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Friday, August 28, 2015

Earthsky Tonight, January 21, 2010: Identify the stars of the Winter Circle

Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science

The Winter Circle of Stars
The Winter Circle

Tonight’s chart covers a wider area of sky than what we typically show. It’s in answer to a reader in Nashville, who wrote, I’ve heard mention of the Winter Circle of Stars. Could you list the stars in this circle?

You will find these stars at this time of year by looking east-southeast in early-mid evening.

Again, this is a large pattern and covers a wide area of sky, but as always it’s easiest to start small … in this case, by finding the prominent constellation Orion the Hunter. Orion is very noticeable on these winter evenings. If you pick out any pattern of stars in the east-southeast, it’ll probably be part of Orion. The Winter Circle stars surround Orion. They don’t form a perfect circle … is anything ever perfect? Try starting at Capella and moving clockwise to Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, Procyon, Pollux and Castor.

This pattern of stars is not a constellation. It’s a lot of separate stars in different constellations. In other words, it’s what’s called an asterism. These same bright stars can be seen before dawn every late summer and early fall. And they can be seen in the evening every winter. Hence the name Winter Circle.

By the way, Betelguese, in the shoulder of the constellation Orion, isn’t part of the Winter Circle. But you’ll notice it in this part of the sky, in the middle of the Circle. It appears reddish in color.

Written by earthsky

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