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Star Tracker: 5 Constellations Anyone Can Spot

illustration of telescope, stars, and constellations in night sky

Have you ever gazed up at the night sky and marveled at the mysterious beauty of the universe? If looking at the heavens leaves you feeling star-struck, you're not alone. For as long as humans have been around, we've been studying, staring into, and storytelling about space.

Maybe it's because stargazing is infinitely entertaining—from Super Flower Blood Moons to solar eclipses and meteor showers, there's always a show in the sky. However, it’s even more interesting when you know what you're looking at! Best of all, you don't need any fancy equipment or special knowledge to appreciate the celestial theater. Here's how to start stargazing, how to find easy star constellations, and more.

What is Stargazing? 

Simply put, stargazing is the activity of observing the stars and night sky. Stargazers can use their eyes, binoculars, or telescopes to look at the sky and identify stars, objects, and constellations. 

Where to Go Stargazing 

shadow of a man sitting on hill and stargazing

You can engage in stargazing from anywhere—just keep in mind that where you’re located influences what you can see. For instance, if you live in a large city, light pollution may make it difficult to see constellations or meteor showers, but you’ll still be able to pick out planets. If you can get away from civilization and seek out a forest clearing far from any towns, you’ll be able to spot much more.

What Are Constellations? 

Constellations are groupings of stars that make a distinctive shape or pattern. Star constellations are usually named after people, characters, animals, or mythological creatures. Famous constellation names include:

  • Ursa Major
  • Ursa Minor
  • Orion 
  • Aquarius
  • Leo
  • Gemini 
  • Cassiopeia 

When Are Constellations Visible? 

The best time of day and year to see certain constellations and planets changes, but you’ll always get good views when stargazing on days before, during, and directly after a New Moon. In this part of the lunar cycle, the Moon is tiny or nonexistent, so there’s no moonlight to obscure your view.

Can Constellations Move? 

Constellations can move and change over extremely long periods of time. If you feel like they're moving, it's because the Earth is orbiting. 

What to Bring Stargazing 

white telescope pointing up at night sky

Many heavenly bodies are visible to the naked eye. But you’ll need to wait 15 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. While special equipment isn’t required, binoculars can offer a better experience. Choose a pair with anti-fog glass lenses.

To take it to the next level, consider investing in a telescope. Select a model with at least a five-inch mirror to gather the most light and improve visibility.

What is the Best Stargazing App? 

Got a smartphone? Download stargazing apps to enhance your practice. Apps like Sky Walk or SkySafari allow you to simply point your phone at the night sky, then use augmented reality to identify what you’re looking at. If you’re searching for a specific constellation, comet, or planet, apps can direct you to the right location, too. Be sure to turn on your phone’s “night vision” setting first.

Don’t have a smartphone? Go old school and buy a star atlas or planisphere instead; these inexpensive options show planets and constellations that are visible throughout the year. Or head to your local library and check out a few books, guides, or star maps to build your knowledge and make stargazing more enjoyable.

Easy Star Constellations to See 

With 88 total constellations you can see, searching for and identifying specific patterns can prove to be a little challenging at first. You’re sure to have beginner’s luck with these five easy star constellations that are simple to spot.

illustration of the big dipper in the night sky

1. URSA MAJOR/BIG DIPPER/GREAT BEAR

Look to the northern sky in the summer to see Ursa Major's distinctive “cup” (bear's chest) and “handle” (bear's neck and head). Two exceptionally bright stars, Dubhe and Merak, make this constellation even easier to find.

illustration of the little dipper in the night sky

2. URSA MINOR/LITTLE DIPPER/LITTLE BEAR

Move northward from Ursa Major to see another, smaller “cup and handle.” That’s Ursa Minor, a.k.a. Little Dipper or Little Bear. The brightest star at the end of the “handle” is Polaris (the North Star), long a key navigation point.

illustration of orion in the night sky

3. ORION: THE HUNTER

Orion may be best known for its “belt” of three bright stars in a row, but the rest of this constellation—which looks like a hunter drawing a bow—also contains the bright stars Rigel (the hunter's left foot) and Betelgeuse (the hunter's right shoulder). Look for Orion from November through February.

illustration of canis major in the night sky

4. CANIS MAJOR

Every hunter needs a dog; find Orion's by passing a straight line along The Hunter's belt and following it southward until you see Sirius, a bright star that shapes the dog's nose. Further down and to the left, you'll notice a triangle of stars that resemble a dog's hindquarters.

illustration of gemini in the night sky

5. GEMINI: THE TWINS

Just above Orion's arm, Gemini resembles two figures holding hands, arms outstretched. In late winter, look for bright stars Pollux and Castor, which form The Twins’ heads

The Takeaway: Just Look Up At These Easy Star Constellations! 

Stargazing is a hobby that almost anyone can enjoy. Looking up at the night sky and finding easy star constellations is relaxing. It greatly benefits our health and well-being by encouraging people to get outside and learn something new. 

Want even more relaxation techniques? Check out our article, "Relaxation Techniques You Can Practice on the Go," to ensure all is calm and bright!