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Constellation names

Orion Constellation

What is a constellation?

A constellation is a group of stars in the night sky that form a specific shape. The word comes from the Latin word constellātiō, which can be translated as “set with stars.” Astrology used this term at first for asterisms that were noted by Ammianus Marcellinus in the 4th century – they believed that all of them have a certain influence on humankind. The term, however, was not used that often before the 16th century.

It is shown later on that the constellations are much larger than the asterisms in the night sky, and the borders of all constellations were redefined in 1922. by International Astronomical Union.

NORTHERN HEMISPHERE

Name (Latin)Name (English)Size (deg2)VisibilityFirst AppearedBrightest Star

Andromeda

Andromeda

722

All year

Ancient

Alpheratz

Aries

The ram

441

Autumn

Ancient

Hamal

Auriga

The charioteer

657

Winter

Ancient

Capella

Boötes

The herdsman

907

Spring

Ancient

Arcturus

Camelopardalis

The giraffe

757

All year

1612 (Plancius)

β-Cam

Cancer

The crab

506

Winter, Spring

Ancient

β-Cnc

Canes Venatici

The hunting dogs

465

Winter, Spring

1687 (Hevelius)

Cor-Caroli

Cassiopeia

Queen Cassiopeia

598

Autumn

Ancient

γ-Cas

Cepheus

King Cepheus

588

Autumn

Ancient

Alderamin

Coma Berenices

Berenice's Hair

386

Spring

1536 (Vopel)

β-Com

Corona Borealis

The northern crown

179

Spring

Ancient

Alphecca

Cygnus

The swan

804

Summer, Autumn

Ancient

Deneb

Delphinus

The dolphin

189

Autumn

Ancient

Rotanev

Draco

The dragon

1.083

Winter

Ancient

Eltanin

Equuleus

The little horse

72

Autumn

Ancient (Ptolemy)

Kitalpha

Gemini

The twins

514

Winter, Spring

Ancient

Pollux

Hercules

Hercules

1.225

Summer

Ancient

Kornephoros

Lacerta

The lizard

201

Autumn

1690 (Hevelius)

α-Lac

Leo Minor

The lion cub

232

Winter, Spring

1687 (Hevelius)

46-LMi

Lynx

The lynx

545

Autumn

1687 (Hevelius)

α-Lyn

Lyra

The lyre

286

Summer, Autumn

Ancient

Vega

Pegasus

The winged horse

1.121

Autumn

Ancient

Enif

Perseus

Perseus

615

Winter, Spring

Ancient

Mirfak

Sagitta

Arrow

80

Summer

Ancient

y-Sge

Triangulum

Triangle

132

Autumn

Ancient

β-Tri

Ursa Major

Great Bear

1.280

All year

Ancient

Alioth

Ursa Minor

Little Bear

265

All year

Ancient

Polaris

Vulpecula

Little Fox

269

Summer

1687 (Hevelius)

a-Vul

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE

Name (Latin)Name (English)Size (deg2)VisibilityFirst AppearedBrightest Star

Antlia

The air pump

239

Spring

1756 (Lacaille)

α-Ant

Apus

The bird of paradise

206

Summer

1598 (Keyser & de Houtman)

α-Aps

Ara

The altar

237

Summer

Ancient

α-Ara

Caelum

The chisel

125

Winter

1756 (Lacaille)

α-Cae

Canis Major

The greater dog

380

Winter

Ancient

Sirius

Capricornus

The sea goat

414

All year

Ancient

δ-Cap

Carina

The keel

494

All year

1756 (Lacaille)

Canopus

Centaurus

The Centaur

1.060

All year

Ancient

Rigil-Kentaurus

Chamaeleon

The chameleon

132

Summer

1598 (Keyser & de Houtman)

α-Cha

Circinus

The pair of dividing compasses

93

Summer

1756 (Lacaille)

α-Cir

Columba

The dove

270

Winter

1592 (Plancius)

Phact

Corona Australis

The southern crown

128

Summer

Ancient

α-CrA

Corvus

The crow

184

Spring

Ancient

Gienah

Crater

The cup

282

Spring

Ancient

δ-Crt

Crux

The southern cross

68

All year

1598 (Plancius)

Acrux

Dorado

The goldfish

179

Winter

1598 (Keyser & de Houtman)

α-Dor

Fornax

The furnace

398

Autumn, Winter

1756 (Lacaille)

α-For

Grus

The crane

366

Autumn

1598 (Keyser & de Houtman)

Alnair

Horologium

The pendulum clock

249

Winter

1756 (Lacaille)

α-Hor

Hydrus

The lesser water snake

243

Winter

1598 (Keyser & de Houtman)

β-Hyi

Indus

The Indian

294

Autumn

1598 (Keyser & de Houtman)

α-Ind

Lepus

The hare

290

Winter

Ancient

Arneb

Libra

The balance

538

All year

Ancient (Roman)

