Indigenous Constellations Every Amateur Astronomer Should Know

Constellations are more than a pretty sight in the sky.

In the past, peasants used them to keep watch of the time to harvest crops.

Additionally, mariners used constellations to guide them as they crossed the seas.

If you want to find some indigenous constellations that still remain to this day, here’s a roundup!

Indigenous Constellations Every Amateur Astronomer Should Know

Ursa Major

The Ursa Major, which can be seen in the northern sky, is one of the most famous ancient constellations.

It’s the third-largest in the zodiac and the greatest northern constellation.

In the second century, the Greek astronomer Ptolemy included it in his catalog of constellations.

Shape

The Ursa Major’s form mimics the tail and hind legs of a great bear.

This constellation includes the well-known Big Dipper asterism, noted for its bright stars.

History

Ursa Major is one of the earliest constellations, which is why most major world cultures recognize it. The constellation is based on a story in Greek mythology.

The tale talks about Callisto, who is a nymph that got turned into a bear by Zeus’ envious wife, Hera.

Therefore, the constellation takes the shape of a bear as a tribute to Callisto.

Additionally, in some Native American legends, the tale is different.

They see the constellation as fighters pursuing a big bear.

The Big Dipper also has a part in the Underground Railroad because of its location in the sky.

It aided African-Americans in finding their way north.

How to Spot It

In northern latitudes, you can always see this constellation above the skyline.

The constellation is visible at latitudes between +90° and -30°.

The fall months of March till June is the ideal period to view the constellation.

Ursa Minor

Ursa Minor, also known as the small bear, is visible throughout the night.

The constellation is famous for a group of stars known as the Little Dipper.

Shape

A small bear with a lengthy tail is what Ursa Minor resembles.

In this cluster of stars lies Polaris, which is the North Star.

The star is in the middle of the field and appears stationary.

Therefore, it was designated as the northern star.

Polaris is an important star for navigation. It guides sailors to easily determine their latitude.

History

In certain tales of the Native Americans, the tails of Ursa Minor represent hunters pursuing their prey.

How to Spot It

You can locate this constellation through Polaris.

Despite being in the Little Dipper, Polaris can be difficult to find, as the star cluster is somewhat faint.

The best thing to do is find the Big Dipper first, then look for Polaris.

The star is the next bright light you will encounter after following the two stars at the cup’s top upward.

On the tail of Ursa Minor will be the northern star.

The constellation can be seen most clearly in June.

Orion

Orion is perhaps the most well-known constellation in the sky.

It can be easily seen in the sky at night.

It’s actually quite easy to find because it contains two of the ten brightest stars up there.

Shape

In Greek myth, the constellation is named after the hunter who accompanied Artemis.

But other cultures might have other tales.

For instance, some Native American tribes thought it symbolized a tribe’s chief rather than a hunter.

They also noted that the belt’s three stars represent the back of a bison.

The belt and dagger are viewed by certain other tribes as two canoes competing to be the first to capture a fish in the Big River.

How to Spot It

You can view the constellation most often in the winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

Also, it’s visible during the summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

The best viewing range is between latitudes 85 and -75 degrees.

The quickest way to find the Orion Constellation is to identify Orion’s Belt.

Look for Orion’s hourglass shape and the three stars that make up the thin portion of the hourglass.

Scorpius

Most constellations have a faint light.

However, Scorpius is a very bright constellation and can easily be spotted.

It’s an ancient constellation that was present even before the Greeks.

Shape

This constellation takes the shape of a scorpion, as implied by its name.

It can, however, also signify a fish hook.

It may resemble the scorpion that killed Orion, as well, according to Greek mythology.

Because of that story, people think this is why the Orion constellation descends as Scorpius emerges.

Various Indigenous people have different versions of the tales.

For instance, some indigenous Australian groups thought that the male and female ancestors of the falcon were represented by the two stars in the scorpion’s tail.

How to Spot It

The scorpion-shaped constellation can be present in the southern hemisphere.

The best time to view it is during July and August.

However, it’s still visible through mid-September.

Cassiopeia

One of the 48 constellations that Ptolemy established in the second century AD was Cassiopeia.

The size of this constellation ranks 25th in the evening sky.

Andromeda lies to the south of the constellation and Perseus to the southeast.

Shape

The constellation is most known for representing Queen Cassiopeia seated on her throne.

Queen Cassiopeia is a human queen best known for infuriating Poseidon, the god of the sea.

The queen allegedly bragged that she was more attractive than the sea nymphs.

Poseidon was enraged by her claim and dispatched a sea monster to destroy the kingdom.

Although this story is intriguing, other cultures may have portrayed it differently.

A Native American tribe, the Yakima, perceived Cassiopeia as an elk skin.

How to Spot It

Due to its unique W or M form, Cassiopeia is one of the constellations that is most easily recognized.

It’s on the other side of the North Star but a little to the right.

It’s observable throughout the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

However, in the late spring, you can see it in the northern section of the Southern Hemisphere.

Corona Borealis

Corona Borealis is a small but observable constellation in the northern sky.

It’s also known as the Northern Crown.

The constellation is close to Vega, which was the northern star in the past.

Shape

The constellation creates what would appear to be a crown-shaped letter C.

The brightest star in the constellation is Gemma, which is in the center of the crown.

Corona Borealis in Greek mythology typically signifies the crown that the god Dionysus gave to princess Ariadne.

However, according to some Native American myths, they believed that Polaris represented a chief, while the rest of the stars in the constellation resembled a court.

How to Spot It

The constellations are visible in the northern hemisphere from March to July.

The best time to spot it is during the evening hours in July.

Wrap Up

There are many beautiful indigenous constellations that you can spot in the night sky.

These constellations include Scorpius, Orion, and Ursa Major and Minor.

Even if they all have fascinating Greek history, some civilizations have their own versions of the tales.

Native American cultures, for instance, may view the Orion constellation as a chief of a tribe rather than a hunter.

Whatever the representation is, you’ll undoubtedly witness a breath-taking sight if you observe them in the sky.

You might also enjoy learning about:

Indigenous Constellations

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