Many of the star pictures that adorn the night sky are big and bold. The curving body of Scorpius, the scorpion, strides low across the southwestern horizon on August evenings, for example, while Cygnus, the swan, climbs high across the top of the sky.
But many other constellations are much more difficult to see. They’re small or faint or both — little more than filler between the better-known star patterns.
Three examples stairstep up the east as night falls. One of them is small but fairly easy to find, while the other two require some work and imagination.
The easy-to-spot constellation is Delphinus, the dolphin. It’s about halfway up the eastern sky, to the lower left of the bright star Altair. It’s one of the smallest of the 88 constellations. But it stands out because its main stars really do form a pattern that resembles a dolphin, with its body to the left and its long tail to the right.
An even smaller constellation is directly below Delphinus — Equuleus, the little horse. Unlike the much bolder Pegasus, the flying horse, which is next door, Equuleus is drawn as only the horse’s head. All of its stars are quite faint, so you need especially dark skies to see it.
And Sagitta, the arrow, is above Delphinus. Its stars are faint as well. Under dark skies, though, you might just make out the shape of the arrow — four stars pointing roughly to the lower left — a tiny star picture in the broad summer sky.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.