Constellations

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Constellations

Stories of the Constellations

Andromeda

 In Greek mythology Andromeda is the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. When Cassiopeia boasted she was more beautiful than the nymphs, Poseidon flooded the land and sent a sea monster to ravage it. Andromeda was chained to a rock and offered as a sacrifice to be killed by the sea monster to placate it. Perseus rescued Andromeda and turned the sea monster to stone. Perseus later married Andromeda.

Antila

French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille named this constellation. Antila is meant to suggest an air pump that at the time was recently invented by Denis Papin.

Apus

Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius created this constellation based on the observations of Dutch explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman. Apus is generally thought to represent a bird of paradise (it was originally called Paradysvogel Apis Indica meaning bird of paradise). Apus is derived from the Greek "apous" which means without feet; the Western perception at the time was that the bird of paradise hid its feet. 

Aquarius

 Ganymede is associated with Aquarius; he was a young shepherd who was abducted by Zeus to become his cup bearer. Ganymede was Zeus' lover and was placed in the sky to become the constellation Aquarius.

Aquila

 Aquila means eagle and this constellation is associated with the eagle that served Zeus. It would carry Zeus' thunderbolts and abduct mortals at Zeus' request. In the Middle East the constellation was called Nasr al-tair ("the flying eagle"); Altair is one of the stars in this constellation.

Ara

 In Greek mythology Ara is the heavenly altar used by the gods to pledge allegiance to each other before the battle of the Titans. In Roman mythology Ara Centauri was used by Chiron to sacrifice Lupus the wolf. Constellation Ara was part of constellations Centaurus and Lupus before Nicolas Louis de Lacaille created the constellation Ara in the 1750's.

Argo Navis

 Argo Navis was the ship that Jason travelled on with his companions the Argonauts. It was divided up into three separate constellations in 1763 by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. In 1929 the Argo Navis was divided into four constellations by the International Astornomical Union. The constellations are Carina (the keel); Pyxis (the compass); Puppis (the stern) and Vela (the sail).

Aries

 In Greek mythology Aries was the flying ram with the Golden Fleece sent by Hermes to rescue Helle and Phryxus (or Phrixos); who were the daughter and son of King Athamas and his first wife Nephele, from their stepmother Ino. She created a famine and said Phryxus (who was chosen first) had to be sacrificed to end the famine. Phryxus was about to be sacrificed to end the famine when the ram arrived just in time to save Helle and Phryxus. When Phryxus and Helle were being carried by the ram Helle fell to her death (into the water known as Hellespoint), but Phryxus managed to be carried until he arrived safely at Colchis. The ram was sacrificed to Zeus; Phryxus gave the Golden Fleece to his father-in-law the King of Colchis. Zeus chose to honour the ram when it was sacrificed, so he placed it in the heavens. This is the same ram that produced the Golden Fleece that was stolen by Jason.

 In the time of the ancient Greeks the Sun was in the constellation Aries at the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere. Due to the precession of the equinoxes the Sun now is located in the constellation Pisces at the vernal equinox.

Auriga

 Erichthonius son of Hephaestus, 4th King of Athens is credited with the creation of the four horse chariot. Auriga is often shown as a charioteer carrying a goat. It's possible the goat is the same goat that suckled Zeus when he was a baby. The star Capella in the constellation Auriga is derived from the Latin for "little she-goat" (Latin for she-goat is Capra / Caprae).

Bootes

 Böotes is usually assumed to mean "herdsman". One story liked to this constellation is of the nymph Callisto, who was seduced by Zeus. She was turned into a bear by Hera who was Zeus' jealous wife, or by Artemis the goddess of chastity. Callisto's son Arcas, whose father is Zeus, was hunting and about to kill Callisto unaware that she had been turned into the bear he was hunting. Zeus intervened and placed Arcas and Callisto into the sky.

Caelum

Caelum is Latin for chisel. This constellation was created by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. 

Camelopardalis

 This constellation was created by German astronomer Jakob Bartsch in the early 17th century. It's supposed to be a giraffe; the Greek name for this constellation is intended to mean camel leopard in reference to the appearance of the giraffe.

