The Constellation Basics: What You Should Know (And Then Some)

The Constellation Basics: What You Should Know (And Then Some)
Beaver Meadows by Bryce Bradford

The stars are amazing in a wide range of ways, but most of their qualities can’t possibly be seen by the naked eye. Not only are they farther away than anyone can imagine traveling, but they’re also huge, making up constellations many times the size of Earth. The simplest definition of a constellation is a collection of stars, however, the official definition of a constellation is an area of the sky with defined boundaries. This includes any objects within the constellations, so more than just stars, a constellation includes planets, asteroids and any other objects in that particular part of the sky. Here are some fast facts (and some lesser known facts) to get you acquainted with the stars above!


How Many Constellations in the Sky

There are, in total, 88 constellations officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union. We’ve known of 48 of them since around 150 AD, when Greek astronomer Ptolemy wrote Almagest, detailing the constellations. However, we’ve known of the existence of constellations since possibly as far back as 1050 BC, the time of Ancient Babylon and Sumeria. The most commonly known constellations are the Zodiac, the 12 constellations found where the sun, our moon, and planets move through.

How the Constellations Are Named

Unsurprisingly, most constellations are named with Latin origin since they began to be named during the Roman empire, however, their meanings sometimes originated even before this, such as with the constellation Scorpius. Despite the Latin name, this name actually comes from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs which described that same constellation as Ip, the Egyptian word referring to a scorpion. Some names are much newer, however, such as Telescopium, which refers to the telescope. Names were officially assigned by the International Astronomical Union in 1930.


Circumpolar and Seasonal Constellations

Due to the way we view constellations, and because of the rotation of the earth and its orbit around the sun, we divide constellations into two groups called circumpolar and seasonal. Circumpolar constellations are considered as never appearing to rise or set, but rather staying steady in the sky and the way we view them, whereas seasonal constellations are those that can only be seen depending on the season it is where you’re located when attempting to view them.

Constellations and Mythology

Since ancient times, constellations have been a huge part of mythology, particularly within the 12 zodiacs. Scientific research surrounding the stars actually began with the attempt to predict the future through the stars in ancient Greek times. Among the many myths surrounding constellations, most of them included stories, such as the myth that the constellation Scorpius, the scorpion, was responsible for the death of the hunter Orion, who became a constellation after his death.


How We See Constellations

Some constellations are only visible from Earth in the northern hemisphere or southern hemisphere respectively, so essentially, you could be looking at entirely different constellations depending where you are on Earth. This is another testament to how gigantic the universe is! Additionally, because we are constantly moving as is everything in the universe, some constellations can be viewed all year long but for the most part, constellations are seasonal and can only be spotted at certain times of the year.