15 Constellations Every Man Should Know (And How to Find Them)
This article will give you a list of 15 constellations that should be visible in the sky at any point during your lifetime. It also includes how to find them and what their names are. If you know of another constellation that isn’t included, please comment below!
The “types of constellations with pictures” article is a guide that teaches readers about the different types of constellations, and how to find them.
“Silently, one by one, the glorious stars, the angels’ forget-me-nots, blossomed in the vast fields of heaven.”
One of the delights of my recent camping vacation in the Colorado Rockies was being able to lie on a picnic table and attempt to spot constellations without the distracting lights of my house in Denver. While I could readily identify a few of the more well-known constellations, I was unhappy that I couldn’t identify any others, and that I couldn’t recall anything about the tales that surround the stars from elementary school.
My forefathers knew their way around the night sky like the back of their hands. The constellations orientated them not just physically – as essential navigational aids – but also spiritually, providing vivid reminders of their mythologies and places in the cosmos. Knowing the constellations may provide both pleasant knowledge and humbling awe even today.
So, in this piece, I’ll offer you a crash course on the Greek mythology of the most well-known constellations, as well as some pointers on how to locate and identify them. Because Ptolemy recognized and cataloged 48 constellations in the 2nd century, I utilize Greek mythology. Although his notes only covered the sky that he could see, this was the first recorded and scientific explanation of the constellations, and it was considered as the standard for astronomy for decades. Many of the constellations mentioned have Babylonian, Egyptian, Roman, and other myths associated with them. What’s fascinating is that although the exact people in the tales changed, the constellations’ general contours and forms stayed pretty consistent.
The International Astronomical Union maintains a list of 88 constellations that has been in use since 1922 and covers the whole night sky all around the globe. The 15 listed below were chosen for a variety of reasons, including their size, visibility, prominence of stars within them, ease of identification, and position in folklore throughout history.
Constellations in the Night Sky: How to Find Them
This is how a star map appears (this is from Starmap). It’s oriented like a map, and then you gaze up to discover the stars!
Depending on your location and time of year, using a star chart will be your best chance for discovering where to search for constellations. Because it varies based on where you live and the seasons, use a program like AstroViewer, which allows you to input your location and get a personalized star map. Another nice one is Starmap, which also has an iOS app and allows you to download maps in PDF format and print them to take with you outdoors. Google Sky, for example, may assist you in practicing recognizing constellation forms.
Aside from a star chart, all you need is a dark sky (as far away from towns as possible) and a pair of binoculars or a telescope for added visual help. Basic outlines may be seen with the naked eye, but fainter stars and other features like as nebulae and star clusters can be seen using binoculars or a telescope. When you’re out observing, you should keep your gaze fixed on the North Star (directions on how to find the North Star are found at the bottom of the article).
While each constellation has a “best seen” month listed here, many are visible for at least 6 months of the year — but not as brightly. In the Northern Hemisphere, the constellations listed below are the most well-known and visible to the naked eye.
1. The sign of Aquarius
This drawing, along with the ones below, is part of Sidney Hall’s Urania’s Mirror series. The set comprises 32 star chart cards displaying 79 constellations, many of which are no longer recognized or are considered sub-constellations, and was first published in 1824. The drawings are based on what may be seen from the United Kingdom, so they’re comparable to what you’d see in the United States.
“Water bearer” or “cup carrier” in Latin. October is the best month to visit.
Aquarius is one of the largest, most well-known, and oldest constellations, yet it is weak and difficult to see. Aquarius was the Greek god Ganymede, who was a wonderfully gorgeous young man. Ganymede was called to Mt. Olympus to be the cupbearer of the gods by Zeus, who noted the lad’s fine looks. He was promised endless youth and a spot in the night sky in exchange for his service.
Despite its prominent location and huge size, Aquarius lacks distinguishing characteristics and does not include any brilliant stars. Aquarius’ right arm protrudes to the right, and the big downward form is a mix of the water pouring down from the vase and his right leg. While not the complete constellation, what you’ll most likely see in the night sky is shown above. You won’t locate the cupbearer in the city; you’ll need a black sky to find him.
On the left, Delphinus is still a well-known constellation, although it is tiny and dim. The constellation Sagitta, which represents the bow and arrow, is said to be old.
“Eagle” is a Latin word that means “flying eagle.” Late June and September are the best times to visit.
In Greek mythology, Aquila was the eagle that carried Ganymede (Aquarius) up to Mt. Olympus. Zeus’ thunderbolts were carried by the eagle.
This constellation is part of the Milky Way band, and its most notable star is Altair, which is one of the nearest stars to the earth visible with the naked eye. Aquila’s upper section forms a shallow inverted “V,” with Altair almost at the tip. The eagle’s head and wings are shown here. The eagle’s body is formed by a line that descends from Altair.
In late July, look for Aquila near the Milky Way band in the southern sky.
The bee, Musca Borealis, is a rejected constellation.
The word “ram” comes from the Latin word “ramus.” December is the best month to visit.
Aries has always remained the ram, despite the fact that numerous constellations have gone through many incarnations of legendary myths. This constellation is one of the 12 that make up the zodiac, which are the constellations that span the course of the sun across the sky (known in scienctific terms as the ecliptic). This gave the zodiac constellations considerable importance in ancient times.
