AQUILA  "The Eagle"  pronounced ACK-will-ah

Chart showing the constellations.

This constellation dates from ancient times, represents the bird that in Mythology was the companion of Jupiter, and often carried his thunderbolts.  Ptolemy assigned nine stars to it, but the six southerly stars which he placed in the obsolete Antinous are now included in it. Aquila lies in the Milky Way and contains rich star fields, particularly towards the neighbouring constellation Scutum.  Aquila straddles the celestial equator in the winter Milky Way and is easily recognised by the bright white star Altair with its two flanking yellow stars β Aql and γ Aql the former being the less bright. 

Aquila contains the unusual object SS 433.  This is a unique binary star system lying in the centre of a supernova remnant.  The stars cannot be resolved apart visually, but spectroscopes on large telescopes reveal emission lines that are both red and blue shifted, showing jets emerging from the star with a velocity about one quarter the sped of light both towards and away from us.  These jets precess, and thus seem to sweep around the sky with a period of about 164 days.  The object is an eclipsing binary star with a period of 6.4 days, containing a very hot star with an invisible companion, that is probably a neutron star because of the bizarre relativistic effects.

To find Aquila look north in the late evening sky, and find the bright star Altair.  From the more northerly regions of New Zealand Altair is the apex of the "Summer Triangle"  (Northern hemisphere) with Vega in Lyra and Deneb in Cygnus being at the base.

Chart showing Aquila as seen towards the north in mid evening during September.

Aquila chart

Constellatio Ophiuchus Constellatio Serpens Constellation Scutum Constellation Sagittarius Constellation Capricornus Constellation Aquarius Constellation Delphinus Constellation Equuleus Constellation Cygnus Constellation Sagitta Constellation Hercules

Some stars and interesting objects in the Constellations

α Aquilae (Altair, pronounced ell-TAH-eer, an Arabic name meaning flying eagle), is a 0.77 magnitude white star 16 light years away, among the Sun's closest neighbours.

β Aql (Alshain) is a magnitude 3.7 yellow star 42 light years away.

γ Aql (Tarazed), is a magnitude 2.7 yellow giant star 280 light years away.

η Aql is 1400 light years away.  It is one of the brightest Cepheid variable stars, ranging in brightness from magnitude 4.1 to magnitude 5.3 every 7.2 days.

15 Aql is a magnitude 5.4 yellow giant star 390 light years away, with a purplish magnitude 7.2 companion star easily visible in small telescopes.

57 Aql is an easy double star system for small telescopes, consisting of a bluish magnitude 5.7 star with a 6.5 magnitude companion.  They lie about 590 light years away.

NGC 6709 is a loosely scattered cluster of medium bright stars lying in a fine field.  This fairly rich cluster is not effective with small apertures.

NGC 6781 is a large moderately bright grey planetary nebula.  An OIII filter improves the telescopic view and allows the annular character of the nebula to be seen.


Aquila lies on the celestial equator and is visible to the north in the evening during September. The brightest star, Altair is due north about 9.30 pm (NZST) on September 1, 8.30 on September 15 and 7.30 on September 30. It has an altitude just below 40° from the South Island and a little over 40° from the north of the North Island of New Zealand.

In August look for Aquila to the north-east mid evening. July sees the constellation low between north-east and east at the same time.
By the end of October, Altair will be rather lower to the north-west once it gets dark. By the end of November it will be getting lost in the evening twilight low, a little north of west.

AQUARIUS The "Water Carrier" pronounced ah-KWARE-ee-us.

Aquarius is one of the most ancient constellations. The Babylonians saw the figure of a man pouring water from a jar in this area of the sky, and Ptolemy assigned forty two stars to this constellation. He included Fomalhaut which is now the brightest star in the nearby constellation Piscis Austrinus.

Aquarius is in an area of "watery" constellations such as Pisces, Cetus, and Capricornus, possibly because the Sun passes through this region in the rainy season.

Aquarius will somewhat in the future contain the vernal equinox, the point at which the Sun crosses into the northern hemisphere each year (about March 22). This astronomically important point, from which the coordinate of right ascension is measured, will move into Aquarius from neighbouring Pisces, because of the effect of precession, in about 600 years time. The so called "Age of Aquarius", which according to astrologers is dawning, is a long way off yet.

Three main meteor showers radiate from Aquarius each year. The richest shower, the eta Aquarids reach a maximum of about 40 meteors per hour on May 5th. The delta Aquarids produce about 20 meteors per hour around July 28th, while a weaker stream the iota Aquarids produce a maximum of 8 meteors per hour on August 6th.

