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A constellation is a region in the celestial sphere in which a cluster of visible stars creates a perceived pattern or shape, generally depicting an animal, mythical theme, or inanimate object. Constellations may help astronomers and navigators find certain stars.
See the fact file below for more information about Stars and Constellations, or download the comprehensive worksheet pack, which contains over 11 worksheets and can be used in the classroom or homeschooling environment.
Key Facts & Information
- The origins of the first constellations are most likely prehistoric. Used them to tell stories about their beliefs, experiences, existence, or mythology.
- Different civilizations and countries developed their constellations, some of which survived into the early twentieth century before the current constellations were universally acknowledged. Constellation recognition has significantly evolved. Many of them grew in size or form. Some rose to prominence to fade into oblivion. Some were exclusive to a specific culture or country.
- Greek constellations make up the 48 conventional Western constellations. They are mentioned in Aratus’ Phenomena and Ptolemy’s Almagest, though their origins are likely many centuries earlier.
- From the 15th to the mid-18th century, when European explorers began going to the Southern Hemisphere, they added constellations in the far southern sky. The zodiac consists of twelve (or thirteen) ancient constellations (straddling the ecliptic, which the Sun, Moon, and planets all traverse).
- The zodiac’s historical beginnings are unknown; its astrological segments became established about c. In Babylonian or Chaldean astronomy, 400 BCE.
- The International Astronomical Union (IAU) initially recognized the current list of 88 constellations in 1922, and in 1928, official constellation limits that include the whole celestial sphere were adopted. Each given point belongs to one of the current constellations in a stellar coordinate system.
- The constellation where a specific celestial object is situated is included in certain astronomical naming systems to express its approximate placement in the sky. A star’s Flamsteed identification, for example, is comprised of a number and the genitive version of the constellation’s name.
- Other star formations or groups known as asterisms are not technically constellations, but observers utilize them to traverse the night sky. Asterisms can be several stars inside a single constellation or share stars.
- Asterisms include the Pleiades and Hyades in the constellation Taurus, the False Cross divided between the southern constellations Carina and Vela, and Venus’ Mirror in Orion.
- The name “constellation” derives from the Late Latin phrase cōnstellātiō, which translates as “set of stars”; it first appeared in Middle English in the 14th century.
- These words often refer to an identifiable star pattern linked with legendary people, creatures, earthbound animals, or items. A more current astronomical definition of “constellation” refers to one of the 88 IAU-designated constellations recognized today.
- Although everyday use does not distinguish between “constellations” and tiny “asterisms” (star patterns), contemporary approved astronomy constellations do. For example, the Pleiades and the Hyades are both asterisms inside the Taurus constellation.
- Another example is the northern asterism known as the Big Dipper (US) or the Plough (UK), which is made up of the seven brightest stars in the IAU-defined constellation Ursa Major. The southern False Cross asterism consists of stars from Carina and Vela’s constellations. In contrast, the Summer Triangle comprises stars from Lyra, Aquila, and Cygnus constellations.
- A circumpolar constellation (or star) never falls below the horizon when viewed from a specific latitude on Earth. As viewed from the North Pole or the South Pole, any constellations south or north of the equatorial plane are circumpolar.
- Depending on the definition, equatorial constellations are those that reside between declinations 45° north and 45° south or those that travel through the ecliptic or zodiac declination range between 2312° north, the celestial equator, and 2312° south.
- Stars in constellations might look close to each other in the sky, yet a considerable distance usually separates them from the Earth. Because each star moves independently, all constellations will alter slowly over time, and familiar contours will become unrecognizable over tens to hundreds of thousands of years.
- Astronomers can forecast past and future constellation shapes by accurately measuring individual stars’ common proper motions (CPM) and radial velocities (astronomical spectroscopy).
- The 88 IAU acknowledged constellations, as well as those recognized by cultures throughout history, are imagined forms and shapes having only a limited foundation in the viewable sky.
- Many officially designated constellations are based on ancient, Near Eastern, and Mediterranean mythology. Still, the physical fact of the Earth’s location in the Milky Way provides forms that the human mind connects.
- Orion’s Belt, for example, makes a visually flawless line. H.A. Rey, who produced popular astronomy books, emphasized the creative character of the constellations, their mythical, artistic foundation, and the practical purpose of recognizing them through specific representations based on the ancient names they were given.
HISTORY OF THE EARLY CONSTELLATIONS
- From the beginning, star groupings known as constellations, smaller groups (part of constellations) identified as asterisms, and individual stars have been given names that refer to meteorological occurrences or religious or mythological beliefs.
- Once thought that the constellation names and myths were of Greek origin; however, this perspective has now been debunked, and an investigation of the Hellenic myths associated with the stars and star groups in light of records confirmed by the deciphering of Mesopotamian cuneiforms results in the conclusion that the Greek mythology has a Mesopotamian parallel in many, if not all, cases.
- The Phainomena of Exodus of Cnidus is the first Greek text to treat the stars as constellations, of which there is any understanding (c.395-337 BCE).
- The original has been lost; however, a versification by Aratus (c.315-245 BCE), a poet at the court of Antigonus II Gonatas, king of Macedonia, and a commentary by Hipparchus are both available (mid-2nd century BCE)
- Three hundred years after Hipparchus, the Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy (100-170 CE) used a very similar technique in his Uranometria, which occurs in the seventh and eighth volumes of his Almagest, and the catalog is referred to as the “approved form.” With a few exceptions, the names and orientations of the 48 constellations approved are identical to those used today.
