University of Michigan - Department of Astronomy

Version: outseason W

Out-of-Season Constellations Worksheet for Winter Term

Where has the Pleiad gone?
Where have all the missing stars found light and home?
Who bids the Stela Mira go and come
Why sits the Pole-star lone?
And why, like banded sisters, through the air
Go in bright troops the constellations fair?

--Nathaniel Parker Willis

Pre-Activity: Using the Planisphere at Home

  1. Table 1 has a list of constellations. Use your planisphere to determine which season is best for viewing each of the constellations in the evening from Ann Arbor, between 6 PM and midnight, and determine which months correspond with those times. If its visibility straddles seasons (e.g. the months are mid-May through mid-August), use the earlier season. Record the season for each constellation in Table 1. Spring (Sp), summer (Su), fall (F), and winter (W) start on March 21, June 21, September 21, and December 21, respectively.

Part 1: Using the Planisphere with the Sky

  1. The GSI will divide you into groups of 4 - 5 and will give each group a red flashlight and laser pointer. S/he will set the planetarium to the following dates for each season: Jan 1, Winter; April 1, Spring; July 1, Summer; and Oct. 1, Fall. Set your planisphere to 10 PM on the date for the first season.
  2. The GSI will assign your group a constellation to find in this season.
  3. In your group, determine the general direction in which to look for each constellation visible in this season. Include both altitude and azimuthal direction.  For example, you might say high in the south, or low in the west-northwest.  Enter this in Table 1.
  4. Make additional notes on how to find the constellation in the space in Table 1. Include directions that make use of other constellations or stars.  For example, you might describe how to find the Little Dipper by saying “find the Pointer Stars in the front of the bowl of the Big Dipper, and follow them to Polaris, which is at the end of the Little Dipper's handle. Arc back toward the handle of the Big Dipper to trace the rest of the handle and the bowl of the Little Dipper.”
  5. Go to the next constellation in the same season, and repeat the previous 2 steps.
  6. The GSI will call on your group to point out your constellation for the rest of the class.
  7. When all the constellations for that season have been pointed out, your GSI will move the planetarium to the next season. Reset your planisphere using the date listed in Step 1. Repeat the above steps to find your next constellation and point it out to the class.
Table 1


Constellation Season Direction















Corona Borealis










Table 1, Continued


Constellation Season Direction














Piscis Austrinus








Concluding Questions:

For the questions, assume you are in Ann Arbor, and can’t see the constellations during daylight. You may approximate that the Sun always sets at 6 PM and rises at 6 AM.

  1. Orion is best seen by evening observers around 10 PM in January, when he is about halfway up to zenith in the southern sky.  What time of year is he about half way up in the south at 5 AM (a good time for morning observers)?

  2. If you are observing when Hercules is high overhead, can you see Corvus? If you can see it, describe where it is in the sky.

  3. If you are willing to go out at any time of night, how many months of the year would Ophiuchus be visible? Describe how you arrived at your answer.

  4. Which constellations from Table 1 are above the horizon for the shortest amount of time? In which cardinal direction do they lie?

  5. What range of Declination is visible from the north pole? From the equator? Explain.

Updated: 1/25/12 by SAM & MSO

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