What are constellations?

Constellations Map

 

We often look up to the stars in space to find meaning, or purpose. As part of this, humans have spent ages looking for, and finding, shapes, objects and patterns hidden within the stars of the night sky. But, what are these constellations and where did they originate?

Constellations are a group, or cluster, of stars that join together to create an image, or shape, in the sky. A lot of the constellations are named after people, creatures or objects from mythological literature.

However, in different parts of the world people have come up with their own shapes and names using the same cluster of bright stars.

While at their core, constellations are simply a game of connecting the dots, they have served greater purposes than just stories and imagery in the past.

Constellations have been used as a useful tool for the navigating in the dark, as well as things like keeping track of the seasons progressions.

Because of the difference in distance in the night sky, constellations can look much different when viewed from differing points on the planet.

The system of constellations that we use today was first introduced by the Greeks, with the oldest description of these images within star clusters being recorded in a 270 B.C. poem, Phaenomena, written by the poet Aratus. However, it is unclear how long before Aratus’s work the first constellations were mentioned, or invented.

Currently, astronomers recognize 88 official constellations that span across both the skies of the northern and southern hemispheres. The images these cover are everything from people, birds, animals, to sea creatures, dragons, centaurs, and inanimate objects.

While nearly every culture on Earth has their own patterns in the sky, very few have recorded the same patterns while using the same cluster of stars.