Constellation


  • A constellation is a grouping of stars that is used to help identify a region of the sky. The individual stars within a constellation generally have no physical relationship, as they are at a varying distances from our observation point on the Earth. Different cultures developed their own groupings of stars, as they each had their own stories to tell in the night sky. For example, the constellation of Ursa Major has variously been identified as:

    • An Ox and his handler (by the Egyptians, as recorded in paintings found in the tomb of Seti I);
    • The tail of a Great Bear (by the Greeks and Native Americans); and
    • A celestial bureaucrat carried on a cloud (by the Chinese).

    In 1933, the International Astronomical Union specified a definitive set of 88 constellations, based on the groupings introduced by:

    • Ptolemy: 48 constellations described in his great work, The Almagest, in the 2nd century AD. These constellations originally came from a variety of sources including the myths and legends of Mesopotamia, Babylon, Egypt and Greece. Ptolemy's constellations were primarily in the northern hemisphere, as parts of the southern sky were never visible from Greece. One of the largest of these constellations, Argo Navis, was split into 4 smaller constellations Carina (the Keel), Puppis (the Stern), Vela (the Sails) and Pyxis (the Ship's Compass) by Lacaille in the 1750s.
    • 12 constellations were added around 1600 by Johann Bayer in his star atlas, Uranometria, including Dorado (the Swordfish), Musca (the Fly) and Volans (the Flying Fish). These new constellations were not invented by Bayer, but adapted from other sources;
    • Jakob Bartsch added a further 3 in 1624: Camelopardalis (the Giraffe), Columba (the Dove, also attributed to Bayer) and Monoceros (the Unicorn);
    • Johannes Hevelius devised 7 new constellations late in the 17th century, including Lacerta (the Lizard), Leo Minor (the Small Lion) and Scutum (the Shield);
    • Finally, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille devised 14 southern hemisphern constellations in c.1750, including Fornax (the Furnace), Horologium (the Clock) and Teloscopium (the Telescope).

    The modern constellations contain a mixture of mythological characters (e.g. Perseus, Andromeda, Orion), animals (e.g. Taurus, Scorpius, Canis Major), scientific apparatus (e.g. Microscopium, Sextans and Caelum the chisel) and everyday objects (e.g. Crater the cup and Scutum the shield). Twelve of the most well-known constellations are the zodiacal constellations that lie along the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun through the sky.

