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The Shape Of Our Night Sky


The tradition of creating shapes from patterns of stars has been around for as long as mankind. I have included stories from many different sources, and from time to time update this page when something new comes to my attention.

Constellations have been documented in many different forms, such as pottery, coins, and other items dating back to 4000 B.C. The Greek poet Aratus of Soli gave a verse description of 44 constellations in his Phaenomena. The Greek astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy, in his Almagest, described 48 constellations, of which 47 are known today by the same name.

At the end of the 16th century the first European explorers of the South Seas mapped the southern sky, which was largely unknown to the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere. New constellations were added by a Dutch navigator, Pieter Dirckz Keyser, who participated in the exploration of the East Indies in 1595. Subsequently, other southern constellations were added by the German astronomer Johann Bayer (1572-1625), who published the first extensive star atlas in the Western world, the Uranometria; by Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687); and by the French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille (1713-62).

Although many constellations had been mapped out, it wasn't until 1930 that definitive boundaries were fixed by the International Astronomical Union.

Index to Constellations

Andromeda   Antlia    Apus   Aquila    Aquarius   Ara    Aries   Auriga    Bootes   Caelum    Camelopardalis   Capricornus    Carina   Cassiopeia    Centaurus   Cepheus    Cetus   Chamaeleon    Circinus   Canis Major    Canis Minor   Cancer    Columba   Coma Berenices    Corona Australis   Corona Borealis    Crater   Crux    Corvus   Canes Venatici    Cygnus   Delphinus    Dorado   Draco    Equuleus   Eridanus    Fornax   Gemini    Grus   Hercules    Horologium   Hydra    Hydrus   Indus    Lacerta   Leo    Lepus   Libra    Leo Minor   Lupus    Lynx   Lyra    Mensa   Microscopium    Monoceros   Musca    Norma   Octans    Ophiuchus   Orion    Pavo   Pegasus    Perseus   Phoenix    Pictor   Piscis Austrinus    Pisces   Puppis    Pyxis   Reticulum    Sculptor   Scorpius    Scutum   Serpens    Sextans   Sagitta    Sagittarius   Taurus    Telescopium   Triangulum Australe    Triangulum   Tucana    Ursa Major   Ursa Minor    Vela   Virgo    Volans   Vulpecula   

 

Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Andromeda

AND an DROM a duh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
722 chained lady person

Andromeda was the daughter of Cassiopeia the beautiful Aethiopian queen of the city of Joppa in Phoenicia. Cepheus, the king, was her father. Andromeda's mother, Cassiopeia, was boastful about her natural beauty and especially the beauty of her daughter Andromeda. One day after boasting that she and Andromeda were more beautiful than the sea nymphs, Poseidon, god of the sea, decided to punish the queen for her vanity. He sent a terrible sea monster, Cetus, to destroy Phoenicia. King Cepheus quickly consulted the Oracle at Ammon, where he was advised that Poseidon could only be appeased if the sacrificed their daughter Andromeda to Cetus. So, they chained Andromeda to a rock on a tiny island offshore to await her death. The hero Perseus, returning from killing the Gorgon Medusa saw Andromeda's plight, slew Cetus and rescued Andromeda. The constellations of Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Andromeda, Perseus, Pegasus and Cetus, represent characters that appear in the story of Perseus.

Messier Objects in Andromeda:    M-31   M-32   M-110

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Antlia

ANT ANT lee uh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
239 air pump object

This constellation of the southern hemisphere was named in modern times; it contains no bright stars and none with a proper name. Although visible from the mid-northern hemisphere near the horizon due south of Leo when that constellation culminates, Antlia's stars are so faint that stargazers in antiquity didn't bother to name them. From 1750 to 1754, French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille (1713-1762) compiled a catalog of more than 10,000 stars visible from the Cape of Good Hope; to facilitate his task he mapped out some new constellations. Among these was Antlia Pneumatica, the Air Pump, which he named in honor of the 17th century British chemist Robert Boyle, who invented the compressed-air pump. In 1930 when the International Astronomical Union codified the constellations, the name was shortened to Antlia.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Apus

APS AY pus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
206 bird of paradise animal

This constellation lies less that 20 degrees from the south celestial pole and is therefore invisible from most northern latitudes. If first appeared on star maps in 1603, in Johann Bayer's famous Uranometria. Bayer gives credit for its discovery to several explorers of the Southern Hemisphere, including Amerigo Vespucci.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Aquila

AQL AK wil uh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
652 eagle animal

The constellation Aquila, identified as a bird since about 1200 B.C., is said to be the eagle that held the thunderbolts of Zeus, king of the gods, until he needed them. Aquila was sometimes sent on other errands by Zeus: It was Aquila that kidnapped the young Ganymede as he tended his flock on the slopes of Mount Ida and brought him to Olympus to serve as cup bearer to the gods. The three brightest stars of Aquila figure in Indian mythology as footprints of the god Vishnu. In Japanese, Korean, and Chinese mythology the brightest star of Aquila, Altair, is identified as the herdsman, Ch'ien Niu, keeper of the royal herds. He fell in love with the maiden Chih Nu (called Tanabata in Japan), whose father was the sun king, the star we call Vega. Ch'ien Niu and Chih Nu married, but they were so in love that they neglected their duties, and the sun king banished them to spend their lives on opposite sides of the celestial river, the Milky Way. The are said to meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, when magpies stretch their wings across the river for one night - but only if the weather is clear. If it rains even the celestial birds cannot span the flood.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Aquarius

