What is this constellation?

What is this constellation?

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Every night I see this constellation from my window but I can't identify it. What is this constellation called? Also, it would be helpful if you could clarify on the other stars as well.

Actual photo:


You can see the constellation Orion on this photo:

(Screenshot from Stellarium)

Aligning the original photo with this screenshot, I found the highlighted stars to be the following:

The constellation in the lower right is Orion, characterized by its famous "belt" of 3 stars. The two stars in the top center and top right belong to Taurus, the latter being Aldebaran. I am not sure about the stars to the left, it seems like it's part of Gemini.

What you have shown is almost the complete "Winter Hexagon", an asterism composed of Rigel, Aldebaran, Capella, Pollux, Procyon, and Sirius.

Capella and Sirius are slightly out of frame in your picture:

If you have the chance, you might want to look at the position marked by the green dot, either with a telescope or binoculars.

Capricornus is somewhat triangular in shape and is the 40th largest constellation in the night sky, occupying 414 square degrees. Capricornus is also neighbors with Aquarius, Aquila, Microscopium, Piscis Austrinus and Sagittarius. In addition, this constellation has eight main stars, one Messier and five meteor showers associated with it the Alpha Capricornids, the Chi Capricornids, the Sigma Capricornids, the Tau Capricornids, and the Capricorniden-Sagittarids.

By IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg) CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A constellation is a grouping of stars that is used to help identify a region of the sky. The individual stars within a constellation generally have no physical relationship, as they are at a varying distances from our observation point on the Earth. Different cultures developed their own groupings of stars, as they each had their own stories to tell in the night sky. For example, the constellation of Ursa Major has variously been identified as:

  • An Ox and his handler (by the Egyptians, as recorded in paintings found in the tomb of Seti I)
  • The tail of a Great Bear (by the Greeks and Native Americans) and
  • A celestial bureaucrat carried on a cloud (by the Chinese).

In 1933, the International Astronomical Union specified a definitive set of 88 constellations, based on the groupings introduced by:

  • Ptolemy: 48 constellations described in his great work, The Almagest, in the 2nd century AD. These constellations originally came from a variety of sources including the myths and legends of Mesopotamia, Babylon, Egypt and Greece. Ptolemy’s constellations were primarily in the northern hemisphere, as parts of the southern sky were never visible from Greece. One of the largest of these constellations, Argo Navis, was split into 4 smaller constellations Carina (the Keel), Puppis (the Stern), Vela (the Sails) and Pyxis (the Ship’s Compass) by Lacaille in the 1750s.
  • 12 constellations were added around 1600 by Johann Bayer in his star atlas, Uranometria, including Dorado (the Swordfish), Musca (the Fly) and Volans (the Flying Fish). These new constellations were not invented by Bayer, but adapted from other sources
  • Jakob Bartsch added a further 3 in 1624: Camelopardalis (the Giraffe), Columba (the Dove, also attributed to Bayer) and Monoceros (the Unicorn)
  • Johannes Hevelius devised 7 new constellations late in the 17th century, including Lacerta (the Lizard), Leo Minor (the Small Lion) and Scutum (the Shield)
  • Finally, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille devised 14 southern hemisphern constellations in c.1750, including Fornax (the Furnace), Horologium (the Clock) and Teloscopium (the Telescope).

The modern constellations contain a mixture of mythological characters (e.g. Perseus, Andromeda, Orion), animals (e.g. Taurus, Scorpius, Canis Major), scientific apparatus (e.g. Microscopium, Sextans and Caelum the chisel) and everyday objects (e.g. Crater the cup and Scutum the shield). Twelve of the most well-known constellations are the zodiacal constellations that lie along the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun through the sky.

