How to View Capricornus

Capricornus is one of the Zodiac's 13 constellations, very dim and shaped like a "V" with a chain of stars on top. It is best seen in the evening from early July to December. The sun transits Capricornus from January to February, and reappears in the morning sky from March to June.


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    Obtain a set of star charts. Sky & Telescope has a set of interactive sky charts that you can use if you register. Stellarium is another program which you can download for free. Google Sky Map is a great app for your smartphone.
    • Capricornus is not visible from January to February. From February to June, it is visible in the morning, and from July to December it is visible in the evening. The best time to view Capricornus is September to October.
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    Memorize the positions of bright stars near Capricornus. In particular, you should memorize Deneb, Vega, Altair, and Fomalhaut. These form what is known as the "Summer Triangle."
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    Find the Summer Triangle. It must be sufficiently dark at night. If you are going out just after sunset, the Summer Triangle will be at the horizon in June, and directly overhead in September-October.
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    Find the two brightest stars in the Triangle, Vega and Altair. Trace an imaginary line south from Vega and Altair until you reach Fomalhaut. Fomalhaut is the most "lonely" star in the sky -- there are almost no bright stars near it, and is hard to miss. Halfway between Altair and Fomalhaut is Capricornus. To the left and right of this line are the constellation's three brightest stars. If you cannot see the stars, move to someplace darker.
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    Look for planets in the area. Planets, and of course, the moon, occasionally pass through this constellation, and can be a beacon for the constellation if you know where they are. Venus is in Capricornus as of January 2012.


  • You don't need a telescope. Just use your eyes, as the stars are already bright enough. Also, a telescope's field of view is too small. If you need optical aid, use binoculars.
  • Move to a dark sky area. A campground, far from city lights, is a great area to go stargazing. Light pollution really takes away from the experience.
  • Moonless nights show more stars. On the contrary, the Moon also can guide you to the constellation.
  • If you can't see the constellation, just stare at the patch of sky. As your eyes adjust to the low light level, more details become visible.
  • If you wear glasses, tilt them up or down slightly. This will bring more stars into view.
  • Bring your star charts out. Use a red light to read them, as white lights ruin your night vision.
  • Laser pointers are excellent for pointing out the constellation to others.
  • Go to your local planetarium. The staff there should be able to point out the constellation for you.
  • If you see a constant moving point of light which does not turn, you may have spotted a satellite.
  • Be on the lookout for meteors!


  • When you go outside, know your surroundings. It's easy to cut yourself or sprain your ankle on something you can't see.
  • It's Capricornus, not Capricorn. Capricorn is just the name of an astrological house.
  • Don't look at bright lights when your eyes are dark adapted! It takes 20 minutes for your eyes to dark adapt, but only 2 seconds to completely reverse it! It will leave behind afterimages and may give you a headache.
  • Be careful with lasers. You can get arrested by pointing one at a plane, and you could lose your vision by shining a beam in your eyes.

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Categories: Astronomy