Today we are going to talk about the constellations that are seasonally visible in the Winter and Spring. From the Northern Hemisphere and astronomers in the Pacific Northwest, there are 30 visible constellations; five can be seen all year, while the others appear seasonally. Named after characters in Greek mythology, each constellation contains star patterns that abstractly resemble its namesake. As there are 5 circumpolar constellations, this article will be reviewing 12 of the 25 seasonally available constellations.
This constellation lies on the celestial equator, and its name means ‘Eagle’ in Latin. The constellation represents the bird that carried Zeus or Jupiter’s thunderbolts in Greek or Roman mythology. Its brightest star, Altair, is one vertex of the Summer Triangle asterism. Interesting deep sky objects include several objects including NGC 6804, NGC 6781, NGC 6751, and NGC 6709.
Cygnus lies on the plane of the Milky Way, deriving its name from the Latinized Greek word for swan. Cygnus is one of the most recognizable constellations of the northern summer and autumn, and it features a prominent asterism known as the Northern Cross. Cygnus was among the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. Cygnus contains Deneb, which is one of the brightest stars in the night sky and is the most distant first-magnitude star as its “tail star” and one corner of the Summer Triangle. There is an abundance of deep-sky objects, with many open clusters, nebulae of various types and supernova remnants found in Cygnus due to its position on the Milky Way. Famous objects include NGC 7000, otherwise known as the North American Nebula, the Veil Nebila, Messier 39, and NGC 6910.
Hercules is a constellation named after Hercules, the Roman mythological hero adapted from the Greek hero Heracles. Hercules was one of the 48 constellations listed by the second-century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations today. It is the fifth-largest of the modern constellations and is the largest of the 50 which have no stars brighter than apparent magnitude +2.5. Famous deep sky objects in the cluster include M13, M92, the Hercules Cluster, and the Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall.
Lyra is a small constellation and is one of 48 listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and is one of the 88 constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union.is a small constellation. Vega, Lyra’s brightest star, is one of the brightest stars in the night sky and forms 1 corner of the Summer Triangle. Lyra does host M56, the Ring Nebula, the second-discovered and best-known planetary nebula and several other NGC objects.
Ophiuchus is a large constellation straddling the celestial equator. Its name is from the Greek Ὀφιοῦχος, and it is commonly represented as a man grasping a snake. One of the original Ptolemy’s grouping. Ophiuchus contains several star clusters, such as IC 4665, NGC 6633, M9, M10, M12, M14, M19, M62, and M107, as well as the nebula IC 4603-4604.
It is one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer. Ptolemy and remains one of the 88 modern constellations. Its name is Latin for “archer”, and Sagittarius is commonly represented as a centaur pulling back a bow. As seen from the northern hemisphere, the constellation’s brighter stars form an easily recognizable asterism known as “the Teapot.” Sagittarius contains several known nebulae including the Lagoon Nebula (M8), the Omega Nebula, and M20, as well as containing Messier 24.
Meaning scorpion in Latin, Scorpius is one of the 48 constellations identified by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century. Scorpius contains many bright stars, including Antares. Due to its location straddling the Milky Way, this constellation contains many deep-sky objects such as the open clusters Messier 6, the Butterfly Cluster, and Messier 7, the Ptolemy Cluster, NGC 623, and the globular clusters Messier 4 and Messier 80. Other deep sky objects worth noting include NGC 6302, also called the Bug Nebula, is a bipolar planetary nebula. NGC 6334, also known as the Cat’s Paw Nebula, is an emission nebula and star-forming region.
Andromeda is one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century Greco-Roman astronomer Ptolemy and remains one of the 88 modern constellations. Located north of the celestial equator, it is named for Andromeda, daughter of Cassiopeia, in the Greek myth, who was chained to a rock to be eaten by the sea monster Cetus. The constellation’s most obvious deep-sky object is the naked-eye Andromeda Galaxy, which is M31, the closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way and one of the brightest Messier objects. Several fainter galaxies, including M31’s companions M110 and M32, as well as the more distant NGC 891, lie within Andromeda. The Blue Snowball Nebula, a planetary nebula, is visible in a telescope as a blue circular object.
Aquarius is a constellation of the zodiac, situated between Capricornus and Pisces. Its name is Latin for “water-carrier” or “cup-carrier”, and its symbol is, a representation of water. Aquarius is one of the oldest of the recognized constellations along the zodiac. Because of its position away from the galactic plane, the majority of deep-sky objects in Aquarius are galaxies, globular clusters, and planetary nebulae. Aquarius contains three deep sky objects that are in the Messier catalog: the globular clusters Messier 2, Messier 72, and the open cluster Messier 73. Two well-known planetary nebulae are also located in Aquarius: the Saturn Nebula (NGC 7009), to the southeast of μ Aquarii; and the famous Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), southwest of δ Aquarii. There are three major meteor showers with radiants in Aquarius: the Eta Aquariids, the Delta Aquariids, and the Iota Aquariids.
Capricornus is one of the constellations of the zodiac, with its name being Latin for “horned goat” or “goat horn” or “having horns like a goat’s.” It is commonly represented in the form of a sea goat: a mythical creature that is half goat, half fish. Capricornus is one of the 88 modern constellations, and was also one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Claudius Ptolemy. Under its modern boundaries it is bordered by Aquila, Sagittarius, Microscopium, Piscis Austrinus, and Aquarius. Several galaxies and star clusters are contained within Capricornus. Messier 30 is a globular cluster located 1 degree south of the galaxy group NGC 7103. The constellation also harbors the wide spiral galaxy NGC 6907
Pegasus is a constellation in the northern sky, named after the winged horse Pegasus in Greek mythology. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy, and is one of the 88 constellations recognised today. M15 and NGC7331 are the most famous deep sky objects located in the Pegasus constellation.
Pisces is a constellation of the zodiac and is located in the Northern celestial hemisphere. Its name is the Latin plural for fish and lies between Aquarius to the west and Aries to the east. The ecliptic and the celestial equator intersect within this constellation and in Virgo. M74, NGC 488, and NGC 520 are all in this constellation.
If you’re curious about what the technical definition of a constellation is, check out this article on the subject. If you’re curious about which circumpolar constellations are always visible from the Pacific Northwest, check out this wonderful article.