Best Constellations Season-by-Season: Southern Hemisphere
Seasonal constellations are groups of stars that are best visible in the night sky during specific seasons. Look at our list to find out which constellations you can view in the Southern Hemisphere during summer, autumn, winter, and spring. To learn about the seasonal constellations in the Northern Hemisphere, read our dedicated article.
- Why are different constellations visible during different seasons?
- How to find constellations in the sky?
- Winter constellations
- Spring constellations
- Summer constellations
- Autumn constellations
- Bottom line
Why are different constellations visible during different seasons?
We could see the stars all day and night if it weren’t for the sunlight. The extreme brightness of the Sun means that it easily outshines all other stars in the sky, making most of them invisible during the daytime. Some of them, however, are still observable: check our article about daytime astronomy and learn what you can see in the sky when the Sun is up there.
As the Earth revolves around the Sun, stars in the sky change their position. At certain seasons, some constellations appear in the sky simultaneously with the Sun and, therefore, cannot be observed. The constellations of the ecliptic are the best illustration: for example, we can’t see Scorpius in November as the Sun is within its borders, but we can easily spot it on July nights as the Sun is in the opposite part of the sky.
How to find constellations in the sky?
A practical solution could be using stargazing apps; they can assist you in identifying the constellations swiftly and effortlessly. For example, open Star Walk 2, tap on the magnifier glass icon at the bottom left corner of the main screen, and type the name of the constellation you want to find into the search box. Then, tap the corresponding result. The app will take you to the main screen and show you the constellation's location on a night sky map. Point your device up (or tap the compass icon at the upper left corner), and you will see where the constellation is in the real sky above you. For a visual representation, check our video tutorial on how to use the app.
Sky Tonight is one more helpful tool for finding constellations. Open the app and tap on the magnifier glass icon at the bottom of the screen. Then, type the constellation’s name into the search box and tap the blue target icon opposite the corresponding result. You’ll see the position of the constellation on an interactive sky map. Tap the big blue button in the bottom right corner or simply point your device up and follow the white arrow to locate the constellation in the night sky above you. Besides, Sky Tonight offers various other features to make your stargazing experience even more enjoyable. Watch the video tutorial and use the app to its full potential.
Some constellations are easy to recognize by their unique attributes. For example, Crux has a specific cross pattern, and Carina features the 2nd-brightest star in the night sky. Find them both in our list of the easiest-to-find constellations, along with some observing tips. Also, learn to identify the constellations by their shape and stars by their position by taking our quizzes. With these skills, you'll be stargazing like a seasoned astronomer!
The Southern winter is from late June to late September. This season, two zodiac constellations – Scorpius and Sagittarius – are high in the sky, along with Ophiuchus, which is often called the 13th zodiac constellation (read our dedicated article to find out why it's not quite right).
Scorpius, the zodiac constellation located furthest south, is easily identifiable due to its hook-shaped group of stars known as the Fish Hook. Its brightest star is Antares. The star’s name was derived from a Greek phrase meaning “the rival of Mars” and highlights the star’s ruby-red color and luminosity comparable to that of the planet. The constellation contains four Messier objects, including the Ptolemy Cluster (M7), visible even to the naked eye. The other three – M4, M80, and the Butterfly Cluster (M6) – are better observed through binoculars. A telescope will resolve the Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334) and Butterfly Nebula (NGC 6302).
Sagittarius can be identified by the Teapot asterism formed by the eight brightest stars of the constellation. The pattern is easy to spot even with the naked eye; it just takes a little practice. Milky Way’s center lies within the constellation Sagittarius, so under the darkest skies, you can see the Sagittarius Arm of the galaxy, resembling “steam” rising from the Teapot’s spout.
The constellation is also rich in deep-sky objects. Sharp-eyed observers might see some of them, such as the Sagittarius Cluster (M22) and Sagittarius Star Cloud (M24), with the unaided eye. The Lagoon Nebula (M8), Omega Nebula (M17), Trifid Nebula (M20), and Barnard’s Galaxy (NGC 6822) are visible through binoculars. The Red Spider Nebula (NGC 6537) makes a good telescope target.
Ophiuchus is one of the largest, yet one of the least well-known, constellations. There aren't many bright stars in this constellation, but there are unique ones, including Rasalhague (the brightest one, which marks the head of the Serpent-bearer) and Barnard’s Star – the fourth closest individual star to the Earth (despite the proximity, it is only visible through a telescope). Ophiuchus is also home to seven Messier objects (M9, M10, M12, M14, M19, M62, and M107), Minkowski’s Butterfly Nebula, and an active galaxy NGC 6240.
The Southern spring lasts from late September to late December. In spring, you can see a colorful tropical bird, the celestial water bearer, and a sea creature high in the Southern Sky.
