I went outside early this morning while it was still dark, looked up, and saw all my old constellation friends -- Orion (with its bright stars Rigel and Betelgeuse), Canis Major (the Big Dog, with Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky), Canis Minor (the Little Dog, with Procyon), Gemini (with Castor and Pollux), Auriga (with Capella), and Taurus (with Aldebaran and the Pleiades).
I’ve been watching these constellations since I was a child, and there’s always been some comfort in the fact that they’re always there when and where expected. So I think of them as old friends.
The appearance of these constellations is a sign that winter is approaching. Early this morning, those constellations were in the southwest but could have been seen in the (eastern) sky as early as about 11:00 PM. As the months go by, they will be visible at the same place in the sky earlier in the night, until, in winter, those constellations will be visible in the early evening -- a more convenient time for most people to view the constellations. That is why they are considered to be winter constellations.
To the upper left of those constellations, I also saw Jupiter. It’s in Leo right now, and if you go out in the early-morning hours some time in the next few days, you can’t miss it (if the sky is clear). These days Jupiter is the brightest object in the pre-dawn sky.
It would make an interesting long-term project for students to watch the constellations throughout the school year and see how their positions in the sky and the times when they’re visible change due to the motion of the earth.
Dr. Matthew Bobrowsky
University of Maryland University College
Director of Special Programs
College of Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and Technology
Delaware State University
1200 N. DuPont Highway
Dover, DE 19901-2277