Stories of Constellations

Once upon, there was a unicorn, a phoenix and a centaur.  They all have long had something in common… their names grace three of the total 88 constellations, which were specified in 1922 by the International Astronomical Union.  But how did these constellations come to be?

Spherical Astronomy

From Earth, the bright stars in the sky create shapes and pictures, although each celestial body are found are various distances to our planet.  This purely two dimensional measurement of the night sky is called spherical astronomy, which especially in terms of constellations of stars are designated asterisms.

Spread all over the world, the night sky has served as an all-important orientation aid for various cultures since the early stone age.  Throughout the year, the ever-returning constellations helped determine the points in time in harvest and sowing.  They created a rhythm for the lives of people and made up the calendar, and even served as a means of navigation on the high seas.

48 constellation names, which we know today, have their roots in Greek antiquity, more precisely in the catalog of constellations of Ptolemy.  It is no wonder, that names like Cassiopeia, Perseus or Hydra come from Greek mythology, outlasting empires and epochs.

Numerous attempts were made, to put these constellations to use for political or religious reasons: the ‘heathen’ zodiac, such as Scorpion or Libra, which can be traced back to the time of Babylonia and Ancient Egypt, was the focus of Julius Schiller in 1627, wanting to replace each with one of the twelve Apostles. Such attempts were in the end fruitless, such as names of various rulers, whose royal court astronomers wished to make eternal. One such historical constellation was introduced in 1777 to honor the Polish King Stanislaus Pniotowski, called the Royal Taurus of Poniatowski.  Many others were left behind in time, much like the power of rulers.

Learning and Recognizing Constellations

The most famous constellation is the Big Dipper or Plow, which actually makes up the constellation Ursa Major.  To find stars and constellations, patience is indeed a virtue.  If you only recognize a few heavenly bodies, it is worth it, to orient yourself here first and continue to the next part of our sky.  These days, various apps, such as Universe2go, make stargazing easy.  It certainly doesn’t hurt, of course, to have a quick glance at the ol’ star chart, to give yourself a good overview.  Have fun!