From Jim Kaler's STARS.

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A Brief Introduction

Constellations are named patterns of stars. All societies created them. The classical -- "ancient" -- constellations that populate our sky began in the lands of the middle east thousands of years ago, their origins largely lost to time. They passed through the hands of the ancient Greeks, who overlaid them with their legends and codified them in story and verse. During Roman times they were assigned Latin names.

The 48 ancient constellations single out only the bright patterns. From around 1600 to 1800, post-Copernican astronomers invented hosts of "modern" constellations from the faint stars that lie between the classical figures, from pieces of ancient constellations, and from the stars that occupy the part of the southern sky that could not be seen from classical lands. They also separated the ship Argo into three parts, yielding 50 ancient constellations.

In the early twentieth century, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) adopted 38 of the modern constellations and drew rectangular borders around all 88. Many of these contain informal constellations, or "asterisms," that are often the first to be learned, Ursa Major holding the "Big Dipper" and so on. Other asterisms, like the Winter Triangle, cut across constellation boundaries. Some constellations look like what they are supposed to represent, but most do not. Constellations, both ancient and modern, are generally meant to honor and represent, not to portray.

The constellations play an important role in modern astronomy. They bring order to the sky by dividing it into smaller segments, providing a base for naming celestial objects. Though the brighter stars commonly carry "proper names" that come mostly from Arabic, they are also assigned Greek letters and Arabic numbers to which are affixed the Latin possessive forms of the constellation names, Vega, for example, also known as "Alpha of Lyra," or "Alpha Lyrae." The IAU also adopted three-letter abbreviations for all the constellations and their possessives, Vega thus becoming Alpha Lyr. The accepted constellations are listed alphabetically in the table below. The columns give, in order:

