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A constellation is a group of stars as distinct from one individual star. A constellation is a group of stars that, when seen from Earth, form a pattern. The stars in the sky are divided into 88 constellations.

Constellation Picture

Naming the Constellations

In these 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 (in Taurus).

Star Maps

The star 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.

From one 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.

The 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 short.

Every one of the constellations has some special stars in it.

The Greek 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

And Andromeda
Ant Antlia
Aps Apus
Aqr Aquarius
Aql Aquila
Ara Ara
Ari Aries
Aur Auriga
Boo Boötes
Cae Caelum
Cam Camelopardalis
Cnc Cancer
CVn Canes Venatici
CMa Canis Major
CMi Canis Minor
Cap Capricornus
Car Carina
Cas Cassiopeia
Cen Centaurus
Cep Cepheus
Cet Cetus
Cha Chamaeleon
Cir Circinus
Col Columba
Com Coma Berenices
CrA Corona Austrina
CrB Corona Borealis
Crv Corvus
Crt Crater
Cru Crux
Cyg Cygnus
Del Delphinus
Dor Dorado
Dra Draco
Equ Equuleus
Eri Eridanus
For Fornax
Gem Gemini
Gru Grus
Her Hercules
Hor Horologium
Hya Hydra
Hyi Hydrus
Ind Indus
Lac Lacerta
Leo Leo
LMi Leo Minor
Lep Lepus
Lib Libra
Lup Lupus
Lyn Lynx
Lyr Lyra
Men Mensa
Mic Microscopium
Mon Monoceros
Mus Musca
Nor Norma
Oct Octans
Oph Ophiuchus
Ori Orion
Pav Pavo
Peg Pegasus
Per Perseus
Phe Phoenix
Pic Pictor
Psc Pisces
PsA Piscis Austrinus
Pup Puppis
Pyx Pyxis
Ret Reticulum
Sge Sagitta
Sgr Sagittarius
Sco Scorpius
Scl Sculptor
Sct Scutum
Ser Serpens
Sex Sextans
Tau Taurus
Tel Telescopium
Tri Triangulum
TrA Triangulum Australe
Tuc Tucana
UMa Ursa Major
UMi Ursa Minor
Vel Vela
Vir Virgo
Vol Volans
Vul Vulpecula

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

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).

Constellation Links:

Above picture of Orion from (28 Feb 2008)

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Copyright © 2000-2014 Vic Stathopoulos. All rights reserved.

Updated: Tuesday 1st, April, 2014