AQR uh QWAR ee us
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
980 water bearer person

Aquarius, one of the most ancient constellations in the sky, has been known under various names over the ages. It is located in a region of the sky that was known thousands of years ago as "the water" or "the sea". and is near other watery figures as Cetus, Pisces, Capricornus, Delphinus, Piscis Austrinus, and Eridanus. The constellation portrays a man or boy spilling water from an urn, although it is difficult to see any figure in the straggling assortment of mostly faint stars visible in the southern sky in the autumn. Aquarius was at times identified with Zeus pouring the waters of life down from the heavens; sometimes the celestial river Eridanus is shown to have its source at the urn. Later Aquarius came to be identified with Ganymede, a beautiful young shepherd who was abducted by Zeus and taken to Mount Olympus to be the cup bearer to the gods. (The constellation Crater, is sometimes identified as Ganymede's cup.) The constellation Aquarius was named by the Sumerians after their god of heaven An, who pours the waters of immortality upon the earth. Aquarius also figures in a very old Sumerian myth of a global deluge, thought to be the story that gave rise to the biblical story of the Flood. The name of several stars in Aquarius refer to good luck, probably because in ancient times the constellationís solstitial rising occurred at the start of the rainy season and seemed to bring relief to the arid climes of the Middle East. Aquarius is the first constellation of both the Chinese and the Indian calendars and is again associated with water.

Messier Objects in Aquarius:    M-2   M-72   M-73

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Ara

ARA AY ruh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
237 alter object

The group of faint stars we now call Ara was once considered part of the constellations Centaurus and Lupus; it became separated from them when the modern constellation Norma was interposed. Its original Latin name, Ara Centauri, reveals this connection: Ara is the altar of the centaur Chiron. Half man and half horse, Chiron was believed to be the wisest creature on Earth. It was he who first brought order to the sky by showing mortals how to draw lines between the stars to form the constellations. Ara was also sometimes called the Altar of Dionysus. It appears on some old star maps as a tripod censer or brazier. Its H-like shape does not much resemble an altar. Early depictions portray it upright, with smoke from the altar rising northward into the Milky Way.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Aries

ARI AIR eez
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
441 ram animal

The Egyptians of the New Kingdom (which began in the 16th century B.C.) identified this group of stars as a ram, an animal the associated with their principal god, Amon Ra. For the ancient Greeks, the group of stars represented the ram from which the Golden Fleece was taken. According to one myth, King Athamas of Thessaly had two children, Phrixus and Helle, by his first wife, who died when they were still very young. Athamas remarried, but, unbeknownst to him, his second wife hated the children and was cruel to them. The god Hermes took pity on the children and fashioned a magical ram, with wool of gold, to carry them to a land of safety. When the ram appeared to the children, the leapt on its back, and the ram flew into the sky, heading east. Helle lost her grip on the ram and fell into the body of water that separates Europe from Asia, which the Greeks called the Hellespont ("sea of Helle"; now known as the Dardanelles). Phrixus, though, was carried safely to Colchis, on the southeastern shore of the Black Sea, where he found refuge with king Aeetes. He sacrificed the ram and Aeetes hung it in a grove guarded by a sleepless dragon. There the Golden Fleece remained until it was stolen by Jason and the Argonauts.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Auriga

AUR aw RYE guh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
657 charioteer person

Auriga was among the earliest constellations to be named, but its origins are not known. It is seen as a charioteer, usually identified with either Hephaestus (the Roman god Vulcan), or his son, Erechtheus, both of whom were lame. Each of these figures was credited by the Greeks with inventing the chariot to aid in his transportation. This group of stars has also long been associated with goat herds. In what may be a mix of the two associations, Auriga is usually portrayed with a goat over one shoulder, represented by the very bright star Capella, and with two or three kids on his arm. Capella was identified by the Greeks with Amalthea, the goat that nursed the infant Zeus. While playing with the animal the baby god broke off one of its horns, which he later imbued with the magical capability of dispensing great quantities of food and drink to whoever desired them - the cornucopia.
In India, Capella was considered the 'heart of Brahma', while natives of Peru called it Colca and also associated it with herders of flocks.

Messier Objects in Auriga:    M-36   M-37   M-38   

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Bootes

BOO bow OH teez
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
907 herdsman person

One legend says the Bootes, whose name comes from the Greek word for "ox-driver" or "herdsman", was the son of Demeter (Roman: Ceres), the goddess of agriculture. The constellation of Bootes was once also know as Arcturus. Bootes is credited with inventing the plow and was placed in the sky to honor his invention, of such immense importance to civilization. In another myth, Bootes was the son of Zeus and Callisto. Callisto, transformed into a bear by Zeus's jealous wife, Hera, was in danger if being killed by her son Bootes, who was out hunting, until she was rescued by Zeus, who took her into the heavens. There Callisto became the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Caelum

CAE SEE lum
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
125 chisel object

Caelum was named by the 18th century French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Camelopardalis

CAM cuh MEL oh PAR duh lus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
757 giraffe animal

Camelopardalis was named by German astronomer Jakob Bartsch in 1624.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Capricornus

CAP CAP rih COR nus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
414 sea goat animal

Capricornus is one of the oldest constellations in the sky. Depictionís of a goat, or of a goat-fish, have been found on Babylonian tablets around 3,000 years old. According to some ancient myths, Capricornus was the gate of the Gods, the portal in the sky through which the souls of mortals passed after they died. Capricornus is also identified with the lusty god Pan, who was known to be flighty. The story goes that Pan and some other gods were picnicking along the banks of the Nile. During their feast the monster Typhon came upon them. To escape Typhon the gods turned themselves into animals and fled. Pan panicked and was unable to decide what to become. Finally, he leapt feet first into the river. Just as half of him disappeared into the water, that half became a fish. The half that was above the water became a goat.

