Winter Constellations

We live on a planet that is constantly moving, which affects what we see in the sky. As the Earth rotates on its axis, we experience day and night. As the Earth orbits around the Sun, we experience the seasons. For each season we see different constellations in the night sky. For example, the constellation of Scorpius is best seen during winter, while the constellation of Orion is visible on summer evenings. The Southern Cross is a good constellation to watch throughout the entire year because it never disappears below the horizon. It can always be seen circling around the South Celestial Pole.

The information given is for around 8pm (AEST) during June.

Southern Cross in Winter

The Southern Cross in Winter
Copyright: Melbourne Planetarium.

In the night sky:

The Southern Cross is facing the "right way up" and at its highest point in the south. The Two Pointers lie to the left of the Cross. Between the two brightest stars of the Cross, Alpha and Beta Crucis, is a dark nebula called the Coal Sack.

The Milky Way is the faint band of stars high in the south arching from east to west.

In Scorpius, the scorpion, a bright red star called Antares is nearly overhead.

Sagittarius, the archer (sometimes referred to as the teapot), is just above the horizon in the east. The centre of the Milky Way Galaxy lies towards Sagittarius.

The star Spica in Virgo is now high and overheadand the orange star, Arcturus in the constellation of Bootes, the Herdsman, is in the north.

With 7 x 50 binoculars:

Near the Southern Cross is Omega Centauri, a large globular cluster of stars. Through binoculars it looks like a fuzzy star.

In Scorpius we find a few star clusters. Near the star Antares is the globular cluster M4 and there are two open clusters near the ‘sting’ of the Scorpion. The open clusters are M6, known as the butterfly cluster, and M7, one of the brightest clusters of all.

With a telescope:

Not far from Omega Centauri, is the Centaurus Galaxy. This elliptical galaxy, has a dark dust band across its centre, most likely due a collision with a spiral galaxy.

In Sagittarius, we can find the Lagoon, Triffid and Omega nebulae.

Comments (18)

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Aurora K 19 February, 2016 08:31
I've had a hard time finding the big dipper in the winter, I've looked for it at about 7:00 or 8:00 most of the time, should I look at a different time, or can you normally not see the big dipper in the winter? I live in Utah by the why.
Discovery Centre 21 February, 2016 12:15
Hi Aurora, 

We suggest that you use planetarium programs like Stellarium for super-detailed, interactive and easy-to-use information, tailored to your location. You may also want to contact Utah's own Clark Planetarium for local information.
Discovery Centre 21 February, 2016 12:15
Hi Aurora, 

We suggest that you use planetarium programs like Stellarium for super-detailed, interactive and easy-to-use information, tailored to your location. You may also want to contact Utah's own Clark Planetarium for local information.
Hannabelle 5 July, 2015 18:56
Hi just wanting to know what a feint star-like object in the sky over east Gippsland Lakes area is?? It flashes different colours, red, blue, green/yellow. At first I thought it was a satellite or plane but it moves around up n down, side to side, circles and gets bright then dull. What is it?
Mike 12 October, 2012 12:23
Hi - I'd like to know if there's an optimal time/date to view Saturn in the next month or so (Oct/Nov 2012) Thx Mike
Discovery Centre 12 October, 2012 14:48
Hi Mike - Keep an eye on MV's Skynotes website for information about viewing stars, planets and other night sky highlights!
Deb 1 August, 2012 20:07
Can someone please tell me, if there is a star in the southern sky about 30 degrees approx above the horizon at 8pm? I was observing this very brightly colourful mass - it appears to have green, red and yellow lights. It appears due south from Launching Place in the outer east of Melbourne. Amazed by something a little bit unusual looking, especially with binoculas! Thanks.
Discovery Centre 3 August, 2012 15:46
Hi Deb, Your question was a tricky one. There isn't a very bright star due south and about 30 degrees above the horizon at 8 o'clock. However, the second brightest star in the night sky, Canopus, is south west and quite low at 8 o'clock. As it is low, it does undergo a lot of refraction due to the thickness of the Earth's atmosphere and can appear to change colour quite quickly, so it possible that that is the one. Slightly south east is another bright star Achernar, and as this is also low it also appears to change colour.

However, higher in the sky due south would be the bright star alpha centauri, the brightest of the two pointers. The two pointers of course point to the Southern Cross. Unusual for stars high in the sky to keep changing colours, but it does depend on how much pollution there is in the atmosphere, so it could be that.

PJ 20 April, 2011 11:51
The message above from Anthony says he is watching the Melbourne sky live. Is this on a public domain please and if so what is it. Thanks
Sally L 18 August, 2010 19:28
Hi, can you tell me what the large bright white "star" is in the western sky about 7pm, I would guess it would be higher than 30 degrees (but I am a complete novice!!). It is brighter than anything else. Thanks
Discovery Centre 23 August, 2010 15:05

Hi Sally, it is Venus. Its proximity to us as one of our closest planetary neighbours and its thick cloud cover reflecting sunlight combine to make it the brightest object in the night time sky apart from the Moon. It can even be seen soon after sunset while our sky is quite light (the reason it’s often called the “Evening Star”).

A little to its right and down a bit is fainter Mars, our other close neighbour, which has an orange tinge through our atmosphere. Also, at present, below Venus about half way to the horizon is Saturn the second largest planet although not particularly bright. And finally you can also see Jupiter, the largest planet (brighter than Saturn but not as bright as Venus), as it rises in the east from about 9.30pm.


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nicholas 13 August, 2010 16:34
how do you see Venus.
Discovery Centre 15 August, 2010 11:48

Hi Nicholas,

You can find information about how to find and view Venus in the Planetarium's Skynotes for August. Good luck!

Sally 31 July, 2010 09:03
Thanks, great site. I find the comments and responses also very interesting and useful. Do you have a resource to help amateur skywatchers wanting to buy their first telescope?
Discovery Centre 2 August, 2010 12:39

Hi Sally - Advice about buying a telescope from the museum’s Astronomy Curator can be found on a previous ‘Ask the Experts’ question here. Happy sky watching!

omeo 26 July, 2010 23:28
Can anyone tell me what the bright large star on the eastern sky just above the horizan about 11.00pm each night?
Discovery Centre 29 July, 2010 13:06

Hi Omeo! It will be Jupiter, which is rising in the east around 10pm. Hope this is useful!

anthony painter 20 February, 2010 04:25
wonderful site ...... i am in england watching the sky over melbourne live on the internet through a telescope ,, live at night ..... My daytime Tony