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Constellations

For thousands of years men have looked at the stars and picked out recognizable shapes and patterns. Soon they built up stories about these groups of stars, or constellations.

The Chinese, Arabs, Babylonians, and Egyptians were among the first people to name the constellations and to use them as guides to sailors and travelers. The ancient Greeks knew of 48 constellations, which they named after their heroes and gods. But it was the Roman astronomers who gave the constellations the Latin names by which we know them today.

Southern hemisphere constellations Star constellations northern hemisphere

Southern hemisphere constellations. Click a picture for increase

Star constellations northern hemisphere. Click a picture for increase

One of the most famous constellations is Ursa Major, the Great Bear, whose seven chief stars form the Big Dipper. Two stars in the Big Dipper are called the Pointers because they point to Polaris, the Pole Star. This is the star, directly above the Earth's North Pole, around which all the other stars seem to revolve.

Today astronomers recognize 88 constellations. The 23 constellations in the far south of the southern hemisphere were first named by 18th century astronomers. Although the Earth moves around the Sun, it appears from Earth that the Sun moves in front of the background of stars. The twelve constellations through which it passes in this way are called the signs of the Zodiac.

The twelve constellations of the Zodiac are Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion), Virgo (the Virgin), Libra (the Scales), Scorpio (the Scorpion), Sagittarius (the Archer), Capricornus (the He-goat), Aquarius (the Water-carrier), and Pisces (the Fishes). There are two constellations hemisphere: Southern hemisphere constellations and star constellations northern hemisphere

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