Right now is a fantastic time of year to see some of the most breathtaking sections of the starry heavens -- which also happen to be some of the most "mythologically important" parts of the night sky, containing constellations who play major roles in the Star Myths of the world.
The moon is now in a period of waning, rising later and later each night (or, later and later in the early morning hours, on its way to being "overtaken" by the sun, which takes place each month and produces a New Moon when the sun catches up to the moon).
The next New Moon will take place on August 2nd, which means that until then the moon will be growing thinner and thinner in its waning crescent, and rising later and later, providing us with dark night-time star-gazing opportunities between now and then. Even after the point of New Moon, star-gazing is still quite good for a few days, even as the brand-new crescent moon is hanging low in the sky in the west just after sunset (although each day the crescent will trail the sun more and more, positioned higher and higher above the western horizon after sunset as the sun keeps getting "further ahead" of the moon, and the crescent will grow thicker and thicker until eventually the moon's brightness will interfere with star-watching opportunities in the hours after sunset).
In the meantime, if you have clear views of the night sky in your neighborhood, you may wish to avail yourself -- if at all possible -- of the chance to view the dazzling constellations of Scorpio and Sagittarius (both of which are very easy to see in all their glory right now), as well as Ophiucus and Hercules, neither of which are as familiar as Scorpio and Sagittarius -- but if you're not familiar with them and want some pointers to help you identify them in the sky, read on below.
The night-time lineup in the hours after sunset and leading up to midnight (and afterwards, if you are a night-owl) is so magnificent at this time of year (and so mythologically significant) that, if you live in a location with too much light pollution or without good views of the sky (especially when looking towards southern horizon, for viewers in the northern hemisphere), you may want to plan a little star-gazing journey to a location that can give you some better views, if at all possible.
The enormous figure of Scorpio dominates the "center-stage" position of the zodiac band in the hours after midnight right now. It is not always possible for viewers in the more northern latitudes to see the entire graceful sweep of the long and sinuous form of Scorpio, but the best opportunity to do so is when Scorpio is at its highest point in its arcing path across the sky (which will be towards the south, for viewers in the northern hemisphere north of the tropics). Scorpio's brightest star, Antares, currently reaches its culmination or transit point at a few minutes after nine in the evening, which is not long after the sky begins to grow dark enough to see the stars.
It is a glorious sight.
As earth continues in its track around the sun, Scorpio will be farther and farther along each night at the same hour, which means that it will be creeping further towards the west and towards its point of disappearance beneath the western horizon (although the progress will take weeks). Thus, this is probably the very best time of year to see the Scorpion, unless your star-gazing hours are in the wee hours of the morning (before sunrise instead of after sunset). Be sure to look for the brilliant stars of the "Cat's Eyes," which are very distinctive and easy to spot in the tail of the Scorpion, near the very end (just before the "stinger" in the tail).
The constellation Scorpio is marked with the number "8" in the star-chart diagram above. It looks smaller in the chart relative to other constellations than it will look in the night sky, because the chart distorts the sky to try to give the impression of three dimensions (thus, constellations on either edge are larger, and those in the center of the page are smaller, to simulate the apparent "dome" of the heavens, or the curved walls of a planetarium, in order to help visualize the fact that the left and right sides of the image would curve around the viewer and those constellations would be rising on the left and setting on the right of the viewer, rather than "straight ahead" as you look due south).
Just behind the Scorpion on the same arcing path (low towards the southern horizon for viewers in the northern hemisphere above the tropics) is the constellation Sagittarius, following not far behind Scorpio and marked by several very bright stars. Sagittarius is marked with the number "9" in the star-chart diagram above.
The stars are connected in the diagram with lines using the system suggested by H. A. Rey. However, although H. A. Rey's outline is indeed the suggested way which I would advise viewers to envision Sagittarius (both for star-gazing and for analyzing the ancient myths of humanity), the constellation is not going to "jump out" at the viewer in the outline he suggests, in this particular case. This is because a few of the very brightest stars in Sagittarius form the distinctive outline commonly envisioned as (and commonly known as) "the teapot."
You can see the stars of the teapot diagrammed for you in this previous post and this previous post, both of which are (I maintain) worthy of reading again, even if you're already familiar with the teapot outline, because they may enhance your enjoyment when finding Sagittarius. You may also enjoy this previous post discussing my assertion that the stars of the "teapot" outline are almost certainly the "locusts" which the scriptures of the New Testament gospels tell us were a main part of the diet of John the Baptist.
Once you have located the stars of "the teapot" in Sagittarius, however, I would suggest that you may wish to try to see the rest of the constellation's outline. To do this, you can start with the oblong rectangle of the "chest" of the figure as envisioned in the H. A. Rey system, which actually uses the same stars as the "handle" of the teapot outline (on the left of the constellation as you face south in the northern hemisphere). From there, it should not be difficult to make out the narrow, triangular head, and even the long "plume" or feather which rises up above the triangular head and which is a distinctive part of the constellation. If you see it for the first time, you may feel a small sense of personal triumph! From there, you can go on to trace out the remainder of the Sagittarius.
The constellation Sagittarius is not yet at its zenith at nine in the evening when Scorpio is culminating -- so if you are having trouble seeing the full constellation Sagittarius, you may need to wait an hour or two.
The next constellations, however, are above the traditional zodiac band, and thus should be high enough in the sky for you to see immediately -- and they are truly breathtaking in their own right, even though they are composed of much fainter stars, for the most part, than are Scorpio and Sagittarius. These are the mighty figures of Ophiucus and Hercules -- both constellations who play absolutely central roles in numerous Star Myths of the world (including many of the myths analyzed in Star Myths Volume Two -- Greek mythology).