Aries is the ram whose fleece became the Golden Fleece in Greek mythology. The Golden Fleece is a symbol of monarchy and power in the story of Jason and the Argonauts, and it plays an important part in the story. Jason is ordered to retrieve the fleece in order to claim his rightful title as king, and he finds it with the assistance of Medea (his future wife). It’s one of antiquity’s earliest legends, and it was popular throughout Homer’s day.
Aries is made up of just four (occasionally five) visible stars that form a line from the ram’s head (lowest point in the picture above) to the ram’s back. Hamal is the brightest and most prominent star in the constellation Hamal, and it is categorized as an orange giant.
4. Canis Major
While Lepus, the Hare, is one of Ptolemy’s original 48 constellations, it has no connection to Greek mythology. While not included in this list, Lepus is located just under Orion.
“Greater dog” is a Latin term. February is the best month to visit.
Laelaps, the famous Greek dog, is represented by Canis Major. There are a few different origin tales, but the unifying thread is that he was so quick that Zeus lifted him to the heavens. Laelaps is also one of Orion’s hunting hounds, following him across the night sky in search of Taurus the bull.
Canis Major is renowned for containing Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. The first sighting of Canis Major in the morning sky is said to occur in late summer, bringing in the season’s dog days. It resembles a stick figure in the night sky, with Sirius at the head and another brilliant star, Adhara, at the tail end.
5. Cassiopeia is a constellation in the constellation Cassiopeia.
It’s the name of a Greek queen with no Latin connotation. November is the best month to visit.
Cassiopeia was a vain queen who bragged about her beauty in Greek mythology. Cassiopeia was the mother of Princess Andromeda, and unlike other individuals who were honored by being put in the sky, Cassiopeia was sent to the celestial regions as a punishment. She bragged that her beauty (or that of her daughter, depending on the account) was better than that of the sea nymphs, according to legend. This was a serious sin, and she was exiled to the heavens for everyone to see.
Cassiopeia is one of the most readily recognized constellations in the night sky in the autumn and early winter, thanks to its unique “W” shape made by five brilliant stars. As a result, the vain queen is one of the most well-known in popular culture, as well as one of the first constellations that children learn to identify in the sky.
6. Cygnus, (also known as the Northern Cross)
Near Cygnus the Swan and Lyra are the dim constellations Lacerta (the lizard) and Vulpecula (the fox). It wasn’t until the 17th century that they were classed as constellations.
“Swan” is a Latinized Greek word. September is the best month to visit.
In Greek mythology, the swan is represented by several characters. Zeus once transformed into a swan in order to seduce Leda, the mother of Gemini and Helen of Troy. According to another legend, Orpheus was slaughtered and then resurrected as a swan beside his lyre in the skies (the constellation Lyra, also in the drawing above).
The story of Phaethon and Cycnus may have also inspired the constellation’s name. Phaethon was the son of Helios (the sun god), and he once rode in his father’s solar chariot. However, Phaethon was unable to control the reins, and Zeus was forced to fire down the chariot, killing Phaethon. Cycnus (now spelt Cygnus), Phaethon’s brother, spent many days weeping and gathering the bones, which moved the gods so much that they transformed him into a swan and granted him a home in the sky.
The Northern Cross is really an asterism (a distinctive pattern of stars) inside the constellation of Cygnus the Swan. One of the brightest stars in the night sky is Deneb, the swan’s tail (or top point of the cross). Cygnus is located inside the Milky Way, which is why the constellation is frequently referred to as the galaxy’s backbone. The geese is staring down in the night sky, its wings extended parallel to the horizon.
“Twins” is a Latin word that means “twins.” February is the best month to visit.
The twins Castor and Pollux are represented by Gemini. While Leda was the twins’ mother, Castor’s father was the mortal king of Sparta, and Pollux’s father was King Zeus (remember how he tempted Leda in the shape of a swan?). These tales have a tendency to intertwine!). When Castor was murdered, Pollux implored Zeus to grant him immortality, which he accomplished by permanently setting the brothers in the night sky.
The twins’ heads are represented by Castor and Pollux, the names of the brightest stars in the constellation. The bodies of each star are then formed by a line, giving the constellation a rough “U” shape. In the winter, the twins are easy to see since they are close to Orion.
Although Leo Minor is a well-known constellation, it is so tiny and faint that it was not included in Ptolemy’s initial list. Leo Major is still referred to simply as “Leo.”
“Lion” is a Latin word. April is the best month to visit.
Almost all mythical legends depict Leo as a mighty lion in the night sky. Leo is the gigantic lion slain by Hercules as one of his twelve labors, according to Greek mythology. Because its fur was impenetrable to harm and its claws were sharper than any human blade, the lion could not be slain by mortal weapons. Hercules eventually followed him down and strangled him, albeit losing a finger in the process.
Jupiter, the huge orange “star” underneath Leo, is the planet Jupiter.
Because Leo resembles its namesake, it is the simplest constellation to locate in the zodiac. The head and chest are formed by a characteristic reversed question mark, which then advances to the left to create a triangle and the lion’s back end. Regulus is Leo’s brightest star, located in the constellation’s bottom right corner, and represents the lion’s front right leg.
“Lyre” is a Latin word that means “musical instrument.” August is the best month to visit.
Lyra is linked to Orpheus, the legendary musician (remember him from earlier?). Apollo gave Orpheus the harp, and it is stated that his music was more lovely than any mortal man’s. His music has the ability to calm people down and bring pleasure to their hearts. He was slain and his lyre (harp) was thrown into a river while wandering the countryside in sadness after his wife died. The lyre was returned to Zeus by an eagle, who then put it in the night sky.