Observing the Constellations
Short descriptions for finding the Constellations
from Southern Africa

A star watching service by ASSA Bloemfontein Centre, South Africa
Information customized for southern hemisphere, 29 degree latitude South

List of all 88 official constellations

The Constellations of

the North

There are altogether 88 official constellations. We can see most of them either fully or partially from South Africa. But 6 of these constellations are true northern hemispheric constellations. They cannot be seen in their entirety by South African observers (except maybe some in the Limpopo!). Be sure to observe them when you visit the countries of the northern hemisphere.

Their names are:
Camelopardalis (The Giraffe) - Named the ‘camel-leopard’ by the Greeks.
Cassiopeia (The Queen) – In mythology, queen of ancient Æthiopia, wife of Cepheus and mother of Andromeda.
Cepheus (The King) – The king of Æthiopia, husband of Cassiopeia, father of Andromeda.
Draco (The Dragon) – Guardian of the entrance to the golden apples, slain by the hero Hercules.
Ursa Major (The Larger Bear) – One of the oldest constellations, numerous legends associated with it.
Ursa Minor (The Little Bear) – Named Arcas in legends, following its mother through the sky.

- You might have heard about a star pattern called “the Big Dipper”. Where is this pattern exactly? It consists of a group of 7 stars situated in the constellation of Ursa Major. It is also known as the “Plough”. One Native American legend sees the Big Dipper as seven hunters pursuing a bear. The early Britons imagined the Big Dipper as the chariot of King Arthur. Many other legends from many cultures are told about this specific star pattern.

- Another well-known object in the northern hemisphere is the star called “Polaris”, (alpha Ursa Minoris). This star is also known as the northern pole star. Polaris is situated only 1 degree from the real northern celestial pole. If you draw an imaginary line from the middle of the North Pole (by thus extending the axis line) straight into space, it will point to the north celestial pole. All the other stars in the northern hemisphere seem to revolve around the north celestial pole, as the Earth turns on its axis. In the south, we do not have such a relatively bright star to show us where the exact south celestial pole lies. But the nearest star to that position was named “Sigma Octantis”, a faint star of magnitude 5.4, visible through binoculars.

Descriptions are based on evening observations, for the southern hemisphere and more specifically for Southern Africa.

Summer = Dec, Jan, Feb
Autumn = Mar, Apr, May
Winter = Jun, Jul, Aug
Spring = Sep, Oct, Nov

Zenith = point directly above you in the sky

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Constellation English name Constellation English name
Andromeda The Princess Lacerta Lizard
Antlia Air Pump Leo Lion
Apus Bird of Paradise Leo Minor Smaller Lion
Aquarius Water Carrier Lepus Hare
Aquila Eagle Libra Balance / scale
Ara Altar Lupus Wolf
Aries Ram Lynx Lynx
Auriga Charioteer Lyra Lyre
Bootes Herdsman Mensa Table Mountain
Caelum Chisel Microscopium Microscope
Camelopardalis Giraffe Monoceros Unicorn
Cancer Crab Musca Fly
Canes Venatici Hunting Dogs Norma Square
Canis Major Big Dog Octans Octant
Canis Minor Little Dog Ophiucus Serpent Carrier
Capricornus Goat Orion Orion
Carina Keel of Argo Pavo Peacock
Cassiopeia The Queen Pegasus Winged Horse
Centaurus The Centaur Perseus Perseus
Cepheus King Cepheus Phoenix Phoenix
Cetus Whale Pictor Easel
Chamaeleon Chameleon Pisces Fishes
Circinus Compass (draw) Pisces Austrinus Southern Fish
Columba Dove Puppis Stern of Argo
Coma Berenices Berenice's Hair Pyxis Compass of Argo
Corona Australis Southern Crown Reticulum Reticle
Corona Borealis Northern Crown Sagitta Arrow
Corvus Crow Sagittarius Archer
Crater Cup Scorpius Scorpion
Crux Southern Cross Sculptor Sculptor
Cygnus Swan Scutum Shield
Delphinus Dolphin Serpens Serpent
Dorado Swordfish Sextans Sextant
Draco Dragon Taurus Bull
Equuleus Little Horse Telescopium Telescope
Eridanus River Triangulum Triangle
Fornax Furnace Triangulum Australe Triangle (South)
Gemini Twins Tucana Toucan
Grus Crane Ursa Major Great Bear
Hercules Hercules Ursa Minor Little Bear
Horologium Clock / watch Vela Sails of Argo
Hydra Hydra (Sea Serpent) Virgo Virgin
Hydrus Water Serpent Volans Flying Fish
Indus Indian Vulpecula Fox

Go to the website of ASSA Bloemfontein Centre
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