Articles about some of the 88 official constellations. What they are and where are they? And read the ancient myths and legends that tell their exciting stories.
Andromeda the Chained Princess
Andromeda stands in the northern sky eternally chained to her rock. She is one of six constellations that Ptolemy described in the second century, all part of one particular ancient Greek myth. In the constellation is a quadruple star, a blue snowball, exoplanets and spiral galaxies.
Auriga the Charioteer
The constellation Auriga represents a charioteer, but he has no chariot. However he does have a she-goat and two kids, as well as a rare ring galaxy and a runaway star. Capella is one of the sky's brightest stars, but it also has some surprises.
Boötes the Herdsman
This ancient constellation contains black holes as massive as a billion Suns, extrasolar planets and a meteor shower acquired from an extinct neighbor. Its brightest star, a red giant 25 times the diameter of the Sun, is a sign that spring is here.
Cancer the Crab
Cancer the crab scuttles across the late winter sky, well away from its nemesis Hercules. Cancer is a zodiac constellation, the Tropic of Cancer is named for it, and it has existed for over three thousand years. Yet it seems to be a dim and unremarkable constellation. Why all the attention?
Cassiopeia the Queen
High in the sky, circling the north celestial pole are the distinctive stars of Cassiopeia, the boastful queen who nearly destroyed her kingdom. The Milky Way runs through the constellation and it's full of star clusters, galaxies and evidence of the life cycles of stars.
Cats in the Sky
There are three constellations named for dogs, but what about cats in the sky? There is astrocat Felicette who went into space and returned safely to Earth, but also constellations of big cats and a pawprint 50 light years across.
Centaurus the Centaur
Half-man, half-horse, Centaurus strides across the southern sky. Its myths and legends go back thousands of years and it's full of marvelous sights. Planets, black holes, an enormous diamond and colliding galaxies are just some of them.
Cepheus the King
An ancient Greek tale of pride and passion is played out across the sky, and involves five constellations including Cepheus the king. In the constellation Cepheus there are stars being born and stars at the end of their lives, including those which will die in a blaze of glory.
Cetus the Sea Monster
Whale or monster? Benign plankton-eating creature or terrifying colossus, a hybrid with gaping jaws and the powerful scaly coils of a sea serpent? This is the constellation Cetus. The monster fell to the hero Perseus, but the stars and deep sky objects are impressive.
Constellation or Asterism
Constellations and asterisms are both patterns of stars. So what is a constellation? And If Saturn is in the constellation Virgo, has it left the Solar System? Why is the Big Dipper an asterism and not a constellation?
Cosmic 4th of July
What links the USA´s Independence Day holiday, the Crab Nebula and NASA´s Deep Impact spacecraft? What links the American War of Independence with the planet Uranus? And what is the Fireworks Galaxy? Read on to find out.
Horses galloping and flying; creatures half human, half horse; dark horses invisible but for their silhouettes against the stars behind them. Find out about the cosmic equines that are features of our skies.
Creepy Crawlies in Space
What was the first Earth creature to go into space? Not a dog, but a fruit fly. Insects and arachnids have been mini-astronauts for over sixty years. They have also inspired the naming of heavenly objects.
Cygnus the Swan
Seduction and supergiants, a beautiful blue and amber double star, vast explosions, a giant cloud that looks like North America. Where does myth end and astronomy begin? Here is a tour of some of the highlights of the constellation Cygnus the swan.
Draco the Dragon
An enormous dragon circles the northern celestial pole. The constellation Draco contains a star that was the pole star at the time of the pharaohs, some interesting galaxies and the most complex planetary nebula yet discovered.
Exotic Creatures of the Southern Sky
Constellations telling the ancient tales of gods and heroes are still in use by astronomers. But there are only 48 classical constellations, and the skies around the south celestial pole can't be seen from the Mediterranean, so those constellations are more modern. Here are some of them.
Galactic Winter Games
Welcome to the Galactic Winter Games, a starry tribute to Earth´s Winter Olympic Games. It´s a tour of some really cool cosmic sights – as well as some hot ones, such as one of the biggest explosions in the Universe.
Heavenly Aviaries - Bird Constellations
The night sky is full of starry birds. Here is a selection, ranging from the majestic swan to the exotic birds of the southern skies: the peacock, bird of paradise and toucan. There is also an emu whose image appears not in the stars, but in the dark nebulae.
