In everyday usage, a constellations are a traditional or recognizable group of stars in the night sky, or the region of the sky containing them. The origin of the word constellation seems to come from the Late Latin term “cōnstellātiō,” which can be translated as “set of stars”, but came into use in English during the 14th century.
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Facts About Constellations
- Constellations are patterns of stars in the sky which astronomers use to help them pinpoint individual stars.
- Most of the constellations were identified long ago by the stargazers of Ancient Babylon and Egypt.
- Constellations are simply patterns — there is no real link between the stars whatsoever.
- Heroes and creatures of Greek myth, such as Orion the Hunter and Perseus, provided the names of many constellations, although each name is usually written in its Latin form, not Greek.
- The stars in each constellation are named after a letter of the Greek alphabet.
- The brightest star in each constellation is called the Alpha star, the next brightest Beta, and so on.
- Different constellations become visible at different times of the year, as the Earth travels around the Sun.
- Southern hemisphere constellations are different from those in the north.
- The constellation of the Great Bear — also known by its Latin name Ursa Major — contains an easily recognizable group of seven stars called the Plough or the Big Dipper.
- There are 88 official constellations which are recognized by the International Astronomical Union.
- Some constellations are only visible in the northern hemisphere, while others are only visible in the southern hemisphere.
- Constellations that are visible in both hemispheres may appear upside down in the southern hemisphere.
- A few constellations can be viewed all year long but most are seasonal and can only be viewed at certain times of the year.
- Distant galaxies and nebulae also form parts of constellations.
- Asterisms are groups of stars that form patterns but are actually part of one or multiple constellations, the Big Dipper is the most famous example of an asterism.
- The sun is the only known star in our galaxy which is not part of a constellation.
- The largest constellation by area is Hydra which is 3.16% of the sky.
- The smallest is Crux which only takes up 0.17 percent of the sky.
- Small patterns of stars within a constellation are called asterisms. These include the Big Dipper and Little Dipper.
- The word “constellation” comes from a Latin term meaning “set with stars.”
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Orion is one of the most visible constellation. Because of its location, it can be seen throughout the world. Orion is named after a hunter from Greek mythology. Its brightest stars are Betelgeuse and Rigel.
Ursa Major is visible in the northern hemisphere. It means “Larger Bear” in Latin. The Big Dipper is part of the Ursa Major constellation. The Big Dipper is often used as a way to find the direction north.
Ursa Minor means “Smaller Bear” in Latin. It is located near Ursa Major and also has the pattern of a small ladle called the Little Dipper as part of its larger pattern.
The Draco constellation can be viewed in the northern hemisphere. It means “dragon” in Latin and was one of the 48 ancient constellation.
The Pegasus constellation is named after the flying horse by the same name from Greek mythology. It can be seen in the northern sky.
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The zodiac constellation is located within a band that is about 20 degrees wide in the sky. This band is considered special because it is the band where the Sun, the Moon, and the planets all move.
There are 13 zodiac constellations. Twelve of these are also used as signs for the zodiac calendar and astrology.
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Uses of Constellations
- Constellation are useful because they can help people to recognize stars in the sky. By looking for patterns, the stars and locations can be much easier to spot.
- The constellation had been used in ancient times. They were used to help keep track of the calendar. This was very important so that people knew when to plant and harvest crops.
- Another important use for constellation was navigation. By finding Ursa Minor it is fairly easy to spot the North Star (Polaris). Using the height of the North Star in the sky, navigators could figure out their latitude helping ships to travel across the oceans.