Cancer

 The constellation Cancer is associated with the crab that Hera sent to kill Heracles. Hera tried to kill Heracles in various ways, but she was unsuccessful. So Hera cast a spell on Heracles so he would become mad and commit a great crime. For Heracles to be forgiven for his actions he had to perform twelve difficult tasks; one of these tasks was to kill Hydra. When Heracles was fighting Hydra, Hera sent the crab to help Hydra to fight Heracles. The giant crab pinched Heracles on the heel to distract him. Unfortunately for the crab Heracles killed it by smashing its shell with his foot. To show gratitude to the crab for its sacrifice and loyalty Hera placed the crab in the sky. 

In the northern hemisphere, Cancer was the constellation where the Sun was located at the Summer Solstice, but now the Sun is in the constellation Gemini at the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere. 

Canes Venatici

 This constellation represents the two hunting dogs or Arcas. Canes Venatici was created by Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1687. the star Cor Caroli, which means Charles' heart, was named by Edmond Halley in 1725 in honour of King Charles II for the foundation of the Royal Society and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

Canis Major

 Canis Major is otherwise known as "The Great Dog". It's one of the hunting dogs associated with Orion. The star Sirius in this constellation is known as the Dog Star. In ancient Rome it was recognised that Sirius rose before the Sun at the hottest days of the year. The ancient Egyptians saw that Sirius rose before the Sun just as the Nile flooded and thought it may be the cause of the flooding.

Canis Minor

 Canis Minor is otherwise known as "The Little Dog". It's one of the hunting dogs associated with Orion. the primary star in this constellation is Procyon; its name is derived from the Greek phrase "before the dog". This is due to Procyon rising before Sirius the Dog Star in Canis Major.

Capricorn

 Capricorn is also known as Capricornus, which means "horned goat". Capricorn is associated with the god Pan who transformed into a creature that was half goat and half fish, so he could escape from the sea monster Typhon. 

 The  sun used to be in the constellation Capricorn at the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, but now due to the precession of the equinoxes the Sun is in the constellation Sagittarius at the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere.

Carina

Carina is the keel of the Ship Argo.

Cassiopeia

 Cassiopeia was a queen in Greek mythology who was the wife of King Cepheus and the mother of Andromeda. Poseidon set her image among the stars with Cepheus.

Centaurus

This is a centaur in Greek mythology, possibly Chiron. The centaur Chiron was accidentally wounded by Heracles and he was in so much pain that his immortality was ended; then Zeus placed Chiron in the sky.

Cepheus

This is a centaur in Greek mythology, possibly Chiron. The centaur Chiron was accidentally wounded by Heracles and he was in so much pain that his immortality was ended; then Zeus placed Chiron in the sky.

Cetus

 Cetus is the sea monster in Greek mythology that was sent to kill Andromeda. It was turned to stone by Perseus.

Chamaeleon

 This constellation was created in honour of the late 16th century Dutch explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman; it was named by the astronomer Johann Bayer in 1603.

Circinus

This constellation was defined in 1756 by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. Circinus is Latin for compass; it's in reference to the type of compass that is used for drawing, not the type of compass to find a direction.

Columba

Columba was first described by Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius in 1592. He used some of the stars that were from Canis major to create the constellation Columba. The English translation for Columba is dove. An earlier name for the constellation was Columba Noachi which means Noah's Dove in reference to the dove sent by Noah to look for land after the flood.

Coma Berenices

 This constellation was part of the constellation Leo until it was separated by Tycho Brahe. In 1590 Tycho named this constellation after Egyptian Queen Berenice who lived in 3rd century BC. She promised to cut her hair if her husband Ptolemy returned safely from battle. Coma Berenices translates at Berenices Hair.

Corona Australis

Corona Australis is otherwise known as the Southern Crown. Dionysus placed the crown in the sky in honour of his mother Semele. this constellation is also connected with Sagittarius as it can be seen to represent the arrow from the hand of the Centaur. (Alternative name for this constellation is Corona Sagittarii).

Corona Borealis

 Corona Borealis is otherwise known as the Northern Crown. It represents the crown worn by the Cretan princess Ariadne. She eloped with Theseus after she helped him to slay the Minotaur. Thesus later abandoned her at the island of Naxos and was found by Dionysus, who later married Ariadne. When Dionysus married Ariadne he was so happy he threw Ariadne's crown into the sky when he was celebrating.

Corvus

Corvus was the crow sent by Apollo to bring some water in a cup (Crater), but on the way he saw some figs and waited for them to ripen so he could eat them; this delayed his journey. On his return the crow made an excuse that a water snake blocked the spring. To show his displeasure Apollo threw the crow and the cup into the sky; the crow was prevented from drinking the water from the cup by being placed next to Hydra the water snake.

