Constellations of the Southern Winter Help

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Oct 24, 2011

Constellations of Southern Winter—Hercules

Now imagine that it is the middle of July—the dead of the southern-hemispheric winter—and that you are outdoors at around 10:00 The circumpolar constellations are all still above the horizon, but they have rotated 90 degrees clockwise around the pole from their positions in April. The noncircumpolar constellations have moved from east to west. As you look generally away from the circumpolar sky, you should be able to make out the following groups of stars, which are also visible from the northern temperate latitudes at this time of year.


Near the northern horizon, or just a little west of due north, is a moderately dim group of stars forming a trapezoid with limbs (Fig. 3-19). This is Hercules , the warrior. His nemesis, Draco , is mostly out of sight below the horizon. The well-known globular cluster M13 is in this constellation, although from the southern temperate latitudes the viewing is somewhat less favorable than it is from northern locations.

The Sky “Down Under” Constellations Of The Southern Winter Hercules

Figure 3-19. Hercules, the warrior, is low in the northern sky on southern-hemispheric winter evenings.


High in the eastern sky is Capricornus (also called Capricorn ), the goat (Fig. 3-20). This goat has the tail of a fish, according to the myths, and dwells at sea. Ancient Greek mythology held that on its way to heaven after death of the body, the human soul would pass through this constellation.

The Sky “Down Under” Constellations Of The Southern Winter Capricornus

Figure 3-20. Capricornus, also known as Capricorn, the sea goat.


Near the zenith, you will see Sagittarius, the centaur (Fig. 3-21). Sagittarius lies in the direction of the densest part of our galaxy. If it were not for interstellar dust, which is concentrated along the plane of the Milky Way, this constellation and those near it would be obscured by the brilliance of the galactic core.

The Sky “Down Under” Constellations Of The Southern Winter Sagittarius

Figure 3-21. Sagittarius, the centaur, is near the zenith on southern-hemispheric winter evenings.


Just to the west of Sagittarius, also near the zenith, is Scorpius (also called Scorpio ), the scorpion (Fig. 3-22). This constellation is one of the few that bears some resemblance to the animal or object it represents. The eye of the scorpion is the red giant star Antares , which varies in brightness.

The Sky “Down Under” Constellations Of The Southern Winter Scorpius

Figure 3-22. Scorpius, the scorpion, contains the red star Antares, and is just to the west of Sagittarius.

Ophiuchus And Serpens

High in the northwestern sky are the constellations Ophiuchus , the snake bearer, and Serpens , the snake (Fig. 3-23). As with most of the other constellations near the celestial equator, these two are inverted with respect to their appearance as seen from the northern hemisphere.

The Sky “Down Under” Constellations Of The Southern Winter Lyra, Cygnus, And Aquila

Figure 3-23. Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer, holds Serpens, the snake.

Lyra, Cygnus, And Aquila

Low in the northern sky you will see the bright star Vega , flanked by a small parallelogram of dimmer stars. The quadrilateral forms the constellation Lyra , the lyre. To the right of Vega, grazing the horizon, is another bright star, Deneb , that is at the tip of the tail of Cygnus , the swan. Above and slightly to the right of Deneb is a third bright star, Altair . This is part of the constellation Aquila (Fig. 3-24). In the northern hemisphere, these three stars stand high in the sky and are sometimes called the summer triangle . However, in the southern hemisphere they have no special distinction apart from their relative brilliance.

The Sky “Down Under” Constellations Of The Southern Spring

Figure 3-24. Lyra, the lyre; Cygnus, the swan; and Aquila, the eagle. These constellations are marked by the bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair.

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

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