Constellation List

6.4 - Understand why there is a range of constellation, asterism and star names among different cultures

The list of constellations we use in astronomy today was handed down by a script written by Greek astronomer Ptolemy who was born in the first century. Many of the constellations were based on mythology, mostly Greek mythology.

Additional constellations were added to the common list when explorers charted the southern hemisphere constellations and named them after new animals they discovered or after parts of their boats. The list was formalised into 88 constellations by the International Astronomy Union in the 1920s. The boundaries of these constellations were also formalised at the time so you may hear about Ophiuchus as a zodiacal contellation which it was not considered to be previously.

The Chinese, Indian and Aboriginal cultures all reference their own constellations as part of their culture.

A common astronomical constellation to look out for is Ursa Major, latin for 'Great Bear'. Like many of these constellations it doesn't look a bear. There is a Greek mythological behind the constellations where the Great and Little bears (Ursa Minor) where thrown into the sky by Zeus. Ursa Major is a familiar constellation in the northern hemisphere and its prominent asterism has different names. In the UK and Ireland it is known as a plough because it looks like the agricultural tool. Other countries have different names for it; Great Wagon (Scandinavia), Saucepan (Holland), Salmon Net (Hungary), 'Seven stars of the north' (Korea) and 'Big Dipper' (USA).

Some constellations require more imagination that others to reason why they were given that name. You might view Sagittarius and wonder does it look like an archer or does it really look like a teapot?


Constellations

List of all 88 modern constellations. Links point to Wikipedia entry. Abbreviations are frequently displayed on star maps. The origin refers to when the constellation was commonly assumed in a common star atlas listed at the end of the table. 'A' refers to Ancient.

Constellation Abbreviations English Origin
Andromeda AND Chained Lady A
Antlia ANT Air Pump 1763
Apus APS Bird of Paradise 1603
Aquarius AQR Water Bearer A
Aquila AQL Eagle A
Ara ARA Altar A
Aries ARI Ram A
Auriga AUR Charioteer A
Boötes BOO Herdsman A
Caelum CAE Engraving Tool 1763
Camelopardalis CAM Giraffe 1613
Cancer CNC Crab A
Canes Venatici CVN Hunting Dogs 1690
Canis Major CMA Larger Dog A
Canis Minor CMI Smaller Dog A
Capricornus CAP Water Goat A
Carina CAR Keel 1763
Cassiopeia CAS Queen A
Centaurus CEN Centaur A
Cepheus CEP King A
Cetus CET Whale/Sea Monster A
Chamaeleon CHA Chameleon 1603
Circinus CIR Compasses A
Columba COL Dove 1592
Coma Berenices COM Berenices Hair 1603
Corona Australis CRA Southern Crown A
Corona Borealis CRB Northern Crown A
Corvus CRV Crow, Raven A
Crater CRT Cup A
Crux CRU Southern Cross 1603
Cygnus CYG Swan A
Delphinus DEL Dolphin A
Dorado DOR Swordfish 1603
Draco DRA Dragon A
Equuleus EQL Little Horse A
Eridanus ERI River A
Fornax FOR Furnace 1763
Gemini GEM Twins A
Grus GRU Crane 1603
Hercules HER Hero; Hercules A
Horologium HOR Clock 1763
Hydra HYA Water Serpent A
Hydrus HYI Water Snake 1603
Indus IND Indian 1603
Lacerta LAC Lizard 1690
Leo LEO Lion A
Leo Minor LMI Smaller Lion 1690
Lepus LEP Hare A
Libra LIB Scales A
Lupus LUP Wolf A
Lynx LYN Lynx 1690
Lyra LYR Lyre A
Mensa MEN Table 1763
Microscopium MIC Microscope 1763
Monoceros MON Unicorn 1613
Musca MUS Fly 1603
Norma NOR Square 1763
Octans OCT Octant 1763
Ophiuchus OPH Serpent Bearer A
Orion ORI Hunter; Orion A
Pavo PAV Peacock 1603
Pegasus PEG Winged Horse A
Perseus PER Perseus the Hero A
Phoenix PHE Phoenix 1603
Pictor PIC Easel 1763
Pisces PSC Fishes A
Piscis Austrinus PSA Southern Fish A
Puppis PUP Stern A
Pyxis PYX Compass 1763
Reticulum RET Net 1763
Sagitta SGE Arrow A
Sagittarius SGR Archer A
Scorpius SCO Scorpion A
Sculptor SCL Sculptor 1763
Scutum SCT Shield 1690
Serpens SER Serpent A
Sextans SEX Sextant 1690
Taurus TAU Bull A
Telescopium TEL Telescope 1763
Triangulum TRI Triangle A
Triangulum Australe TRA Southern Triangle 1603
Tucana TUC Toucan 1603
Ursa Major UMA Greater Bear A
Ursa Minor UMI Smaller Bear A
Vela VEL Sails 1763
Virgo VIR Maiden A
Volans VOL Flying Fish 1603
Vulpecula VUL Fox 1690
     

Ancient (Ptolemy)
1592, Plancius, split from Canis Major
1603, Uranometria, created by Keyser and de Houtman
1613, Plancius
1690, Firmamentum Sobiescianum, Hevelius
1763, Lacaille


 

Questions

Why do astronomers use a common set of constellations?

Links

Southern Stars Aboriginal Astronomy

Chinese Constellations The Four Quarters