Crux

 This constellation is also known as the Southern Cross. Originally this constellation was part of the constellation Centaurus where if formed the centaur's hind legs.

Cygnus

 Zeus transformed into a swan to seduce Leda Queen of Sparta. She conceived twins Castor and Pollux by Zeus and her husband on the same day as she was seduced by Zeus. Castor was mortal and Pollux was immortal.

Delphinus

 Zeus transformed into a swan to seduce Leda Queen of Sparta. She conceived twins Castor and Pollux by Zeus and her husband on the same day as she was seduced by Zeus. Castor was mortal and Pollux was immortal.

Dorado

 Dorado is referred to as the "golden fish" (not to be confused with a goldfish). Petrus Plancius named this constellation in honour of the observations of Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman; who were Dutch explorers who travelled to the East Indies in 1595.

Draco

In Greek mythology Draco is the dragon that fought Athena during a battle between the gods and the Titans. The dragon lost and was thrown into the sky. Draco is also associated with the dragon slain by Cadmus. This constellation is also associated with Ladon the dragon that guarded Hera's golden apple tree: the Dragon was killed by Hercules as one of his 12 labours. The constellation Hercules is south of constellation Draco, with Draco's head near the foot of Hercules.

Equuleus

 No legend is attached to this constellation. It's known as the little horse.

Eridanus

 Eridanus was the river where Phaethon was thrown into by Zeus after he lost control of the chariot owned by Apollo, when it started to burn and destroy the Earth.

Fornax

Fornax was originally called Fornax Chemica "chemical furnace". It's a constellation defined by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in honour of French chemist Antoine Lavoiser.

Gemini

 Castor and Pollux (otherwise known as Polydeuces) are associated with the constellation Gemini. Their sister is Helen of Troy and their mother is Leda. Castor and Pollux in one myth were hatched from an egg after Zeus had visited Leda in the form of a swan. Zeus is the father of Pollux and Leda's husband Tyndareus the King of Sparta is the mortal father of Castor. When Castor died Pollux asked his father Zeus to give Castor immortality by placing him in the sky.

Grus

 Grus is Latin for crane; it has no known mythology associated with it. Petrus Plancius created this constellation based on the observations of Dutch explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman.

Hercules

 Hercules is the Roman name for the hero in Greek mythology called Heracles. He is the son of Alcmene and Zeus, also the half brother of Iphicles. Hercules is well known for his completion of the 12 labours. The first labour is The Nemean Lion; the second labour is The Lernaean Hydra; the third labour is The Ceryneian Hind; the fourth labour is The Erymanthian Boar; the fifth labour is The Stables of Augeias; the sixth labour is The Stymphalian Birds; the seventh labour is The Cretan Bull; the eighth labour is The Mares of Diomedes; the ninth labour is Hippolyte's Girdle; the tenth labour is  The Cattle of Geryon; the eleventh labour is The Apples of the Hesperides and the twelfth labour is The Capture of Cereberus. 

Horologium

 In Latin horo means hour and logium means teller. this constellation was created by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. It was originally called Horologium Oscillitorium, which is Latin for pendulum clock; which is in honour of Christiaan Huygens for his book Horologium Oscillatorium.

Hydra

 Hydra is the water snake that is connected to the story of Corvus and the cup Crater. Hydra is also associated with the many headed monster that Hercules killed as one of his labours. When Hercules severed a head of Hydra another grew in its place, so he sealed each wound with a burning iron to stop more heads from appearing.

Hydrus

 The name Hydrus means "water snake" in Latin. this constellaiton was established by Petrus Plancius based on the observations of Dutch explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman.

Indus

 This constellation was created by Petrus Plancius based on the observations of Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman. It is intended as a representation of a native man, possibly from the East Indies.

Lacerta

 Lacerta is Latin for lizard. This constellation was created in 1687 by Johannes Hevelius.

Leo

 The Nemean Lion which was killed by Hercules during one of his twelve labours is associated with Leo. It was more aggressive, bigger and stronger than other lions; also it couldn't be killed with metal, stone or wood due to the strength of its skin. Hercules had to kill the lion by strangling it to death. After the lion was killed Hercules removed the skin and using one of the claws from the lion he wore the skin as a cloak

Leo Minor

Johannes Hevelius charted this constellation "the little lion" in 1687.

Lepus

 Lepus is Latin for hare. This constellation represents the hare that is being chased by Orion's hunting dogs. Orion hunted hares and the constellation Lepus is placed near Orion's feet.

