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What is a constellation?
 

Have you ever sat outside and watched the clouds go by? It’s fun to look for cloud shapes that remind you of things that you recognize. People like the ancient Greeks, Romans, and other early cultures watched the night sky. They played the same game with celestial bodies (remember, they didn’t have television or video games). They looked for patterns of stars called constellations. They compared the patterns to mythological characters, animals, and other familiar objects.

When you look at a constellation from Earth it looks like spots of light arranged in a particular shape against the dark night sky. If you were to travel to each of these stars, you would see that none of these stars are near each other in space. Astronomers currently divide the sky into 88 constellations.

Depending on where you live on Earth, you can only see certain constellations during certain seasons of the year. For instance, in the Northern Hemisphere you would be able to see Polaris (the North Star-the North Pole points to Polaris) all the time. But, in the Southern Hemisphere you wouldn’t ever be able to see Polaris. The constellation Orion is visible in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter months, but while you’re camping in the summer, you won’t be able to see it.

 

The following are a few of the most common constellations for you to look at. Can you tell how each constellation got its name? Use these constellations for the activity.

Seven Sisters

The Big Dipper

Cassiopeia

Leo

The Little Dipper

Orion

Scorpius

Taurus

 
Extension Activity:
 

For more fun: go to http://www.funbrain.com/constellation/index.html

This is a game called Space Hopper that identifies constellations and their myths.

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Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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