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Astronomy 101 - The Constellations

Lesson 7: Star Power - Playing Connect the Dots With Stars


What do you do with your free time when movies, television, and even radio haven’t been invented, and won’t be for hundreds, or even thousands of years? In ancient days, people looked to the sky and the stars, wondering about what they saw. This started long before the birth of astronomy.

Besides star gazing, they played a version of the modern kids game, connect the dots, and named patterns of stars after what they reminded them of. Then they created stories about these constellations.

Most of the constellations we discuss today are over 2000 years old. As a matter of fact, the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the Big Bear and the Little Bear, have been constellations since the Ice Ages. Most names, however, come from ancient Greece.

Although the Greek versions are mostly what we use today to describe the constellations, many other cultures throughout the world created their own patterns and stories for the stars.

Last lesson, we had you locate the Big Dipper as a "landmark" in the sky. Although most people can recognize the Big Dipper, it is not really a constellation. It is what is known as an asterism, or a group of stars. It is actually part of a larger constellation called Ursa Major. Likewise, the Little Dipper is a part if Ursa Minor. On the other hand, our "landmark" for the south, the Southern Cross is an actual constellation called Crux.

To find the constellations when they appear in the night sky, download a sky map from here at About Astronomy & Space. Get more information about the various constellations. A telescope is not necessary to view constellations.

Next lesson, we'll take a look closer to home and study our own solar system.


Your assignment is to once again spend a few nights viewing the sky. Learn to quickly recognize as many constellations as you can. This should be an ongoing effort. Don't forget the discussion Forum.

Eighth Lesson > Visiting Close To Home: The Sun > Lesson 8, 9, 10

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