Sketching the Northern Constellations
Curious about the night sky and what constellations you can see? We’re posting Constellation Hunter videos to help you find constellations you can see from wherever you are (in the northern hemisphere). No telescope required!
To get the most out of your Constellation Hunting experience, consider sketching your observations. Sketching is not only a fun and creative activity, but it also is an important way to build your skills in observation. It also helps you take some time and notice details you may have missed otherwise.
Constellation Hunters is an Astronomical League Observing Program. This program strives to provide an orientation to the sky for novice astronomers so they can learn to navigate among the stars and become more familiar with the constellations and brighter stars in the sky.
Just for fun: Learn how to find a few of the constellations listed below. To get more out of your observing experience, sketch your observations. Keep your sketches and start a portfolio of your observations.
Looking for a challenge? Use the list below to find and sketch all 39 constellations, then submit your sketches to the Minnesota Astronomical Society and the Astronomical League to earn a Constellation Hunter certificate & pin!
There are constellations from each season to observe and sketch. You can start this challenge any time of year and keep it going all year until you’ve observed them all.
For sketching, you’ll also want:
Clipboard or hard surface to sketch on
Sketching sheet (or paper)
Pencil or other sketching utensil
Here are some videos to help with your hunt:
Bell Museum YouTube channel—Constellation Hunters playlist.
If you’re keeping a record of your observations, there’s important information you’ll want to include with each constellation sketch:
Date and time of observation
Sky conditions: Transparency & Seeing
- Seeing is a measure of how stable the sky is
- Transparency is a measure of how clear the sky is
- See the FAQ below for how to measure these
A sketch of all the stars that were visible to the unaided eye out to the limits of the constellation’s boundaries. Take a look at this example.
- Star names should be identified on the sketch.
- Other objects in the constellation that you can see with your eyes. Possible examples may include: galaxies, open clusters, globular clusters, and nebulae.
For general questions about this program, or any of the Bell Museum’s observing programs, email Sarah Komperud at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For questions about observing and sketching constellations, or how to submit your sketches, email the Minnesota Astronomical Society’s Jerry Jones at email@example.com.
Certificate & Pin Program from the Minnesota Astronomical Society and its parent organization, the Astronomical League
Requirements to receive a certificate & pin:
Observe and sketch all 39 constellations on the list
Scan and email a copy of your sketches as a PDF along with the following information to the Minnesota Astronomical Society AL Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org. Do not send original materials. They will not be returned to you.
Society affiliation: Minnesota Astronomical Society
For more detailed information on the Constellation Hunter Program, visit the Astronomical League’s website.
Tips for submitting your sketches
Make sure your sketches are readable.
Include a cover sheet. The cover sheet should include the following:
- Your name and contact information (name, mailing address, email address, phone number, society affiliation: Minnesota Astronomical Society)
- Clarification of the system you used to determine seeing and transparency, if you used something other than the recommended method.
- Include a description of any abbreviations you used in your sketches.
Optional: Feel free to include more personal experiences with your sketches as well as detailed info about the object being observed. Consider adding thoughts about how difficult it was to find the object, or even if there was someone with you who helped you find it. Note: All work submitted must be from one individual. The Astronomical League prohibits group collaboration in the completion of an individual’s observing projects. While it is common and acceptable to work in a group setting for this project, the finished work must be from one individual.
Q: Can I participate in this program without submitting for a certificate and pin?
A: Yes. You can observe and sketch just for fun. Learn how to find as many constellations as you want. You do not need to submit anything. Keep all your observations and sketches for your own collection.
Q: Does it cost anything to participate in this program?
A: If you want to participate just for fun, there is no cost to participate. If you want to submit your observations and sketches for the certificate and pin, then you have to become a member of MAS which has a small yearly membership fee.
Q: Do I have to become a member of MAS to receive my certificate and pin?
A: Yes. In order to submit your sketches for the Astronomical League certificate and pin, you must be a member of the Astronomical League (AL) in good standing either as a member of an affiliated society or as a Member at Large.
MAS is the local affiliated society and will review, verify, and submit your sketches to the AL. MAS will then distribute your certificate and pin.
Q: Is there a deadline for submitting my observations as part of the certificate program?
A: No. You can submit your observations any time once you’ve completed all 39 observations and sketches.
Q: What observing equipment do I need to participate in the Constellation Hunters program?
A: None! Telescopes and binoculars are not required. See the materials list for items to help you sketch your observations.
Binoculars, while not required, will give you a deeper look into the star fields that you sketch. You should not include these additional stars and objects on your sketches
Q: What does it mean by “constellation boundaries?”
A: Constellations are more than just the stars that are used to draw in its shape. The sky was divided up into 88 sections as a way to standardize a map of the sky; similar to how the USA is divided up into individual states. A star is considered part of a constellation if it is located within the boundary of that constellation even if it is not part of the line drawing you might see on a star map.
Q: What is seeing? How do I measure it?
A: Seeing is a measure of how stable the sky is. Seeing can be determined in the following way:
E (excellent)—The brighter stars are not twinkling at all.
VG (very good)—The stars are twinkling slightly, but the brighter planets are not twinkling.
G (good)—The brighter planets are twinkling slightly.
F (fair)—The brighter planets are obviously twinkling.
P (poor)—The atmosphere is turbulent. all objects are twinkling to the points where observation is not practical.
For more information on seeing, check out this guide.
Q: What is transparency? How do I measure it?
A: Transparency is a measure of how clear the sky is. It can be measured by using the faintest star you can see in Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper). Here is the scale.
1—If you can’t see Polaris.
2—If you can only see Polaris.
3—If you can see the two stars on the end of the bowl of the Little Dipper (Kochab and Pherkad).
4—If you can see any of the stars in the handle of the Little Dipper.
5—If you can see six of the seven stars in the Little Dipper.
6—If you can see all seven stars in the Little Dipper.
7—If you can see stars near the Little Dipper that are not part of the stick figure.
For more information on transparency, see this guide.