To locate Ophiucus, it is helpful to remember the fact that this constellation seems to be standing on the end of Scorpio usually envisioned as that constellation's "scorpion claws," or as the multiple heads of a great many-headed serpent. Ophiucus is marked by the number "8c" in the star-chart diagram above. The constellation (who plays both male and female deities and characters in different Star Myths) is known as "the Serpent-bearer" (which is what the name basically means in a literal translation).
When you look above the "heads" of Scorpio, you may first be able to locate the three fairly bright stars that mark the lower fringe of the constellation Ophiucus's widely-flaring cloak or tunic (forming the line at the top of the "legs" of the constellation as drawn -- the legs of the constellation are very faint and should not be the first part of Ophiucus that you try to identify). From there, look upwards still further -- remembering that Ophiucus is a tall and fairly rectangular figure in the sky -- and try to identify the constellation's very recognizable triangular "head" or "helmet."
A helpful hint is to notice that one foot of the constellation Hercules (the green constellation marked "8a" immediately above the green-lined outline of Ophiucus in the above chart) appears to almost step on the head of Ophiucus. The end of this foot of Hercules, in fact, can trick you -- because it makes a kind of "false triangle" with the two stars that make up the "right side" of the actual triangle of the head of Ophiucus:
In the above close-up diagram, Ophiucus is outlined in red, and Hercules above is outlined in green. The large triangle that makes up the head of the constellation Ophiucus is clearly visible -- but when you look for it in the night sky, until you become familiar with locating Ophiucus, you may accidentally "see" a triangle made up of the two "right-side" stars in the actual head of Ophiucus, along with the "foot" of Hercules which is marked in the diagram above with a yellow arrow. Can you see how this star that is marked with a yellow arrow can be seen as forming "another triangle" (a smaller triangle) next to the "actual" head of Ophiucus?
Armed with this information, you should now be able to identify the "actual" triangular head of massive Ophiucus, and also the "foot" of the forward leg of the constellation Hercules (that is, the foot that is marked by the yellow arrow above). This will enable you to continue upwards (almost straight up over your head, for northern hemisphere viewers) to the rest of Hercules.
Before you do so, however, you may wish to try to identify the two "halves" of the mighty serpent which Ophiucus is often envisioned to be holding (these two halves of the serpent are envisioned as many other objects and implements in other Star Myths of the world, including as spears, vines, lassoes, tree trunks, and even a cornucopia in more than one instance).
Then, you can proceed to outline the constellation of the great Hercules, another one of the most important constellations in the sky, when it comes to the sacred stories of the human race.
The easiest part of Hercules to find is the constellation's distinctive, square-shaped head. However, if you start from the forward leg at the star marked by the yellow arrow in the diagram above, you will actually come to the distinctive narrow waist of the constellation first. Although faint, you should be able to make out the three stars in the waist of Hercules (almost like the three belt-stars of Orion, except that these three are not in a straight line, and are very faint; they are also not evenly-spaced the way the stars of Orion's belt are nearly evenly-spaced):
From there, you should be able to easily find the square-shaped head, and then the downward-reaching arm of Hercules, followed by the distinctive extended "rear foot" of the constellation.
Finding the outline of the massive sword or club which Hercules is brandishing overhead is more challenging: these stars are very faint. It is also easy to get distracted by Vega (in the constellation Lyra the Lyre) not far away (you can see it in the diagram above, shining brightly to the left of the elbow of the upraised sword-arm of the constellation). However, the diamond-shape of the sword or club, as shown in the H. A. Rey-inspired outline above, is in fact very visible in the sky, if you look above the constellation (use the square head as a general guide, and try to trace the upper arm from the point that it originates at one corner of that square).
If you can see it, that too should be a very satisfying moment (especially if you see it for the first time).
The myths involving these constellations are very abundant and familiar. Some posts in the past which have dealt with some of the manifestations of one or both constellation include those discussing:
Note that both Ophiucus and Hercules can and do appear as goddesses and female characters in Star Myths, and not exclusively as male characters. For instance, I believe that the famous "Snake Goddess" sculptures discovered in the region of Knossos or Cnossos on the island of Crete (and believe to be extremely ancient) can almost certainly be identified as having Ophiucus correspondences (including the fact that they typically wear a conical hat, and of course the fact that they carry two serpents).
Finally, I would be remiss not to point out that the widest and brightest and most glorious section of the entire glorious Milky Way band passes directly between Scorpio and Sagittarius, and proceeds upwards alongside Ophiucus and on past Hercules -- and this section of the Milky Way also figures prominently in many famous Star Myths of the world. If you are able to locate the constellations described above, you should be able to make out the shining band of the Milky Way, which is just now rotating into view in the hours after sunset, beginning in a "lying down" alignment along the eastern horizon as it rises, and then "standing up" to a nearly-vertical orientation as it crosses the sky along with Sagittarius.
While you are locating Sagittarius and Hercules, take some time to locate as well the two dazzling arcs known as the Northern Crown (close to Hercules and his lower arm) and the Southern Crown (close to Sagittarius, at the feet of the constellation, between Scorpio and Sagittarius).
I hope you will be able to take some time out over the next several nights to enjoy the rich treasures of the starry sky which are presently spread out for our blessing and benefit. And, if you have never been able to positively identify some of the constellations described above, it is my hope that the explanations and illustrations provided here can help you see them, perhaps for the very first time!