Constellations

Constellations

Constellations are names for groups of stars that appear to form shapes in the sky. They were given their names many hundreds of years ago to help us remember which stars are which. We use constellations to divide up the sky; finding one can help us find another because constellations move so slowly that, in our lifetime, they will always be found in about the same place.

The Big Dipper (Ursa Major or the Great Bear)

The best known group of stars is the Big Dipper; you have probably heard of it or even seen it. The Big Dipper is a group of seven bright stars, 3 which form a handle and 4 which form a bowl. (The Big Dipper is yellow in the picture below). The Big Dipper is not actually a constellation but is part of the constellation Ursa Major, or Great Bear.

The Big Dipper in Ursa Major

The Little Dipper in Ursa Minor

Little Dipper (Ursa Minor or the Little Bear)

The Little Dipper is a mirrored and smaller version of the Big Dipper. It can be found by looking directly up from the two outermost stars which form the bowl on the Big Dipper. These two stars point us to Polaris, the Pole Star (indicating the North Pole), which is at the end of the Little Dipper's handle. (See picture on right above).

Orion

Another well-known constellation is Orion. Orion was an ancient Greek hunter and warrior and the constellation resembles this figure, with a club and a shield, and a sword dangling from his belt. The belt is usually the easiest part of Orion to spot, with three bright stars in a row. Can you find his belt in the picture below? Orion has more bright stars than any other constellation; the two brightest are Betelguese (shoulder) and Rigel (foot).

Cassiopeia

Casseopeia is found next to the Big Dipper and Orion. Its shape is easy to remember, a neat W, or M, formed by 5 bright stars. Casseopeia is the mythological Queen of Ethiopia.

The Pleiades (Seven Sisters)

The Seven Sisters were said to be the daughters of Atlas and the objects of Orion's affection. As the name Seven Sisters implies, there are seven stars in this constellation but most people can only see six. The Pleiades is located between the constellations of Taurus and Perseus.

Sky Chart

This chart shows some of the constellations I have mentioned. In the middle you can see the Big Dipper, which can direct us to several other constellations around it. As mentioned above, the side of the Big Dipper's bowl points to Polaris in the Little Dipper. The bottom of the bowl points to the constellation Gemini, the left side of the bowl to the constellation, Leo, and the handle to Bootes. Casseopeia can also be seen in the top left corner. To find out more about any of the constellations mentioned here (and those which aren't) visit some of the sites listed below.

Links to other constellation web sites

The Constellations

Information relating to the 88 mythical constellations.

The Constellations and their Stars

Statistics, history, and mythology for all 88 constellations and the named stars in them.

Dome of the Sky

An online planetarium showing the positions of stars and constellations at different dates throughout the year. Use this for finding the relative locations of the constellations.

Galaxy Guide

Check out the constellation of the month.

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