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Star Lore

January 28, 2013


Constellations of the northern sky

Have you ever looked up into the night sky, gazed upon the stars, tried to imagine them within those famous constellations, and wondered, how the heck does that group of stars look like a man carrying a club and a shield/lion/pelt?  That would be Orion, (also, The Hunter) who I found several different representations of:

Orion 2 Orion and Lion Orion and Pelt

Orion w/shield                                                                      Orion w/lion                               Orion w/pelt

The Greeks even created a legend about Orion and another constellation, Scorpius.  Perhaps the best explanation is that the Ancients had very active imaginations.  In any case, every culture has their own representations of the images in the nighttime sky.  So, why do we have the constellations we have today, which mostly come from Greek and Roman mythology?  Well, in the Western world, the Greeks created comprehensive lists of constellations, with 48 already in the 2nd cent., however, these were all in the northern sky.  The southern sky constellations were added only after Europeans began the Age of Exploration and were often faced with an unfamiliar sky.  Some were even named after scientific inventions of the day, such as Fornax the Furnace, Antlia the Air Pump, Horologium the Pendulum Clock, and Microscopium the Microscope.  Of course, we don’t have these constellations today, and that is due to the original borders of these constellations being a bit fuzzy.  There were no fixed boundaries for them, as they were meant to be eye-visible stars, so the positions of constellations were getting difficult to discern.  Finally, in the 1920s, the International Astronomical Union, made up mostly of Europeans influenced by Greek and Roman tradition, set the current constellations in the night sky.  This is also why an astrology Zodiac doesn’t match the modern sky; the Sun travels through more than the 12 signs of the Zodiac in a given year.  Another cool thing to note is the names of some of the constellations that didn’t make the cut: Globus Aerostaticus the hot-air balloon, Robur Carolinum the Oak of Charles, and Le Renne the Reindeer (plus those ones above based on inventions).  Maybe it wasn’t just the Ancients with overactive imaginations after all.



From → Class

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