A Guide to the Constellations

The human eye and brain together have a habit of finding order and structure where no such order and structure exists, and they often impose an order and structure quite at variance with a real structure and order which is, however, not readily apparent. That's the way things have worked out with the sky.

We are embedded in a galaxy of stars, a huge conglomeration laid out in a series of great spirals leading in to a dust-obscured center of stars, and very likely, a black hole into which stars, dust, and gas pour in a great shriek of electromagnetic radiation. Yet what we see appears to be a random arrangement of stars which our minds link together into the patterns we term constellations. This imposed structure gives us the ability to talk about regions of the sky in a familiar manner, rather like the way we talk about the oceans and continents of our planet. This area of the site will look at the astrography of the night sky by considering the features of the individual constellations, using the 88 internationally recognised constellations though reserving the possibility of looking at alternate constellations which lurk in the cultural sidelines of astronomy.

Initially the project will simply list the officially recognised constellations, but eventually I hope to provide notes for each of the constellations, and as time goes by the notes will also be extended, so please return from time to time to see how the project has developed. In the meantime, let me direct you to one of the bibles of amateur astronomy, the three volume set of Burnham's Celestial Handbook, by the Other Robert Burnham.

About observing

Civilization is wonderful - except when it isn’t. City skies usually make for poor observing - we have polluted the sky with light and smog, so the dark blue of the background sky is a pinkish-orange smudge, and the dimmer stars are swallowed up in the haze. However, though it is good to get out of the city, you can still observe a little, particularly if you can avoid the direct glare of lights from streets and houses. It’s difficult, though, because most city lighting is wasted light, going where it is not needed, and worse, providing a false sense of security for city dwellers (if you were inclined to robbery or violence, why would you haunt the darkness, where you couldn’t see what you were stealing?). If you do want to observe in the city, take a look at City Astronomy, by Robin Scagell, or The Urban Astronomer’s Guide, by Rod Mollise.

The 88 Constellations
according to the International Astronomical Union

  1. Andromeda
  2. Antlia
  3. Apus
  4. Aquarius
  5. Aquila
  6. Ara
  7. Aries
  8. Auriga
  9. Bootes
  10. Caelum
  11. Camelopardalis
  12. Cancer
  13. Canes Venatici
  14. Canis Major
  15. Canis Minor
  16. Capricornus
  17. Carina
  18. Cassiopiea
  19. Centaurus
  20. Cepheus
  21. Cetus
  22. Chamaeleon
  23. Circinus
  24. Columba
  25. Coma Berenices
  26. Corona Australis
  27. Corona Borealis
  28. Corvus
  29. Crater
  30. Crux
  31. Cygnus
  32. Delphinus
  33. Dorado
  34. Draco
  35. Equuleus
  36. Eridanus
  37. Fornax
  38. Gemini
  39. Grus
  40. Hercules
  41. Horologium
  42. Hydra
  43. Hydrus
  44. Indus
  45. Lacerta
  46. Leo
  47. Leo Minor
  48. Lepus
  49. Libra
  50. Lupus
  51. Lynx
  52. Lyra
  53. Mensa
  54. Microscopium
  55. Monoceros
  56. Musca
  57. Norma
  58. Octans
  59. Ophiuchus
  60. Orion
  61. Pavo
  62. Pegasus
  63. Perseus
  64. Phoenix
  65. Pictor
  66. Pisces
  67. Piscis Austrinus
  68. Puppis
  69. Pyxis
  70. Reticulum
  71. Sagitta
  72. Sagittarius
  73. Scorpius
  74. Sculptor
  75. Scutum
  76. Serpens
  77. Sextans
  78. Taurus
  79. Telescopium
  80. Triangulum
  81. Triangulum Australe
  82. Tucana
  83. Ursa Major
  84. Ursa Minor
  85. Vela
  86. Virgo
  87. Volans
  88. Vulpecula