Constellations

It is fun to go outside and see a young blue-white star or a dying red giant star in the sky right after you read about them. You may think you will never be able to tell one star from another when you begin stargazing, but you will.

The removable star maps at the back of this book have been drawn especially for beginning stargazers observing from around 40°N latitude. (They should be useful to new stargazers throughout the midlatitudes of the northern hemisphere.)

Stars appear to belong to groups that form recognizable patterns in the sky. These star patterns are called constellations. Learning to identify the most prominent constellations will help you pick out individual stars.

The 88 constellations officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union are listed in Appendix 1. Famous ones that shine in these latitudes are shown on your star maps. Their Latin names, and the names of asterisms, or popular unofficial star patterns, are printed in capital letters.

Thousands of years ago people named the constellations after animals, such as Leo the Lion (Figure 1.2), or mythological characters, such as Orion the Hunter (Figure 5.1). More than 2000 years ago the ancient Greeks recognized 48 constellations.

Modern astronomers use the historical names of the constellations to refer to 88 sections of the sky rather than to the mythical figures of long ago. They refer to constellations in order to locate sky objects. For instance, saying that Mars is in Leo helps locate that planet, just as saying that Houston is in Texas helps locate that city.

Look over your star maps. Notice that the dashed line indicates the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun against the background stars. The 12

Figure 1.2. Constellation Leo is best seen in early spring when it is high in the sky. (a) Brightest star Regulus marks the lion's heart, a sickle of stars his mane, and a triangle of stars his hindquarters and tail. (b) Leo the Lion.

constellations located around the ecliptic are the constellations of the zodiac whose names are familiar to horoscope readers.

List the 12 constellations of the zodiac.

Answer: Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius.

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