Constellations 101: Stars & Signs in the night sky

Here at Moonglow, we are obsessed with all things celestial. Of course, the Moon takes the number one spot, but the stars in their dainty and shining glory are a close second. The constellations have been on our minds lately, and since even we have been spending some time learning and loving the stars even more than we already did, we thought it would be a perfect time to break down everything you need to know about constellation basics.  

Let’s start with the actual word, many of us if asked would be able to respond that a constellation is found in the sky, made up of stars, but here is the formal definition. 

con•stel•la•tion /ˌkänstəˈlāSH(ə)n/ noun 

A group of stars forming a recognizable pattern that is traditionally named after its apparent form or identified with a mythological figure If we take a look at the origin of the word: Stella (Latin) - constellation (Late Latin) - constellation (Middle English)  

Did you know that the Stella Necklace that features one of the 12 zodiac signs or constellations gets its name from the Latin origin? 

There are 88 “official” constellations in our night sky. Remember that each of the stars isn’t sided by side, but instead found in space at different distances from Earth and one another. Each star will be different in size, temperature and distance but because we are so very, very, very far away they all look to be together in our night sky.

In our celestial sphere, where we find the 88 constellations, about 36 constellations are found in the northern sky while 52 are found in the southern sky. As the Earth orbits the sun, and as the seasons change, what we see in the night sky also changes. For the most part, we see a gradual shift of the constellations to the west, thanks to the orbiting. In the summer you are looking in a different place than you would in the winter.  

The Zodiac and your Astrological Constellations 

As the Earth orbits around the Sun, it appears to be moving in a circular path; this path is called the plane of the ecliptic and it’s just basically the “route” that the Sun moves through during the year. The zodiac is simply a series of constellations that the Sun will pass through. Bet you didn’t know that although we have 12 astrological constellations (Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius) there are 12 astronomical zodiac constellations? Lucky number 13 is called Ophiuchus. You can thank the Ancient Babylonians, who at the time already followed a 12-month calendar and said “sorry you didn’t cut”. NASA, who remember studies astronomy, not astrology explained that the ancient people ignored the fact that because the constellations were slightly different sizes, the Sun would spend a different amount of time in each group of stars, and instead they assigned each of the 12 constellations a fairly equal amount of time. From an astrology point of view, this changes nothing, once a Scorpio always a Scorpio right!? 

Other Constellations You May Want to Know 

Ursa Major aka Great Bear

If you’ve ever looked up and seen the “Big Dipper”, you actually were looking at a part of this very well-known constellation called Ursa Major. The Big Dipper itself is called an asterism, (ps. that’s how The Asterism Link Bracelet got its name), it’s a group of stars belonging to something larger. And in this case, it makes up part of the bear! 

Canis Major aka Greater Dog 

This one makes list because of one particular star in its constellation. All the stars shine brightly, but the one that shines the brightest of all is surprisingly not the North Star as many imagine but a star called Alpha Canis Majoris. Fun fact this constellation is often drawn to look like a whippet, a small, thin dog that can run like the wind!  

Orion aka The Hunter 

Orion is definitely one of the easiest constellations to find in the night sky. When searching the stars, look for three bright stars that form the straight line of the “hunter’s belt”. You can then find the star of the “armpit” and then find the “arm” that is “holding a bow”. 

So there you have it, a little taste of the constellations, their meanings, and a few facts that may come in handy next time you’re running out of conversation topics or at a trivia night.