The 88 Constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union

Constellation Description Type Source
1 Andromeda And Daughter of Queen Cassiopeia Myth/Legend Almagest
2 Antlia Ant Robert Boyle’s Air Pump Scientific Lacaille
3 Apus Aps Bird of Paradise Animal Bayer
4 Aquarius Aqr The Water Carrier Zodiac Almagest
5 Aquila Aql The Eagle Myth/Legend Almagest
6 Ara Ara The Altar Myth/Legend Almagest
7 Aries Ari The Ram Zodiac Almagest
8 Auriga Aur The Charioteer Myth/Legend Almagest
9 Bootes Boo The Herdsman Myth/Legend Almagest
10 Caelum Cae The Chisel Scientific Lacaille
11 Camelopardalis Cam The Giraffe Animal Bartsch
12 Cancer Cnc The Crab Zodiac Almagest
13 Canes Venatici CVn The Hunting Dogs Animal Hevelius
14 Canis Major CMa The Greater Dog (companion of Orion) Myth/Legend Almagest
15 Canis Minor CMi The Lesser Dog (companion of Orion) Myth/Legend Almagest
16 Capricornius Cap The Sea Goat Zodiac Almagest
17 Carina Car The Keel (part of Argo Navis) Myth/Legend Lacaille
18 Cassiopeia Cas The Queen of Ethiopia Myth/Legend Almagest
19 Centaurus Cen The Centaur Myth/Legend Almagest
20 Cepheus Cep King Cepheus of Ethiopia Myth/Legend Almagest
21 Cetus Cet The Whale (or sea monster) Myth/Legend Almagest
22 Chamaeleon Cha The Chamaeleon Animal Bayer
23 Circinus Cir The Compasses Scientific Lacaille
24 Columba Col The Dove Animal Bartsch/Bayer
25 Coma Berenices Com Queen Berenice of Egypt’s hair Myth/Legend
26 Corona Australis CrA The Southern Crown Myth/Legend Almagest
27 Corona Borealis CrB The Northern Crown Myth/Legend Almagest
28 Corvus Crv The Crow Myth/Legend Almagest
29 Crater Crt The Cup (the goblet of Apollo) Myth/Legend Almagest
30 Crux Cru The Southern Cross Misc
31 Cygnus Cyg The Swan Myth/Legend Almagest
32 Delphinius Del The Dolphin Myth/Legend Almagest
33 Dorado Dor The Goldfish/The Swordfish Animal Bayer
34 Draco Dra The Dragon Myth/Legend Almagest
35 Equuleus Equ The Little Horse Myth/Legend Almagest
36 Eridanus Eri The River Myth/Legend Almagest
37 Fornax For The Furnace Scientific Lacaille
38 Gemini Gem The Twins Zodiac Almagest
39 Grus Gru The Crane Animal Bayer
40 Hercules Her Hercules Myth/Legend Almagest
41 Horologium Hor The Pendulum Clock Scientific Lacaille
42 Hydra Hya The Water Snake Myth/Legend Almagest
43 Hydrus Hyi The Lesser Water Snake Animal Bayer
44 Indus Ind The Native American Indian Misc Bayer
45 Lacerta Lac The Lizard Animal Hevelius
46 Leo Leo The Lion Zodiac Almagest
47 Leo Minor LMi The Lesser Lion Animal Hevelius
48 Lepus Lep The Hare Myth/Legend Almagest
49 Libra Lib The Scales Zodiac Almagest
50 Lupus Lup The Wolf Myth/Legend Almagest
51 Lynx Lyn The Lynx Animal Hevelius
52 Lyra Lyr The Lyre (given by Apollo to Orpheus) Myth/Legend Almagest
53 Mensa Men The Table Mountain (Cape of Good Hope) Misc Lacaille
54 Microscopium Mic The Microscope Scientific Lacaille
55 Monoceros Mon The Unicorn Myth/Legend Bartsch
56 Musca Mus The Fly Animal Bayer
57 Norma Nor The Level Scientific Lacaille
58 Octans Oct The Octant Scientific Lacaille
59 Ophiuchus Oph The Serpent Holder Myth/Legend Almagest
60 Orion Ori The Hunter Myth/Legend Almagest
61 Pavo Pav The Peacock Animal Bayer
62 Pegasus Peg Pegasus, the winged horse Myth/Legend Almagest
63 Perseus Per Perseus (rescued Andromeda from Cetus) Myth/Legend Almagest
64 Phoenix Phe The Phoenix Myth/Legend Bayer
65 Pictor Pic The Painter’s Easel Scientific Lacaille
66 Pisces Psc The Fishes Zodiac Almagest
67 Piscus Austrinus PsA The Southern Fish Myth/Legend Almagest
68 Puppis Pup The Stern (of Argo Navis) Myth/Legend Lacaille
69 Pyxis Pyx The Ships’s Compass (or Argo Navis) Myth/Legend Lacaille
70 Reticulum Ret The Net Scientific Lacaille
71 Sagitta Sge The Arrow Myth/Legend Almagest
72 Sagittarius Sgr The Archer Zodiac Almagest
73 Scorpius Sco The Scorpion Zodiac Almagest
74 Sculptor Scl The Sculptor’s Workshop Scientific Lacaille
75 Scutum Sct The Shield (of King John Sobieski III ) Misc Hevelius
76 Serpens Ser The Serpent (carried by Ophiuchus) Myth/Legend Almagest
77 Sextans Sex The Sextant Scientific Hevelius
78 Taurus Tau The Bull Zodiac Almagest
79 Telescopium Tel The Telescope Scientific Lacaille
80 Triangulum Tri The Triangle Misc Almagest
81 Triangulum Australe TrA The Southern Triangle Misc Bayer
82 Tucuna Tuc The Toucan Animal Bayer
83 Ursa Major UMa The Great Bear Myth/Legend Almagest
84 Ursa Minor UMi The Lesser Bear Myth/Legend Almagest
85 Vela Vel The Sails (of Argo Navis) Myth/Legend Lacaille
86 Virgo Vir The Virgin Zodiac Almagest
87 Volans Vol The Flying Fish Animal Bayer
88 Vulpecula Vul The Fox Animal Hevelius

