“Be able to recognize many of the major constellations and know the stories behind them.”
— Marilyn Vos Savant
Constellations are reminders of how vast and spacious our universe is.
They’ve been observed thousands of years ago and remain out of reach up to this day.
We may haven’t reached them yet, but we know enough about them to make them interesting.
We’ll show you 9 cool facts about constellations that you may haven’t known about.
What’s a Constellation?
The word ‘constellation’ is Latin for ‘set with stars.’ When we see a shape that is set with stars from Earth, it’s then named a constellation.
Constellations have different sizes, shapes, stories, and names.
Cool Facts About Constellations
Here are nine cool facts about constellations that you may not have known about.
1. There Are 88 Official Constellations
Constellations were first identified by humans over 5000 years ago.
The Greek astronomer, Ptolemy divided the sky into 48 constellations in his book ‘Almagest’.
Those 48 divisions remained throughout history for around 2000 years.
Ptolemy’s chart had some gaps in areas like the south celestial pole.
It wasn’t possible to chart that area with the naked eye at the time.
In 1922, 40 new constellations were added to make a total of 88.
42 of those constellations are named after animals, 29 after inanimate objects, and 17 after mythological humans or characters.
Fun fact: 22 out of the 88 constellations have the letter C as the beginning of their name.
2. Some Constellations Belong to the Same Family
Constellations are located all over the sky.
When a group of constellations lies in the same area, it’s then considered a family.
The name of the constellation family usually follows the most important constellation in that group.
For example, the Perseus family contains 9 different constellations.
One of them is named Perseus.
Iconic constellations usually follow the names of Greek Gods and thus, the entire family was named after the demi-god, Perseus.
The same concept applies to families like the Hercules family (19 constellations), Ursa Major Family (10 constellations)… and so on.
The Zodiac family that contains the 12 constellations we’re familiar with isn’t named after any of the included constellations.
That’s because none of them is named after a Greek God/Demi-God.
3. Constellation Names Aren’t Random
Constellations aren’t just haphazardly named.
They often get the names of the shapes that their stars resemble.
Star clusters that form constellations aren’t accurate drawings, but they often roughly draw the shape of a mythological person, creature, God, or inanimate object.
These names are often also related to Greek Mythology.
Most of the names have stories behind them and these stories often include angry Gods or mythical creatures.
4. The 12 Zodiac Signs…Aren’t 12
The 12 Zodiac signs are named after the 12 constellations in the Zodiac family.
Did you know, however, that there are 13 constellations in the Zodiac family?
The 13th constellation, Ophiuchus (The Snake Bearer) is often left out of the 12 zodiac signs but it still belongs to the Zodiac constellation.
5. The Biggest and the Smallest
The biggest constellation (regarding the space occupied) is called Hydra.
Hydra constellation (The Water Snake) occupies 3.16% of our sky on its own.
3.16 may seem like a small number but if you take into consideration that our sky is 14 billion light-years of space, you’ll realize how big the Hydra constellation is.
It takes 442,400,000 light-years of space!
On the other hand, the smallest Constellation goes by the name ‘Crux.’
It takes 0.17% of the sky which translates into 23,800,000 light-years of space. It may be the smallest but its stars shine the brightest.
Despite not being the biggest or the smallest, the Orion constellation is often the most recognizable pattern in the sky.
Normally, a constellation may clearly appear from a certain viewpoint while subtly appearing in another.
Orion can be identified from more locations across the globe at the same time than any other constellation.
6. Constellations Travel from East to West
No object in space is fixed in place and constellations are no exception.
Just like the Sun, constellations travel from our east to our west.
While it’s hardly noticeable, more stars appear on the eastern part of the horizon each night.
The western horizon also swallows some stars.
The process continues until constellations to the west disappear gradually while eastern constellations come to life.
Additionally, the same constellation has a cycle of 365 days just like our year.
If you spot a constellation somewhere in the sky, write down the date, then come back a year later to the same place, and you’ll find the same constellation in the same spot.
7. Farmers and Constellations
Back in a time when technology didn’t make the world a small room, farmers in some areas hardly had any signs of season or climate change.
To know when it’s the right time to plant and harvest, those farmers used the positions of constellations as markers for the life cycle of their plants.
8. Constellations Are Made by the Brighter Stars
If you look at the sky and let go of your imagination, you can make any sort of shape that you want.
So, how did people manage to maintain a certain shape or star pattern for a constellation?
The pattern we take and consider a constellation is often drawn by the brighter stars in the sky.
The closer a star is to Earth, the bigger and brighter it would seem and the more likely it would be used as a drawing point for a constellation.
9. Constellations and Navigation
Sailors of the modern-day can still use constellations as means of navigation in the open sea.
If for whatever reason, the ship’s navigation is compromised, a sailor can locate the North by finding Polaris.
Polaris is the North Star that’s located in the Ursa constellation.
Once you locate the north star, you’ll be able to easily navigate through the sea.
That was our list of 9 cool facts about constellations.
We hope that you found a few of those informative or interesting (hopefully both.)
Constellations are like our sky landmarks and they’ve been used for so many purposes throughout our history. Everyone should know a thing or two about them.
You might also enjoy learning about:
- Mensa Constellation Facts
- Lynx Constellation Facts
- Libra Constellation Facts
- Kid-Friendly Constellation Stories
- Can You Grow Grass on Mars?
- Can You Breathe on Venus?
- Stellar Parallax (What Are They?)
- Facts About the Sun
- Do All Planets Rotate in the Same Direction?
- Can You Breathe on Saturn?
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