In the Southern Hemisphere, Tucana is visible all year round, but November provides the best position and the darkest skies. It is a small constellation with only one star brighter than the 3rd magnitude – α Tucanae. However, it is known for containing some notable deep-sky objects. For example, naked-eyed observers can see the Small Magellanic Cloud, or NGC 292 (its counterpart, the Large Magellanic Cloud, lies nearby, between the constellations Dorado and Mensa). 47 Tucanae (NGC 104), the second-brightest globular cluster in the sky, is also visible without optical aid. NGC 265, NGC 290, NGC 346, and NGC 362 are promising targets in binoculars or telescopes.
Aquarius doesn’t contain many bright stars. The most prominent are Sadalmelik and Sadalsuud. Under the dark skies, you can spot a “Y”-shaped asterism known as the Water Jar. Deep-sky observers equipped with optical devices can find the three Messier objects (M2, M72, and M73 star clusters), along with the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) and Saturn Nebula (NGC 7009).
Cetus is the third-largest constellation in the Southern Sky. Its most prominent stars are Diphda and Menkar. The constellation contains more than 25 galaxies that can be seen through a telescope (e.g., NGC 17, NGC 1073, NGC 1087). The M77 spiral galaxy – the only Messier object within Cetus – can also be observed through binoculars.
Summer in the Southern Hemisphere lasts from late December to late March. It is the best time to gaze into some of the largest constellations of the entire sky.
Hydra is the largest of all constellations. Despite the size, there are only a few bright stars in Hydra. The most prominent one, Alphard, marks the heart of the celestial snake. Sharp-eyed stargazers can try to spot the Hydra’s head – the circle of stars located roughly halfway between Regulus in Leo and Procyon in Canis Minor. Optical devices will resolve the Ghost of Jupiter nebula (NGC 3242), as well as three Messier objects – the M48 and M68 star clusters and the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy (M83).
Eridanus is associated with a number of both real and mythical rivers in different cultures. It is one of the longest and faintest constellations. Its brightest star, Achernar, can be easily found with the help of the Southern Cross. The rest of the constellation is only visible in the darkest locations, far away from cities and light pollution. Eridanus holds a large number of galaxies (e.g., Eridanus Group of galaxies, NGC 1232, NGC 1300, and NGC 1309); bring a telescope to see them.
One more notable deep-sky object in Eridanus is the Witch Head Nebula (IC 2118), which was given its name because it looks like a witch’s profile. Many nebulas seem to look like different characters or objects. Can you guess the name of a nebula by its photograph? Check it out by completing our quiz!
The constellation Puppis represents the stern of the mythical ship Argo Navis, which was one of the largest constellations in the sky until it was divided into three smaller constellations – Puppis, Carina, and Vela. Its brightest star is named Naos, which means “ship” in Greek. Puppis contains several interesting objects, including the star cluster M47, which is visible even to the unaided eye. With the help of optical devices, you can find the other two Messier objects (M46 and M93), the Calabash Nebula (also known as the Rotten Egg Nebula), and the emission nebula NGC 2467, which is also known as the Skull and Crossbones Nebula.
Crux, Centaurus, and Carina are circumpolar, which means they are always visible from the Southern Hemisphere. However, in autumn (from late March to late June), they climb the highest and are in the most favorable position in the night sky.
Crux, also known as the Southern Cross, is one of the most recognizable constellations of the Southern Sky. It is also the smallest constellation, but its four bright stars form a distinctive shape that has been used for navigation: Acrux and Gacrux, the two stars that mark the top and the bottom of the cross, form a line that points to the South Pole. It also contains the Jewel Box (NGC 4755), one of the best naked-eye star clusters.
Centaurus is a large constellation that contains Alpha Centauri. This star is the most prominent in the constellation and the 3rd-brightest in the whole night sky – you will easily spot it with the naked eye, as well as the Omega Centauri cluster (NGC 5139), the most well-known deep-sky object in Centaurus. Use a telescope to see the Blue Planetary Nebula (NGC 3918), and Centaurus A, NGC 4603, NGC 4622, and NGC 4945 galaxies.
Carina, the part of the now-defunct constellation Argo Navis, contains Canopus, the 2nd-brightest star in the night sky. Its other two stars, Avior and Aspidiske, along with Alsephina and Markeb from the constellation Vela, form a star pattern known as the False Cross. One more cross-shaped asterism, the Diamond Cross, also lies in Carina and is formed by Miaplacidus, θ Carinae, υ Carinae, and ω Carinae. Both are often confused with the Southern Cross. Sky Tonight can show you the names and locations of the constellations and prevent you from making this mistake.
Notable deep-sky objects within the constellation Carina include the Carina Nebula (NGC 3372), the Wishing Well Cluster (NGC 3532), NGC 3603, and NGC 2808. It’s best to observe them via binoculars or a telescope.
Seasonal constellations are groups of stars best visible in the night sky during specific seasons. In the Southern Hemisphere, Scorpius, Sagittarius, and Ophiuchus can be observed in winter. Tucana, Aquarius, and Cetus are best to observe in spring. Hydra, Eridanus, and Puppis can be observed in summer. Crux, Centaurus, and Carina are best to observe in autumn. Each of these constellations holds good targets for both amateur and seasoned astronomers. Download Sky Tonight and Star Walk 2 and easily find the stars and constellations.