As the earth orbits the sun, the constellations progress 1° westward each day in our sky. In time, winter constellations give way to those of spring. Compared with winter constellations, spring constellations have fewer bright stars and lack the glowing arm of our Milky Way. Instead of the clusters and nebulas so common in our galaxy, spring offers countless distant, dim galaxies outside our own. These are exotic yet challenging targets.
Let's start with the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear. Most people know the part of it called the Big Dipper. In spring, Ursa Major is overhead. It offers some rather large galactic targets.
Go up from the two end stars of the dipper to the bright star Polaris in Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. All stars in our night sky appear to rotate around this North Star. Between Ursa Major and Ursa Minor is the twisting constellation of Draco, the Dragon.
Now follow the tail of Ursa Major (or the handle of the Big Dipper) down in an arc to get to spring's brightest star, Arcturus, in Bootes, the Herdsman. Arcturus, known as the 'bear chaser' is said to be protecting his herd by chasing Ursa Major in an endless pursuit. He is accompanied by Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs. The famous Whirlpool Galaxy is found in Canes Venatici.
Keep going down in an arc to reach the 2nd brightest star, Spica in Virgo, the Maiden. Virgo is especially rich in galaxies but all of them small.
Just as the two end stars of the cup of the Big Dipper point upwards to Polaris, they point downwards to Regulus. Regulus, which means 'little king', is the brightest star in the constellation Leo, the Lion.
Next to Bootes is the obvious crown-shaped constellation, Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Between all these constellations are some rather dim ones: Cancer, Leo Minor, and Lynx. Use the links below to explore further.
Viewing Constellations of Spring
To start, face N and look up to find the Big Dipper and Ursa Major.
Use the map and info above to find the brightest stars and constellations of spring. Try drawing the constellations with brighter stars, constellation lines and labels.