The starry sky is divided into 88 constellations. Of these, five are never visible from mid-southern latitudes. The purpose of this Constellation Yearbook is to introduce the novice star gazer to all the constellations visible from the southern hemisphere.
There are many constellations in the night sky (83 are visible from mid-southern latitudes) and there are many ways in which you can learn to recognize them. This Constellation Yearbook is one approach.
The year is divided into two-week periods, called Focus Weeks, and in each period, three or four constellations are highlighted. The constellations are chosen so that they will be conveniently placed for viewing early evening.
To identify all the constellations for a given Focus Week should take less than an hour's of observing, often a lot less. Once you've identified a constellation you can tick it off your list until, after a year, you're familiar with the entire night sky.
Of course, you may decide that you want to learn more than just the few Focus Constellations indicated for a given observing session. The Yearbook therefore lists all the constellations visible during a Focus Week, so you can easily work ahead.
Some constellations consist mainly of faint stars, so to properly identify those groupings you may want to seek out darker skies, say during a week-end getaway or during the holidays. This would also be a great time to work ahead on your list.
It may also be a good idea to try and spot the fainter constellations when the Moon isn't in the sky, so I've listed the dates for New Moon for the next few years.
It's always a good idea to review the constellations you've learnt in a previous observing session, because the changing orientation of the constellations (throughout the night, and from night to night or month to month) can be a little confusing at first.
An excellent idea would be to cruise through the stars of a constellation with binoculars (or a small telescope), matching what you see with what the star charts show. If you spot anything interesting in the sky, mark it on the star chart and, in your notebook, describe what you saw.
Another great idea would be to use a planisphere in conjunction with the Yearbook. A planisphere neatly shows how the constellations change their orientation, and how they relate to each other. The Southern Star Wheel would be a good choice ('cos it's free, and super-sized for easy use).
You can also supplement your constellation viewing by using the Discover! workbook, too. Once you're familiar with the basic constellations, you could also check out the Deep Sky Explorer's Atlas, which covers the southern skies (from declination +45° southward) in just 30 handy charts.
Our eyes are really good at working in daylight. At night, we have to take special measures to ensure our night vision works at it best.
Find the darkest spot you can, and observe from there. (Or if you're adventurous, find a really dark sky somewhere in the country.)
Avoid all lights as far as possible. Turn them off, cover them up, or build yourself a simple observing shelter so that you can be in as much darkness as possible.
Give your eyes about 20 minutes to dark adapt. An incredibly light-sensitive chemical, rhodopsin, builds up in your eye in the dark and allows you to see much better. Even a brief flash of bright light will temporarily cancel out your dark adaption, and you'll have to start over.
Use the dimmest torch imaginable to illuminate your star charts; I wrap lots and lots of layers of red cellophane over the front of my torch to keep is ultra-dim while observing. Remove the cellophane when you're done and check around you in case you dropped something.
If you're planning a longer session, do take a chair or camp stool along; there's no reason to be uncomfortable. And of course, if it's cold outside, dress warmly.
And remember to avoid all bright light and give your eyes about 20 minutes to dark adapt. You'll be amazed at how much better you will see!
The table below lists all the constellations visible from the southern hemisphere. Note that Ursa Minor, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Camelopardalis & Draco are too far north to be visible from the southern hemisphere.
Constellations visible from the southern hemisphere
|Constellation||Southern visibility||Focus weeks|
|Andromeda [an-DROH-me-duh], the Chained Woman||October December||December 01-14|
|Antlia [ANT-lee-uh], the Air Pump||November May||April 01-14|
|Apus [AY-pus], the Bird of Paradise||January December||June 01-14|
|Aquarius [ah-KWAIR-ee-us], the Water Bearer||August November||October 01-14|
|Aquila [uh-KWI-luh], the Eagle||August October||August 15-31|
|Ara [AR-uh], the Altar||March September||July 15-31|
|Aries [AIR-eez], the Ram||October December||December 01-14|
|Auriga [oh-RYE-gah], the Charioteer||December January||January 15-31|
|Boφtes [boh-OH-teez], the Herdsman||May July||June 15-30|
|Caelum [SEE-lum], the Chisel||October April||January 01-14|
|Cancer [CAN-ser], the Crab||January April||March 01-14|
|Canes Venatici [KAH-niss vena-TEE-kee], the Hunting Dogs||May June||May 15-31|
