The picture at left is the Scutum region seen in the summer sky. Click on the image to see at a larger size. The pinkish and brownish areas are the Milky Way, the edge of our galaxy. Scutum is a constellation. A constellation is a pattern of stars. When you look in the night sky you see really bright stars and some around them that are not as bright.
Many cultures told stories about hunters, warriors, queens and kings, birds, bears, horses, and other figures they saw in the sky. They used these myths to teach their history and how they saw their place in the universe. See below for more about sky folklore. Constellations are now used to designate an area in the celestial sphere. We use the Greek and Roman names but other civilizations used different names and myths.
The Big Dipper is an asterism that is part of Ursa Major, the Great Bear constellation and the large "W" is part of Cassiopeia. A planisphere will tell you when each constellation can be seen in each month. The reason we can't see some constellations all the time is that they are up in our sky during the day. As the Earth orbits the sun different constellations become visible.
Star maps or charts are used to find constellations, variable or double stars, nebulae and other objects. Click on the month below to see how the constellations appear to move throughout the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Just follow a constellation as it appears each month at about 9 p.m. Note that all the stars appear to move around the last star in the Little Dipper, Ursa Minor. This is the North Star also called Polaris. Click here to see all the maps on one page.
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