Zubeneschamali

Lupus

The wolf

334

Summer

Ancient

α-Lup

Mensa

Table Mountain

153

Winter

1756 (Lacaille)

α-Men

Microscopium

The microscope

210

Summer

1756 (Lacaille)

γ-Mic

Musca

The fly

138

Summer, Spring

1598 (Keyser & de Houtman)

α-Mus

Norma

The set square

165

Summer

1756 (Lacaille)

γ²-Nor

Octans

The octant

291

Autumn

1756 (Lacaille)

ν-Oct

Pavo

The peacock

378

Summer, Autumn

1598 (Keyser & de Houtman)

Peacock

Phoenix

The phoenix

469

Winter

1598 (Keyser & de Houtman)

Ankaa

Pictor

The painter's easel

247

Winter

1756 (Lacaille)

α-Pic

Piscis Austrinus

The Southern fish

245

Summer

Ancient

Fomalhaut

Puppis

The stern

673

Winter

1756 (Lacaille)

Naos

Pyxis

The compass

221

Winter

1756 (Lacaille)

α-Pyx

Reticulum

The net

114

Winter

1756 (Lacaille)

α-Ret

Sagittarius

The Archer

867

Summer

Ancient

Kaus-Australis

Scorpius

The Scorpion

497

All year

Ancient

Antares

Sculptor

Sculptor

475

Autumn, Winter

1756 (Lacaille)

α-Scl

Scutum

The Shield

109

Summer

1684 (Hevelius)

α-Sct

Telescopium

Telescope

252

Summer

1756 (Lacaille)

α-Tel

Triangulum Australe

Southern Triangle

110

Summer

Ancient

β-Tri

Tucana

Toucan

295

Winter

1598 (Keyser & de Houtman)

α-Tuc

Vela

The sails

500

Spring

1756 (Lacaille)

γ²-Vel

Volans

Flying fish

141

Spring

Ancient

γ²-Vol

BOTH HEMISPHERES

Name (Latin)Name (English)Size (deg2)VisibilityFirst AppearedBrightest Star

Aquarius

The water bearer

980

Autumn

Ancient

Sadalsuud

Aquila

The eagle

652

Summer, Autumn

Ancient

Altair

Canis Minor

The lesser dog

183

Winter, Spring

Ancient

Procyon

Cetus

The sea monster

1.231

Autumn

Ancient

Diphda

Eridanus

Eridanus

1.138

Winter

Ancient

Achernar

Hydra

The multi-headed water snake

1.303

Spring, Summer

Ancient

Alphard

Leo

The lion of Nemea

947

Spring

Ancient

Regulus

Monoceros

The unicorn

482

Winter

1612 (Plancius)

α-Mon

Ophiuchus

The serpent bearer

948

Spring

Ancient

Rasalhague

Orion

The hunter

594

Winter

Ancient

Rigel

Pisces

The Fishes

889

Autumn

Ancient

η-Psc

Serpens

The Serpent

637

Summer

Ancient

η-Ser

Sextans

The Sextant

314

Spring

1687 (Hevelius)

α-Sex

Taurus

The Bull

797

Winter

Ancient

Aldebaran

Virgo

Virgin

1.294

Autumn

Ancient

Spica

Constellation History

The first documented and official list of constellations was the one by famous Greek astronomer Ptolemy. His Almagest from the 2nd century was based on the work of previous navigators, astronomers and astrologers, and records from Babylonian times. Ptolemy created a list of 48 constellations, and most of them were northern hemisphere constellations since he was not able to see all of them from Greece or Europe. Most of his constellations were known before to the mankind, like the Zodiac family of constellations and the Orion constellation, and there are stories in other cultures and civilizations that are proof of that. He named all of the constellations from his list by creatures or animals from Greek mythology and connected each of them with certain myths.

Later on, many more constellations were discovered from the 15-18th century. All begins with the story of a Dutch fleet and their mission to the legendary Dutch fleet journey to the Spice Island. The ship was under Captain Keyser’s command and they went on a mission so the new trade relationships could be created. During their journey, the position of 135 stars was measured. Some of them were never cataloged or depicted before, and these documents helped Peter Plancius recognize 12 new southern hemisphere constellations. His work was based on the research of several navigators from Holland, and later on, confirmed on Bayer’s Uranometria.

After the telescope was invented, French astronomer de Lacaille named some of the southern hemisphere constellations that were not spotted or cataloged before. He liked naming them after the technical novelties and not after the animals or creatures from Greek-Roman mythology.

International astronomical union or shortly IAU described constellation as an area of the celestial sphere grouped in a specific shape from several stars and deep-sky objects. IAU divided the constellations on the one located celestial, and the one in the northern and southern sky. The official record says that there are 88 known constellations, and thanks to the help of astronomer Eugène Delporte, boundaries between modern and ancient constellations were devised along vertical and horizontal lines. Most of the traditional constellations kept their names, but they were shortened – thanks to this, many myths and tails from ancient civilizations were saved.

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