Are you a stargazer? We’ll be your guide. The night sky for February 2019 showcases some awesome constellations and asterisms. With our printable sky map, see the Big Dipper, Hydra (the largest constellation), Leo, Gemini, Sirius, and more.
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
There’s More to Constellations Than Meets the Eye. When gazing into the night sky in search of constellations, we typically find them by identifying a handful of their brightest stars. Most constellations contain only a few bright stars, but if you know the sky well enough (or have a good map), that’s sufficient to tell you which constellation you’re looking at. What’s more, if you do your observing from a dark location with minimal light pollution, you’ll find that there is more to constellations than a few bright stars.
The Big Dipper
The distinctive patterns formed by the brighter stars are known as “asterisms,” which are an ideal starting point for a deeper dive into some popular constellations. One of the most familiar asterisms is the Big Dipper, consisting of 7 bright stars in the constellation Ursa Major, the Greater Bear. Four define a “bowl” or “body” and three define a “handle” or “head”. The seven stars of the Big Dipper are outlined in green on this month’s sky map and are easy to spot even in light-polluted suburban skies. But from a dark, rural location, Ursa Major gets much larger as fainter stars come into view.
Under a truly dark sky, we can see that the Big Dipper comprises only the hindquarters and tail of the Greater Bear. Fainter stars outline the forward portion of the body and the head of the bear. Extending from the front and rear of the body are legs that end in three pairs of bright-ish stars representing the animal’s paws. Altogether, the Big Dipper plus the constellation’s fainter stars trace out a stick figure that many ancient cultures imagined to be the Greater Bear.
Leo, the Lion
Looking due east, we see another asterism come into view: the Sickle in Leo, the Lion. A sickle is a short-handled cutting tool of ancient design typically used for harvesting grain. The bright star Regulus marks the base of the Sickle and is considered to be “the heart of the Lion.” Angling downward toward the left are other moderately bright stars constituting the body, tail, and paws of the beast. Leo is one of the few constellations that looks like its namesake at first glance. After tracing out the constellation for the first time, you’ll easily spot the Lion whenever he’s in view.
Hydra, the Water Snake
Just to the right of the Sickle, look for the compact five-sided asterism known as Hydra’s Head. It’s not nearly as impressive as the Big Dipper or the Sickle, but it’s the starting point for spotting Hydra, the Water Snake. Hydra is the largest of the 88 modern constellations. The body of Hydra slithers downward in a meandering chain of faint stars, interrupted only by bright Alphard, a star known as “the solitary one” because it’s the only bright star in the vicinity.
Gemini, the Twins
Above the Sickle and Hydra’s Head, you’ll find the constellation Gemini, the Twins. Here, the asterism consists of just two bright stars, Castor and Pollux, named for the twins of the Gemini legend. With Castor and Pollux representing the heads of the twins, fainter stars constitute their bodies, including arms, legs, and feet.
Sirius, the Dog Star
Finally, on the far right shines Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky and the heart of Canis Major, the Greater Dog. It’s a stretch to refer to a single star as an asterism, but Sirius is so bright that we’ll make an exception. Arrayed around Sirius are fainter stars representing all of the parts of the dog’s anatomy, right down to his nose!
February 2019 Sky Map
Click here or on map below to enlarge (PDF).
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
Note: How to Read the Sky Map
Our sky map does not show the entire sky. Instead, the monthly map focuses on a particular region of the sky where something interesting is happening that month. The legend on the map always tells you which direction you should facing, based on midnight viewing. For example, if the map legend says “Looking Southeast,” you should face southeast when using the map.
The map is accurate for any location at a so-called “mid northern” latitude. That includes anywhere in the 48 U.S. states, southern Canada, central and southern Europe, central Asia, and Japan. If you are located substantially north of these areas, objects on our map will appear lower in your sky, and some objects near the horizon will not be visible at all. If you are substantially south of these areas, everything on our map will appear higher in your sky.
The items labeled in green on the sky map are known as asterisms. These are distinctive star patterns that lie within constellations. When getting your bearings under the stars, it’s often easiest to spot an asterism and use it as a guide to finding the parent constellation.
The numbers along the white “Your Horizon” curve at the bottom of the map are compass points, shown on degrees. As you turn your head from side to side, you will be looking in the compass direction indicated by those numbers. The horizon line is curved in order to preserve the geometry of objects in the sky. If we made the horizon line straight, the geometry of objects in the sky would be distorted.