Constellations – The sky maps

Constellations were the most difficult thing to understand when I started Astronomy as a hobby. The night sky is always filled with hundreds and thousands of stars. All looks the same. I got lot of information on constellations after reading the book “Practical Sky Watching” but it wasn’t completed without looking those constellation in the night sky myself. Constellations are a very important concept in observational Astronomy, Astrophotography and navigation on a ship or an aircraft. Constellations are the way to find an object in the sky and to find the North star “Polaris” or to find a galaxy or a nebula.

What is a constellation

By definition constellation:

“A group of stars forming a recognizable pattern that is traditionally named after its apparent form or identified with a mythological figure. “

What constellation is NOT?

Group of stars are called star clusters. So are they constellations? No. The group of stars such as double stars, are they constellations too? No. Constellations are the regions in the sky that apparently seems to us as a group and when you make the dots (create lines from one dot to other) you make a figure or a mythological figure such as Hercules, Andromeda etc.

How do I define constellations?

Still not clear? The night sky spans a 180 degree sphere. The whole sky spans a 360 degree sphere or a circular body with a cloth filled with stars wrapped on it. There are so many stars that one cannot identify it. Like there are so many cities and towns in the world that you cannot reference it very easily without telling the regions or the continents. So my definition of constellations is the “Constellations are the continents of the Sky“.

How do they look like?

The stars in a light polluted city.

The stars in a light polluted city. This is constellation of Orion. Captured using a point n shoot camera

When we make lines to form an imaginary or mythological character, it becomes constellation.

When we make lines to form an imaginary or mythological character, it becomes constellation.

Character/art of constellation of Orion

Character/art of constellation of Orion. Screen shot from planetarium software Stellarium.

 

How many are they?

Modern Astronomers have divided the constellation into 88 constellations. There are 88 continents in the sky, each have its name, a latin name, an imaginary character, and objects of interest in them that we can refer such as “The Great Nebula in Orion“. Orion is the constellation that has the Nebula M42.

Constellation of Orion captured from Sind, Pakistan by the author.

Constellation of Orion captured from Sind, Pakistan by the author.

Orion Nebula (m42) at 1000mm focal length

Orion Nebula (m42) at 1000mm focal length

The Zodiac constellations

You must have heard of Taurus, Gemini, Leo etc from horoscope which comes from Astrology. Astrology is a fake science but the zodiac constellations do exist and they were taken from Astronomy. Let me explain why are the 12 constellations are called Zodiac constellations. The sun (also called zodiac) rises in east and sets in west and while doing that it follows a path or an imaginary line in the sky which is called ecliptic line. During the whole year, the Sun passes from such 13 constellations and so the constellations in which the Sun passes during the whole year are called Zodiac constellations.

Zodiac constellation over the imaginary ecliptic line

Zodiac constellation over the imaginary ecliptic line. Screen shot from planetarium software Stellarium.

Now you might be wondering that the sun is in the sky during the day only and there are no stars in the day and so no constellations. There are stars in the sky during day but we cannot see them due to intense Sun light but it is possible to see. Thinking how? During day time, if there is a Solar Eclipse (when moon comes in front of the sun and light is blocked), you can see the stars. 🙂

Learn the Zodiac constellation

There is an easy way way to learn the zodiac constellation and their sequence.

“RAMBLE TWINS CRAB LIVERISH SCALY SCORPIONS ARE GOOD WATER FISHES”

RAM =Aries

BLE = Bull = Taurus

TWINS = Gemini

CRAB = Cancer

LIVERISH = Leo , V = Virgo

SCALY = Scale = Libra (The sign of Libra is a scale)

SCOROPIONS = Scorpio

ARE = Arc = Sagittarius

GOOD = Goat = Capricorn

WATER = Aqua = Aquarius

FISHES = Pisces

The story of the constellation

 

 

Interesting facts about constellation

  • The largest constellation is Hydra
  • The smallest constellation is Crux
  • The North star “Polaris” is located in the constellation of Ursa Minor
  • The Southern hemisphere constellation Crux always point to the south pole
  • The most richest constellation in terms of start clusters, etc is the constellation of Sagittarius

 

Abubaker Siddiq Shekhani

Abubaker Shekhani is an IT Entrepreneur and Full Stack Developer. He is the co-founder and the Developer behind Mytabeeb, a health care solution. He has worked for 3 years in Microsoft Dynamics AX space with Techno-functional role and lucky to be one of few Microsoft Dynamics AX developers in Pakistan. He is TEDx speaker and likes to speak in public. He is an Astrophotographer and has captured Milky way and other night sky objects. He is the founding member of Karachi Astronomers Society. He is a Bonsai Artist and a Gardener. He can be reached at me@abubakershekhani.com.

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