Long before the invention of the telescope, early civilizations invented star patterns and named them after animals, objects, heroes, gods, and beasts from stories and myths. Many of these myths were probably created to explain changes in the sky due to seasons, etc. The ancient Greeks named many constellations. For example, they told the story of Orion, the hunter, who leaped into the sea to escape a scorpion's bite, which explained why the constellation Orion disappears from the sky when the constellation Scorpius rises. Different civilizations imagined different patterns, and some stars were included in more than one pattern. Over time, the situation became confusing.
In 1929 the International Astronomical Union defined 88 constellations that are today recognized as the 'official' constellations. Many of these constellations are derived from the complex creations of Greek mythology, like Andromeda, Perseus, and Orion. Others came from ancient cultures such as the Egyptians and Chaldeans and still others were not defined until the 17th and 18th century. In the past, people used the constellations as markers. Some used the constellations to navigate their boats across the sea, to mark seasons of the year, or to locate special stars. Today, astronomers still use constellations as a handy marker to indicate a general area of the sky where far away celestial objects appear. Many of these extremely distant objects can be seen only with powerful telescopes.
Our server costs have gone up and our advertising revenue has gone down. You do the math! If you find our site useful, consider donating to keep us going. Thanks!
'Physicists like to think that all you have to do is say, these are the conditions, now what happens next?'
Richard Phillips Feynman