3 small constellations near the famous Summer Triangle

Star chart showing Summer Triangle, Delphinus, Vulpecula and Sagitta with labels.
In the east on June, July and August evenings, you’ll find the large pattern of the Summer Triangle, made of 3 bright stars. In a dark sky, you’ll find 3 of the sky’s smallest constellations nestled among these stars.

3 small constellations

Look for the Summer Triangle, a large asterism visible in the east on July evenings. It consists of three bright stars in three separate constellations. These stars are Vega, Deneb and Altair. If you can find the Summer Triangle, you can use it to locate three of the sky’s smallest constellations. They are Vulpecula the Fox, Delphinus the Dolphin and Sagitta the Arrow. All three are impossible to see from the city. But they’re lots of fun to pick out in a dark sky.

How can you find them? Look at the detailed chart above, and try picking out Vega, Deneb and Altair. Notice these three bright stars make a large triangle on the sky’s dome. Now – still using the chart – look within and around the Summer Triangle for Delphinus, Sagitta and Vulpecula.

Grey sky with green lines creating the Summer Triangle, and orange lines creating 6 constellations.
View at EarthSly Community Photos. | Raúl Cortés, of EarthSky, shared this stunning image of the Summer Triangle with 6 constellations. It is a busy part of the sky, and very fun to see. Thank you, Raúl!

Delphinus the Dolphin

Delphinus is a truly delightful little constellation that really resembles a dolphin leaping among the waves. Also, Delphinus is one of the earliest constellations, first cataloged by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century CE. Sometimes, Delphinus is said to be the dolphin that carried a Greek poet – Arion – safely away from his enemies. Another star lore believed this sky Dolphin represented the dolphin sent by the sea god Poseidon to find Amphitrite, the Nereid he wanted to marry.

Star chart showing stars of Delphinus, with the shape of a dolphin in gray added on top of them.
Delphinus the Dolphin. Utah’s Adventure Family wrote, “… looking at this beautiful constellation makes my heart soar every time.” Image via Stellarium.

Sagitta the Arrow

Sagitta is the third-smallest constellation in our sky, following Crux aka the Southern Cross and Equuleus. And Sagitta is near Vulpecula on the sky’s dome. Its name means “the arrow” in Latin. If you look for Sagitta, you’ll see why. This little star pattern does have a shape reminiscent of an arrow. Sagitta is also one of the earliest constellations, named by Ptolemy in the second century. Sagitta is sometimes said to be an arrow shot from the bow of Hercules, the great mythological hero and god.

White star chart with black dots denoting the small arrow.
The stars of Sagitta the Arrow. Image via IAU. Used with permission.

Vulpecula the Fox

Vulpecula means “the little fox” in Latin. It’s the hardest to find of these three small constellations because it lacks a distinctive shape. Vulpecula is a relatively new constellation, introduced by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in the late 17th century. Hevelius depicted Vulpecula as not just a fox, but as a fox carrying a goose in its mouth. He also named the goose Anser. Nowadays you can still see the fox and goose on old star charts. And Fox and Goose is a traditional British pub name, according to Ian Ridpath. If you have a dark sky, and you’re up for a binocular challenge, also try finding the Coathanger asterism in Vulpecula.

White star chart with black dots denoting the shape of Vulpecula.
The stars of Vulpecula the Fox. Image via IAU.

More about the Summer Triangle stars

Vega is bright and blue-white

Deneb is distant and luminous

Altair spins fast!

Bottom line: Although you need a dark country sky to see these three small constellations, they are worth hunting them down. They are: Vulpecula the Fox, Delphinus the Dolphin and Sagitta the Arrow. And they are all near the Summer Triangle.

July 11, 2023

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