Messier Objects in Capricornus:    M-30

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Carina

CAR cuh RYE nuh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
494 keel object

Carina was once part of the group of stars known as Argo Navis, the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Cassiopeia

CAS CAS ee oh PEE ah
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
598 queen person

Cassiopeia was the beautiful Aethiopian queen of the city of Joppa in Phoenicia. Cepheus was her king husband. Cassiopeia was boastful about her natural beauty and especially the beauty of their daughter Andromeda. One day after boasting that she and Andromeda were more beautiful than the sea nymphs, Poseidon, god of the sea, decided to punish the queen for her vanity. He sent a terrible sea monster, Cetus, to destroy Phoenicia. King Cepheus quickly consulted the Oracle at Ammon, where he was advised that Poseidon could only be appeased if the sacrificed their daughter Andromeda to Cetus. So, the chained Andromeda to a rock on a tiny island offshore to await her death. The hero Perseus, returning from killing the Gorgon Medusa saw Andromeda's plight, slew Cetus and rescued Andromeda. The constellations of Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Andromeda, Perseus, Pegasus and Cetus, represent characters that appear in the story of Perseus.

Messier Objects in Cassiopeia:    M-52   M-103

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Centaurus

CEN sen TOR us
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
1060 centaur person

Centaurus is one of two centaurs in the sky, the other being Sagittarius. Centaurus is said to be Chiron, the smartest and the wisest of his race, wiser even than the gods. He was skilled in the arts, hunting, and medicine. He was the tutor of such illustrious humans as Jason, Achilles, Hercules, and Asclepius. According to early Greek myths, it was Chiron who first fashioned the constellations and showed mankind how to read the sky. He placed a picture of himself in the sky to guide the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. Chiron, created immortal, was accidentally wounded by Hercules with an arrow tipped in the venomous blood of the many headed serpent Hydra. Although he could not die, he was in excruciating pain. He pleaded with the gods to release him from the torture of immortality and offered a bargain: his own life for the release of Prometheus, the Titan who had stolen fire from the gods and given it to mankind. Finally, Zeus agreed and let Chiron die. Zeus wanted to place Chiron in the heavens to commemorate him, but by this time the whole northern sky was filled, so Chiron became Centaurus, far to the south and rarely seen in the northern sky.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Cepheus

CEP SEE fee us
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
588 king person

Cepheus was the king of an ancient land called Aethiopia. See the story of Andromeda.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Cetus

CET SEE tus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
1231 whale animal

The ancient Mesopotamian civilizations identified these stars with Tiamat, the cosmic dragon slain by the hero Marduk. In classical mythology Cetus is the sea monster that threatened Andromeda. In modern times Cetus is portrayed as a whale.

Messier Objects in Cetus:    M-77

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Chamaeleon

CHA shuh MAY lee on
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
132 chameleon animal

Chamaeleon was originally sketched out in 1603 by Johann Bayer.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Circinus

CIR SIR sin us
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
93 drawing compass object

Circinus was designated by the 18th century French astronomy Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Canis Major

CMA KAY niss MAY jor
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
390 greater dog animal

One of the hunter Orion's hunting dogs. (Canis Minor being the other.)

Messier Objects in Canis Major:    M-41

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Canis Minor

CMI KAY niss MY nor
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
182 lesser dog animal

Canis Minor, the little dog, is the companion of Canis Major and is the other hound of Orion. Some say that Canis Minor is not a hunting dog but merely a pet faithfully following Orion around the sky.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Cancer

CNC KAN sir
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
506 crab animal

In Greco-Roman mythology Cancer was a crab sent by Hera to distract Hercules while he was fighting Hydra. Cancer nipped Hercules, who then stepped on Cancer and killed it. Hera placed the crab in the sky, but because it had failed in its task, Hera neglected to give Cancer any bright stars to mark the constellation.

Messier Objects in Cancer:    M-44   M-67

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Columba

COL co LUM buh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
270 dove animal

Columba is a modern constellation that began appearing in publications in 1679.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Coma Berenices

COM CO muh BER uh NI ceez
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
386 hair of Berenice object

About 243 B.C. Ptolemy Euergetes set out on a military expedition against the Assyrians, who had murdered his sister. Berenice, who was proud if her beautiful long golden hair, vowed to sacrifice her "amber tresses" if he returned victorious. When he did, Berenice, cut off her hair, and placed it in the temple of Aphrodite, goddess of beauty. That night the hair disappeared, enraging the king and the queen. To save the situation, and the lives of the temple priests, Conon the court astronomer, announced that Berenice's gift had received such favor that Aphrodite had taken the hair and placed it in the sky for all to admire.

