May 8, 2014 at 10:00 PM
Antlia is the Greek word for pump. It was given this name by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. The full name is even Antlia Pneumatica, because the constellation resembles this machine according to de Lacaille. It’s a fairly tiny constellation, only ranking 62nd out of 88. Alpha Antliae is the brightest star in the constellation located at about 365 light years away. Antlia was first catalogued in 1763 in Coelum Australe Stelliferum, published after the death of Lacaille.
Canis Major, the bigger dog. It is supposed to be a dog following Orion, the hunter from Greek mythology. He is accompanied by a smaller dog, the constellation Canis Minor, which is the neighboring constellation. Canis Major was given its name by Ptolemy, the most famous Greco-Roman astronomer. Within this constellation we can find Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky. You can spot Canis Major in the skies of the southern hemisphere at latitudes between +60 degrees and -90 degrees.
Canis Minor, Latin for smaller dog. Just like his big brother, Canis Major, this constellation represents a dog following Orion. Both constellations were created by the ancient astronomer Ptolemy. Another Greek legend identifies Canis Minor with Maera, the dog of winemaker Icarus who jumped off a cliff after friends killed Icarus by mistake. Canis Minor contains Luyten’s Star. This star is one of the nearest stars in the galaxy, from our perspective. It’s only 12.2 light years away.
Carina is the Latin word for keel of a ship. Originally, Carina was part of a larger constellation called Argo Navis created by Greco-Roman astronomer Ptolemy. French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille divided Argo Navis up into 3 constellations, Carina, Puppis (the stern) and Vela (the sail). Canopus, the second brightest star in our night sky is part of Carina. This star is a supergiant, with a slight yellowish color, at a distance of 310 light years.
Centaurus is the Greek word for centaur, half man, half horse. Although it is not completely sure which centaur it represents, it is most commonly believed to be Chiron, the mentor of Achilles, Hercules, Theseus and Perseus. With Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, this constellation contains 2 top 10 stars when it comes to brightness. With an area of 1060 square degrees, Centaurus is the 9th largest constellation. You can find this group of stars in the southern hemisphere.
Chamaeleon. This constellation lies in the southern hemisphere and was created by Petrus Plancius, the Dutch astronomer from the 17th century. It can be seen at latitudes between 0 degrees and -90 degrees. The brightest star is called Alpha Chamaeleontis, which is located at a distance of 63.5 light years from Earth. Petrus Plancius named several constellations after exotic animals and used their Latin names. Almost all of these constellations are found on the southern hemisphere.
Columba which is Latin for dove. The original name of this constellation is Columba Noachi, after Noah’s dove which signalled that the sea level was dropping. It was given this name by Petrus Plancius, the Dutch astronomer from the early 17th century. Columba is the 54th constellation out of the 88 in size. You can find this constellation in the first quadrant of the southern hemisphere between the latitudes +45 degrees and -90 degrees. Gliese 218 is the nearest star in Columba, at a distance of 48.9 light years.
Coma Berenices or Berenice’s hair in Latin. This constellation was named after queen Berenice II of Egypt. Ptolemy first mentioned Coma Berenices already in the 2nd century AD, but considered it an asterism (a small cluster of stars) in the constellation Leo. It wasn’t until the 16th century when Tycho Brahe, a Danish astronomer, decided to make Coma Berenices a constellation. Berenice II swore to Aphrodite that she would cut of her hair if her husband Ptolemy III Euergetes would come back safe from a dangerous mission.
Corvus means raven or crow in Latin. This was the sacred bird of Apollo in Greek mythology. It was told to have white feathers. One day, Corvus came back to report to Apollo that Coronis, one of Apollo’s lovers, having an affair. Apollo got so upset that the bird didn’t do anything to stop it, that he burned all its feathers. That’s why all ravens are black now, according to legend. Like many other constellations based on myths, Corvus was given its name by Ptolemy, the ancient astronomer.
