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For the month of February

Winter Sky Map © Wil Tirion

February Constellations

At nine pm on February evenings, Cepheus the King, Cassiopeia the Queen, and Perseus the Hero are the most notable constellations in the northwestern portion of the sky. Cassiopeia is recognizable as a bright W shape that is visible from northern latitudes all year long. The constellation Auriga the Charioteer and its very bright alpha star, Capella, are very high in the northwest. Taurus the Bull, containing the conspicuous star cluster known as the Pleiades (or Seven Sisters) is in the west. Its other star cluster, the Hyades, also representing a mythological group of sisters, marks the bull's face, while the bright orange star Aldebaran represents his eye.

Look toward the northeast and almost halfway up the sky to spot the Big Dipper, an asterism, or star shape, within the larger constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear). The two stars at the end of the dipper's bowl are known as the Pointers, for a line drawn through them and extended northward points directly to Polaris, the North Star. Polaris marks the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper, which is in the constellation Ursa Minor, the Little Bear.

Gemini, the Twins, is in the southeastern part of the sky. It has two bright stars named Castor and Pollux, the twins born of an egg laid by Leda after she was seduced by Zeus in the guise of a swan. Procyon, the alpha (or brightest) star in Canis Minor, the Little Dog, is below Gemini. Most of the rest of this quadrant of the sky is occupied by faint constellations, the largest of which is Hydra, the Sea Serpent. Leo the Lion and its bright star Regulus are in the east.

Face southwest to see Orion. A very large and bright red giant star named Betelgeuse marks one shoulder, while a less bright red star called Bellatrix marks the other. The very hot bluish-white star Rigel marks one knee. The color contrast between the Orion's two brightest stars, Rigel and Betelgeuse, is evident even to the naked eye. Orion's three belt stars point toward Taurus in the west, Canis Major in the south, and Gemini and Auriga high overhead. The brightest star in the sky, Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, lies in Canis Major, the Great Dog.