Libra

 The Romans viewed Libra as the scales of justice; the symbol of law and order. Before the Romans named the constellation Libra the Greeks saw it as a part of the constellation Scorpio.

Lupus

 Lupus is Latin for wolf. The constellation wasn't always viewed as a wolf; it was viewed as a wild beast by the Romans and a wild animal by the Greeks who called it Therion. some view Lupus as a sacrifice to be made by Chiron (Centaurus) at the altar (Ara).

Lynx

 Johannes Hevelius introduced this constellation in the 17th century. He suggested it was necessary to have the eyesight of a lynx to see the stars in this constellation. 

Lyra

 Lyra was viewed by the Romans as a lyre (a small harp like musical instrument) which was created by Hermes as a gift to Apollo, who gave it to Orpheus. It was Orpheus who was a talented musician and used his musical ability to tame wild animals. The lyre was thrown into the river after Orpheus died; Zeus sent an eagle to retrieve it, then Zeus placed it into the sky.

Mensa

Nicolas Louis de Lacaille named this constellation (Latin for table) after Table Mountain in South Africa in the 1750's. 

Microscopium

Nicolas Louis de Lacaille named this constellation (Latin for table) after Table Mountain in South Africa in the 1750's. 

Monoceros

Monoceros is derived from the Greek for unicorn. This constellation was added by Petrus Plancius in the 17th century.

Musca

Musca is Latin for fly. Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius established this constellation base on the observations of the southern sky by Dutch explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman.

Norma

 Norma is Latin for a carpenter’s square. Nicolas Louis de Lacaille created this constellation in the 1750's.

Octans

 Nicolas Lous de Lacaille named this constellation in the 1700's. It was named after the octant that was used for navigation.

Ophiuchus

 Ophiuchus is the serpent holder. He is associated with the Greek god of healing Aesculapius, who was a physician to the Argonauts. Ophiuchus' father was Apollo and his mother was Coronis, but he was raised by Chiron. Aesculapius saw a serpent use a herb to bring a dead serpent back to life. this angered Hades the god of the underworld who asked Zeus to kill Aesculapius, which he did but he placed Aesculapius in the sky with the serpent.

Ophiuchus crosses into the zodiac between Scorpio and Sagittarius but it isn't considered to be part of the zodiac.

Orion

 Orion was a great hunter and the mortal son of Poseidon. He said he would be able to hunt every animal on Earth, which angered the gods. Zeus sent a giant scorpion (Scorpio) to kill Orion; after a long fight the scorpion stung and killed Orion. The goddess Diana asked Zeus to place Orion and the scorpion in the sky, but they were placed opposite and far away from each other so they would not fight again.

Pavo

 Pavo is Latin for peacock. There is a Greek legend associated with a peacock. Argus had 100 eyes and he was asked by Hera to watch a white heifer, which Hera suspected was the nymph Io in disguise. Io was one of Zeus' lovers. Zeus asked Hermes to play his lyre to make Argus fall asleep; Zeus then decapitated Argus. Hera placed Argus's 100 eyes on a peacock, which was her sacred bird.

Pegasus

 Pegasus was the winged horse created by Poseidon from the blood of Medusa. it helped Perseus to rescue Andromeda and Bellerophon to kill the Chimera. When Bellerophon tried to ride Pegasus to the home of the gods Zeus sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus so Bellerophon would be thrown and fall to Earth. Zeus also used Pegasus to carry his thunder and lightning.

Perseus

 Perseus is the son of Zeus and Danae who was the daughter of the King or Acrisius of Argos. Perseus beheaded Medusa and rescued Andromeda with help from Pegasus.

Phoenix

 According to legend, the Phoenix was a red and gold bird that was the size of an eagle. Just before it would die it would build a funeral pyre on which it was burned to death by the rays of the Sun. From its ashes it would come back to life.

Pictor

 This constellation was created by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century; it was originally called Equuleus Pictoris, or the Painter's Easel. Pictor is Latin for painter and the word Equuleus is derived from the Latin for horse, which is Equus. This is in reference to the wooden horse like stand that painters used as an easel.

Pisces

 In Greek mythology the gods Aphrodite and Eros; in Roman mythology Venus and Cupid turned into fish, tied by their tails to each other to escape from the sea monster Typhon.

Pisces Austrinus

 Pisces Austrinus is represented as a fish swimming or drinking in the water poured by Aquarius.