Crater means ‘cup’ in Latin and it represents the cup of Apollo, the Greek god. This constellation was named by Ptolemy, the famous Greco-Roman astronomer of the 2nd century AD. The cup was needed for a ritual at the altar, so Apollo sends his raven, the constellation Corvus, out to get it. The raven takes its time and comes up with an excuse blaming a water snake, the constellation Hydra. Apollo sees through the lies and sends all 3 into the sky where they became constellations.
Crux also known as the southern cross. Crux occupies 68 square degrees in the sky, making this the smallest constellation of them all. Despite being the smallest constellation, Crux is very easily recognised by the cross shape formed by its brightest stars. Crux is Latin for cross. Originally, it was part of the constellation Centaurus. But in 1679, Crux became a full fledged constellation thanks to Augustin Royer. Some say it might have even been Petrus Plancius in 1613 who gave Crux the status of constellation.
Dorado which is Spanish for dolphinfish. This constellation was given its name by Dutchman Petrus Plancius. It was first documented in 1603 in the star atlas Uranometria by Johann Bayer. Dorado is a constellation that lies in the southern hemisphere and can be seen at latitudes between +20 and -90 degrees. Two of the stars in this constellation are known to have planets. Petrus Plancius created 12 constellations in total and gave almost all of them animal names.
Eridanus. This is the Greek name of the river Po in Italy. Originally, this constellation was called Srotaswini, which is Sanskrit for torrent or stream. Eridanus is usually depicted as the river flowing away from Aquarius. This constellation was first catalogued by Ptolemy, the Greco-Roman astronomer from the 2nd century AD. Ranking sixth largest constellation, Eridanus occupies 1138 square degrees in the first quadrant of the southern hemisphere.
Fornax is Latin for furnace. This constellation was given its name by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, the French astronomer from the 18th century. With only 1 star brighter than magnitude 4.0, Fornax is quite an obscure constellation. Originally, the name that was given was Fornax Chemica, named after the chemical furnace used for experiments. It was British astronomer Francis Bailey who shortened it to Fornax in 1845. Fornax ranks 41st in the list of largest constellations.
Gemini or twins in Latin. This is one of the 12 zodiac constellations. Gemini represents the twins Castor and Pullox and was first mentioned by Ptolemy, the ancient Greek astronomer from the 2nd century AD. It was given this name because Gemini has 2 bright stars, called Castor and Pullox as well. With 514 square degrees, Gemini occupies the 30th rank as largest constellation. You can find it in the second quadrant of the northern hemisphere.
Horologium is the Latin word for clock. This constellation was created by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century. Originally, it was named Horologium Oscillatorium, the pendulum clock, but it was later shortened to Horologium. Gliese 1061 is the nearest star in this constellation from Earth, at a distance of 12 light years. The constellation was created to honor Christiaan Huygens, the inventor of the pendulum clock. Nicolas Louis de Lacaille named all his constellations after tools and instruments.
Hydrus, also known as the lesser water snake or the male water snake. It is the counterpart of Hydra, the bigger water snake. Also as a constellation, Hydrus is much smaller than Hydra. With 243 square degrees it takes the 61st place when comparing all constellations by size. Hydrus was mapped by Dutch navigators, but given its name by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century. You can find Hydrus in the first quadrant of the southern hemisphere.
Leo, Latin for lion. Leo is one of the 12 zodiac star signs. Like the other zodiac constellations, Leo was first documented by Ptolemy, the Greco-Roman astronomer from the 2nd century AD. With 947 square degrees, Leo is one of the biggest constellations in the northern hemisphere. It is suggested that Leo was already a known constellation in Mesopotamian times, going back as far as 4000 BC. In Greek mythology, Leo was the lion that Heracles killed during his first of twelve labours.
Lepus is the Latin name for hare. This constellation lies under the feet of Orion in the northern hemisphere. This is why Lepus is often depicted as being chased by Orion or his hunting dogs represented in the constellation Canes Venatici. The constellation was first catalogued by the Greco-Roman astronomer Ptolemy, who lived about 1900 years ago. Lepus ranks 51st in the list of largest constellations and covers an area of 290 square degrees in the second quadrant of the northern hemisphere.