|Canis Major [KAH-niss MAY-jer], the Big Dog||November April||February 15-28|
|Canis Minor [KAH-niss MY-ner], the Little Dog||January April||February 15-28|
|Capricornus [kap-reh-KOR-nuss], the Sea-Goat||August November||September 15-30|
|Carina [ka-RYE-nah], the Keel||November May||March 15-31|
|Centaurus [sen-TOR-us], the Centaur||February September||June 01-14|
|Cetus [SEE-tus], the Whale||October February||November 15-30|
|Chamaeleon [ka-MEE-lee-un]||January December||May 01-14|
|Circinus [SUR-seh-nus], the Compasses||February September||June 01-14|
|Columba [koh-LUM-bah], the Dove||November April||February 01-14|
|Coma Berenices [KOH-mah bear-eh-NEE-seez], Berenice's Hair||March June||May 15-31|
|Corona Australis [kor-OH-nah os-TRAH-lis], the Southern Crown||May October||August 15-31|
|Corona Borealis [kor-OH-nah bor-ee-AL-is], the Northern Crown||May July||June 15-30|
|Corvus [KOR-vus], the Crow||February July||April 01-14|
|Crater [KRAY-ter], the Cup||February July||April 01-14|
|Crux [KRUKS], the Southern Cross||January December||May 01-14|
|Cygnus [SIG-nus], the Swan||August October||September 01-14|
|Delphinus [del-FIE-nus], the Dolphin||August October||September 15-30|
|Dorado [doh-RAH-doh], the Swordfish||January December||February 01-14|
|Equuleus [eh-KWOO-lee-us], the Little Horse||August October||September 15-30|
|Eridanus [eh-RID-an-us], the River Eridanus||November March||January 01-14|
|Fornax [FOR-nax], the Chemical Furnace||October February||November 15-30|
|Gemini [JEM-eh-nye], the Twins||January April||February 15-28|
|Grus [GROOS], the Crane||July January||October 01-14|
|Hercules [HER-kyu-leez]||July September||July 15-31|
|Horologium [hor-oh-LOH-jee-um], the Pendulum Clock||October April||December 15-31|
|Hydra [HY-dra], the Water Monster (eastern part)||February July||April 01-14|
|Hydra [HY-dra], the Water Monster (western part)||February July||March 15-31|
|Hydrus [HY-drus], the Small Water-Snake||January December||December 15-31|
|Indus [IN-dus], the Indian||July January||September 15-30|
|Lacerta [la-SER-ta], the Lizard||October November||October 15-31|
|Leo [LEE-oh], the Lion||March June||April 15-30|
|Leo Minor [LEE-oh MY-ner], the Little Lion||March June||April 15-30|
|Lepus [LEE-pus], the Hare||November April||January 15-31|
|Libra [LEE-bra], the Scales||May October||June 15-30|
|Lupus [LOO-pus], the Wolf||March September||July 01-14|
|Lynx [LINKS]||January April||March 15-31|
|Lyra [LYE-rah], the Lyre||August October||August 01-14|
|Mensa [MEN-sah], Table Mountain||January December||December 15-31|
|Microscopium [my-kro-SKO-pee-um], the Microscope||July January||September 15-30|
|Monoceros [moh-NO-ser-us], the Unicorn||January April||February 15-28|
|Musca [MUSS-kah], the Fly||January December||May 01-14|
|Norma [NOR-muh], the Level and Square||March September||July 01-14|
|Octans [OCK-tanz], the Octant||January December||September 01-14|
|Ophiuchus [oh-fee-U-cuss], Ophiuchus the Serpent-Holder||July September||July 15-31|
|Orion [oh-RYE-un], the Hunter||November April||January 15-31|
|Pavo [PAH-voh], the Peacock||January December||September 01-14|
|Pegasus [PEG-a-sus], the Winged Horse||October December||October 15-31|
|Perseus [PURR-see-us], the Champion||December January||December 15-31|
|Phoenix [FEE-nicks], the Phoenix||July January||November 15-30|
|Pictor [PIK-tor], the Painter's Easel||November May||February 01-14|
|Pisces [PIE-seez], the Fish||October December||November 01-14|
|Piscis Austrinus [PIE-sis OSS-trih-nuss], the Southern Fish||August November||October 01-14|
|Puppis [PUP-iss], the Stern||November May||March 01-14|
|Pyxis [PIK-sis], the Mariner's Compass||November May||March 01-14|
|Reticulum [reh-TIK-u-lum], the Reticule or Rhomboidal Net||January December||December 15-31|
|Sagitta [sa-JIT-ah], the Arrow||August October||September 01-14|
|Sagittarius [sadge-ih-TAIR-ee-us], the Archer||May October||August 01-14|
|Scorpius [SKOR-pee-us], the Scorpion||May October||July 15-31|
|Sculptor [SKULP-tor], the Sculptor's Workshop||October February||November 01-14|
|Scutum [SKU-tum], the Shield||August October||August 15-31|
|Serpens [SIR-penz], the Serpent (Cauda [COW-da], the tail) (eastern part)||July September||August 01-14|
|Serpens [SIR-penz], the Serpent (Caput [KAY-put], the head) (western part)||July September||July 01-14|
|Sextans [SEX-tanz], the Sextant||February May||April 15-30|
|Taurus [TORR-us], the Bull||November February||January 01-14|
|Telescopium [tel-eh-SKO-pee-um], the Telescope||May October||August 15-31|
|Triangulum [tri-ANG-gyu-lum] the Triangle||October December||December 01-14|
|Triangulum Australe [tri-ANG-gyu-lum os-TRAH-lee], the Southern Triangle||January December||June 01-14|
|Tucana [too-KAN-ah], the Toucan||January December||October 15-31|
|Ursa Major [UR-sa MAY-jer], the Great Bear||March May||May 01-14|
|Vela [VEE-lah], the Sails||November May||March 01-14|
|Virgo [VER-go], the Virgin||April July||May 15-31|
|Volans [VOH-lanz], the Flying Fish||November May||March 15-31|
|Vulpecula [vul-PECK-you-lah], the Fox||August October||September 01-14|
nothing more to see. please move along.