.

The Sky “Down Under” Constellations Of The Southern Summer Auriga

Figure 3-33. Gemini contains the stars Castor and Pollux, and appears low in the north-northeast sky in the southern-hemispheric summer.


Grazing the northern horizon is the constellation Auriga . It contains the bright star Capella (Fig. 3-34). From extreme southern latitudes, Capella never makes it above the northern horizon, although from the more northerly temperate regions and from the southern tropics it is a brilliant, twinkling landmark in the sky.

The Sky “Down Under” Constellations Of The Southern Summer Auriga

Figure 3-34. Auriga, the charioteer, contains the bright star Capella.

Practice problems of this concept can be found at: The Southern Sky Practice Problems

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