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About the Constellations

Many of the constellations were named long ago by the early Greeks, Romans, and Babylonians.  These ancient people honored the heroes-and villains-of many of their favorite stories by placing them in the sky.

Andromeda - In Greek legends, Andromeda was the daughter of Cassiopeia and Cepheus.  Perseus saved her from the sea monster Cetus.


Andromeda

Aquarius (the Water Carrier).  The Babylonians saw this group of stars as a man pouring water from a jar.

Aquila (the Eagle).  A companion of Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods.

Aries (the Ram).  The golden fleece of this ram was the prize carried off by the greek hero Jason, leader of the Argonauts.

Auriga (the Charioteer).  A legendary king of Athens, Greece, who was said to have invented the chariot.

Bo÷tes (the Herdsman).  With his two dogs (canes Venatici), Bo÷tes chases the Great Bear and the Little Bear (URSA MAJOR and URSA MINOR) around the sky.

Cancer (the crab).  A monster in Greek legends who attacked Hercules while he was fighting the sea serpent Hydra.


Cancer


Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs).  Bo÷tes the herdsman's two dogs (see above.)

Canis Major (the Great Dog).  The faithful companion of Orion the hunter.

Capricornus (the Sea Goat).  In the legends of many cultures, this creature, with the head of a goat and the tail of a fish, could travel on both land and sea.

Cassiopeia and Cepheus.  The queen and king of Ethiopia; parents of Andromeda.  The main stars of Cassiopeia form a rough W shape.

Cetus (the Whale).  The sea monster that nearly ate Andromeda before she was rescued by Perseus.  Cetus was turned to stone when Perseus flashed the head of Medusa at him.

Cygnus (the Swan).  Greek legends say that Zeus, the king of the gods, sometimes disguised himself as a swan.

Draco (the Dragon).  This constellation has been associated with many legendary monsters.  One of them is a dragon killed by Hurcules.

Gemini (the Twins).  The twins were castor and Pollux, two devoted brothers in Greek legends.


Gemini

Hercules.  To the ancient Greeks, Hercules was the strongest and bravest man on earth.  He killed many monsters, some of whom also became constellations (see Cancer, Draco, Hydra, and Leo).


Hercules

Hydra (the Sea Serpent).  A many-headed monster killed by Hercules.  Hydra is the largest constellation in the sky.

Leo (the Lion).  The fiercest lion in the world.  No weapons would wound him.  Hercules solved that problem by choking the life out of him.


Leo

Lepus (the Hare).  While being hunted by Orion, Lepus the hare slipped between his feet to hide.

Libra (the Scales).  To the Romans, this group of stars represented the scales of justice.

Lynx (the cat).  This constellation was named Lynx because only those with eyes as keen as a lynx's will be able to find it.

Ophiuchus (the Serpent Bearer).  Ancient people saw in this group of stars the shape of a man holding a huge snake.

Orion (the Hunter).  The brightest and most easily recognized constellation in the winter sky.  Orion was the companion of Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt.


Orion

Pegasus.  This is the winged horse that Perseus was riding when he saved Andromeda from the sea monster Cetus.


Pegasus

Perseus.  The greek hero who, among other brave deeds, killed the monster Medusa.  Medusa's face was so horrible that anyone who looked at her was turned instantly to stone.


Perseus

Pisces (the Fish).  Pisces represents Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and her son Cupid.  To escape from a monster, they turned into fish and jumped into a river.

Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish).  A constellation with only one bright star.  It is sometimes shown drinking water being poured by Aquarius.

Sagittarius (the Archer).  This constellation is usually shown as a centaur - a creature that was half man, half horse - aiming his bow and arrow at a giant scorpion.

Summer Triangle.  Not a constellation but a triangle made up of three bright stars fro three different constellations:  Vega (in Lyra, the Lyre); Altair (in Aquila); and Deneb (in Cygnus). 

Taurus (the Bull).  In Greek myth, Zeus disguised himself as a snow-white bull in order to win the heart of a princess.


Taurus

Ursa Major (the Great Bear).  When Zeus fell in love with Callisto, his jealous wife changed Callisto into a bear.  Ursa Major includes the Big Dipper, the best-known group of stars in the sky.


Ursa Major

Ursa Minor (the Little Bear).  Callisto and Zeus had a son, whom Zeus changed into a bear and put in the sky.  Ursa Minor is also called the Little Dipper.  It includes Polaris, the North Star.

Virgo (the Virgin).  The Greek goddess of justice.  This constellation has also been associated with Ceres, goddess of the harvest.


For more information on the constellations go to Learn What's Up for this month.