The night sky holds numerous obscure constellations beyond famous ones like Orion.
However, while lesser-known, they’re no less storied or stunning to see.
Below, we dive into the mythos behind some largely unknown constellations, what they look like, and how to find them.
Here are six obscure but breathtaking constellations that few people are aware of:
- Cepheus (the King of Aethiopia)
- Canes Venatici (the hunting dogs)
- Vulpecula (the little fox)
- Telescopium (the telescope)
- Volans (the flying fish)
- Cetus (the sea monster)
6 Obscure Constellations Few People Know
1. Cepheus (the King of Aethiopia)
Cepheus is one of the five circumpolar constellations in the Northern Hemisphere—meaning that it’s visible year-round from most places north of the equator.
This constellation’s name comes from the King of Aethiopia, Cepheus.
He was also the husband of Cassiopeia and the father of Princess Andromeda. And so, he lies near their two constellations in the night sky.
In Greek mythology, the gods demanded Andromeda as a sacrifice for her mother’s hubris.
Because of this, illustrations of the Cepheus constellation usually depict the king praying for his daughter’s mercy.
But despite its association with well-known constellations, Cepheus has remained relatively obscure.
Cepheus is a large constellation, taking up 588 square degrees of the night sky.
Its brightest star is Alderamin (α Cephei), which will eventually take the place of Polaris as the North Star.
How to find it: Cepheus can be spotted year-round in the northern sky near Cassiopeia.
The best time to view the constellation is during Autumn, especially October.
2. Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs)
Canes Venatici, or “hunting dogs,” is a small but breathtaking constellation in the northern sky.
Initially, ancient astronomers identified the constellation as the club (a weapon) of nearby Boötes, the herdsman.
However, a later mistranslation caused the star formation to represent two hunting dogs instead.
Nowadays, depictions often show the dogs chasing the nearby bear constellation, Ursa Major.
Cor Caroli (“Heart of Charles”) is Canes Venatici’s brightest star, christened after the executed King Charles I of England.
But the constellation also holds La Superba, a carbon star renowned for its ruby-like glow.
Canes Venatici possesses one of the most stunning celestial bodies in our night sky: the Whirlpool Galaxy.
This spiral galaxy faces Earth head-on, providing a rare and mesmerizing view of its ghostly arms and vibrant nebulae.
How to find it: Canes Venatici borders Boötes and Ursa Major in the northern sky.
It appears to follow Ursa Major from behind and is most visible in Spring and Summer.
3. Vulpecula (the Little Fox)
Vulpecula is an elusive constellation found in the middle of the Summer Triangle asterism.
It represents a small fox carrying a helpless goose in its mouth.
Above the formation is Cygnus, supposedly watching in dismay as the smaller bird gets taken away.
This constellation was discovered in 1687 by Johannes Hevelius and was initially named Vulpecula et Anser (“the little fox and goose”).
While the moniker was eventually shortened to Vulpecula, one star was named Anser in honor of the goose (α Vulpeculae).
This constellation is relatively small and dim.
Nonetheless, it features several unique deep-sky objects.
Chief among these points of interest is the Dumbbell Nebula.
This hourglass-like formation famous for its colorful hues is visible even through binoculars.
And there’s also the stunning Brocchi’s Cluster.
It’s known as “the Coathanger” due to the shape formed by its bright stars.
How to find it: Vulpecula lies in the northern sky bordered by Cygnus and Lyra. It’s easiest to spot in September.
4. Telescopium (the Telescope)
While most popular constellations feature animals or people, Telescopium represents the object used to study it: a telescope.
Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille discovered Telescopium between 1751-1752 while he was in South Africa.
As a result of its relatively late identification, the constellation has no associated myths or legends around it.
The formation is relatively small, ranked 57th out of the 88 internationally-recognized constellations.
And since it doesn’t have any uniquely named stars, it’s easy to see why this constellation often gets overlooked.
The constellation resembles an oval in shape, with one side canted up.
It initially included stars representing a telescope stand, but they were removed.
How to find it: Telescopium appears in the southern sky bordered by Corona Australis and Sagittarius. In the US, it is most visible from June to August.
5. Volans (the Flying Fish)
You may have heard about Pisces, which represents a pair of fish.
However, few people know about the flying fish of the night sky: Volans.
This constellation lies in the southern sky bordered by Dorado and Pictor.
Dorado, which represents a dolphinfish, is often depicted as chasing Volans across the stars.
Volans was first recorded in the late 16th century by Dutch navigators and originally christened as Pisces Volans.
It’s one of the tiniest and dimmest constellations in the night sky.
There are no myths or stories associated with Volans.
But it does hold a few remarkable deep-sky objects, such as the mesmerizing Meathook Galaxy.
How to find it: Volans is visible below the 15th parallel north from December to February. As a result, seeing this constellation in the US is tricky. It appears in the southern sky being followed by Dorado.
6. Cetus (the Sea Monster)
Cetus is one of the most massive constellations in the sky, outdone only by Hydra, Ursa Major, and Virgo.
It is sometimes called “the Whale” but appears as a sea monster in Greek myth.
As the story goes, the boasts of Cassiopeia regarding her daughter Andromeda’s beauty angered the gods.
Because of this, Poseidon summoned Cetus to devour Andromeda as a sacrifice.
However, Perseus intervened at the last moment.
Bravely wielding Medusa’s head, he turned the sea monster into stone and saved Andromeda.
Cetus lies near other water-related star formations, such as Pisces and Aquarius.
It’s also an equatorial constellation, making it relatively easy to see for most people year-round.
Because Cetus lies far from our galactic plane, the deep-sky features within the constellation are prominent.
One such object is NGC 246, a striking planetary nebula. Its nickname is the “Pac-Man Nebula,” thanks to its peculiar shape.
How to find it: In the northern hemisphere, the best time to view Cetus is in the fall and early winter. It rises over the eastern horizon near Aquarius and Taurus. It lies in a dark area of the night sky, making it easier to spot.
As you can see, there are many elusive and obscure constellations among our stars.
And despite lacking fame, they’re no less fascinating or breathtaking to see.
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