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What is a Constellation?

When you look up in the sky , various formations may catch your eye and if you look deeper , they begin to look like familiar objects (in the same way that ancient observers once denoted). A constellation is any one of the sections of the sky (or celestial sphere) that is divided in appearance. There are 88 that are recognized today. Sometimes, the term is used to refer to a group of stars whose pattern seems visibly connected in some way to one another.

Well-known constellations display remarkable features created by the brightness of stars. Orion is one of the most recognized out of these patterns, which highlights the form of a hunter. At any one time, the constellation can be seen from a variety of places about the world and throughout different times of the year. Other constellations that have gained quite a reputation within the ins and outs of astronomy include Leo (with bright stars that outline the vision of a lion), Scorpius (the shape of a scorpion), and Crux (shaped like a cross).

It is the International Astronomical Union (also referred to as IAU) that divides the sky into the 88 constellations with an official seal of approval. The lines are marked with precision so that directions and placement within the sky is associated with the correct constellation. If you take a look at the northern celestial hemisphere, you will notice that most of these entities are based upon the constellations that emerged during ancient Greek traditions. This way of thinking continued throughout the Middle Ages and then began to include the signs of the zodiac.

An interesting tidbit of information regarding the constellations is that the sun seems to pass through the 12 constellations of the zodiac, which is probably because ancient Greek astronomers felt that they possessed a special significance.

In 1930, a man by the name of Eugene Delporte created the boundaries attached to the constellations. He established vertical and horizontal lines that included right ascension and declination. Over the years, the lines would become skewed. The 3-D characteristics of space deals with the majority of stars that really have little to no relation with one another, but still appear as if they are grouped together on the same celestial sphere when peering into the night sky.

Although a star pattern may have gained a lot of acknowledgement, the International Astronomical Union may not recognize this grouping. These kinds of star patterns are referred to as an asterism. An infamous example of this is seen in the grouping called the Big Dipper (situated in North America) or the Plough (located in the United Kingdom).

Different Types of Constellations

Depending on the culture you encounter , there are various constellations associated with many different ancient beliefs. In ancient Greek civilizations, the first works were attached to stars that were part of the book of star myths. The oldest to explore was a poem that Hesiod created during the 8th century BCE. To date, only pieces of this work exist.

The Incan civilization had their own way if identifying the night sky and referred to these areas in the Milky Way as “dark cloud constellations.” These constellations were associated with animals, as well as seasonal rains.

The Chinese culture also acknowledged constellations, which differ from the ones associated with westerners. This primarily takes place because of the independent establishment of ancient Chinese astronomy. In their way of thinking, skywatchers separated the night sky in a different manner. However, some similarities still exist. Some of their constellations included Root (Libra), Heart (Antares), Winnowing Basket (Sagittarius), and Girl (Aquarius).