Using a constellation list, you can have your children engage in a scavenger hunt of sorts to find the various constellations during different seasons. Using a constellation list as a checklist, you and your children can observe the various changes in the night sky.
Constellation Scavenger Hunt Project
There are two effective ways to observe and record the night sky. Upper elementary students should engage in constellation observation at least once during their upper elementary years. Knowing information about the constellations and how to spot them will make studying astronomy in later years much easier.
Observing Specific Constellations
One way to observe constellations over a period of time is to choose a few specific constellations and chart how they appear in the night sky over the period of several months. If you are new to star gazing, a good constellation to start with is the Big Dipper, or Ursa Major. It is one of the most recognizable constellations in the sky due to its bright North Star and telltale ladle shape. If your student is older, try having him plot the course of a few constellations over the course of three to six months. Your student should keep drawings of what he sees in a science journal. On each entry, make sure he notes the date and time and make sure he stands in the same spot every night he observes.
Another effective way to study the night sky is to choose a specific spot of sky to observe over the course of a period of time. To do this, your student needs to choose some type of landmark to ensure that he is looking at approximately the same place each night. If you have a telescope, you can also set it to observe the same section of sky each night. Have your student record his observations in a science journal over the course of several months. He should see the constellations moving across the sky as time goes on.
Constellation List By Season
Learning to identify constellations is easier when the constellation list you are using is organized by season and hemisphere. Unless otherwise noted, the constellations listed can be seen in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
These constellations are best seen between September 22 and December 22.
- Cepheus (mostly seen in the Northern hemisphere)
- Horologium (mostly visible in the Southern hemisphere)
- Hydrus (visible in the Southern hemisphere)
- Octans (visible in the Southern hemisphere)
- Piscis Austrinus
Try finding these constellations between December 22 and April 22.
- Camelopardalis (visible mostly in the Northern hemisphere)
- Canis Major
- Canis Minor
- Carina (more visible in the Southern hemisphere than the Northern hemisphere)
- Dorado (visible mostly in the Southern hemisphere)
- Leo Minor
- Mensa (visible in the Southern hemisphere only)
- Pictor (mostly visible in the Southern hemisphere)
- Ursa Major
- Volans (visible in the Southern hemisphere)
These constellations really shine in the night sky between April 22 and June 22.
- Antlia (more visible in the Southern hemisphere than in the Northern hemisphere)
- Canes Venatici
- Chamaeleon (only visible in the Southern hemisphere)
- Circinus (visible mostly in the Southern hemisphere)
- Coma Berenices
- Crux (visible mostly in the Southern hemisphere)
- Musca (visible mostly in the Southern hemisphere)
- Ursa Minor (visible mostly in the Northern hemisphere)
You'll have the best luck finding constellations on this list between June 22 and September 22.
- Apus (visible in the Southern hemisphere)
- Corona Austrina
- Corona Borealis
- Draco (visible mostly in the Northern hemisphere)
- Pavo (can be seen mostly from the Southern hemisphere)
- Triangulum Australe (can be seen mostly from the Southern hemisphere)
Other Guides to Constellations
Observing the night sky is a science that dates back thousands of years. The earliest navigators and explorers used the sky as a map to help guide them. It is not surprising then, that there are a slew of books geared towards helping a young generation of astronomers learn more:
- A Walk Through the Heavens offers readers a list of constellations along with the mythology and stories that go along with them.
- Find the Constellations, as the title implies, will help you and your student find each cluster of stars on your constellation list.
- A Glow in the Dark Guide to the Night Sky is a great guide because it is simple enough for early elementary and also has that cool glow in the dark factor making it great to take outside with you when you are stargazing.