Did you know that there are officially 88 recognized star constellations in the stars?
If you ever take the time to look up at the stars, you can experience moments of wonder which puts life into perspective.
Whether you’re an amateur astronomer or a curious lover of beauty, it’s important to know some of the major constellations which are above our heads.
Learning about the constellations is not only the beautiful patterns in the night sky. But also, the many enchanting myths and stories behind the constellations. Let’s check out our list of constellations below.
By the 2nd Century, there were already over 40 constellations which had been spotted by early astronomers.
The first constellation on our list, Andromeda belongs to this early grouping. If you know anything about ancient Greek myths and legends, you’ll notice that these early constellations heavily feature in these stories.
Andromeda represents the daughter of the Queen of Ethiopia, Cassiopeia. Andromeda’s mother was wicked, and she planned to inflict the sea monster called Cetus on her people as punishment.
However, Andromeda stepped in to stop her. She sacrificed herself for the people by chaining herself to a rock to be eaten by Cetus.
Before she could be eaten, she was rescued by her lover Perseus. To honor Andromeda, the goddess of Greece, Athena (which the capital of Athens is named after) turned her into a constellation.
Orion features in great works of literature of the ancient world, including in Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. In fact, you can even find the stories of Orion in the Christain Bible!
However, in the Greek myth, Orion was known as a brave and formidable hunter. He declared that he could kill any animal alive.
After his death, he was risen up the heavens and stars. How he died is the subject of several stories and tales.
The two most prominent explanations are that he died from being shot by an arrow from the bow of Artemis, the daughter of Zeus. Or, he was said to be have been stung by a giant scorpion, of which you’ll hear more about later.
The archer Sagittarius was originally identified by the Babylonians, of modern-day Iraq. This pattern remains one of the most visible in the night sky.
For the Babylonians, the star constellation resembled the god of Nergal.
This god was famous for having the body of a winged-horse and two heads, one human and the other of a panther. Nergal also had a scorpion’s stinger at the back.
In popular stories today, we continue to depict Sagittarius as a centaur-like figure.
Remember the fate of Andromeda?
The sea nymphs sought revenge on Cassiopeia after her awful treatment of the people of Ethiopia. After Cassiopeia boasted of how beautiful she was, she soon regretted the offense she caused.
While Andromeda was honored as a constellation, Cassiopeia was banished to the stars as punishment for her wickedness.
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The constellation of cancer, also known as the crab, originates from the Greek legend of Heracles. Heracles is commonly known by the spelling Hercules which was inherited by the Romans.
Cancer features in the stories of the Twelve Labors of Heracles, which became the foundations of the 12 Zodiac signs.
The goddess of women, Hera sent the crab Karkanos to distract Heracles.
Only Heracles was too strong and responded by kicking the crab so far that he projected it into the stars. Nonetheless, Hera honored the crab by giving him eternal life in the skies.
Taurus the bull is one of the most famous of the constellations. However, there are also numerous stories regarding the origins of the pattern of stars.
One myth describes how Zeus sought to hide his infidelity by transforming his mistress into a bull in the sky. While other myths have suggested that the bull is actually Zeus himself.
Even though Aquarius is extremely well-known, it is surprisingly difficult to make out in the days unless it is a very clear night.
You can read more here about how you spot the constellations with a high-quality telescope.
Aquarius symbolizes Ganymede, who was a young and handsome man. Rewarded by Zeus as a cupbearer, Ganymede was given eternal youth to live in the stars.
Gemini reflects the story of two twin-half brothers called Castor and Pollux.
The twins shared the same mother but different fathers. Together they are known as the Dioscuri and feature on statues in modern-day Rome.
Zeus was the father of Pollux, while the king of Sparta was Castor’s father. Since Castor’s father was a mortal, Pollux begged his father Zeus to grant Castor immortality.
Zeus agreed and made them both immortal in the night’s sky.
Remember the scorpion who killed Orion in the myth?
When Orion claimed he could kill any animal in the world. Scorpius defeated the hunter, which caught the eye of Zeus. Zeus praised the strength of the scorpion and honored him with a spot living among the stars.
Leo is the constellation for the lion among the stars.
As the myth goes, the lion’s fur was so strong that no sword could penetrate it. However, the Greek figure of Heracles overcame the odds to strangle the lion to death. But, not before, the lion managed to bite off Heracles finger.
List of Constellations
There are so many recognized constellations, it’s impossible to learn them all.
But, whether you want to impress your friends or enjoy learning about astronomy, these are the major constellations to know.
Want to know more about our list of constellations? See if you can pass our fourth-grade quiz on astronomy here.