To find Aquarius, look north in the late evening, over halfway up the sky to find Fomalhaut, and drop down to find either Sadalmelik or the "Y" shaped group of stars that make up the water jar.

Constellation Sagittarius Constellation Capricornus Piscis Austrinus Constellation Sculptor Constellation Pisces Constellation Pegasus Delphinus & Equuleus Constellation Aquila

Chart showing Aquarius.


Some stars and interesting objects in the Constellation

α Aquarii (Sadalmelik, from the Arabic, meaning 'lucky one of the king') is a magnitude 3.0 yellow supergiant star 950 light years away.

β Aqr (Sadalbuud, meaning 'luckiest of the lucky') is a magnitude 2.9 yellow supergiant 980 light years away.

γ Aqr (Sadaschbia) is a magnitude 3.8 white star 91 light years distant.

δ Aqr (Skat) is a magnitude 3.3 giant white star 98 light years away.

ε Aqr (Albali) is a magnitude 3.8 white star 110 light years away.

M 2 (NGC 7089) is a globular cluster discovered by Maraldi in 1746. This fine object is a mass of innumerable stars concentrated towards the centre with irregular wispy rays of outliers. It can be seen in binoculars and small telescopes.

M 72 (NGC 6981) is a globular cluster much smaller and less impressive than M 2. While it was discovered by Merchain in 1780, it is too faint to be seen in binoculars. It is much more open than M 2.

NGC 7009 is a famous planetary nebula popularly known as the Saturn Nebula, because of its resemblance to the planet when seen in large telescopes or on photographs. An OIII filter helps make this object more easily seen.

NGC 7293 is the nearest and largest planetary nebula visible in amateur telescopes. It is popularly known as the Helix nebula and appears as a rather large faint annulus with a dark centre, about half the size of the Moon. An OIII filter is a wonderful aid to seeing this object in a small telescope.

M 73 (NGC 6994) is one of the puzzles of the Messier catalogue. It is not at all clear why Messier considered this insignificant group of probably unconnected stars could be mistaken for a comet like object. It probably is a indication of the lack of quality in his optics.


Aquarius is to the north as it gets dark at the beginning of November. The constellation spreads over about 50° of sky, east to west and has an altitude from about 45° to about 65° as seen from New Zealand when at its highest. By December 1 the constellation will be getting rather lower and to the north-west as soon as it is dark. It will be starting to set before 12pm as seen from New Zealand.

Earlier in the year, at the beginning of September, Aquarius will be to the north-east at about 9.30 pm. Earlier still, from about May on the constellation is best seen in the morning sky.

APUS, the Bird of Paradise. (Pronounced AY-puss)


This faint constellation near the south celestial pole was introduced in 1603 by the German Astronomer Johann Bayer, in his star atlas Uranometria. This was the first star atlas to cover the entire sky. Bayer seems to have adopted the name from the accounts of voyagers to the southern hemisphere in the previous century, including Amerigo Vespucci and the Dutchman Petrus Theodorus.

To find this constellation look south in the evening sky, find Crux, the Southern Cross and the two bright pointers, and look below. Triangulum Australe, the Southern Triangle is reasonably apparent, but the faint stars of Apus will not be easily visible within city lighting.


Constellation Scorpius Constellation Lupus Constellation Centaurus Constellation Antlia Constellation NormaLupus Constellation Ara Constellation Circinus Constellation Crux Constellation Musca Constellation Vela Constellation Carina Constellation Volans Constellation Pictor Constellation Mensa Constellation Chamaeleon Constellation Octans Triangulum Australe Constellation Apus Constellation Telescopium Constellation Pavo

Chart showing Apus.

Triangulum, Pegasus, and Andromeda

Some stars in the Constellations

α Apodis is a magnitude 3.8 orange giant star 411 light years away.

β Aps is a magnitude 4.2 yellow star 158 light years away.

γ Aps is a magnitude 3.9 yellow star 160 light years away.

δ1, δ2 Aps are a pair of orange giant stars which can be seen as a pair in binoculars or opera glasses. Delta1 varies between 4.66 and 4.87 magnitude and lies 766 light years away, while delta2 is magnitude 5.26 and lies 663 light years away.


Apus lies within 20° of the South celestial pole and so is circumpolar from New Zealand, that is it does not set. The constellation is highest in the sky in June and July at about 9.30 pm.