Messier Objects in Coma Berenices:    M-53   M-64   M-85   M-88   M-91   M-98   M-99   M-100

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Corona Australis

CRA cuh ROW nuh aw STRAY lus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
128 southern crown object

Corona Australis was one of the original 48 constellations named by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. It is said to be the crown worn by the centaur Chiron.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Corona Borealis

CRB cuh ROW nuh BOR ee AL us
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
179 northern crown object

In classical mythology, this constellation is known to be the crown of Ariadne. Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, king of Crete. Every year Minos levied a tribute on Athens, requiring that the city-state send home seven each of its most beautiful maidens and youths to sacrifice to the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull. The Minotaur lived beneath the palace of Knossos in the infamous Labyrinth, a maze from which no one could escape. One year Theseus, son of the King of Athens, was among the youths. When Ariadne saw him she fell in love and secretly gave him a sword and a ball of string. Theseus unwound the string as he went into the Labyrinth, slew the Minotaur with the sword, and found his way out following the sting again. Theseus fled Crete with Ariadne, and on their way to Athens the couple stopped at the island of Naxos. Mysteriously, Theseus then abandoned Ariadne, who wept for her lost love. The god Dionysus in human form but wearing a crown, found her and fell in love with her. She refused to marry him, saying she was fed up with mortal men. Dionysus told her he was a god, but she did not believe him, whereupon he took off his crown and flung it into the sky. There its jewels began to sparkle as stars, forming Corona Borealis, a tribute to Ariadne. To the Shawnee Indians, Corona Borealis was a circle of star-maidens dancing in the sky. The circle is not complete because one of the maidens left to go to Earth to live with a mortal warrior, Algon. She later grew homesick and returned to the sky, taking along her son. Later still the sky gods agreed to bring Algon into the sky, In some legends he is thought to be the nearby star Arcturus. To the Arabs, these stars formed a cracked bowl or platter. To Australian aboriginals, this constellation was a boomerang.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Crater

CRT KRAY tair
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
282 goblet object

Crater is the cup carried by Corvus the crow, to Apollo.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Crux

CRU KRUKS
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
68 southern cross object

Crux is a modern constellation, and is the smallest constellation in the sky.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Corvus

CRV COR vus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
184 crow animal

According to myth, one day the god Apollo sent the raven Corvus for a cup of spring water. Near the spring Corvus spied a green fig, so he sat down and waited until it ripened. To explain his tardiness Corvus returned to Apollo with the cup (Crater) of spring water, and a water serpent, Hydra, in his claws, claiming he had been attacked by the serpent and thus delayed. Apollo, seeing all, knew the truth and so banished all three to the sky. Corvus now sits within sight of the cup of water, but he can never drink, because it is guarded by the serpent. According to another myth Apollo had an affair with Coronis, the daughter of a king. They had a son, Asclepius, the founder of medical science, who was immortalized in the sky as the constellation Ophiuchus. Apollo became suspicious that Coronis was unfaithful to him and sent his spy, Corvus, then of silver plumage, to observe. Indeed, Corvus reported back, Coronis was having an affair. In a rage, Apollo slew Coronis, and consigned Corvus to Hades and turned his feathers black. To the Arabs these stars were a tent. Mariners sometimes call them "the sail", for they resemble a gaff-rigged sail.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Canes Venatici

CVN KAY neez VEN at ih see
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
465 hunting dogs animal

Often shown as a pair of greyhounds, these are the hunting dogs of Bootes. They are in leashed of pursuit of the bears Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

Messier Objects in Canes Venatici:    M-3   M-51   M-63   M-94   M-106

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Cygnus

CYG SIG nus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
804 swan animal

Cygnus the swan, was not always a swan. Greek legend tells a tragic story of Apollo's son, Phaeton, who tried to drive Apollo's chariot across the sky. Apollo warned him not to drive to close to the Earth lest he set it on fire. Phaeton lost control of the wild horses, and to spare the Earth a fiery destruction, Zeus threw a lightning bolt at the young boy, killing him instantly. The horses climbed higher into the sky, scorching a path that became the Milky Way. Phaeton fell into the river Eridanus. Cygnus dove repeatedly into the river to try to retrieve the body of his friend but failed. Zeus was so impressed with Cygnus' devotion to his Phaeton that he turned him into a swan, enabling him to dive more easily. Cygnus was eventually rewarded for his gallantry by a prominent place in the summer skies within the cloudy path of the Milky Way.

Messier Objects in Cygnus:    M-29   M-39

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Delphinus

DEL del FEE nus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
189 dolphin animal

One story has it that when Poseidon (Neptune) was courting the mermaid Amphitrite, he rode on the back of a dolphin. When she agreed to become his wife, Poseidon placed the dolphin in the sky in gratitude for his help.
Herodotus relates another story, about the Greek poet Arion, who was exceedingly skilled at playing the harp like kithara. Periander, king of Corinth, sent Arion to Italy to play in a contest. Arion won the contest, and was richly rewarded, whereupon he chartered a ship to take him home. The crew, however, hoping to rob Arion of his treasure, attempted to throw him overboard. Arion asked to be allowed to play one last tune. He played so beautifully that he attracted a pod of dolphins to the ship, where upon Arion leapt overboard and landed on the back of one of them, who carried him home to Corinth. The seamen, thinking him lost, continued on to Corinth. Arion had arrived first and told Periander of their crime. When the ship arrived, Periander had the entire crew killed, and Arionís prize money was returned. The gods placed a figure of a dolphin in the sky to commemorate the event.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Dorado

