Fact about constellations

Constellation Facts for Kids

Beyond the 13 constellations associated with zodiac signs, there exist several other constellations, which, though not popular, are quite interesting in themselves. In fact, there are as many as 88 constellations in the sky and here are some interesting facts about them.
While the term 'constellation' is normally used for the patterns of stars visible in the night sky, technically it refers to 'an area of the celestial sphere'. The technical definition though, is restricted to modern astronomy, and the colloquial use of this term to describe the fascinating patterns created by various celestial bodies―the stars in particular―continues.

The sight of a 'lion', or an 'archer', in the sky is a treat for amateur sky-watching enthusiasts. From an astronomer's point of view, however, it is much more convenient to locate a particular star on the basis of the constellation to which it has been assigned. It's easy to locate a country on the world map when you know which continent it is a part of. In the same way, it's relatively easy to locate a star when you know which constellation it is a part of.

Facts about Constellations
» Of the 88 constellations, which were adopted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1922, 36 lie in the northern sky and 52 lie in the southern sky. The largest constellation in the sky is Hydra spanning an area of 1303 square degrees. The smallest, on the other hand, is Crux with an area of 68 square degrees to its credit.

Claudius Ptolemy
Claudius Ptolemy
» Ancient Greeks were the first people to describe constellations. In his astronomical treatise, titled Almagest, Alexandrian astronomer Claudius Ptolemy described 48 constellations. These included some of the most popular constellations, like the Ursa Major, Andromeda, and the Centaurus. Many new constellations were added to Ptolemy's list eventually. Johannes Hevelius, the founder of lunar topography, alone added 10 new constellations to this list.

» It was Eugène Joseph Delporte, a Belgian astronomer, who came up with proper boundaries for each of these constellations. It was done in such a manner that every nook and corner of the sky was covered. Delporte based his work on that of Benjamin A. Gould―the American astronomer who is widely acknowledged as the first person to propose that celestial spheres should have designated boundaries.

Perseus and Andromeda
Perseus and Andromeda
» Almost all the constellations have some legend associated with them. In fact, most of these are mythological figures who were given a place in the sky by the Greek gods. These include King Cepheus, his wife Cassiopeia, and daughter Andromeda, Hercules―the son of Zeus and Alcmene, Leo―the Nemean Lion killed by Hercules, Perseus―the son of Zeus and Danae, Pegasus―the horse which sprang to life from the spilled blood of the Medusa whom Perseus killed, and so on.

» Constellations are categorized into two types―circumpolar constellations, which are always seen in the sky, and seasonal constellations, which are only seen for a part of the year. Whether you will see a constellation as a circumpolar constellation, or a seasonal constellation will depend on your latitude. From the north pole, for instance, all constellations north of the celestial equator are seen as circumpolar constellations.

» Even though it is just a part of the Ursa major constellation, the Big Dipper asterism is a lot more popular than many other constellations. It resembles a large dipper or ladle, and hence the name. Also known as the Plough (or plow), it can be easily located due to its distinct appearance and seven bright stars. More importantly, it can also be used as a guide to locate several celestial objects, including Polaris (the North Star).

