Astronomy - Constellations

 

A constellation is a group of stars that forms an imaginary outline or pattern on the celestial sphere, typically representing an animal, mythological person or creature, a god, or an inanimate object.

The origins of the earliest constellations likely go back to prehistory. People used them to relate stories of their beliefs, experiences, creation, or mythology.

The earliest evidence for the humankind's identification of constellations comes from Mesopotamian (within modern Iraq) inscribed stones and clay writing tablets that date back to 3000 BC.

It seems that the bulk of the Mesopotamian constellations were created within a relatively short interval from around 1300 to 1000 BC. Mesopotamian constellations appeared later in many of the classical Greek constellations.

Different cultures and countries adopted their own constellations, some of which lasted into the early 20th century before today's constellations were internationally recognized.

Adoption of constellations has changed significantly over time. Many have changed in size or shape. Some became popular, only to drop into obscurity. Others were limited to single cultures or nations.

The 48 traditional Western constellations are Greek. There is only limited information on ancient Greek constellations, with some fragmentary evidence being found in the Works and Days of the Greek poet Hesiod, who mentioned the "heavenly bodies".

Greek astronomy essentially adopted the older Babylonian system in the Hellenistic era, first introduced to Greece in the 4th century BC.

The basis of Western astronomy as taught during Late Antiquity and until the Early Modern period is the Almagest by Ptolemy, written in the 2nd century.

In 1929, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially defined 88 constellations across the sky. But these constellations aren't drawn to connect certain stars, they're actually more-or-less rectangular slices of the heavens holding the stars within them.

Alphabetical Listing of IAU Constellations

Andromeda Antlia Apus Aquarius Aquila Ara Aries Auriga

Boötes

Caelum Camelopardalis Cancer Canes Venatici CanisMajor CanisMinor Capricornus Carina Cassiopeia Centaurus Cepheus Cetus Chamaeleon Circinus Columba Coma Berenices Corona Austrina Corona Borealis Corvus Crater Crux Cygnus

Delphinus Dorado Draco

Equuleus Eridanus

Fornax

Gemini Grus

Hercules Horologium Hydra Hydrus

Indus

Lacerta Leo LeoMinor Lepus Libra Lupus Lynx Lyra

Mensa Microscopium Monoceros Musca

Norma

Octans Ophiuchus Orion

Pavo Pegasus Perseus Phoenix Pictor Pisces PiscisAustrinusPuppis Pyxis

Reticulum

Sagitta Sagittarius Scorpius Sculptor Scutum Serpens Sextans

Taurus Telescopium Triangulum Triangulum Australe Tucana

Ursa Major Ursa Minor

Vela Virgo Volans Vulpecula

The month of March marks the beginning of a transition from the Winter Constellations to the Spring Constellations in the northern hemisphere.

Northern Circumpolar Constellations

Constellations in the northern circumpolar sky include Auriga, Camelopardalis, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco, Lynx, Perseus, UrsaMajor, and UrsaMinor. These constellations are always visible in the night sky of the Northern Hemisphere.

 

 

Auriga

Auriga is one of the 88 modern constellations; it was among the 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy. Located north of the celestial equator, its name is the Latin word for “the charioteer”, associating it with various mythological beings.

Traditionally, illustrations of Auriga represent it as a chariot and its driver. The charioteer holds a goat over his left shoulder and has two kids under his left arm.

However, depictions of Auriga have been inconsistent over the years. The reins in his right hand have also been drawn as a whip, though the star Capella is almost always over his left shoulder and the Kids under his left arm.

Its brightest star, Capella, is an unusual multiple star system among the brightest stars in the night sky.

 

 

Camelopardalis

Camelopardalis /kəˌmɛləˈpɑːrdəlɪs/ is a large but faint constellation of the northern sky representing a giraffe. The constellation was introduced in 1612 or 1613 by Petrus Plancius

First attested in English in 1785, the word camelopardalis comes from Latin, and it is the romanization of the Greek "καμηλοπάρδαλις" meaning "giraffe",from "κάμηλος" (kamēlos), "camel" + "πάρδαλις" (pardalis), "leopard", because it has a long neck like a camel and spots like a leopard.

 

 

Cassiopeia

Cassiopeia has a very distinct shape. She looks like a "W" or "M" in the sky, depending on where she is. Some legends say that Cassiopeia was chained into the sky and sometimes hangs upside-down to remind others not to be so boastful.

 

 

King Cepheus

Cepheus was king of a land called Ethiopia in Greek myth. He had a wife named Cassiopeia and a daughter, Andromeda.

Cepheus looks like a house. The point on top is a special star called a cepheid. These stars are used to measure long distances.

 

Draco

Draco is a constellation in the northern sky. Its name is Latin for dragon. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy, and remains one of the 88 modern constellations today.

In Greco- Roman legend, Draco was a dragon killed by the goddess Minerva and tossed into the sky upon his defeat.

The easiest way to spot Draco is by finding his head. It consists of four stars in a trapezoid, burning brightly just north of Hercules.

 

Lynx

Lynx is a constellation named after the animal, usually observed in the northern sky. The constellation was introduced in the late 17th century by Johannes Hevelius. It is a faint constellation, with its brightest stars forming a zigzag line.

 

Perseus

Perseus is a constellation in the northern sky, being named after the Greek mythological hero Perseus. It is one of the 48 ancient constellations listed by Ptolemy, and among the 88 modern constellations.

It is located near several other constellations named after ancient Greek legends surrounding Perseus, including Andromeda to the west and Cassiopeia to the north.

The Perseids are a prominent annual meteor shower that appear to radiate from Perseus from mid-July, peaking in activity between 9th and 14th August each year.

 

 

Ursa Major

Ursa Major is probably the most famous constellation, with the exception of Orion. Whose associated mythology likely dates back into prehistory.

Its Latin name means "greater she-bear", standing as a reference to and in direct contrast with nearby Ursa Minor, the lesser bear.

The Big Dipper or the Plough consisting of seven bright stars of the constellation Ursa Major; six of them are of second magnitude and one, Megrez, of third magnitude.

Four define a "bowl" or "body" and three define a "handle" or "head". It is recognized as a distinct grouping in many cultures.

 

 

Ursa Minor

Ursa Minor, or Little Bear. The body and tail of the bear make up what is known as the Little Dipper. Also called names such as the Plough, the Wain and even the Wagon.

Probably the most important of all is the last star in the tail. This spot is held by the North Star, Polaris.