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Stars are listed in the appropriate lists for the constellation, as follows:

  • Stars named with a Bayer, Flamsteed, HR, or Draper (not from the supplements) designation.
  • Stellar extremes or otherwise noteworthy stars.
  • Notable variable stars (prototypes, rare or otherwise important).
  • Nearest stars (<20 ly).
  • Stars with planets.
  • Notable neutron stars, black holes, and other exotic stellar objects/remnants.

Note that these lists are currently unfinished, and there may be stars missing that satisfy these conditions. If you come across one, please feel free to add it.

Exoplanets in Andromeda

These are the most notable named exoplanet systems known in the constellation Andromeda. Bear in mind that we will likely discover billions of exoplanets in the years to come. Also see all exoplanets.

    1. Host star name
    2. Exoplanet name
    1. Buna
    1. Sterrennacht
    1. Titawin
    1. Titawin
    1. Titawin
    1. Veritate

* For southern latitudes, flip the season listed. For example, if a constellation is listed as best viewed in the summer in the month of July, in the southern hemisphere the constellation would be best viewed in the winter in January and would be upside-down.

** Circumpolar constellations are visible year-round in the hemisphere listed (and not at all in the opposite).

(OPT - US & International orders)

Magnitude Chart

Values listed apply primarily to stars. Deep-sky objects such as galaxies and nebulae are diffuse, so subtract an integer for these.

Naked-eye = 4 (city)
Naked-eye = 5 (suburbs)
Naked-eye = 6* (dark sky)
Binoculars = 10
4" (100mm) telescope = 12.5
8" (200mm) telescope = 14
12" (300m) telescope = 15
16" (400m) telescope = 16
Hubble space telescope = 30

What is this constellation? - Astronomy

Hi. That is a very good question. People have used constellations for many different reasons. And these reasons have changed throughout history.

Astronomy is the oldest science. This is because even the earliest cavemen would look up at the sky and wonder about what makes it run. People saw that the motions of the stars were regular and predictable.

