Modern stargazers have a hard time seeing a Centaur with a bow and arrow in the constellation Sagittarius. But the Teapot – in the western half of Sagittarius – is easy to make out. The Teapot is an asterism, not a constellation, but a recognizable pattern of stars. It’s best viewed during the evening hours from about July to September. Find the Teapot, and you’ll be looking toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy.
How can you find it? One thing to note is that – unlike some named star patterns – the Teapot actually looks like its name. It really resembles a Teapot:
Because the sun passes in front of Sagittarius from about December 18 to January 20, the Teapot isn’t visible then. However, about a half year later – on July 1 – the Teapot climbs to its highest point for the night around midnight (1 a.m. daylight saving time), when it appears due south as seen from the Northern Hemisphere or due north as seen from the Southern Hemisphere.
As seen from our mid-northern latitudes, the Teapot rises in the southeast about three hours before it climbs to its highest point, then sets in the southwest about three hours afterwards.
The Teapot returns to the same place in the sky about four minutes earlier with each passing day, or two hours earlier with each passing month. On August 1, the Teapot climbs to its highest point around 10 p.m. (11 p.m. daylight saving time). On September 1, it climbs highest around 8 p.m. (9 p.m. daylight saving time). On October 1, it’s highest around 6 p.m. (7 p.m. daylight saving time).
Another noteworthy point lies in this direction in space, the point at which the sun shines on the December solstice, around December 21 each year.
Bottom line: The Teapot asterism in the constellation Sagittarius is easy to spot in a dark sky. When you look in that direction, you’re looking toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.