Lacaille's Skies - Sciences
There's a curious set of constellations in the southern skies. They don't represent exotic animals, heroic deeds or the foibles of ancient deities. They're composed of dim and nameless stars. Find out why Abbe Lacaille invented them, and take a quick tour.
Lacaille's skies – Arts
Much of the southern sky wasn't visible to the ancient Mediterranean civilizations. Instead of representing the ancient myths, the constellations were invented long afterwards by European explorers and astronomers. Some of Abbe Lacaille's inventions are tributes to the arts.
Leo the Lion
Leo is a Zodiac constellation and its stars have represented a lion for over four thousand years. Leo contains one of the brightest stars in the sky and one of the dimmest, as well as a selection of spiral galaxies loved by amateur astronomers. And what was Regulus's dark secret?
Lyra the Heavenly Harp
Music of the spheres? Here’s a harp to play it on: Lyra, the harp of Orpheus, that almost brought his beloved back from death. The constellation has one of the sky’s brightest stars, a star that is really four stars, and a colorful donut.
Monoceros the Unicorn
Did you know that there is a unicorn constellation? Certainly Monoceros isn't a classical constellation, and it's almost too faint to see. But it has a lot of interesting stars and other objects in it.
What happens to constellations when you don't want them anymore? Nothing, physically. They aren't real groups of stars like star clusters are. They're the products of human imagination, and they come and go. Here are half a dozen of my favorite obsolete constellations.
Orion the Hunter
The stars of Orion have been part of humanity's mythscape for thousands of years. Seven bright stars outline the hunter's body. One of them is a supergiant nearing the end of its life. Yet just visible to the unaided eye is a vast stellar nursery where the next generation of stars is forming.
Pegasus the Winged Horse
A flying horse on feathered wings - it's the constellation Pegasus. You can spot it by its most noticeable feature, the Great Square of Pegasus, though one star of the square belongs to poor Princess Andromeda. There's also a star in Pegasus very like our Sun with a planet circling it.
Perseus the Hero
Perseus was a first-class hero: a demi-god, monster-slayer, maiden-rescuer, founder of Mycenae. When he died the gods put him in the sky. His constellation contains beautiful nebulae, a demon and a singing black hole.
Sagittarius the Archer
In northern hemisphere summer, the ancient zodiac constellation Sagittarius stands low on the southern horizon. It's a special constellation, for when you see Sagittarius, you're looking into the heart of the Milky Way.
Scorpius the Scorpion
Anyone wary of spiders may want to avoid the spider's cousin Scorpius. Most constellations don't look like their namesakes. But Scorpius is easily imagined as a giant scorpion with a blood red heart gleaming in the southern sky. It's been an astronomical scorpion for over 3000 years.
Star Tales [offsite link]
An updated version of Ian Ridpath´s classic Star Tales about the myths and legends of the night sky is now available online.
Taurus the Bull
In Greek myth Taurus is Zeus's guise for the seduction of Europa. Yet the bull's red eye still glares at Orion in an enmity created long before the rise of ancient Greece. Today's Taurus is a constellation memorable for its two beautiful star clusters and one of the sky's most amazing objects.
The Starry Crowns – Corona Australis
A wreath, a crown, a wheel of torment, a boomerang. The constellation Corona Australis has represented them all in different traditions. Its stars are dim, but its stories are vivid.
The Starry Crowns – Corona Borealis
There are two crowns in the sky, the northern and southern ones. Classically, Corona Borealis represents the crown of Ariadne, abandoned heroine of the tale of the Minotaur and the labyrinth. More prosaically, in Australian aboriginal astronomy, it's Womera – the Boomerang, which it resembles.
Virgo the Maiden
Virgo is one of the constellations of the zodiac, and its stars have been linked to agricultural goddesses for thousands of years. This area of sky contains thousands of galaxies, dozens of known extrasolar planets, and was where the first quasar was discovered.
What Are Constellations
Stories of gods and mortals, love and betrayal, monsters and heroes. They all adorn the night sky in the form of constellations. These star groups have also served as calendars, navigation aids and internationally defined areas of the celestial sphere.
Who Let the Dogs Out?
Someone must have left the door open, because the skies are full of dogs. You can see the dogs of Orion and the hunting dogs of the shepherd Bootes in pursuit of the Great Bear. There is also the Running Dog Nebula and the memory of poor Laika, the first cosmonaut, who perished in space.
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