There are 88 star constellations recognized by modern astronomers, and every single one of them has a shape and a story. Are you ready to hear about mighty hunters, beautiful princesses and fire birds flying through the night sky? Let’s take a look at some of the most common constellations!
Also known by the name Ursa Major or “Large Bear,” this constellation isn’t actually a constellation at all. It’s a group of stars known as an asterism. However, since its bucket shape is one of the most recognized in the night sky, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the Big Dipper.
Also known as Ursa Minor or “Small Bear,” the Little Dipper can be harder to see than its counterpart, but it’s never far away. The two patterns are closely linked in everything from shape to location to mythological origins. If you can find one, it’s worth the effort of finding the other.
Orion, the mighty hunter, is depicted with a sword and shield as he charges into battle. You can find him most easily by the cluster of stars that represent his studded belt, but he also contains a number of other, famous stars, including the blue-white Rigel and bright red Betelgeuse.
Stretching across the galaxy like its namesake, the dragon, Draco is an enormous constellation that covers more than 1,000 square degrees. Its head looks a bit like the bucket shape of the Big and Little Dippers, and its body curves dramatically before ending in a long, spindly tail.
Pisces is an interesting constellation because it isn’t actually shaped like the twin fish that make up its Zodiac sign. Instead, it’s envisioned as a long lure with two fish tied to either end. Its massive size makes it relatively easy to find in the night sky, but you might need a little extra effort to locate each individual star, including Fumalsamakah, Gamma Piscium and Van Maanen’s Star.
Who says that dolphins can’t fly? Delphinus is a constellation depicting a dolphin, and it soars across the galaxy like its brethren swim through the ocean. It’s fainter than some of the other constellations on this list, but it’s worth the trouble of finding it. It’s a very fun and unique constellation.
Another member of the zodiac, Sagittarius is usually recognized as a centaur with a bow and arrow. This is quite fitting since his name translates to “archer.” Another fun fact about Sagittarius is that his westernmost stars are located in the dead center of the Milky Way!
First recorded all of the way back in the 2nd century, Andromeda represents a beautiful princess in Greek mythology who was chained to a rock and left for a sea monster. You can see both her beauty and her captivity in the outstretched lines of her human-shaped figure. Just don’t confuse her with the galaxy cluster Andromeda! They’re entirely separate things.
As you might have guessed from the name, Hydra represents a water serpent. It’s notable both for its shape and for the fact that it borders a number of other constellations, including Cancer, Libra and Centaurus. If you can find Hydra, you can find them as well.
Phoenixes have great significance in a number of cultures, including Egypt, Greece, India, China and Russia. They’re seen as everything from symbols of rebirth to harbingers of health, wealth and immortality. It shouldn’t be surprising that this constellation has been admired for millennia by civilizations all over the world. Who wouldn’t feel like living forever when gazing at the stars?
You can’t talk about Greek mythology without talking about Hercules! This constellation is one of the most famous in the world, and everything about it is the stuff of legend. From its signature shape to its epic mythological origins, this is one collection of stars that you won’t want to miss.
Cygnus means “swan” in Latin, and with a little imagination, it’s easy to see his wings spread in flight as he canvasses the night sky. You can find him by finding the star Deneb, which is one of the brightest stars visible to the naked sky. His body is easily distinguished from there.
Cepheus has a bit of a confusing shape, so he might not be a great constellation for first-time stargazers, but he can be a fun challenge for anyone with a telescope and and a lot of determination. He’s also in and around a number of cool celestial objects, including black holes, spiral galaxies, nebulae and supernovae. An interest in Cepheus might just spark a greater interest in astronomy as a whole.
Tucana is a very faint constellation, but it’s a fun one. Its boxy shape is reminiscent of a toucan’s hooked beak. It wasn’t discovered until centuries after other, more well-known star patterns, but once it entered the lexicon, it was grouped with Grus, Phoenix and Pavo as the “southern bird” constellations.
Also known as the “Northern Crown,” Corona Borealis has a distinctive U-shape that’s easy to spot. Like its name suggests, it’s located in the northern hemisphere. Its southern counterpart is Corona Australis or the “Southern Crown.”
Last but not least, if you’re looking for famous constellations, it doesn’t get more famous than the twins. Castor and Pollux are both well-known and easy-to-see stars, and together, they make up the parallel lines of Gemini. They’re one of the first constellations taught to beginners, and they often remain a favorite even for experienced astronomers and astrophotographers.
These are just a few of the most common constellations in the night sky. There are many more, of course, so feel free to go stargazing and see how many of the 88 that you can find. Who knows? You might even discover the 89th someday!