Name A Constellation (Astronomy)

Humans have always been fascinated by the stars. Over centuries of staring up at the skies, people have recorded specific arrangements of stars, naming these identifiable patterns by the image that they represent or mythological figures. These are constellations.

How Are Constellations Named?

There are many types of stars that we can see with the naked eye, and the brightest are not necessarily the largest or the closest to Earth. Stars appear in random patterns in the sky. They’re not connected to each other. They may not even be located anywhere near each other.

But when we look up into space at night, we often notice that certain stars show up in consistent patterns. By connecting the dots in some of these arrangements, humans have recorded, designated and named constellations.

Constellations have a long history. Ancient cultures and native peoples used constellations as part of their rituals, mythology and story-telling. The stars became a way to communicate tales of morality, understand the environment and carry on oral traditions.

The name of each constellation is based on the shape that it makes and its symbolism. Each constellation has a Latin name as well as a translation for the layperson.

For example, one of the most well-known constellations in the northern hemisphere is Ursa Major. Although this is the Latin name, many people are more familiar with the label “Great Bear.”

But the constellation was named by the Greeks and was known by the Romans as Arctos. It was later translated into Latin.

The Greeks named this constellation because it looks like the outline of a bear walking on four clawed feet. By using your observation skills and imagination, you can make out a head, neck, body and legs.

The first constellation to be named was Taurus, the Bull. Some experts believe that this constellation was depicted in the cave paintings in Lascaux, France.

How Many Constellations Are There?

Forty-eight constellations were identified and named by ancient civilizations, including Roman, Middle Eastern and Greek cultures. These are considered to be the original constellations. They were recorded around 150 AD by Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer, mathematician and scientist.

Today, one of the ancient constellations, Argo, has been split into three separate constellations. An additional 38 constellations were named in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. These were identified by observing the skies in the previously uncharted southern hemisphere, a process that was ameliorated by the invention of the telescope.

The International Astronomical Union, or IAU, officially recognizes the following 88 named constellations:

  • Andromeda – Princess of Ethiopia

  • Antlia – Air pump

  • Apus – Bird of paradise

  • Aquarius – Water bearer

  • Aquila – EagleAra – Altar

  • Aries – Ram

  • Auriga – Charioteer

  • Bootes – Herdsman

  • Caelum – Graving tool

  • Camelopardalis – Giraffe

  • Cancer – Crab

  • Canes Venatici – Hunting dogs

  • Canis Major – Big dog

  • Canis Minor – Little dog

  • Capricornus – Sea goat

  • Carina – Keel of Argonaut’s ShipCassiopeia – Queen of Ethiopia

  • Centaurus – Centaur

  • Cepheus – King of Ethiopia

  • Cetus – Sea Monster, Whale

  • Chamaeleon – Chameleon

  • Circinus – Compasses

  • Columba – Dove

  • Coma Berenices –Berenice’s Hair

  • Corona Australis – Southern Crown

  • Corona Borealis – Northern Crown

  • Corvus – Crow

  • Crater – Cup

  • Crux – Cross, Southern Cross

  • Cygnus – Swan

  • Delphinus – Porpoise

  • Dorado – Swordfish

  • Draco – Dragon

  • Equuleus – Little Horse

  • Eridanus – River

  • Fornax – Furnace

  • Gemini – Twins

  • Grus – Crane

  • Hercules – Son of Zeus

  • Horologium – Clock

  • Hydra – Sea Serpent

  • Hydrus – Water Snake

  • Indus – Indian

  • Lacerta – Lizard

  • Leo – Lion

  • Leo Minor – Little Lion

  • Lepus – Hare

  • Libra – Balance, Scales

  • Lupus – Wolf

  • Lynx – Lynx

  • Lyra – Lyre , Harp

  • Mensa – Table Mountain

  • Microscopium – Microscope

  • Monoceros – Unicorn

  • Musca – Fly

  • Norma – Carpenter’s Level

  • Octans – Octant

  • Ophiuchus – Holder of Serpent

  • Orion – The Hunter

  • Pavo – Peacock

  • Pegasus – Winged Horse

  • Perseus – Hero who saved Andromeda

  • Phoenix – Phoenix

  • Pictor – Easel

  • Pisces – Fish

  • Piscis Austrinus – Southern Fish

  • Puppis – Stern of the Argonaut’s Ship

  • Reticulum – Net

  • Sagitta – Arrow

  • Sagittarius – Archer

  • Scorpius – Scorpion

  • Sculptor – Sculptor’s Tools

  • Scutum – Shield

  • Serpens – Serpent

  • Sextans – Sextant

  • Taurus – Bull

  • Telescopium – Telescope

  • Triangulum – Triangle

  • Triangulum Australe – Southern Triangle

  • Tucana – Toucan

  • Ursa Major – Big Bear

  • Ursa Minor – Little Bear

  • Vela – Sail of the Argonaut’s Ship

  • Virgo – Virgin

  • Volans – Flying Fish

  • Vulpecula – Fox

Can You Name a Constellation?

Although the public can buy and name a star, no one can name a constellation. The IAU has already named the most identifiable patterns in the sky. The official constellations represent 88 individual patches of sky that comprise the space around the Earth. Each constellation includes all the stars within that region even if they’re not part of the main shape. This allows new stars to be discovered without having to establish new constellations. But because constellations cannot overlap, no new ones can be named.

You might wonder why you don’t see the Big Dipper or Little Dipper in the list above. That’s because these are asterisms, which are patterns of stars within a larger constellation. Unofficial constellations continue to be identified.

In 2018, for example, NASA labeled 21 unofficial constellations with names like “The Hulk” and “Godzilla.” These were observed through the Fermi Telescope, which picks up gamma rays. They are not visible with the naked eye.

How to Name a Star Within a Constellation

Although you can’t name a constellation, you can name a star. When you buy a star within a constellation, you can name it, and that name will be registered in the Official Database of Star Names.

Are you wondering, ”How much does it cost to buy a star?” It’s surprisingly affordable to name a constellation star. You can choose to name and register a single star, a side-by-side pair or a supernova. Choose a constellation that’s symbolic to you, and name a star for yourself or a loved one