    The 88 Constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union

    ConstellationDescriptionTypeSource
    1AndromedaAndDaughter of Queen CassiopeiaMyth/LegendAlmagest
    2AntliaAntRobert Boyle's Air PumpScientificLacaille
    3ApusApsBird of ParadiseAnimalBayer
    4AquariusAqrThe Water CarrierZodiacAlmagest
    5AquilaAqlThe EagleMyth/LegendAlmagest
    6AraAraThe AltarMyth/LegendAlmagest
    7AriesAriThe RamZodiacAlmagest
    8AurigaAurThe CharioteerMyth/LegendAlmagest
    9BootesBooThe HerdsmanMyth/LegendAlmagest
    10CaelumCaeThe ChiselScientificLacaille
    11CamelopardalisCamThe GiraffeAnimalBartsch
    12CancerCncThe CrabZodiacAlmagest
    13Canes VenaticiCVnThe Hunting DogsAnimalHevelius
    14Canis MajorCMaThe Greater Dog (companion of Orion)Myth/LegendAlmagest
    15Canis MinorCMiThe Lesser Dog (companion of Orion)Myth/LegendAlmagest
    16CapricorniusCapThe Sea GoatZodiacAlmagest
    17CarinaCarThe Keel (part of Argo Navis)Myth/LegendLacaille
    18CassiopeiaCasThe Queen of EthiopiaMyth/LegendAlmagest
    19CentaurusCenThe CentaurMyth/LegendAlmagest
    20CepheusCepKing Cepheus of EthiopiaMyth/LegendAlmagest
    21CetusCetThe Whale (or sea monster)Myth/LegendAlmagest
    22ChamaeleonChaThe ChamaeleonAnimalBayer
    23CircinusCirThe CompassesScientificLacaille
    24ColumbaColThe DoveAnimalBartsch/Bayer
    25Coma BerenicesComQueen Berenice of Egypt's hairMyth/Legend
    26Corona AustralisCrAThe Southern CrownMyth/LegendAlmagest
    27Corona BorealisCrBThe Northern CrownMyth/LegendAlmagest
    28CorvusCrvThe CrowMyth/LegendAlmagest
    29CraterCrtThe Cup (the goblet of Apollo)Myth/LegendAlmagest
    30CruxCruThe Southern CrossMisc
    31CygnusCygThe SwanMyth/LegendAlmagest
    32DelphiniusDelThe DolphinMyth/LegendAlmagest
    33DoradoDorThe Goldfish/The SwordfishAnimalBayer
    34DracoDraThe DragonMyth/LegendAlmagest
    35EquuleusEquThe Little HorseMyth/LegendAlmagest
    36EridanusEriThe RiverMyth/LegendAlmagest
    37FornaxForThe FurnaceScientificLacaille
    38GeminiGemThe TwinsZodiacAlmagest
    39GrusGruThe CraneAnimalBayer
    40HerculesHerHerculesMyth/LegendAlmagest
    41HorologiumHorThe Pendulum ClockScientificLacaille
    42HydraHyaThe Water SnakeMyth/LegendAlmagest
    43HydrusHyiThe Lesser Water SnakeAnimalBayer
    44IndusIndThe Native American IndianMiscBayer
    45LacertaLacThe LizardAnimalHevelius
    46LeoLeoThe LionZodiacAlmagest
    47Leo MinorLMiThe Lesser LionAnimalHevelius
    48LepusLepThe HareMyth/LegendAlmagest
    49LibraLibThe ScalesZodiacAlmagest
    50LupusLupThe WolfMyth/LegendAlmagest
    51LynxLynThe LynxAnimalHevelius
    52LyraLyrThe Lyre (given by Apollo to Orpheus)Myth/LegendAlmagest
    53MensaMenThe Table Mountain (Cape of Good Hope)MiscLacaille
    54MicroscopiumMicThe MicroscopeScientificLacaille
    55MonocerosMonThe UnicornMyth/LegendBartsch
    56MuscaMusThe FlyAnimalBayer
    57NormaNorThe LevelScientificLacaille
    58OctansOctThe OctantScientificLacaille
    59OphiuchusOphThe Serpent HolderMyth/LegendAlmagest
    60OrionOriThe HunterMyth/LegendAlmagest
    61PavoPavThe PeacockAnimalBayer
    62PegasusPegPegasus, the winged horseMyth/LegendAlmagest
    63PerseusPerPerseus (rescued Andromeda from Cetus)Myth/LegendAlmagest
    64PhoenixPheThe PhoenixMyth/LegendBayer
    65PictorPicThe Painter's EaselScientificLacaille
    66PiscesPscThe FishesZodiacAlmagest
    67Piscus AustrinusPsAThe Southern FishMyth/LegendAlmagest
    68PuppisPupThe Stern (of Argo Navis)Myth/LegendLacaille
    69PyxisPyxThe Ships's Compass (or Argo Navis)Myth/LegendLacaille
    70ReticulumRetThe NetScientificLacaille
    71SagittaSgeThe ArrowMyth/LegendAlmagest
    72SagittariusSgrThe ArcherZodiacAlmagest
    73ScorpiusScoThe ScorpionZodiacAlmagest
    74SculptorSclThe Sculptor's WorkshopScientificLacaille
    75ScutumSctThe Shield (of King John Sobieski III)MiscHevelius
    76SerpensSerThe Serpent (carried by Ophiuchus)Myth/LegendAlmagest
    77SextansSexThe SextantScientificHevelius
    78TaurusTauThe BullZodiacAlmagest
    79TelescopiumTelThe TelescopeScientificLacaille
    80TriangulumTriThe TriangleMiscAlmagest
    81Triangulum AustraleTrAThe Southern TriangleMiscBayer
    82TucunaTucThe ToucanAnimalBayer
    83Ursa MajorUMaThe Great BearMyth/LegendAlmagest
    84Ursa MinorUMiThe Lesser BearMyth/LegendAlmagest
    85VelaVelThe Sails (of Argo Navis)Myth/LegendLacaille
    86VirgoVirThe VirginZodiacAlmagest
    87VolansVolThe Flying FishAnimalBayer
    88VulpeculaVulThe FoxAnimalHevelius

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