EARLY MODERN ASTRONOMY
- European astronomers added most of the other 40 recognized constellations in the 17th and 18th centuries.
- A committee of the International Astronomical Union undertook the task of delineating accurate borders for all 88 constellations in the twentieth century.
- By 1930, any star could be assigned to a constellation.
88 MODERN CONSTELLATIONS
- In 1922, the International Astronomical Union released a list of 88 constellations.
- It is based on the ancient Greek constellations enumerated by Ptolemy in his Almagest in the second century and Aratus’ work Phenomena, with early modern improvements and additions by Petrus Plancius (1592, 1597-98, and 1613), Johannes Hevelius (1690), and Nicolas Louis de Lacaille (1763), who presented fourteen new constellations.
- Lacaille investigated the southern hemisphere stars from the Cape of Good Hope from 1751 to 1752, seeing more than 10,000 stars with a 0.5-inch (13-mm) refracting telescope.
- Henry Norris Russell published a list of 88 constellations using three-letter acronyms in 1922. However, there were no apparent boundaries between these constellations.
- The International Astronomical Union (IAU) formally took 88 modern constellations in 1928, with contiguous borders along vertical and horizontal lines of right ascension and declination established by Eugene Delporte and covering the entire celestial sphere; this list was eventually published in 1930.
- Wherever feasible, these contemporary constellations are named after their Graeco-Roman forefathers, such as Orion, Leo, or Scorpius. This system’s goal is area-mapping, or dividing the celestial sphere into continuous areas.
- The northern sky is home to 36 of the 88 modern constellations, while the southern is home to the remaining 52.
- Delporte’s borders were created using data dating back to epoch B1875.0 when Benjamin A. Gould initially proposed defining celestial sphere bounds, a concept on which Delporte based his work.
- The boundaries on a modern star map, such as epoch J2000, are already considerably deformed and no longer perfectly vertical or horizontal due to equinox precession. This influence will intensify over the following years and millennia.
- There are no formal emblems for the constellations; however, those of the ecliptic may assume the signs of the zodiac.
- Symbols for the other current constellations and ancient ones that still appear in modern terminology have been provided occasionally.
- It is observable from the northern hemisphere all year.
- The Big Dipper’s stars form the shape of a chariot, causing it to be also known as “the Chariot.” A great constellation for finding the Pole Star.
- Very identical to the Big Dipper, but lesser in size and luminance, as the name suggests.
- Also composed of seven stars, the brightest of which is the Pole Star.
- It is another of the most prominent night sky constellations in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
- The stars that compose it suggest a warrior with a shield and a weapon; therefore, it is also known as “the hunter.”
- Its M or W form makes it easy to spot in the sky, depending on which hemisphere and time of year you choose to view.
- It points north and is necessary to obtain your bearings when the Little Bear is not visible.
- May find this constellation in one of the brightest stars in the sky. The Egyptians worshiped the star, Sirius.
- As you might expect from its name, the stars that make it up give it the appearance of a dog.
- It is known in Latin as the Corona Borealis and is seen in the northern hemisphere.
- Because of its modest size and brilliance, it creates a semicircle, making it one of the hardest to find.
- A constellation related to the Orpheus story.
- It is easily identifiable due to its brilliant star Vega, which is placed in the tail of an asymmetrical square.
- In addition to the seven indicated above, we may include the twelve constellations that symbolize the zodiac signs: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.
DARK CLOUD CONSTELLATIONS
- The Great Rift, a sequence of dark areas in the Milky Way, is more noticeable and stunning in the southern than in the northern hemisphere. It shines out clearly when conditions are otherwise so gloomy that the Milky Way’s core section casts shadows on the ground.
- Some cultures have identified forms in these patches and named them “black cloud constellations.” The Incas recognized black patches or dark nebulae in the Milky Way as animals and correlated their emergence with yearly rains.
- The most prominent dark cloud constellation in Australian Aboriginal astronomy is the “emu in the sky,” whose head is made by the Coalsack, a dark nebula, rather than stars.
Stars and Constellations Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle that includes everything you need to know about Stars and Constellations across 11 worksheets. These are ready-to-use worksheets that are perfect for teaching kids about Stars and Constellations, which are found in the celestial sphere in which a cluster of visible stars creates a perceived pattern or shape.
Download includes the following worksheets:
- Stars & Constellation Facts
- Opinion Paragraph
- True or False?
- Design a Constellation
- Name the Constellation
- Constellations Wordsearch
- Stars in Arabic
- Stars Crossword
- The Zodiac
- Constellation Quiz
Frequently Asked Questions
What are constellations?
A constellation is a region on the celestial sphere in which a cluster of visible stars creates a perceived pattern or shape, generally depicting an animal, mythical theme, or inanimate object.
Where does the word constellation derive?
The name “constellation” derives from the Late Latin phrase cōnstellātiō, which translates as “set of stars”; it first appeared in Middle English in the 14th century.
How were constellations used in ancient times?
The origins of the first constellations are most likely prehistoric. Used them to tell stories about their beliefs, experiences, existence, or mythology.
What is the importance of constellations to astronomers?
Constellations may help astronomers and navigators find certain stars.
What are the 12 zodiacal constellations?
In addition to the seven indicated above, we may include the twelve constellations that symbolize the zodiac signs: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.
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Use With Any Curriculum
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