DOR dor AY doe
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
179 dolphinfish animal

Dorado is a modern constellation first appearing in Johann Bayer's 1603 star atlas. Dorado contains the south ecliptic pole.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Draco

DRA DRAY coe
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
1083 dragon animal

Draco has stood for all the dragons of mythology, from Tiamat of the Sumerians to the monster slain by Saint George. In all myths the dragon symbolized anarchy and chaos. Dracoís origins probably rest with the ancient story of the Babylonian goddess Tiamat, who found herself challenged by the new gods. She created fearsome monsters to help her and in fact turned herself into a dragon. The hero Marduk defeated her by commanding strong winds to blow into the dragonís mouth splitting her body. One half of Tiamat then became the sky, the other half became the earth. From that story the Greeks derived their myth of the battle of the ancient Titans with the newer gods of Olympus. In the conflict a dragon attacked Athena. She grabbed the creature and flung it up into the sky, where its body wound around the axis of the world, the celestial north pole. In another Greek story, Draco was the dragon that watched over the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, the procurement of which was one of the Twelve Labors of Hercules. To the ancient Indians Draco was a crocodile. To the ancient Egyptians it was a crocodile or a hippopotamus. The constellation has even been identified with a dragon from the German epic the Nibelungenlied.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Equuleus

EQU ee QWU lee us
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
72 little horse animal

This constellation is said to have been named by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus. It is the second smallest constellation.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Eridanus

ERI ih RID un us
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
1138 celestial river object

These faint stars have ben known as a river since ancient times, and have represented famous rivers such as the Nile and the Euphrates.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Fornax

FOR FOR nax
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
398 furnace object

This constellation was mapped out by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille circa 1750.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Gemini

GEM JEM in ee
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
514 twins person

In classical mythology, these stars represent the twins Castor and Pollux, who were hatched from an egg borne by Leda after she was seduced by Zeus in the guise of a swan. Their sister was Helen of Troy. In ancient Rome Castor and Pollux were sometimes confused with Romulus and Remus, legendary founders of Rome.
The twins were raised by the wise centaur Chiron, represented by the constellation Centaurus, and later joined Jason, also brought up by Chiron, when he set out on the Argo in search of the Golden Fleece. In commemoration of their helping to calm a terrible storm during the voyage, Castor and Pollux are sometimes considered the patrons of mariners. In China the two stars we call Castor and Pollux are associated with yin and yang, the dual forces of nature.

Messier Objects in Gemini:    M-35

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Grus

GRU groose
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
366 crane animal

This is a modern constellation mapped out by Johann Bayer in 1603.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Hercules

HER HER cue LEES
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
1225 Hercules person

In Greco-Roman mythology, Hercules is the half mortal son of Jupiter (Zeus) and the princess Alcmene. Jupiterís ever jealous wife Juno (Hera) sent serpents to kill the baby Hercules in his crib. The child, with astonishing strength, managed to strangle them, and grew up to become the strongest of men. Thanks to the scheming of his hateful stepmother, Juno, Hercules became indentured to King Eurystheus. To gain his freedom he had to perform the famous Twelve Labors, the first of which was to kill the Nemean Lion, a fierce creature of impenetrable hide who had fallen from the Moon and was laying waste to the valley of Nemea. Hercules succeeded in strangling the beast, whereupon Jupiter place the lion in the sky as the constellation Leo. Herculesí next task was to kill the many headed monster, the Hydra, which also became a constellation. Among his other challenges was subduing the Cretan Minotaur, who some say is the origin of the constellation Taurus. After his release from servitude the tireless Hercules accomplished many other noble deeds. One myth credits him with killing the eagle that devoured the liver of the Titan Prometheus who had stolen fire from the gods and given it to humankind. Later Hercules later won the hand of the beautiful maiden Deianeira. One day she was kidnapped by the centaur Nessus, but Hercules, hearing her cries, shot the centaur with an arrow. Dying, Nessus gave Deianeira a drop of his blood, telling her, untruthfully, that a touch of it would restore Herculesí love if his affections ever strayed. Later, thinking her husband was losing interest in her, Deianeira put the drop on his tunic. When Hercules donned the garment, the blood burned into his skin, causing him terrible torment. Seeing what she had done, Deianeira hanged herself, and Hercules, in anguish, incinerated himself. His father, Jupiter, then placed him in the sky.

Messier Objects in Hercules:    M-13   M-92

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Horologium

HOR HOR oh LOW gee um
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
249 clock object

Horologium is a southern constellation mapped out by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille circa 1750.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Hydra

HYA HY druh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
1303 sea serpent animal

Hydra was a many headed monster slain by Hercules as one of the Herculean tasks. This was not an easy task since each time Hercules cut off a head of the Hydra, two more heads grew in the severed head's place. As a solution to this problem, Hercules used a torch to cauterize each stump after he cut off that head. One head was immortal, so when Hercules cut that one off, he placed it under a huge stone where it could do no harm. After the battle, Jupiter (Zeus) placed the Hydra in the sky. Hydra is the largest constellation in the sky.