The first use for Constellations was probably religious. People thought that the Gods lived in the heavens and that they created them. Many cultures believed that the positions of the stars were their God's way of telling stories. So it seemed natural to recognize patterns in the sky, give them names, and tell stories about them. We inherited the names for our constellations from the Greeks. And they named the constellations after their mythological heroes and legends. So behind every constellation there is a story. For example, to the ancient Greeks, Orion was a great hunter. He was the son of Neptune (god of the sea). But the same stars were considered to depict Osiris by the Egyptians. Each different culture developed their own interpretation.

A more practical use for constellations was agriculture. Before there were proper calendars people had no way of determining when to sow, or harvest except by the stars. Constellations made the patterns of the stars easy to remember. The ancient peoples knew for example that when the constellation Orion started to be fully visible winter was coming soon. Or they could look at the Summer Triangle to know when Summer or Spring were coming as well. The stars allowed farmers to plan ahead and form agriculture, and constellations made it easier to recognize and interpret the patterns in the sky.

The constellations also helped with navigation. It is fairly easy to spot Polaris (The North Star) once you've found Ursa Minor (Little Dipper constellation). One can figure out his/her latitude (North/South) just by looking at how high Polaris appears in the night sky. This allowed for ships to travel across the globe. It allowed for the discovery of America, the spread of European culture, and civilization as we know it today.

The constellations have a practical purpose today too. They determine how stars are named. When astronomers go to conferences they like to share their research with others. And usually they will want to tell someone which stars or objects they may be looking at. If they just give the coordinates (numbers) the other person is not likely to have an immediate idea of where the star is located in the sky. But if you say that the star's name is Alpha Tau then you will know that is the brightest star in the Taurus constellation. The stars are named based on the constellation they are in (all stars are in some constellation). The naming goes from brightest to dimmest star and is designated by the Greek alphabet. For example Beta Ori is the second brightest star in Orion (also called Rigel).

This page updated on June 27, 2015

About the Author

Marko Krco

Marko has worked in many fields of astronomy and physics including planetary astronomy, high energy astrophysics, quantum information theory, and supernova collapse simulations. Currently he studies the dark nebulae which form stars.

What Are Constellations?

The constellations are totally imaginary things that poets, farmers and astronomers have made up over the past 6,000 years (and probably even more!). The real purpose for the constellations is to help us tell which stars are which, nothing more. On a really dark night, you can see about 1000 to 1500 stars. Trying to tell which is which is hard. The constellations help by breaking up the sky into more managable bits. They are used as mnemonics, or memory aids. For example, if you spot three bright stars in a row in the winter evening, you might realize, "Oh! That's part of Orion!" Suddenly, the rest of the constellation falls into place and you can declare: "There's Betelgeuse in Orion's left shoulder and Rigel is his foot." And once you recognize Orion, you can remember that Orion's Hunting Dogs are always nearby. Then you might recognize the two bright stars in the upper and lower left of the photograph as Procyon in Canis Minor and Sirius in Canis Major, respectively.

When you look in a sky atlas, you might see diagrams like this:

Obviously, this is very different from the photo above. This type of schematic draws the stars as different sizes to represent different brightnesses. In addition, there is a standard way to connect the stars that allow astronomers and others who use charts like this to quickly tell what they are looking at. In almost every star atlas, you will see Orion drawn with these same lines.

You might also notice that every star on the chart is labeled (sorry that it came out a little blurry). This chart is useful because it accurately shows the relative positions of the stars in this small region of the sky. In addition, other things besides stars are also labeled on the chart. For example, Barnard's Loop on the left and M42 in the bottom middle are pointed out. Barnard's Loop is a cloud of faintly glowing gas, which can't be seen without a telescope. M42 is the Great Orion Nebula and it is the red splotch in Orion's Sword in the photo above.

Where did the constellations come from?

Yes and no. Around the world, farmers know that for most crops, you plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. But in some regions, there is not much differentiation between the seasons. Since different constellations are visible at different times of the year, you can use them to tell what month it is. For example, Scorpius is only visible in the northern hemisphere's evening sky in the summer. Some historians suspect that many of the myths associated with the constellations were invented to help the farmers remember them. When they saw certain constellations, they would know it was time to begin the planting or the reaping.

