Ever since the beginning of time man has looked to the heavens in awe. The stars have provided mystery for our minds and guidance for our travels. Our forebears looked to the sky and saw a conglomeration of stars and then made patterns from them. These patterns were given names and became the constellations that we know today. In its simplest form, a constellation is a pattern formed by the stars that are seen from the earth and referred to as a whole. In other words, they are a group of heavenly bodies that make a sort of picture from our perspective. In modern astronomy, however, a constellation has become to mean all of the heavenly bodies in a grid-like area of space that scientists can refer to universally.
Every culture has its own constellations throughout its history owing to differences in the mythologies surrounding the stars. For instance, the constellation Andromeda is based on the Greek myth of a princess chained to a rock and left to be eaten by a sea monster. Around her are also the constellations of her mother (Cassiopeia), her father (Cepheus), and the monster that threatens her (Cetus) among other constellations salient to the story. So constellations are more than just patterns of points of light in the sky. They are like giant storybooks in the sky serving as the first means of entertainment for ancient man.
Perhaps the most famous use of star constellations comes from astrology where practitioners track the movement of the heavenly bodies through twelve of the major constellations. The study of astrology basically surmises personality traits for people born when heavenly bodies are within certain constellations or configurations. Its effectiveness has been argued over the centuries, but it does make use of the constellations as its foundation.
The modern list of eighty-eight constellations can be traced in part to the astronomer Ptolemy and the work her did to map the night sky. However, his star charts were added to because they were incomplete in certain section. Therefore, the history of the star constellations is a muddied one. The Babylonians added to the Sumerians, and the Greeks added to what they found from there. Many cultures influenced how we view the stars today with each constellation having its own unique background. It is a study of history, archeology, and mythology to study the stars and the constellations that glow in our nightly sky.