Messier Objects in Hydra:    M-48   M-68   M-83

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Hydrus

HYI HY drus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
243 water snake animal

Hydrus is a modern constellation created by Johann Bayer and published in his 1603 atlas.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Indus

IND IN dus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
294 Indian person

Indus is a modern constellation created by Johann Bayer and published in his 1603 atlas.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Lacerta

LAC luh SIR tuh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
201 lizard animal

Lacerta is a modern constellation created by Johannes Hevelius circa 1687.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Leo

LEO LEE oh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
947 lion animal

The Greeks claimed that the figure was the mythological Nemean Lion, which fell from the moon in the form of a meteor. The lion ravaged the countryside around Corinth until it was slain by Hercules .

Messier Objects in Leo:    M-65   M-66   M-95   M-96   M-105

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Lepus

LEP LEE pus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
290 hare animal

Lepus, the hare, is hiding in the grass at the feet of the great hunter Orion, as he pursues Taurus across the sky.

Messier Objects in Lepus:    M-79

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Libra

LIB LEE bruh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
538 scales object

Originally part of the constellation of Scorpius, this constellation was recognized as the scales by the Romans. The two brightest stars in this constellation have names that reflect this constellations as part of Scorpius : Alpha Libra is Zubenelgenubi, is Arabic for Southern Claw; and Beta Libra is Zubeneschamali, which is Arabic for Norther Claw.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Leo Minor

LMI LEE oh MY nor
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
232 lesser lion animal

Leo Minor was named by Johannes Hevelius about the year 1687. It is thought that these stars represented a gazelle to the ancient Arabs. In Chinese lore they were somtimes combined with the stars of Leo to make a huge celestial dragon and, in another depiction, a chariot.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Lupus

LUP LU pus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
334 wolf animal

Lupus is a constellation that, though known to the ancients, is faint and has no named stars. For centuries it was known as Therion, a wild animal of know specific kind. Some thought it was a wineskin held by Centaurus, which it adjoins.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Lynx

LYN links
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
545 lynx animal

This consellation was created by Johannes Hevelius around 1687.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Lyra

LYR LIE ruh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
286 lyre object

Very long ago, the first civilizations of the Middle East and India saw these stars as a vulture. Vega, the brightest star in Lyra was know as the Vulture Star. Even though the Greeks saw a harp here, depictions of Lyra even centuries later often showed the harp held in the claws of a vulture.

Messier Objects in Lyra:    M-56   M-57

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Mensa

MEN MEN suh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
153 table object

This small constellation was formed by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Microscopium

MIC MY kro SCO pee um
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
210 microscope object

This constellation was formed by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille around 1750.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Monoceros

MON muh NOS er us
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
482 unicorn animal

The constellation is a modern constellation formed by Jakob Bartsch around 1624.

Messier Objects in Monoceros:    M-50

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Musca

MUS MUS cuh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
138 fly insect

This constellation was orginally named Apis, the Bee, by Johann Bayer in his 1603 atlas of stars. Later Edmond Halley called it Musca Apis, the Fly Bee, and still later Nicolas-Louis dl Lacaille named it Musca Australis, the Southern Fly. This last name was to distinguish it from the northern fly, depicted on the back of Aries, the Ram. Since the norther fly is no longer recognized as a constellation, the southern fly in now known as Musca, the fly.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Norma

NOR NOR muh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
165 level object

This constellation was created by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Octans

OCT OCK tans
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
291 octant object

This constellation was created by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille around 1752.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Ophiuchus

OPH OH fee U kus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
948 serpent handler person

Ophiuchus is usually identified as Asclepius, a legendary physician known as the god of medicine. Asclepius was the son of Apollo and Coronis and was educated by Chiron (Centaurus). It is said that Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician and the father of medicine was his 15th grandson. According to legend, of day Asclepius killed a snake, but to his surprise another snake arrived and revived its companion with herbs. As his medical skills grew, Asclepius even learned how to revive the dead. This knowledge worried Hades, god of the underworld, who feared that his domain would not receive any new souls. Hades persuaded his brother Zeus to kill Asclepius with a thunderbolt and to decree that all mortals must one day die. Zeus did strike Asclepius dead, but to honor his skills as a healer Zeus placed Asclepius in the sky with his serpents.

Messier Objects in Ophiuchus:    M-9   M-10   M-12   M-14   M-19   M-62   M-107

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Orion

ORI oh RYE on
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
594 hunter person

In Greco-Roman mythology, the character Orion was a famed hunter, but he was boastful and went so far as to claim that no beast could kill him. To teach Orion a lesson, the goddess Hera sent a tiny scorpion to sting him. Orion smashed the scorpion with his club but not before it had stung him fatally. Orion and the scorpion were placed in the heavens on opposite sides of the sky. When Scorpius rises, Orion sets, and vice versa; these enemies are never seen together in the sky. In another legend Orion, the son of Poseidon, was said to have been a great hunter. Artemis, goddess of the Moon and the hunt, fell in love with him and neglected her duties of lighting the night sky. Her fellow gods and goddesses pleaded with her to no avail. One day her twin brother, Apollo, the sun god, saw Orion bathing in the seas far out from shore. Apollo shined the light of the sun so brightly that Orion became just a dark blur among the brilliantly sparkling waves. Apollo then called his sister and challenged her to hit the black shape so far from shore with here arrow. In pride and anger Artemis shot her arrow, striking the object directly. When Orion's body later washed ashore, Artemis realized what she had done. In grief she took his body and placed it in the sky, together with his hunting dogs, and marked it with bright stars. Having slain her lover, she was inconsolable and lost all interest in life; and that is why, ever since, the Moon has been cold and lifeless. Orion, however, quite quickly recovered and to this day he chases the Pleiades - seven lovely nymphs found in the constellation Taurus - around the sky, just as he had chased them on Earth.

