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TOP 20 BEST KNOWN CONSTELLATIONS
Transcript of TOP 20 BEST KNOWN CONSTELLATIONS
While many constellations have gone through various iterations of mythological stories, Aries has always been the ram. This constellation is one of 12 constellations that form the zodiac — the constellations that straddle the sun’s path across the sky (known in scienctific terms as the ecliptic). In ancient times, that gave the constellations of the zodiac special significance.
What is a constellation?
A constellation is a group of stars that make an imaginary shape in the night sky.
While one of the biggest and most famous constellations, it is actually very hard to see.
Aquarius represented Ganymede, the cupbearer of the gods.
Aquila was the eagle that in Greek mythology actually bore Ganymede (Aquarius) up to Mt. Olympus. The eagle was also the thunderbolt carrier for Zeus.
Canis Major represents the famed Greek dog Laelaps. There are a few origin stories, but the common theme is that he was so fast he was elevated to the skies by Zeus. Laelaps is also considered to be one of Orion’s hunting dogs, trailing behind him in the night sky in pursuit of Taurus the bull.
Cassiopeia, in Greek mythology, was a vain queen who often boasted about her beauty. She was the mother of Princess Andromeda, and in contrast to other figures being placed in the sky in honor, Cassiopeia was forced to the heavenly realms as punishment. As the story goes, she boasted that her beauty (or her daughter’s, depending on the story) was greater than that of the sea nymphs. This was quite an offense, and she was banned to the sky for all to gawk at.
Cygnus (also known as Northern Cross)
Multiple personas take on the form of the swan in Greek mythology. At one point Zeus morphed into a swan to seduce Leda, mother of both Gemini and Helen of Troy. Another tale says that Orpheus was murdered and then placed into the sky as a swan next to his lyre (the constellation Lyra, also in the drawing above).
Gemini represents the twins Castor and Pollux. While the twins’ mother was Leda, Castor’s father was the mortal king of Sparta, while Pollux’s father was King Zeus (He seduced Leda in the form of a swan, remember? These stories tend to all tie together!). When Castor was killed, the immortal Pollux begged Zeus to give Castor immortality, which he did by placing the brothers in the night sky for all time.
Leo has been a great lion in the night sky across almost all mythological traditions. In Greek lore, Leo is the monstrous lion that was killed by Hercules as part of his twelve labors. The lion could not be killed by mortal weapons, as its fur was impervious to attack, and its claws sharper than any human sword. Eventually Hercules tracked him down and strangled the great beast, albeit losing a finger in the process.
Lyra is associated with the myth of Orpheus the great musician (remember him from earlier?). Orpheus was given the harp by Apollo, and it’s said that his music was more beautiful than that of any mortal man. His music could soothe anger and bring joy to weary hearts. Wandering the land in depression after his wife died, he was killed and his lyre (harp) was thrown into a river. Zeus sent an eagle to retrieve the lyre, and it was then placed in the night sky.
Orion is one of the largest and most recognizable of the constellations. It is viewable around the world, and has been mentioned by Homer, Virgil, and even the Bible, making it perhaps the most famous constellation.
The two fish of the sky represent Aphrodite and her son Eros, who turned themselves into fish and tied themselves together with rope in order to escape Typhon, the largest and most vile monster in all of Greek mythology.
There are a variety of myths associated with the scorpion, almost all of them involving Orion the hunter. Orion once boasted that he could kill all the animals on the earth. He encountered the scorpion, and after a long, fierce fight, Orion was defeated. It was such a hard-fought battle that it caught the eye of Zeus, and the scorpion was raised to the night sky for all eternity.
Taurus is a large and prominent fixture in the winter sky. As one of the oldest recognized constellations, it has mythologies dating back to the early Bronze Age. There are several Greek myths involving Taurus. Two of them include Zeus, who either disguised himself as a bull or disguised his mistress as a bull in multiple escapades of infidelity. Another myth has the bull being the 7th labor of Hercules after the beast wreaked havoc in the countryside.
The Big Dipper is popularly thought of as a constellation itself, but is in fact an asterism within the constellation of Ursa Major. It is said to be the most universally recognized star pattern, partially because it’s always visible in the northern hemisphere. It has great significance in the mythologies of multiple cultures around the world.
Ursa Minor is famous for containing Polaris, the North Star. Many people erroneously think that the North Star is directly over their heads, but that’s only true at the North Pole. For most people in the Northern Hemisphere, it will be dipped into the night sky.
Also known as the North Star (as well as the Pole Star, Lodestar, and sometimes Guiding Star), Polaris is the 45th brightest star in the night sky. It is very close to the north celestial pole, which is why it has been used as a navigational tool in the northern hemisphere for centuries. Scientifically speaking, this star is known as Alpha Ursae Minoris because it is the alpha star in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Bear).
Also known as the Dog Star, because it’s the brightest star in Canis Major (the “Big Dog”), Sirius is also the brightest star in the night sky. The name “Sirius” is derived from the Ancient Greek “Seirios“, which translates to “glowing” or “scorcher”. Whereas it appears to be a single bright star to the naked eye, Sirius is actually a binary star system, consisting of a white main-sequence star named Sirius A, and a faint white dwarf companion named Sirius B.
Also known as Alpha Scorpii, Antares is a red supergiant and one of the largest and most luminous observable stars in the nighttime sky. It’s name – which is Greek for “rival to Mars” (aka. Ares) – refers to its reddish appearance, which resembles Mars in some respects. It’s location is also close to the ecliptic, the imaginary band in the sky where the planets, Moon and Sun move.
Also known as Alpha Carinae, this white giant is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina and the second brightest star in the nighttime sky. Located over 300 light-years away from Earth, this star is named after the mythological Canopus, the navigator for king Menelaus of Sparta in The Iliad.
Also known as the “Seven Sisters”, Messier 45 or M45, Pleiades is actually an open star cluster located in the constellation of Taurus. At an average distance of 444 light years from our Sun, it is one of the nearest star clusters to Earth, and the most visible to the naked eye. Though the seven largest stars are the most apparent, the cluster actually consists of over 1,000 confirmed members (along with several unconfirmed binaries).