ANTLIA, the "Air Pump" and PYXIS the "Compass" (Pronounced ANT-lee-ah and PICK-sis)

Antlia and Pyxis are relatively recent constellations and the product of Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. Antlia was introduced in 1752 as Antlia Pneumatica to commemorate the air pump invented by the famous physicist Robert Boyle. Its name was shortened in 1930 when the constellations were codified. It is a group of inconspicuous stars between Hydra and Vela, and in no way it resembles an air pump. Pyxis is the smallest and least impressive of the four parts into which the ancient constellation of Argo Navis, the Ship, was divided in 1752 by Lacaille. The other sections are Carina, Puppis and Vela.

To find these constellations look toward the highest point in the sky. Pick out the bright stars Canopus and Sirius, and use the chart to orient yourself.

Antlia and Pyxis. Constellation Dorado Constellation Pictor Constellation Carina Constellation Vela Constellation Centaurus Constellation Crater Constellation Sextans Constellation Monoceros Constellation Orion Constellation Lepus Constellation Canis Major Constellation Puppis Constellation Columba Constellation Hydra Constellation Hydra

Details of some of the objects shown in the chart.

α Antliæ, the constellation's brightest star, is a magnitude 4.3 orange giant star 366 light years away.

ζ1, ζ2 Ant is a wide pair of stars with magnitudes 5.8 and 5.9, visible in binoculars. ζ1 Ant is itself a pair of pale yellow stars, able to be effectively split with small apertures.

NGC 3132 is a relatively bright planetary nebula on the border with Vela. This popular planetary nebula called the Eight-burst Nebula appears larger in a telescope than Jupiter.

α Pyxidis, is a magnitude 3.7 blue-white star 845 light years away.

β Pyx is a magnitude 4.0 yellow giant star 388 light years away.

γ Pyx is a magnitude 4.0 orange giant star 209 light years away.


Antlia and Pyxis are well south of the equator and visible from New Zealand during part of the night at all times of year. They are best viewed in the evening during the first half of the year. Parts of the constellations pass overhead for places in Northern New Zealand.

At about 10 pm NZDT in February, the constellations are at mid altitude and to the east, they do not reach their highest altitude until about 1.30 am (NZDT). By mid March they are highest at 11:30 pm and a month later at 8.30 pm (NZST).

ANDROMEDA pronounced an-DROM-eh-dah.

The constellation Andromeda represents the daughter of Queen Cassiopeia and King Cepheus, who was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to the sea monster Cetus, until saved by the hero Perseus, whom she subsequently married.

This large northern constellation was recognised by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in 150 AD. The unaided eye only sees an irregular line of the four brightest stars extending north-east (right and down) from the great square of Pegasus. Alpheratz (α Andromedae) forms one corner of the great square. This star, which is also known as Sirrah, marks the head of the chained Andromeda; another star in the line, Mirach, represents her waist, and a third, Almach, is her chained foot.

The most celebrated object in the constellation is the Andromeda Galaxy M 31, a spiral galaxy like our Milky Way, but larger, recognised as the most distant object visible to the unaided eye. Two stars leading from Mirach act as a guide to finding it. It is low down in the northern sky in New Zealand, and virtually impossible to see from the lower part of the South Island.

Chart showing Triangulum, Pegasus, and Andromeda in mid November.

To find Andromeda look north in the late evening sky and find the Great Square of Pegasus. The lower right corner of the Great Square is Alpheratz. The diagram is the view from Wellington. Aucklanders will see more of Andromeda, but conversely, South Islanders will see less.

Triangulum, Pegasus, and Andromeda

Some stars and interesting objects in the Constellation.

α Andromedae (Alpheratz or Sirrah) is a magnitude 2.1 blue-white star 97.1 light years away.

β And (Mirach) is a magnitude 2.1 red giant star 199 light years away.

γ And (Almak or Almach), is an outstanding triple star 355 light years away. Its two brightest components (mags. 2.2 and 5.0) form one of the finest pairs elegantly seen on small telescopes, with colours of orange-yellow and pale blue (by contrast). The fainter blue star has close 6th mag. blue companion. Unfortunately it is very close to the horizon for New Zealand observers.

M 31 (NGC 224) the celebrated Andromeda Galaxy is visible to the unaided eye from a dark sky site in the northern hemisphere. It was recorded in the 10th century by the Persian astronomer Al Sufi. It is an immense spiral galaxy, similar to the Milky Way in size and general composition. Binoculars or low magnification in a telescope help show the brightest central portion of this famous galaxy from northern parts of New Zealand. If the entire Andromeda Galaxy were bright enough to be seen by the unaided eye, it would appear five or six times the diameter of the full Moon. M 31 is accompanied by two small satellite galaxies, M 32 (NGC 221) and NGC 205, the equivalent of our Magellanic Clouds.


