Constellations of Winter Help

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

Constellations of Winter—Canis Major and Lepus

Finally, let’s get our jackets on and look at the evening sky in the middle of January. Some of the autumn constellations can still be seen. The circumpolar constellations have rotated around Polaris by yet another quarter circle and are now 90 degrees clockwise relative to their positions in the spring. Here are the prominent new constellations of winter as they appear from the latitude of Lake Tahoe, Indianapolis, or Washington, D.C. a few hours after suppertime.

Canis Major And Lepus

The southern portion of the winter evening sky is dominated by Canis Major, the big dog, and Lepus, the rabbit (Fig. 2-27.) Canis Major is easy to spot because of the brilliant white star, Sirius , that appears in the south-southeast. This is the brightest star in the whole sky, and its name in fact means “scorching.” Because it is contained in Canis Major, Sirius is often called the Dog Star.

Stars and Constellations Constellations Of Summer Canis Major And Lepus

Figure 2-27. Canis Major, the big dog, and Lepus, the rabbit.


Somewhat above and to the right of Sirius you will see another winter landmark, Orion , the hunter. It’s not hard to imagine how ancient people saw a human form in this constellation (Fig. 2-28). Three stars in the middle of Orion represent the hunter’s belt, from which hangs a knife or sword consisting of several dimmer stars. If you look at Orion’s sword with good binoculars or a wide-aperture telescope at low magnification, 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 of its own, Betelgeuse (also spelled Betelgeux ), a red giant, and Rigel , a blue-white star.

Stars and Constellations Constellations Of Summer Orion

Figure 2-28. Orion, the hunter, is one of the best-known constellations. It contains a nebula that is visible with good binoculars.

Taurus And The Pleiades

Above Orion, only a few degrees from the zenith in the southern sky on winter evenings, is Taurus , the bull (Fig. 2-29). This constellation contains the bright star Aldebaran , which represents the eye of the bull. Near Taurus is a group of several stars known as the Pleiades , or seven sisters (although there are really far more than seven of them). When seen through binoculars, these stars appear shrouded in gas and dust, indicating that they are young and that new members are being formed as gravity causes the material to coalesce.

Stars and Constellations Constellations Of Summer Eridanus

Figure 2-29. Taurus, the bull, is just above Orion in the winter sky. Nearby are the Pleiades, a loose cluster of stars.


Beginning at the feet of Orion and winding its way to the southern horizon and thence into unknown realms is a string of relatively dim stars. This constellation is Eridanus , the river. It, like Cetus, the whale, contains a star that is thought by many scientists to have a solar system like ours. That star, known as Epsilon Eridani , has been the subject of science fiction stories for this reason.

Practice problems of this concept can be found at: Stars and Constellations Practice Problems

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