This dependence on the sky became a strong part of many cultures. Perhaps there is something about the mystery of the night sky that makes people want to tell stories about the constellations. The picture at the left is an ornate star chart printed in 1835. Like the others, it shows the great hunter Orion. In this one, he is holding a lion's head instead of his traditional bow or shield. He has an eager look in his eye as he stalks Taurus, the Bull. Behind him, his faithful dog, Canis Major, is chasing Lepus, the Hare. Compare this picture to the photo near the top of the page. They are at about the same scale and they show the same stars.

The constellations have changed over time. In our modern world, many of the constellations have been redefined so now every star in the sky is in exactly one constellation. In 1929, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) adopted official constellation boundaries that defined the 88 official constellations that exist today.
The graphics are from "Constellations" by Motz and Nathanson and "Universe" by Kaufmann Back to Constellations Home Page

What is a constellation?

What defines these clusters of stars in the sky as constellations?

Constellations are patterns in the night sky often formed by the most prominent stars to the naked eye. Technically a constellation defines not just the group of stars that form their patterns but also the region of sky in which it rests.

There are 88 constellations across the sky between the northern and southern hemispheres and, in both these parts of the celestial sphere, these patterns of stars differ. The current list, which includes constellations such as Orion, Cassiopeia, Taurus and the Plough, has been recognised by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) since around 1922 and are based on the 48 which were previously identified by Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy.

Constellations often carry names and take the shape of gods, hunters, princesses, objects and mythical beasts associated with Greek mythology – however, at times, it requires quite an imagination to draw out what some constellations are supposed to represent! Some of the most obvious stars in a constellation are often given names and in general, the most visible stars of each constellation are assigned Greek letters with the brightest taking on the first letter of the greek alphabet (alpha), the second brightest taking beta and so on. As an example, the brightest star in Lyra is Vega which is also called alpha Lyrae.

Constellations make excellent signposts when it comes to making your way around the night sky – make sure you check out our beginner’s guide to astronomy in issue 8 of All About Space!

Ursa Major’s Prominent Stars

Ursa Major contains a number of prominent stars. This constellation is primarily known from the asterism of its main seven stars, the Big Dipper:

Big Dipper Stars:

  1. Alkaid
  2. Mizar
  3. Alioth
  4. Megrez
  5. Phecda
  6. Merak
  7. Dubhe

Although this part of the constellation represents the Great Bear’s hind legs and tail, these bright stars form the popping image of a ladle. This asterism has two bright stars that can be used as a navigational pointer. These two stars are Dubhe and Merak. They point to the location of the current northern pole star, Polaris.

Polaris is the north star that is located in the Ursa Minor constellation. Dubhe is also referred to as Alpha Ursae Majoris. Dubhe is an orange giant star around 120 light-years from Earth. It is the second brightest star in the constellation with a magnitude of 1.79.

Dubhe is the 35th brightest star in the sky. Merak is also known as Ursae Majoris. It is a white star with a magnitude of 2.37. That is around three times the mass and radius of our sun.

Merak also has surface temperatures that are roughly twice as hot as our sun.

The Alkaid star, or also called Eta Ursae Majoris, is the tip of the Great Bear’s tail. Or also seen as the tip of the Big Dipper’s handle. It is a bluish-white star. It has a magnitude of 1.85 and surface temperatures around 3 times hotter than our sun. Alkaid is the third brightest star of Ursa Major.

The second star from the end of the tail or handle is Mizar-Alcor or known as Zeta Ursae Majoris. It is the constellation’s fourth-brightest star. Mizar forms a famous double star, with its companion Alcor. The Arabs termed these two stars as the horse and rider. Among them, the ability to see these two stars with the naked eye was often considered a test of good eyesight.

The third star is Alioth, or also referred to as Epsilon Ursae Majoris. Alioth is the brightest star in the Ursa Major constellation. It is the 33rd brightest star in the sky, consisting of magnitude 1.76. It has a distance of around 80 light-years from Earth.

The Big Dipper as seen from my Bortle Scale Class 8 backyard.