Complete List of Constellations

Andromeda
the Chained Maiden
Antlia
the Air Pump
Apus
the Bird of Paradise
Aquarius
the Water Bearer
Aquila
the Eagle
Ara
the Altar
Aries
the Ram
Auriga
the Charioteer
Boötes
the Herdsman
Caelum
the Engraving Tool
Camelopardalis
the Giraffe
Cancer
the Crab
Canes Venatici
the Hunting Dogs
Canis Major
the Great Dog
Canis Minor
the Lesser Dog
Capricornus
the Sea Goat
Carina
the Keel
Cassiopeia
the Seated Queen
Centaurus
the Centaur
Cepheus
the King
Cetus
the Sea Monster
Chamaeleon
the Chameleon
Circinus
the Compass
Columba
the Dove
Coma Berenices
the Bernice's Hair
Corona Australis
the Southern Crown
Corona Borealis
the Northern Crown
Corvus
the Crow
Crater
the Cup
Crux
the Southern Cross
Cygnus
the Swan
Delphinus
the Dolphin
Dorado
the Swordfish
Draco
the Dragon
Equuleus
the Little Horse
Eridanus
the River
Fornax
the Furnace
Gemini
the Twins
Grus
the Crane
Hercules
the Hercules
Horologium
the Clock
Hydra
the Female Water Snake
Hydrus
the Male Water Snake
Indus
the Indian
Lacerta
the Lizard
Leo
the Lion
Leo Minor
the Lesser Lion
Lepus
the Hare
Libra
the Scales
Lupus
the Wolf
Lynx
the Lynx
Lyra
the Lyre
Mensa
the Table Mountain
Microscopium
the Microscope
Monoceros
the Unicorn
Musca
the Fly
Norma
the Carpenter's Square
Octans
the Octant
Ophiuchus
the Serpent Bearer
Orion
the Hunter
Pavo
the Peacock
Pegasus
the Winged Horse
Perseus
the Hero
Phoenix
the Phoenix
Pictor
the Painter's Easel
Pisces
the Fishes
Piscis Austrinus
the Southern Fish
Puppis
the Stern
Pyxis
the Compass
Reticulum
the Reticle
Sagitta
the Arrow
Sagittarius
the Archer
Scorpius
the Scorpion
Sculptor
the Sculptor
Scutum
the Shield
Serpens
the Serpent
Sextans
the Sextant
Taurus
the Bull
Telescopium
the Telescope
Triangulum
the Triangle
Triangulum Australe
the Southern Triangle
Tucana
the Toucan
Ursa Major
the Great Bear
Ursa Minor
the Little Bear
Vela
the Sails
Virgo
the Maiden
Volans
the Flying Fish
Vulpecula
the Fox

While that's an impressive list in itself, not all of these constellations are popular. In fact, many of you must have come across some of these names for the very first time. Among these, the most popular ones are the 13 zodiac constellations (which represent the zodiac signs) and a few individual constellations, like the Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Andromeda, etc.

Popular Star Constellations
Around half of these 88 constellations were identified and listed by the ancient Greeks much before they were recognized by IAU. Over the period, these constellations have made a place for themselves in various cultures and that, in turn, has contributed to their popularity.

ursa major
The Ursa Major
» The Ursa Major constellation can be seen in the northern sky throughout the year. It is widely known for the 'Big Dipper' asterism. It is identified by the square of the Big Dipper, which forms the bear's body, and a chain of stars, which forms its tail.

» Like Ursa Major, even Ursa Minor can be located in the northern sky. This constellation is known for the 'Little Dipper' asterism. The Polaris, a.k.a. the Pole Star, is one of the brightest stars in this constellation, and identifying it can make the task of locating Ursa Minor significantly easy.

» Orion is one of the oldest constellations known to the mankind. The fact that it is visible throughout the world makes it one of the most popular constellations in the world. It has some of the brightest stars to its credit, which contribute to its distinct appearance between December and April.

Leo
The Leo
» Leo is one of the most popular and easy to recognize constellations in the sky. In the northern hemisphere, it can be seen in spring, and in the southern hemisphere, it can be seen in autumn. In order to locate Leo, you will have to locate an inverted question mark in the night sky; this is considered the tail of the lion.

» The Scorpius constellation is located in the southern hemisphere, close to the center of the Milky Way. If you reside in the northern hemisphere, you can locate this constellation towards the south in summer. Antares, a giant star in the Scorpius, makes it relatively easy to locate this constellation.

» Hydra is not just the largest, but is also the longest constellation of the lot. Its resemblance to a snake has made Hydra a part of several legends. According to one such legend, this was the nine-headed snake―Lernaean Hydra, which was killed by Hercules during one of his labors and put in the sky.

So the next time you look at the sky, you will definitely be in a better position to make sense of what you see. In fact, you can even go ahead and join an astronomy club. Star astronomy is one of the most fascinating attributes of science. In fact, there is a lot to know about the universe and what we actually boast of knowing is just the tip of the iceberg.
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