Constellations are made up of bright stars appearing close to each other in the sky. They have been linked together by people to depict mythological characters, animals and objects.
Here are several fascinating facts you probably don’t know about stars.
Fact 1: Constellations are our Earth-based interpretation of two dimension star patterns on the sky made up of stars with differing brightness and distance from Earth.
Fact 2: When were the first constellations recorded? Astronomical paintings have been discovered by archaeologists on the walls of caves in southern France. It is believed that our ancestors might have recorded their view of the night’s sky 17 300 years ago.
Fact 3: The ancient Greeks were the first to describe over half of the 88 constellations we know of today.
Fact 4: Why are there 88 constellations? The International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially recognized 88 constellations in 1922, 48 of these were recorded by Greek astronomer Ptolemy in „Almagest“, written around 150 AD.
Fact 5: New constellations were added by European astronomers and celestial cartographers between the 16th and 19th century AD.
Fact 6: Today, city lights obscure the light of stars so it is hard to make out the shapes of the constellations with the naked eye.
Fact 7: Constellations are grouped according to the month when they are most visible. Different constellations are visible at certain times of the year because of our Earth’s orbit.
Fact 8: The IAU adopted three letter abbreviations for the constellation names in 1922.
Fact 9: If you are located in the Northern Hemisphere, stars will appear to rotate counterclockwise around a fixed point in the sky referred to as the north celestial pole. However, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere the effect is reversed and it appears the stars are rotating clockwise.
Fact 10: The most popular and well known constellations are those of the Zodiac. Less known is the fact that there is a 13th zodiacal constellation, Ophiuchus! In mythology, this sign is identified as the healer Asclepius, the son of Apollo, who had the ability to bring the dead back to life. Ophiuchus is better known as Serpentarius and is depicted as a man holding a serpent. The reason that the 13th sign was not included in the Zodiac is because in the wheel of Astrological signs, the Sun only spends about 19 days in this area and then moves on to Scorpius.
Fact 11: Constellations have families! Actually, a constellation family refers to groups of constellations that are located in the same area of the sky. For example, the Hercules Family is made up of a total of 19 constellations.
Fact 12: Hydra, or the serpent of Lerna, is the largest constellation in the sky. In classical mythology, it represents the giant serpent killed by Hercules. It is best seen in April.
Fact 13: Virgo is the largest constellation of the Zodiac and closely follows Hydra in size.
Fact 14: Canis Major, which is found near the celestial equator and is also known as the Large Dog, contains the brightest star in the heaves, Sirius. In the Northern Hemisphere, people can see Sirius in the southeast – south – or southwest on evenings during February. Sirius is sometimes referred to as the rainbow star because it flickers in colors.
Fact 15: Asterisms aren’t constellations. Asterisms are patters or shapes of stars but they are not related to the known constellations. One of the most famous asterisms is „the Big Dipper“, seen in the northern hemisphere as a triangle in the summer night sky and made up of bright stars Altair, Deneb and Vega.
Fact 16: Astronomy and astrology should not be confused! Astronomy is the study of celestial objects such as stars and planets, while astrology is founded on how movements of stars and other celestial bodies influence human lives. Astronomers on the other hand, believe that these movements have no effect on humans.