Andromeda Chained Lady Andromedae And EN-NP Alpheratz=Alpha, Mirach=Beta Perseus myth; Daughter of Cassiopeia and Cepheus; galaxy M 31
Antlia Air Pump Antliae Ant ES Alpha Modern
Apus Bird of Paradise Apodis Aps SP Alpha Modern
Aquarius Water Bearer Aquarii Aqr ES Sadalsuud=Beta Zodiac; Water Jar; wet quarter; Saturn and Helix Nebulae
Aquila Eagle Aquilae Aql E Altair=Alpha Summer Triangle
Ara Altar Arae Ara SP Beta Most southerly ancient
Aries Ram Arietis Ari EN Hamal=Alpha Zodiac
Auriga Charioteer Aurigae Aur EN-NP Capella=Alpha Three "Kids"; Galactic Anticenter"
Bootes Herdsman Bootis Boo EN Arcturus=Alpha Brightest N. hem. star
Caelum Engraving Tool Caeli Cae ES* Alpha Modern
Camelopardalis Giraffe Camelopardalis Cam NP Beta Modern
Cancer Crab Cancri Cnc EN Al Tarf=Beta Zodiac; Beehive Cluster
Canes Venatici Hunting Dogs Canum Venaticorum CVn EN-NP Cor Caroli=Alpha-2 Modern
Canis Major Larger Dog Canis Majoris CMa ES Sirius=Alpha Winter Triangle
Canis Minor Smaller Dog Canis Minoris CMi EN Procyon=Alpha Winter Triangle
Capricornus Water Goat Capricorni Cap ES Deneb Algedi=Delta Zodiac; wet quarter
Carina Keel Carinae Car SP Canopus=Alpha Argo
Cassiopeia Queen Cassiopeiae Cas NP Shedar=Alpha Perseus myth; Andromeda's mother; Gamma can be luminary
Centaurus Centaur Centauri Cen ES-SP Rigil Kentaurus=Alpha Hadar=Beta first mag.
Cepheus King Cephei Cep NP Alderamin=Alpha Perseus myth; Andromeda's father
Cetus Whale/Sea Monster Ceti Cet E Deneb Kaitos=Beta Perseus myth
Chamaeleon Chameleon Chamaeleontis Cha SP Alpha Modern
Circinus Compasses Circini Cir SP Alpha Modern
Columba Dove Columbae Col ES Phact=Alpha Modern
Coma Berenices Berenices Hair Comae Berenices Com EN Beta "Modern" but old; Coma Berenices Cluster; North Galactic Pole
Corona Australis Southern Crown Coronae Australis CrA ES-SP Alfecca Meridiana=Alpha; Beta Sagittarius's crown
Corona Borealis Northern Crown Coronae Borealis CrB EN Alphecca=Alpha Ariadne's Crown
Corvus Crow, Raven Corvi Crv ES Gienah=Gamma "Pointers" to Spica
Crater Cup Crateris Crt ES Delta Very faint
Crux Southern Cross Crucis Cru SP Acrux=Alpha Modern; icon of southern hemisphere
Cygnus Swan Cygni Cyg EN-NP Deneb=Alpha Northern Cross, Summer Triangle
Delphinus Dolphin Delphini Del EN Rotanev=Beta Wet quarter
Dorado Swordfish Doradus Dor SP Alpha Modern; South Ecliptic Pole; LMC
Draco Dragon Draconis Dra NP Eltanin=Gamma North Ecliptic Pole; Cat's Eye Nebula
Equuleus Little Horse Equulei Eql EN Kitalpha=Alpha Smallest ancient const.
Eridanus River Eridani Eri ES-SP Achernar=Alpha Second longest
Fornax Furnace Fornacis For ES Alpha Modern
Gemini Twins Geminorum Gem EN Pollux=Beta Zodiac; Summer Solstice; cluster M 35; Eskimo Nebula
Grus Crane Gruis Gru ES-SP Al Nair=Alpha Modern
Hercules Hero; Hercules Herculis Her EN Kornephoros=Beta "The Kneeler"; cluster M 13
Horologium Clock Horologii Hor ES-SP* Alpha Modern
Hydra Water Serpent Hydrae Hya E-ES Alphard=Alpha Longest const.
Hydrus Water Snake Hydri Hyi SP Beta Modern
Indus Indian Indi Ind SP The Persian=Alpha Modern
Lacerta Lizard Lacertae Lac EN-NP* Alpha Modern
Leo Lion Leonis Leo EN Regulus=Alpha Zodiac
Leo Minor Smaller Lion Leonis Minoris LMi EN Praecipua=46 Modern
Lepus Hare Leporis Lep ES Arneb=Alpha Orion's prey
Libra Scales Librae Lib ES Zubeneschamali=Beta Zodiac
Lupus Wolf Lupi Lup ES-SP Alpha Classic odd star Chi Lup
Lynx Lynx Lyncis Lyn EN-NP* Alpha Modern
Lyra Lyre Lyrae Lyr EN Vega=Alpha Summer Triangle; Ring Nebula
Mensa Table Mensae Men SP* Alpha Modern
Microscopium Microscope Microscopii Mic ES* Gamma Modern
Monoceros Unicorn Monocerotis Mon E* Beta Modern
Musca Fly Muscae Mus SP Alpha Modern
Norma Square Normae Nor ES-SP* Gamma-2 Modern
Octans Octant Octantis Oct SP* Nu Modern; South Celestial Pole
Ophiuchus Serpent Bearer Ophiuchi Oph E Rasalhague=Alpha With Serpens; on ecliptic; cluster M 10
Orion Hunter; Orion Orionis Ori E Rigel=Beta Winter Triangle; Orion Nebula
Pavo Peacock Pavonis Pav SP Peacock=Alpha Modern
Pegasus Winged Horse Pegasi Peg EN Enif=Epsilon Perseus myth, Great Square; cluster M 15
Perseus Hero; Perseus Persei Per EN-NP Mirfak=Alpha Perseus myth; rescuer of Andromeda; Double Cluster; Alpha Per Cluster
Phoenix Phoenix Phoenicis Phe ES-SP Ankaa=Alpha Modern
Pictor Easel Pictoris Pic SP Alpha Modern
Pisces Fishes Piscium Psc E-EN Kullat Nunu=Eta Zodiac; Vernal Equinox; Circlet; wet quarter
Piscis Austrinus Southern Fish Piscis Austrini PsA ES Fomalhaut=Alpha Wet quarter
Puppis Stern Puppis Pup ES-SP Naos=Zeta Argo
Pyxis Compass Pyxidis Pyx ES Alpha Modern
Reticulum Net Reticuli Ret SP Alpha Modern
Sagitta Arrow Sagittae Sge NE Gamma Arrow of Hercules; of Cupid
Sagittarius Archer Sagittarii Sgr ES Kaus Australis=Epsilon Zodiac; Winter Solstice; Little Milk Dipper; Teapot; Galactic center
Scorpius Scorpion Scorpii Sco ES Antares=Alpha Zodiac
Sculptor Sculptor's Studio Sculptoris Scl ES Alpha Modern; South Galactic Pole
Scutum Shield Scuti Sct ES Alpha Modern
Serpens Serpent Serpentis Ser E Unukalhai=Alpha Two parts; with Ophiuchus
Sextans Sextant Sextantis Sex E Alpha Modern
Taurus Bull Tauri Tau EN Aldebaran= Alpha Zodiac; Hyades; Pleiades; Galactic anticenter
Telescopium Telescope Telescopii Tel ES-SP Alpha Modern
Triangulum Triangle Trianguli Tri EN Beta Galaxy M 33
Triangulum Australe Southern Triangle Trianguli Australis TrA SP Atria=Alpha Modern
Tucana Toucan Tucanae Tuc SP Alpha Modern; SMC;
Ursa Major Greater Bear Ursae Majoris UMa NP Alioth=Epsilon Big Dipper/Plough; Ursa Major Cluster
Ursa Minor Smaller Bear Ursae Minoris UMi NP Polaris=Alpha Little Dipper; North Celestial Pole
Vela Sails Velorum Vel ES-SP Regor=Gamma Argo
Virgo Maiden Virginis Vir E Spica=Alpha Zodiac; Autumnal Equinox
Volans Flying Fish Volantis Vol SP* Gamma Modern
Vulpecula Fox Vulpeculae Vul EN* Anser=Alpha Modern; Coathanger non-cluster; Dumbbell Nebula

*Not on star map; position indicated in text.

Valid HTML 4.0! Copyright © James B. Kaler, all rights reserved. These contents are the property of the author and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the author's consent except in fair use for educational purposes. This page was last modified on 14 February, 2014. Opening illustration: Aquila, from John Flamsteed's "Atlas Coelestis," 1781 edition, courtesy of the Rare Book and Special Collections Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Thanks to visitor number blogger counters.