Puppis

Puppis is Latin for the stern of a ship and this constellation is part of the former constellation Argo Navis.

Pyxis

Pyxis is the mariner's compass and this constellation was originally part of the Argo navis. The French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille named this constellation.

Reticulum

Nicolas Louis de Lacaille named this constellation in honour of the reticle, a tool used by astronomers to line up stars and measure their position.

Sagitta

Sagitta represents the arrow which was shot by Hercules or Sagittarius.

Sagittarius

Crotus the centaur is linked to Sagittarius. The god Pan is his father and nymph Eupheme (nurse of the Muses) is his mother. He was skilled in the arts and a great hunter. When he died the Muses asked Zeus to place him in the sky.

Scorpio

 The giant scorpion sent by Zeus to kill Orion by stinging him to death, due to his boasts that he could hunt every animal on Earth.

Sculptor

The French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille named this constellation after the Sculptor's Workshop.

Scutum

 The Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius created the constellation Scutum. It was originally called Scutum Sobiescanium (Shield of Sobieski). This was in honour of the King of Poland John Sobieski, who as a military commander in 1683 broke the Turkish siege of Vienna.

Serpens Cauda

Serpens is the snake held by Ophiuchus. This constellation is the tail half of the snake.

Serpens Caput

 Serpens is the snake held by Ophiuchus. This constellation is the half of the snake with the head. The Serpens constellation is the only constellation in separate parts of the sky, which the constellation Ophiuchus separating them.

Taurus

 This constellation only shows part of the bull as the other half is supposed to be under water. the Pleiades and Hyades are in the constellation Taurus. In Mesopotamian mythology Ishtar sent Taurus to kill Gilgamesh because he refused her advances. There are different myths in classical mythology that are associated with Taurus. In one myth Zeus disguised himself as a white bull so he could abduct Europa and carry across the sea to Crete. Europa bore Zeus three children. In another myth Zeus' mistress Io was disguised as a bull so the could hide from Zeus' wife Hera. Also the myth of the Cretan Bull in one of the twelve labours is associated with Taurus.

Telescopium

French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille named this constellation after the telescope.

Triangulum

This constellation is associated with Sicily due to its triangular shape. There is a myth that Ceres the guardian of Sicily asked her brother Jupiter to honour the island by placing a constellation to represent it in the sky.

Triangulum Australe

Triangulum Australe is Latin for Southern Triangle. Is was given its name to differentiate it from the Triangulum constellation.

Tucana

Tucana is named after the toucan. This constellation was created by Petrus Plancius based on the observations of Dutch explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman.

Ursa Major

 Ursa Major when translated means "great bear". There is a myth associated with this constellation. Callisto the daughter of King Lycadon of Arcadia, was one of Zeus' lovers and attended Diana the goddess of the hunt and of chastity. Zeus's wife Hera became jealous and changed Callisto into a bear. When Calisto's son Arcas started to hunt according to one legend Zeus placed her in the sky to prevent her death. In another legend Callisto in the form of a bear was so happy to see her son that she rushed to embrace him, but Arcas didn't know the bear was his mother and killed her. When Arcas killed Callisto, Zeus placed her into the sky.

Ursa Minor

Ursa Minor when translated means "little bear". Arcas in the form of a bear was placed in the sky by Zeus to reunite him with his mother Callisto, after he accidentally killed her whilst he was hunting. Arcas is the son of Callisto and Zeus.

Vela

 This constellation Vela represents the sail of the Ship Argo Navis; which was the ship that Jason travelled on with his companions the Argonauts.

Virgo

 Demeter is the Greek goddess of the harvest. She is associated with Virgo and she is the mother of Persephone the father of Persephone is Zeus). When Persephone was abducted and taken to the underworld by Hades, Demeter reacted by destroying the harvests and making the earth infertile. Zeus stated that Persephone could leave the underworld, but she would have to return to the underworld for a short amount of time each year. In return Demeter would allow crops to grow and the earth to be fertile while Persephone was out of the underworld.

Volans

The constellation Volans represents a flying fish; it was originally called Piscis Volans. Petrus Plancius created this constellation and named it in honour of the obsservations of Dutch explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman. 

Vulpecula

 Vulpecula "the fox" is a constellation created by Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in the 17th century. It was originally called Vulpecula cum Anser which means the fox and goose; in some illustrations the fox was shown with a goose in its mouth.