Spring in the Northern hemisphere is the perfect time to view five particular constellations at their brightest and most visible: Boötes, Cancer, Hydra, Leo, and Virgo. There are around fifteen constellations associated with the springtime, but these five are thought to be easiest to identify in spring.
In this article, we explore each of the spring constellations in more detail.
The constellation of Boötes is one of the largest, covering an area of around 907 square degrees.
First recorded by Ptolemy in the 2nd century, it belongs to the Ursa Major group of constellations, which also consists of Draco, Lynx, and Ursa Minor.
Boötes consists of ten stars, of which the brightest is Arcturus, the third brightest star in the sky.
It is also associated with three meteor showers: the January Bootids, the Quadrantids, and the June Bootids.
Boötes is best seen at latitudes between 90 and -50 degrees and lies nearby to other more famous constellations like Virgo and Ursa Major.
In springtime, it is at its most visible and rises in the northeast.
The myth of Boötes refers to a farmer who worked tirelessly to provide food for everyone.
In his exhaustion and desperation, Boötes created the wagon and plough.
Word of his invention spread until farmers everywhere asked for his invention, and soon there was enough food for everyone.
Boötes was placed in the skies as reward for his creativity.
Consuming around 1303 square degrees of the sky, Hydra is the longest and largest constellation in terms of area.
Thought to represent the Lernaean Hydra, it was first catalogued in the 2nd century by Ptolemy.
Hydra consists of seven stars, which are believed to form the shape of a serpent extending from Cancer to Libra.
It crosses the celestial equator, with parts of the serpent’s lower body stretching to the Southern hemisphere.
It has just one bright star, named Alphard.
Hydra is best seen in the Northern hemisphere during spring as one of the most prominent constellations in the sky from March to June.
Latitudes between 54 and -83 degrees are recommended for best visibility.
In Greek mythology, Hydra represents a serpent-like creature with nine heads.
In the myth, one of Hydra’s head is immortal.
When Hercules undertook his twelve labors, the killing of Hydra was one of the most difficult.
Hercules succeeded by removing Hydra’s immortal head, and the creature was placed in the skies in remembrance of Hercules’ bravery.
Cancer is the faintest of the zodiac family of constellations.
It consumes 506 square degrees, making it the 31st biggest constellation overall but one of the smallest of the zodiac constellations.
The constellation consists of ten stars and is purported to take the shape of a crab, although it can be near impossible to tell this.
It is faint compared with other constellations, and some say it looks more like an inverted ‘Y’.
Cancer is most visible in the spring, particularly in the early months.
It is best visible at latitudes between 90 and -60 degrees, in the Northern hemisphere.
It lies nearby to fellow zodiac constellations Gemini and Leo.
The myth of Cancer is closely linked to that of Hydra.
As Hercules fought hard to vanquish Hydra, the goddess Hera sent a giant crab to prevent him winning.
In the midst of the fight, the crab grabbed Hercules and tried to kill him, but Hercules was quicker and managed to crush the creature to death.
As a reward, Hera elevated the crab to the stars.
Another member of the zodiac family, Leo is a constant in the Northern skies.
Along with the other zodiac constellations, it was first documented by Ptolemy, although it has origins in the Mesopotamian era.
Covering around 947 square degrees, Leo ranks 12th out of all constellations.
Leo consists of thirteen stars, the brightest amongst them being Regulus and Denebola.
It is thought to represent the shape of a lion, with a question mark shape forming the head and the rest of the stars creating its back half.
Lying between Cancer and Virgo, Leo is most visible on spring evenings, particularly in April and May.
For best visibility, latitudes between 90 and -65 degrees are ideal.
Leo lies nearby to the well-known, bright asterism Saucepan, which can be used to identify it.
According to Greek mythology, Leo represents the Nemean lion which could not be defeated by metal, wood, or stone.
Slaying the creature was another of Hercules’ twelve Labors, which he achieved by strangling it with his hands alone.
Upon its death, Leo was placed in the stars in remembrance of the bravery of Hercules.
Virgo is the 2nd largest constellation, covering around 1294 square degrees and second only to Hydra.
Of the twelve constellations in the zodiac family, Virgo is the largest.
It remains in the sky year-round, visible from both the Southern and Northern hemispheres.
Made up of fifteen stars, Virgo takes the shape of a square with lines emerging from each corner.
The constellation is thought to represent the shape of a woman, with the square forming the middle section.
One of the brightest stars in the sky, Spica, is found within Virgo.
Spica makes Virgo easy to find and identify the rest of it. In the spring, it is most visible in the Northern hemisphere; later in the year, it is better seen in the South.
It lies between Leo and Libra and is best visible at latitudes between 80 and -80 degrees.
Virgo is associated with the Maiden, and often associated with the myth of Pandora.
Pandora is famous for opening the box and causing the plagues to descend upon Earth, which caused the gods to flee to the stars.
The goddess of purity, Astraea, was the last to flee and ultimately is represented by Virgo.
In this article, we have explored the facts and mythology that surround the brightest and most visible spring constellations.
The spring night sky is the perfect background to view these constellations and reflect on the lessons of their mythologies.
You might also like:
- What Are Constellations Used For?
- A Guide To Greek Constellations
- A Guide To Navigation Constellations
- Constellations For Love (A List)
- Constellations For Friendship (A List)
- Animal Constellations (a Guide)
- Autumn Constellations
- Spring Constellations
- Winter Constellations
- Summer Constellations