Messier Objects in Orion:    M-42   M-43   M-78

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Pavo

PAV PAY voh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
378 peacock animal

This is one of the constellations published in Johann Bayer's 1603 atlas.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Pegasus

PEG PEG uh sus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
1121 flying horse animal

When Perseus pursued and slew the Medusa, Pegasus was created by the blood of Medusa's severed head mixed with the foam and sand of the sea.

Messier Objects in Pegasus:    M-15

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Perseus

PER PER see us
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
615 Perseus person

In Greek myth, Perseus was the son of Zeus and the mortal Danae. Danae's father, having been told by an oracle that his grandson would on day kill him, set Danae and Perseus adrift in a trunk. They were rescued by a fisherman and went to live on his island. The king of that island, Polydectes, wished to court Danae, and to get Perseus out of the way he sent the youth to slay the Gorgons, three sisters so ugly that any mortal who beheld them turned to stone. The night before his departure, Minerva appeared to Perseus in a dream and gave him a shiny magic shield upon which he could look at Medusa's reflection without being harmed. She also gave him a magic sword with which to sever the neck of Medusa. A man made sword would not do the job. Then Mercury appeared and gave Perseus winged sandals so that he could fly across the ocean to the island where the Gorgon lived in a cave. During his quest, Perseus found the three nymphs of the North, who gave him a magic helmet that would make him invisible and a magic pouch into which to place the severed head. Armed with the magic of the gods, Perseus found the island of the Gorgon Medusa. Her cave was guarded by two sisters who never slept. Perseus donned his helmet and crept quickly past them. Medusa lay asleep on the floor of the cave. Perseus raised his shield high and, watching her reflection in the dim light, he backed up to her. Then, with on mighty blow of the sword, he severed the head of Medusa. He picked up the head and placed it in the pouch. As he left the cave and walked down to the shore, a trail of blood was left behind. From Medusa's spilled blood, Pegasus was born. Perseus mounted the winged horse and headed back to Greece. Fleeing the other Gorgons, Perseus came upon King Atlas, who refused him aid. Glancing at the head of Medusa, Atlas turned into a mountain of stone and thereafter had to bear the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. Continuing his flight, Perseus came upon the princess Andromeda, the chained maiden, and rescued her from Cetus, the sea monster. Later in his life, Perseus, throwing the discus in an athletic contest, struck and killed a spectator. That unfortunate being turned out to be his grandfather, and the prophecy that he would be killed by his grandson was fulfilled, in spite of all the old man's efforts.

Messier Objects in Perseus:    M-34   M-76

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Phoenix

PHE FEE nix
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
469 Phoenix animal

Phoenix first appeared in the 1603 star atlas of Johann Bayer. The Arabs had called this region along the river Eridanus Al Zaurak, the Boat, and also Al Rial, the Young Ostriches.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Pictor

PIC PIK tor
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
247 painter person

This constellation was formed in the 1750s by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Piscis Austrinus

PSA PIE sys aw STREE nus
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
245 southern fish animal

The constellation Piscis Austrinis has been known since classical Greek and Roman times but probably goes back even further, to an ancient Syrian constellation representing the god Dagon. It has occasionally been shown as two fish, but it is more commonly seen as a single fish, sometimes drinking from a stream of water poured from the jar held by Aquarius.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Pisces

PSC PIE ceez
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
889 fishes animal

The Greeks and Romans recognized two fish in these stars. They were said to be Aphrodite and her son Eros, who, fleeing from the giant Typhon, jumped into a stream, turned into fish, and swam away to safety. They tied their tails together so they wouldn't be separated.

Messier Objects in Pisces:    M-74

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Puppis

PUP PUP iss
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
673 stern object

These stars form the stern of poop deck of the great celestial ship Argo. South of Puppis is Carina, the Keel, and just to the east are Pyxis, the Compass, and Vela, the Sail.

Messier Objects in Puppis:    M-46   M-47   M-93

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Pyxis

PYX PIK sis
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
221 compass object

Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille formed this small constellation from stars that had been part of the ship Argo.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Reticulum

RET ruh TIK u lum
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
114 net object

This constellation was formed by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille about 1752.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Sculptor

SCL SCULPT tor
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
475 sculptor person

This modern constellation was formed by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Scorpius

SCO SKOR pee us
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
497 scorpion insect

This constellation is supposed to be the tiny scorpion that killed Orion with its sting and was placed in the sky to memorialize the event.

Messier Objects in Scorpius:    M-4   M-6   M-7   M-80

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Scutum

SCT SKU tum
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
109 shield object

This modern constellation was created by Johannes Hevelius in 1690, in honor of King John III Sobieski of Poland, and was supposed to represent his coat of arms.

Messier Objects in Scutum:    M-11   M-26

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Serpens

SER SIR pens
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
637 snake animal

Serpens is the only constellation that is in two separate parts. Serpens Caput (Head of the Snake) is 429 square degrees. Serpens Cauda (Tail of the Snake) is 208 square degrees. The two parts of this constellation are separated by Ophiuchus.