Lynx which means lynx in Latin as well. This constellation was created by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in the 17th century. Although it is a Latin name for an animal, there is no mythological backstory to Lynx. Between Auriga and Ursa Major, there was quite the gap filled with stars, so Hevelius created a constellation out of those stars. With 545 square degrees in the second quadrant of the northern hemisphere, Lynx comes in at place 28 in the list of largest constellations.
Mensa. This is the southernmost constellation in the sky. It’s name is Latin and means table. The name was given by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century. Originally, it was called Mons Mensae. This means Table Mountain, the famous mountain in South Africa. This is where Lacaille was when he created this constellation. Mensa is small, ranking 75th with only 153 square degrees in the first quadrant of the southern hemisphere.
Monoceros named after the fantasy animal the unicorn. This constellation was created by the Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius after gathering information from Dutch navigators in the 17th century. Monoceros is named quite appropriately. It is a Latin name, and the constellation looks like an animal with a horn. You can spot the unicorn star sign in the second quadrant of the northern hemisphere where it covers 482 square degrees. This makes it the 35th largest constellation.
Musca is Latin for fly, like the little animal we all love so much. Dutch navigators Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman observed the stars, and Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius created the constellation Musca. He left it nameless at first, but in 1602 he gave it the name Muia, which is Greek for fly. With 138 square degrees in the third quadrant of the southern hemisphere, it is the 77th constellation in size. Musca has one star with planets.
Octans. The octant is a navigational instrument mainly used on ships. Octans is its Latin name, and it means the eighth part of a circle. It was the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille who created and named Octans in the 18th century. This constellation covers an area of 291 square degrees in the fourth quadrant of the southern hemisphere. This makes it the 50th largest constellation. Within Octans, you’ll find Sigma Octanis, the southern pole star.
Orion. This is one of the most famous constellations already known in ancient times. Orion is very important in Egyptian religion. It was long thought that the pyramids of Giza were built to reflect the position of the stars inside this constellation. Orion is so well known for such a long time because it is a very bright star sign; it has 2 of the 10 brightest stars in the sky. You can find this constellation in the first quadrant of the northern hemisphere. Orion is said to be a hunter, chasing the hare Lepus.
Pyxis is a compass used on ships. This constellation was created by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century. Originally, Pyxis was part of a huge constellation called Argo Navis. This star sign was created by the Greco-Roman astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD and represented a mythical ship. De Lacaille thought it better to divide the ship into smaller constellations, using parts of a ship for their names.
Reticulum which is Latin for small net. This is not a net to go fishing with, it is rather a crosshair at a telescope used to measure distances and star positions. It was first called Rhombus, which is the name of the shape. The French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille changed its name into Reticulum in the 18th century. There are only 6 constellations smaller than Reticulum. You can find it in the first quadrant of the southern hemisphere where it covers an area of 114 square degrees.
Taurus or bull in Latin. Taurus is one of the 12 zodiac constellations used for birth charts. Although Ptolemy, the Greco-Roman astronomer gave Taurus its Latin name in the 2nd century AD, the history of Taurus goes back to the Bronze Age. This makes Taurus one of the oldest constellations we know of. It is also quite big, it occupies 797 square degrees in the first quadrant of the northern hemisphere. There are 16 constellations larger that Taurus.
Vela. Originally, this constellation was part of a much larger star sign called Argo Navis, the Argonauts’ ship. This was a constellation created by Ptolemy in the second century AD, but it was the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille who divided the ship into smaller star signs. All of these constellation are parts of a ship and Vela is Latin for sail. This star sign covers 500 square degrees in the second quadrant of the southern hemisphere, making it the 32nd largest constellation.
Volans means flying in Latin. The constellation Volans is linked with the flying fish that the Dutch navigators saw on their travels in the late 16th century. This constellation was named by Petrus Plancius, the Dutch astronomer. It is a rather small star sign, ranking 76th with an area of 141 square degrees in the second quadrant of the southern hemisphere. Beta Volantis is the brightest star in Volans. It’ll take you 107 light years to get to this orange giant.
At Under Lucky Stars we make personal star charts of the constellations above a time and place chosen by you.