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First Published 5th January 2012, Last Updated by

Constellation guide to the 88 official constellations which divide up the sky. These constellations are used to help navigate the celestial sphere. The Constellations are patterns in the sky which have been to invented and have deep mythology behind them. Constellations cover massive areas in the sky and as such are very easy to find.
Astronomical Objects Series
  1. Guide to the Constellations and Mythology
  2. What are Asteroids, Meteors and Comets?
  3. Binary Stars and Double Stars
  4. Variable Stars
  5. Supernova and Supernovae
  6. Types of Nebula and Nebulae
  7. What Is a Black Hole? Black Holes Explained - From Birth to Death
  8. Quasars
  9. Pulsars - The Universe's Gift to Physics
  10. What is inside a Neutron Star?
  11. Gamma Ray Bursts
  12. Kuiper Belt
  13. What is an Exoplanet?
  14. Galaxy Types and Galaxy Formation
  15. The Messier Catalogue
  16. The Caldwell Catalogue
  17. 25 Stunning Sights Every Astronomer Should See

Constellations are usually one of the first things new astronomers start observing, and something many professionals totally ignore in there exploration of deep space. Constellations aren't real objects, they are a figment of our creative imaginations.

Over the millennia we have grouped stars together to form imaginary outlines or meaningful patterns on the celestial sphere, typically representing animals, mythological people or gods, mythological creatures, or manufactured devices. The entire sky is divided up into 88 areas, each one a constellation. They help us navigate the night's sky, and navigate the Earth.

A constellation is a group of stars that make an imaginary shape in the night sky.

A constellation is a group of stars that make an imaginary shape in the night sky.

Constellation names, like the names of stars, come from a variety of sources and each has a different story and meaning to it. Some of the constellations have very familiar names, such as Leo, Gemini, Virgo and Aquarius. These are some of the 12 constellations which form the Zodiac. The Zodiac constellations follow the line of the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the apparent path of the Sun on the celestial sphere.

Although not an official constellation, the Plough is the most famous and easily recognised.

Although not an official constellation, the Plough is the most famous and easily recognised.

Not all of the constellations are visible from any one point on Earth. The star maps are typically divided into maps for the northern hemisphere and maps for the southern hemisphere. The season of the year can also affect what constellations are visible from where you are located on Earth.

The Big Dipper, shown above, isn't official, but one of the many unofficial constellations called Asterisms. An asterism might form part of an official constellation, like the Big Dipper, which is composed of the seven brightest stars in the constellation Ursa Major. Or the constellation might be made up of stars from different constellations. For example, the three points of the Summer Triangle asterism are Deneb, Altair, and Vega, which are the brightest stars in the constellations Cygnus, Aquila, and Lyra, respectively.

You can view more about each of the individual constellations and their mythology in the links below.

Tutorial Series

This post is part of the series Astronomical Objects. Use the links below to advance to the next tutorial in the couse, or go back and see the previous in the tutorial series.

Cancer

The Crab

Location: Northern Spring - 9h RA 20° Dec

Cancer is small and dim, and to many it does not resemble a crab. It lies between Gemini to the west and Leo to the east, Lynx to the north and Canis Minor and Hydra to the south.

Cancer is best noted among stargazers as the home of Praesepe (M44), an open cluster also called the Beehive Cluster or the Gate of Men, which contains the star η Cancri.

Cancer

Cancer Mythology

Cancer, the Crab, plays a minor role in the Twelve Labors of Hercules. While Hercules was busy fighting the multi-headed monster, Hydra, the goddess Hera, who did not like Hercules, sent the Crab to distract him. Cancer grabbed onto the hero's toe with its claws, but barely breaking the rhythm of his great battle with Hydra, Hercules crushed the crab with his foot. Hera, grateful for the little crustacean's heroic but pitiful effort, gave it a place in the sky.

Cancer Deep Space Objects

Cancer is best known among stargazers as the home of Praesepe (Messier 44), an open cluster also called the Beehive Cluster. The smaller, denser open cluster Messier 67 can also be found in Cancer, 2600 light-years from Earth.

Constellations

Northern Circumpolar Constellations

These constellations can be viewed all year round in the Northern hemisphere as they move in a counterclockwise direction around the north celestial pole without setting or dipping below the horizon.

Northern Spring Constellations

These Northern constellations are best viewed around the spring months. The rest of the year the constellation will not rise during the night.

Northern Summer Constellations

These Northern constellations are best viewed around the summer months. The rest of the year the constellation will not rise during the night.

Northern Autumn Constellations

These Northern constellations are best viewed around the autumn months. The rest of the year the constellation will not rise during the night.

Northern Winter Constellations

These Northern constellations are best viewed around the winter months. The rest of the year the constellation will not rise during the night.