Messier Objects in Serpens:    M-5   M-16

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Sextans

SEX SEX tans
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
314 sextant object

This constellation does not represent a mariner's sextant, but the larger astronomical sextant used by Johannes Hevelius to compile one of the first accurate star maps.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Sagitta

SGE suh JIT uh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
80 arrow object

Sagitta has been identified with just about every famous arrow in mythology. It has been said to be the arrow that killed the eagle of Zeus, the arrow shot by Hercules at the Stymphalian Birds, and the one with which Apollo slew the Cyclops. It has also been said to represent Cupid's arrow. Sagitta is the third smallest constellation.

Messier Objects in Sagitta:    M-71

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Sagittarius

SGR SAJ ih TAR ee us
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
867 archer person

This is a large constellation that was probably first associated with Nergal, the arrow shooting god of war, by Sumerian peoples of the Euphrates Valley. It was known by the Greeks as the archer, and later came to be identified as a satyr, or centaur.

Messier Objects in Sagittarius:    M-8   M-17   M-18   M-20   M-21   M-22   M-23   M-24   M-25   M-28   M-54   M-55   M-69   M-70   M-75

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Taurus

TAU TAW russ
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
797 bull animal

Greek legend has it that this group of stars is Zeus in the disguise of a white bull with golden horns; in this form he seduced and abducted the beautiful Europa. When Europa seated herself on the bull's back, he swam away with her to Crete, which is why we see only the animal's forequarters in the constellation.
Taurus is also thought to be charging Orion the hunter, who lies to the east.

Messier Objects in Taurus:    M-1   M-45

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Telescopium

TEL tel uh SCO pee um
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
252 telescope object

A modern constellation formed by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Triangulum Australe

TRA tri AN gue lum aw STRAY lee
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
110 southern triangle object

A modern constellation formed by Johann Bayer in his 1603 star atlas.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Triangulum

TRI tri AN gue lum
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
132 triangle object

This group of stars has been recognized since classical times. The Romans know this constellation as Deltotum. It was in this consetellation that Giuseppe Piazzi, on January 1, 1801, discovered the first asteroid.

Messier Objects in Triangulum:    M-33

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Tucana

TUC too CAY nuh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
295 toucan animal

A modern constellation formed by Johann Bayer in his 1603 star atlas.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Ursa Major

UMA OOR suh MAY jor
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
1280 great bear animal

Our best known legend about Ursa Major comes from Greek mythology. According to this legend, the king of the gods, Zeus, fell in love with a beautiful woman named Callisto. When Zeus' wife Hera learned of the affair, she changed Callisto into a bear. This bear roamed the forest until one day she happened upon a young and handsome hunter whom she recognized as her own son, Arcas. Callisto raised up on her hind legs to embrace her child, but Arcas saw only a bear and raised his spear. In the nick of time, Zeus intervened, changing Arcas into a bear. Then he grasped Callisto and her son by their tails and flung them into the sky, to become our constellations of the large and small bears. This explains why the celestial bears have such long tails, in contrast to their earthly counterparts. Some North American Indian tribes saw things differently. They also pictured bears in Ursa Major, and the nearby constellation Ursa Minor, as evidenced by the names frequently used to describe them, Okuri and Paukuawa - both meaning "bear". But in Iroquois mythology, all bears once had long tails. The earthly bear lost its tail attempting to show it off, using the tail to fish through a hole in an iced over lake. The bear's tail froze and fell off, and now all Earthbound bears mimic this ancient bear with its stumpy tail. A Blackfoot Indian legend tells of an elder daughter of a large family. The daughter fell in love with a grizzly bear. Her father was furious and ordered her brothers to kill the bear. But this was a magical bear, and before the bear died he gave some of his magic to his bride. She then turned herself into a grizzly bear, and in retaliation she destroyed her entire village, killing her mother and father. She began chasing her eight brothers and sisters, but one brother had magic of his own. He shot an arrow into the sky, and instantly all eight children followed it to become stars. The seven oldest children became the seven stars forming the Big Dipper. The youngest child was frightened, and she can be seen as the dim star Alcor, huddling close to the star Mizar.

Messier Objects in Ursa Major:    M-40   M-81   M-82   M-97   M-101   M-102   M-108   M-109

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Ursa Minor

UMI OOR suh MY nor
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
256 lesser bear animal

Ursa Minor was not recognized as a constellation until about 600 B. C., when it was decribed by the Greek astronomer Thales.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Vela

VEL VEE luh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
500 sails object

Vela represents the sail of the ship Argo (Argo Navis), the huge ancient southern constellation that was divided into several smaller constellations by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in the 1750s.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Virgo

VIR VUR go
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
1294 maiden person

Virgo is the only female figure amoung the constellations of the zodiac. It is also one of the oldest constellations and has assumed the identity of just about every important female deit since history has been recorded. In particular, Virgo has been identified with goddesses of fertility, of agriculture, and of the earth. Virgo is the second largest constellation in the sky.

Messier Objects in Virgo:    M-49   M-58   M-59   M-60   M-61   M-84   M-86   M-87   M-89   M-90   M-104

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Volans

VOL VO lans
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
141 flying fish animal

A modern constellation formed by Johann Bayer in his 1603 star atlas.

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Name Abbreviation Pronunciation

Vulpecula

VUL vul PEK u luh
Size (Degrees ²) Meaning Classification
278 fox animal

Vulpecula is a modern constellation formed in 1690 by Johannes Hevelius.

Messier Objects in Vulpecula:    M-27

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