groups the star patterns if lines are drawn from star to star and
the ancient astronomers named the constellations after the animals
and heroes of their myths, whose shape they saw in the patterns.
More than half of the constellations have names that came from the
Greeks and Romans, who probably got them from the Babylonians.
The brightest constellation is Crux
(the Southern Cross). The constellation with the greatest number
of visible stars in it is Centaurus (the Centaur - with 101
stars). The largest constellation is Hydra (The Water Snake) which
extends over 3.158% of the sky.
There are also asterisms, smaller apparent star patterns within a
constellation, like the Big Dipper (in Ursa Major), the Little
Dipper (in Ursa Minor), Keystone (in Hercules), and the Pleiades
maps show the sky with the brighter stars and constellation
figures. You can pick the patterns in the night sky, but it is not
always easy to imagine shapes of the figures which go with them.
There are 88
constellations and every star in the sky belongs to one of them.
Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer named 48 constellations in a book
called the Almagest and 40 have been added since.
place on the earth different constellations are seen at different
times of the year. This happens because as well as turning on its
axis, the Earth is always moving one circle each year. A star
which is said to be visible during one part of the year may appear
close to the Sun six months later, it would not then appear in the
night sky. Some constellations can only be seem from the northern
hemisphere and some only from the southern hemisphere for example
the Southern Cross.
The path of
the Sun among the stars is called the ecliptic. The twelve
constellations which lie along the ecliptic form the Zodiac. The
other constellations are divided into those north of the Zodiac or
those to south of it.
constellations are useful to astronomers for telling where in the
sky different stars can be found. Many of the bright stars have
individual names coming from Greek, Latin or Arabic and the
captains of ships and aircraft find it more convenient to call
them by these names. Astronomers, however, find it more convenient
to name them by their constellations with a Greek letter to
distinguish the different stars in each constellation. For
example, Polaris (Pole Star) in the northern hemisphere is the
brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor, the Little Bear
and the astronomers name for it is α Ursae Minoris or α Umi for
Every one of
the constellations has some special stars in it.
letters are: α = alpha, β = beta, γ = gamma (yamma) etc.
The 12 Constellations of the Zodiac
The zodiac is a band of 12 constellations along the ecliptic.
Aquarius, the water bearer
Aries, the ram
Cancer, the crab
Capricorn, the goat
Gemini, the twins
Leo, the lion
Libra, the scales
Pisces, the fish
Sagittarius, the archer
Scorpius, the scorpion
Taurus, the bull
Virgo, the virgin
Abbreviations for Constellations
CVn Canes Venatici
CMa Canis Major
CMi Canis Minor
Com Coma Berenices
CrA Corona Austrina
CrB Corona Borealis
LMi Leo Minor
PsA Piscis Austrinus
TrA Triangulum Australe
UMa Ursa Major
UMi Ursa Minor
Who discovered the first constellation?
The constellations were invented, not discovered. The
constellations are just distinctive and easy-to-remember patterns
of stars. Most of the famous ones were invented before the
beginning of recorded history. Orion, for example, has a history
dating to before about 4000 BC.
Who named the Stars?
All of the stars that have names (about 2-300 of them) were named
between 500 and 2000+ years ago. Most of the star names in use
today came from Arabic names. These days, all stars are named for
their coordinates by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
Chinese constellations are different from the Western
constellations, due to the independent development of ancient
Chinese astronomy. Ancient Chinese skywatchers divided their night
sky in a different way, but there are also similarities. The
Chinese counterpart of the 12 western zodiac constellations are
the 28 'Xiu' or 'mansions' (a literal translation).