What is a Constellation

A constellation is a grouping of fixed stars that appear to form a picture in the night sky. There are hundreds of constellations in both the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere and each one of them is a picture imagined by somebody in the world. The pictures imagined to be there can vary greatly between different eras and different regions and cultures throughout the world even though the people are seeing the same formation. Chief among the constellations that has had many different names and stories behind it is the formation that is known as “The Big Dipper” in North America.

The Big Dipper is seen as “The Casserole” in France and as “The Plough” in England. The Chinese imagined the Big Dipper constellation as “The Celestial Bureaucrat” who was seated on a cloud and was being followed around the night sky by his hopeful subjects. The Big Dipper has also been known by different names at different times in history. In medieval Europe the formation was known as “Charles’ Wain” or “Charles’ Wagon” and the ancient Greeks and Native Americans saw them as the tail of “The Great Bear” or “Ursa Major”. The ancient Egyptians probably had the most complex imagining of the Big Dipper formation; they saw those seven stars as part of a larger formation that showed a bull, a horizontal god, and a hippopotamus with a crocodile on it’s back.

Other constellations in the night sky have played a much more important role in the lives of people down through the ages because they were the central figures used to help predict a persons horoscope by astrologers. Astrologers were the earliest astronomers and they supposedly could predict a persons destiny based on the the position of the planets within the confines of 12 different constellations of the Zodiac. The Zodiac constellations were Aries the Ram, Taurus the Bull, Gemini the Twins, Cancer the Crab, Leo the Lion, Virgo the Virgin, Libra the Balance, Scorpio the Scorpion, Sagittarius the Archer, Capricorn the Goat, Aquarius the Water Bearer, and Pisces the Fishes. Because these 12 constellations circled the entirety of the night sky it was believed by astrologers that the position of the moving planets within these constellations at the moment of a persons birth helped define the personality and fate of that person. Even though the validity of the pseudoscience of astrology and the horoscopes created by it is questionable, many people these days still believe in the power of the stars over their lives.

The constellations in the sky appear to be fixed there, but the fact is they are changing albeit very slowly. The lives of stars are extremely long and they move very slowly in space so it is impossible for people to see these changes in the sky. However, over the past millions of years and millions of years into the future the constellations have and will change. Humans have not been around long enough to see these changes and it is doubtful any humans will ever notice the changes to come.