Winter Constellations (Northern Hemisphere): Here’s What is Visible and Bright

During winter in the Northern hemisphere, there are many constellations that remain visible, but five are particularly visible and bright in the sky during the colder months: namely, these are Canis Major, Cetus, Gemini, Orion, and Taurus.

In this article, we look at each winter constellation, covering everything from appearance to mythology.

Winter Constellations (Northern Hemisphere)

Canis Major

Canis Major is one of the 48 Greek constellations first identified in the 2nd century AD.

It is the 43rd largest constellation in the sky, consuming around 380 square degrees.

Canis Major is formed of ten stars, including Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, which makes finding Canis Major quite simple.

The constellation is often portrayed as a dog chasing a hare, with Sirius held in its jaws.

Belonging to the Orion family, Canis Major is neighbour to similarly famous constellations such as Lepus and Orion.

During winter, it is best visible from latitudes between 60 and -90 degrees.

In Greek mythology, Canis Major represents Laelaps, a dog fated to catch anything he hunted.

Legend says Laelaps was sent to catch the Teumessian fox, which was destined to never be caught.

Zeus realized that the two would spend eternity as predator and prey and elevated them to the skies as Canis Major and Canis Minor.

Cetus

Another of the 48 Greek constellations identified by Ptolemy, Cetus is the 4th largest of all the constellations, covering around 1231 square degrees.

It originated in the Mesopotamian era before being passed to the Greeks, where its story was developed.

Cetus contains eight recognised stars, the brightest of which is Diphda.

It is also associated with three meteor showers: the October Cetids, the Eta Cetids, and the Omicron Cetids.

It appears as two shapes joined by a single line of stars.

Cetus is one of the equatorial constellations, meaning it is visible from almost anywhere.

It neighbors some of the zodiac constellations, including Aquarius and Pisces.

In the Northern hemisphere, Cetus is visible from fall to winter, at latitudes of around 70 to -90 degrees.

Cetus was a sea monster sent by Poseidon to terrorise Ethiopia after its Queen Cassiopeia claimed to be more beautiful than Poseidon’s nymphs, the Nereids.

To placate the monster, Cassiopeia offered her daughter, Andromeda, but she was saved by the hero Perseus.

Perseus killed Cetus, who was elevated to the stars to commemorate Perseus’ bravery.

Gemini

Gemini is a member of the famous zodiac group of twelve constellations.

It consumes around 514 square degrees of the night sky, making it the 30th biggest constellation of them all. 

Formed of ten stars, Gemini is marked by Castor and Pollux, its two brightest stars.

Thought to represent twins, the rest of the constellation is made up of two lines of stars emerging from Castor and Pollux, forming the shape of the bodies of the twins.

Found in the Northern celestial hemisphere, Gemini is best visible at the beginning of the year.

It is best visible at latitudes between 90 and -60 degrees.

It lies northeast to Orion and its companions, Canis Major, and Canis Minor, which can be used to identify it.

The mythology of Gemini surrounds the twins Castor, the son of King Tyndarus, and Pollux, the immortal son of Zeus.

The two travelled with Jason onboard the Argo but Castor was lost in battle.

Distraught, Pollux begged Zeus to return Castor to Earth as immortal, which Zeus did on the condition that they spent half their time in the stars.

Orion

Orion is among the most famous of the constellations.

Consuming 594 square degrees of the sky, it is the 26th biggest constellation out of the 88.

It is also known as ‘the Hunter’ due to its associations with the Greek hunter, Orion.

Orion is fairly easy to identify.

Not only does it hold the 7th brightest star, Rigel, but it also contains the well-known Orion’s Belt.

The Belt is probably the best way to identify the constellation, with the rest of Orion usually depicted in the form of a man.

Orion is visible around the world, particularly from latitudes between 85 and -75 degrees.

It is visible from both the Northern and Southern hemisphere but is especially visible and bright in the winter months.

In Greek myth, Orion was a great hunter hired to remove the wild beasts from Chios.

Orion claimed he could kill all the wild beasts on Earth, which angered Gaia, Earth goddess and mother of animals.

Gaia sent a giant, undefeatable scorpion to Orion, who was killed in the fight.

Gaia put the two in the stars with the scorpion chasing Orion for eternity in the skies.

Taurus

Another of the zodiac constellations, Taurus is believed to be one of the oldest of all the constellations.

Covering around 797 square degrees, it is the 17th largest constellations and the only one to meet the galactic equator, the ecliptic, and the celestial equator.

Taurus consists of seventeen stars, the brightest of which is Aldebaran.

It also has two meteor showers, namely the Taurids and the Beta Taurids.

It forms a ‘V’ shape with lines of stars extending from it, which is thought to depict the head of the bull Taurus is named for.

Taurus can be found in the Northern hemisphere, particularly the first quadrant.

It is particularly visible and bright during November, when its meteor showers are most common.

Taurus represents the bull that Zeus disguised as to seduce the princess Europa.

Zeus hid himself amongst Europa’s father’s herd to draw her attention, and carried her to Crete, where he revealed his identity.

They had three children together, including Minos, king of Crete.

The bull was elevated to the stars by Zeus in remembrance of its role.

Summary

The five constellations most visible in winter have some of the richest and longest histories of all the constellations.

From tales of separated twins to the seduction of a Princess by the god of the gods, these constellations are not only famous but are deeply interesting.

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Winter Constellations

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