Being a northerly constellation, Andromeda is, at best, only visible for a few hours each night. From the South Island, the most northerly parts of the constellation do not rise above the horizon.

Alpheratz, α And, is about 24° above the horizon at its highest as seen from Auckland. From the extreme south of New Zealand its maximum height is 14°. Most of the rest of the constellation is lower.

In terms of time the galaxy is above the horizon for about 6 hours 40 minutes as seen from Auckland, 5 hours 30 minutes from Wellington and 4 hours 40 minutes from Christchurch. Thus there is only a fairly brief window of opportunity to see the galaxy during the night. For New Zealand, it is due north, and highest, at about 10:30 pm (NZDT) in mid November, an hour later at the beginning of the month and an hour earlier by the end of the month. By the latter date it will be running into evening twilight. For each month before November, the galaxy will be at its highest two hours later. This means it is visible from New Zealand during the hours of darkness from about the beginning of July to the end of November.

The constellations are listed under the month in which they have their upper transit at about 9.00 pm local mean solar time. For New Zealand, this is equivalent to about 9.30 pm NZST (winter months) or 10.30 pm NZDT (summer months). The previous month the constellations will be at their highest two hours later, while the following month they will be highest two hours earlier. In summer months this will be during daylight for temperate latitudes.

Each constellation will be well placed for viewing mid evening during the month shown. In the previous months the constellation is likely to be visible to the east mid-evening and be well placed later in the night. In the following months the constellation may be visible to the west soon after sunset, but is likely to set after a few hours or less. Southerly constellations are circum-polar and so visible all night.

This is not the only month in which constellations are visible, see notes for individual constellations. It is the month in which they are highest and generally best placed for viewing at 9.00 pm Local Solar Time. For larger constellations, different parts may culminate an hour or more either side of this time.



Eridanus Caelum Taurus Reticulum
Camelopardus Dorado Auriga Mensa
Lepus Orion    
Columbia Pictor Canis Major Canis Minor
Monoceros Gemini    
Puppis Volans Lynx Cancer
Pyxis Carina Hydra Vela
Atila Leo Sextans Leo Minor
Chamaeleon Ursa Major Crater  
Hydra Corvus Centaurus Coma Berenices
Crux Musca Canes Venetici Virgo
Bootes Circinus Hydra  
Corona Borealis Serpens Caput Triangulum Norma
Apus Libra Lupus Hercules
Scorpius Ara    
Draco Serpens Cauda Ophiucus Corona Australis
Lyra Scutum Saggitarius Telescopium
Saggita Aquila Microscopium Vulpecula
Delphinius Cygnus Capricornus Indus
Equuleus Octans    
Aquarius Cepheus Grus Lacerta
Pisces Austrinus Pegasus    
Tucana Andromeda Cassiopeia Sculptor
Pisces Phoenix Cetus  
Hydrus Triangulum Aries Fornax
Horologium Perseus    

The following table lists the constellations in the night sky alphabetically.  Click on a constellation name to find out some interesting history and information.  Also some objects and viewing information is given.  A finder chart is included for each constellation.

To find out what is visible tonight visit both the constellation by month page and the Sky Tonight pages.

Constellations by Month



Andromeda Circinus Lacerta Pisces Austrinus
Atila Columba Leo Puppis
Apus Coma Berenices Leo Minor Pyxis
Aquarius Corona Australis Lepus Reticulum
Aquila Corona Borealis Libra Saggita
Ara Corvus Lupus Saggitarius
Aries Crater Lynx Scorpius
Auriga Crux Lyra Sculptor
Bootes Cygnus Mensa Scutum
Caelum Delphinius Microscopium Serpens
Camelopardus Dorado Monoceros Sextans
Cancer Draco Musca Taurus
Canes Venatici Equuleus Norma Telescopium
Canis Major Eridanus Octans Triangulum
Canis Minor Fornax Ophiucus Triangulum Australe
Capricornus Gemini Orion Tucana
Carina Grus Pavo Ursa Major
Cassiopeia Hercules Pegasus Ursa Minor
Centaurus Horologium Perseus Vela
Cepheus Hydra Phoenix Virgo
Cetus Hydrus Pictor Volans
Chamaeleon Indus Pisces Vulpecula