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Star Count 2019 – constellations you can see

Northumberland International Dark Sky Park Northumberland International Dark Sky Park (c) Mackenzie NNP

Dark starry skies are an incredible sight to behold, and an important – and often forgotten – joy of our countryside’s nights. However, light pollution is obscuring many people’s view of the stars, even in rural areas and so, this February, with support from the British Astronomical Association, we’re holding a nationwide ‘Star Count’ to help map the nation’s view of the night sky.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to count all of them – we’re focusing on a specific bit of the sky: all you have to do is find the constellation of Orion, count how many stars you can see within the constellation and submit your results here! We’ll use the results to create a new map of the nation’s view of the night sky.

But once you’re out there, all wrapped up from the cold, if you have some extra time having done your Star Count in your area, you might want to see if you can spot these other constellations, using these tips from Callum Potter at the British Astronomical Association. They can all be seen with the naked eye, but if you have a pair of binoculars you can use them, too, to see more detail.

So, starting with Orion, a hunter in Greek mythology, the two brightest stars are at the top left and bottom right of Orion’s ‘body’. At the top left there is a star called Betelgeuse, a red supergiant that glows with a distinct orange red hue. At bottom right you can see a distinct, bright, blue-white star – this is called Rigel. In the middle of the constellation, three stars make up the belt of Orion, and hanging down from the belt are a series of stars that make up Orion’s sword. On a clear night one of these may look a bit fuzzy, and if you use binoculars you will see a hazy patch which is the Great Orion Nebula. This is a place where stars are being created.

stars graphicImage courtesy of

If you follow the belt of Orion westwards and up, you should find another bright orange/red star – this is called Aldebaran and is the brightest star of the constellation Taurus, the Bull.

Aldebaran marks the eye of the Bull, and is at one end of a distinct ‘V’ of stars – these are the Hyades cluster. Looking further to the west you should notice a fuzzy patch of stars, the Seven Sisters, which are also known as the Pleiades. If you have good eyesight you should be able to pick out seven stars with the naked eye. If you view them with binoculars though, it is a fantastic sight with lots more stars glittering like jewels in the dark.

If you move back to the three stars of Orion’s belt again, and follow the belt down and to the east, you will see a really bright white star – Sirius, the dog star, so named to reflect its prominence in its constellation, Canis Major (Greater Dog).

Sirius is the brightest star you can see in the night sky from anywhere in the world. Stars vary in brightness as we see them on the sky because they can be very bright in themselves and vary according to distance. Sirius is both intrinsically a bright star but is also quite close to us.

Of course, when we say close, Sirius is about 8.6 light years away, which is the distance it takes light to travel 8.6 years – approximately 81,362,285,000,000 kilometres. So when we view Sirius today, the light set out 8.6 years ago – what an incredible journey.

Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, this light will be outshone by surrounding light pollution, which means many won’t be able to see it at all.

If you love your view of the stars, take part in #StarCount2019 and help us gather information to help reclaim it.

If you love your view of the stars, take part in #StarCount2019 and help us gather information to help reclaim it.

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