Catch a glimpse of Monoceros the Unicorn in the Milky Way

Sky chart showing Orion floating above Monoceros the Unicorn.
Find Monoceros the Unicorn within a triangle of stars made by Betelgeuse, Procyon and Sirius.

You can find a Unicorn in the night sky. Monoceros the Unicorn is a constellation that Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius invented in the 1600s. And, in January and February, the Unicorn is in a good position for viewing in the evening sky. It’s highest up and easiest to see in the late evening hours. And it’s visible nearly all night, with one caveat. That is – if you want to capture the celestial Unicorn – be sure to look in a dark sky. That’s because, true to mythical unicorns, Monoceros is elusive!

EarthSky lunar calendars are back in stock! And we’re guaranteed to sell out, so get one while you can. Your support means the world to us and allows us to keep going. Purchase here..

How to find Monoceros

In January and February, the Unicorn comes out at nightfall. First, focus in on the bright stars Betelgeuse, Sirius and Procyon (see charts on this page). They make a triangle, which – in the Northern Hemisphere – has the nickname of the Winter Triangle. But you can see these stars from the Southern Hemisphere, too. In fact, Orion the Hunter and the stars near it are even better placed for viewing from the southern part of Earth’s globe.

Within the triangle of stars made by Betelgeuse, Sirius and Procyon – hidden among the many bright and glittering stars and constellations visible at this time of year – there’s a constellation that’s as elusive in our night sky as its namesake is in countless fairy tales.

This is the constellation Monoceros the Unicorn.

Constellation chart with stars in black on white with Monoceros labeled.
View larger. | Sky chart of the constellation Monoceros the Unicorn. Image via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).
Star field with loose, irregular group of dozens of bright stars in the middle.
M50 is an open star cluster – a group of stars born from a single cloud of gas and dust in space, still moving together as a family – within the constellation Monoceros the Unicorn. Image via Ole Nielsen/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5).

Star clusters in the Unicorn

The winter Milky Way runs through Monoceros. Those with dark skies might try drawing an imaginary line from the star Sirius to Procyon. About a third of the way along this line, you’ll find a hazy object. You can spot this region with optical aid; something will pop out at you. It’s a star cluster called M50. In fact, it’s one of several open star clusters in the region.

You need a telescope to see M50 clearly. But, with an ordinary pair of binoculars, this cluster of stars is wonderful to glimpse and contemplate on a winter night. There are about 100 stars in the little patch we know as M50. Also, the main part of the cluster is about 10 light-years across. The entire cluster is located some 3,000 light-years from us.

Bottom line: Treat yourself to a visit with a mythical beast – Monoceros the Unicorn – in the January and February evening sky.

January 31, 2024

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Deborah Byrd

View All