The fourth star is Megrez or Delta Ursae Majoris. Megrez is located at the intersection of the body and tail of the bear or the ladle and handle of the dipper. It is a white star and is around 60 light-years from Earth.

After Megrez we have the star Dubhe , completing the top frame of the dipper. Merak is the star that outlines the bottom of the dipper. Phecda or also known as Gamma Ursae Majoris completes the bottom frame of the dipper. Phecda is a white star with a magnitude of 2.44.

Muscida is the star that is located at the head of the bear. This star is also known as Omicron Ursae Majoris. It is a yellow giant star with a distance of around 180 light-years from earth.

Talitha is the star located at the bear’s front legs. It is referred to as Lota Ursae Majoris. This star is a four-star system. It contains two pairs of binary stars that are roughly 45 light-years away from earth.

The remaining stars are located in the bear’s hind legs. These stars are known as the Tania Borealis, Tania Australis, Alula Borealis, and Alula Australis.

Tania Borealis is a white star that is about 140 light-years from the earth. Tania Australis is a red giant star around 240 light-years from earth.

The Alula Borealis is an orange giant with a distance of around 400 light-years from earth. Alula Australis is a four-star system. It consists of two pairs of binary stars. These stars are 30 light-years from our earth. The main stars in this system are like sun stars. The other ones are considered to be red dwarfs.

The Night Sky. and Astronomy 101

For example: A description of Astronomy 101 might read like,
"Introductory astronomy course focusing on general physical conditions under which life is thought to arise and evolve in the universe. Topics include historical astronomy, gravitation and planetary orbits, the solar system. Blah, blah. "

It should also include a sentence like this,
"Hey, silly 17-year-old girl. we will not be discussing our "favorite constellations," or making trips to the observatory with picnics and cute boys, nor will we be discussing why you are "so a Libra." That's astroLoGY this is astroNoMY."

Just a suggestion, colleges.

PS. astronomy = math. And not fun math, either. Unless you're into the whole physics thing.

In case you *were* wondering what my favorite constellation is, it's this guy.

So, let's start our own astronomy class, shall we? Cookies, picnic at the observatory, cute boy, Linda Goodman's Sun Signs. Sign me up.

Let's make Constellation Cookies. You'll need:

  • sugar cookies, square or circle will work
  • royal icing divided and tinted dark blue (using AmeriColor Navy Blue mixed with Super Black) and light gold (store the gold icing in the fridge until day 2)
  • couplers and tips: #2, #1
  • disposable icing bags
  • squeeze bottle
  • toothpicks
  • constellation print-outs (printed to fit your cookie size)
  • push-pin
  • meringue powder
  • small paintbrush
  • disco dust

Use a #2 tip to outline the cookies in blue icing.

Thin the remaining blue icing with water, a bit at a time, stirring with a silicone spatula, until it is the consistency of a thick syrup. You'll want to drop a "ribbon" of icing back into the bowl and have it disappear in a count of "one thousand one, one thousand two." Four is too thick, one is too thin. Count of 2-3 is good. Cover with a damp dishcloth and let sit for several minutes.

Stir gently with a silicone spatula to pop and large air bubbles that have formed. Pour into squeeze bottle.

Fill in the outlines with the thinned icing. Use a toothpick to guide to edges and pop large air bubbles.

Let the cookies dry uncovered 6-8 hours, or overnight.

The next day, place the print-outs of the constellations on the cookies, and use a clean push-pin to press into the dried icing to mark where to pipe the stars.

Use a #2 tip to pipe stars over the push-pin holes in gold icing.

Switch the tip to a #1 and pipe lines to connect the stars in the constellations.

Let the cookies dry for one hour.

Mix 1/4 teaspoon meringue powder with 1/4 teaspoon water. Brush onto the stars using a small, clean paintbrush. Sprinkle on the disco dust. (I do this over a coffee filter to catch the excess.) Shake off excess and brush with a dry paintbrush. (This will not remove every bit of the stray disco dust, but it looks pretty, I think.)