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A guide to constellations.

Constellations Are Mankind's Oldest Picturebook

How many of us take it as a fun watching and enjoying the night sky? Have you ever thought that :

A systematic study of stars and constellations,
Their locations and identification,
Need very little preparation!
And please be comfortable, we need no equipment,
Except our eyes for this very very
Interesting observation.

[Hemisphere from North Pole: 726x726 GIF] Millions of galaxies of various shapes and sizes are scattered in our Universe, whose limits are unknown. We must remember that our Solar System is located half way from the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and the Sun is our nearest Star.

We use the term Light-Year to measure the distances of the stars. The distance that light travels in one year, moving at 186,000, miles per second is known to us and on this scale we measure the stars which are hundreds, thousands, and even millions of light-years away.

Brightness of the stars is measured in terms of Magnitude. There are 21 1st. Magnitude, about 50 2nd. Magnitude, and 150 3rd. Magnitude stars, scattered all over in our Universe and they are constantly increasing our excitement and curiosity.

About two thirds of all known stars are double or binary systems, such as Mizar, Capella, Spica and so on. There are variable stars that fluctuate in brightness. Mira, in Cetus (The Whale) is a famous long period variable Star that shows extreme changes of brightness.

Most dramatic changes occur to the exploding stars, The Novae and the Supernovae. Sometimes they rapidly grow in brilliance and then fade away over months or years.

A poet says, `Please come back Suranjana, come back when the night is filled with the silver fire of the Stars!' ( "Phire eso Suranjana, nakshatrer rupali aagun bhora rate." - J.Das )

Believe me, you can get a wonderful and unforgettable experience watching a few Stars reveal their colours! Fly with me and look at the bluish Vega, the orange-coloured Arcturus, the bluish-white Regulus, the yellowish Capella, the reddish Betelgeuse and so on.

Now, this is the time to start spotting the Constellations. The circumpolar constellations are easy to learn. We shall talk about the North Circumpolar Constellations which are at about 40 Degrees North latitude and this is the place where major constellations can be properly identified.

[Hemisphere from South Pole: 726x726 GIF]

Sit or lie down comfortably holding a sky- chart over your head, placing the directions according to the instructions. Look at the chart, then watch the sky and your mind will fly away to these celestial beauties.


POLARIS (Dhrubotara)

It remains always at the same place in the sky, almost exactly North, often called NORTH STAR. Its distance is about 782 light-years away and it is a double star. (Bharatiya dharma-biswas anujai kono kono Mahatma mrityur por ai dhruboloke sthan pan).

The familier Big Dipper (Saptarshi Mondol) which is only a part of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, helps to locate the Polaris. The two outer stars of Big Dipper's bowl always point the Pole star, and are called Pointers. The middle star of Big Dipper is called MIZAR (Bosistha). It is a double star and it is 78 light- years away. ALCAID (Angira), near Mizar, is some 120 light-years away. The faintly visible star by the side of Mizar is called ALCOR (Arundhuti). Alcaid and Alcor are aiso called Horse and Rider.

Polaris is the tail star of Little Dipper or Little Bear. It is a supergiant cepheid variable star whose magnitude changes very slightly every four days. The two fairly bright stars at Little Dipper's end of the bowl are called the Guardians because they stand as if guarding the Pole Star.

It is very important to know that due to the 'wobble' of the Earth's axis, the celestial pole shifts very slowly as the centuries go by. So different stars become different Pole Stars at different times.

'Ek raja jai chole, ak raja aashe,
Mohakal bose sudhu nijo mone hanshe'
(Emperors come and go, and the heavens just smile on)


A Large, but not a very bright constellation. The long tail starts 10 Degrees from the Big Dipper's pointers. A string of stars swing around the L.D. Two pairs of stars make the legs, a small irregular quadrangle with two fairly bright stars make the head.

The front star in the Dragon's tail is Thuban. Once it was the Pole Star by which the Egyptians constructed their famous Pyramids, some four or five thousand years ago.


[cassiopeia: 385x318 GIF] Small but bright in the Milky Way, easy to remember for its shape. Five bright stars make a `W'or an `M' or a chair depending on how you look at it. The myth says Cassiopeia was an Ethiopean queen and her husband was Cepheus.


A five-sided figure, closer to the North pole, by the side of Cassiopeia. Draw a line from the pointers beyond the Pole star and the line hits the king's cap. His three bright stars are the candidates for the pole starship after 2000, 4000 and 6000 years from now. So he is waiting patiently for his important role to play.

Some constellations of Spring and Summer


[leo: 323x366 GIF] The best known, and large zodiac constellation with three bright stars. The sickle or the backward question mark forms the Lion's head. The brightest star is REGULUS (Mogha). It is at the base of the sickle or near the paws of the Lion. Bluish-white Regulus, 186 light-years away, it is the faintest of our first magnitude stars, but shines about twice as bright as Polaris. The Lion's tail shows another bright star, DENEBOLA (Uttor-phalguni).


[bootes: 398x369 GIF] One of the oldest constellations, looks like a man sitting and smoking a pipe. On the other hand it is a kite- shaped figure extending to the Dipper's handle. It is chasing the bears with two hunting dogs. Its magnificient giant star is orange coloured ARCTURUS (Swati), which is about 40 light-years away and it is the fourth brightest star.

Arcturus changes its place more rapidly in the sky than any other bright stars.


Look at the east of the Bootes. A semicircular arc, small but graceful with the second magnitude GEMMA can be seen clearly.


[lyra: 302x395 GIF] Looks like two stringed lyre. It is important for the splendor of blue-white coloured VEGA (Abhijit). It stands fifth in the race and it is the brightest summer star, only 26 light-years away.


[cygnus: 285x265 GIF] The Swan flies along the Milky Way, spreading wide his wings. A part of this magnificient constellation is called Northern Cross. The milky way splits here into parallel streams. The brighter star DENEB is in the tail of the swan, which is almost 500 light-years away. ALBERIO (Albireo), a third magnitude star is in the head of the Swan (Bakamukh).


[hercules: 377x428 GIF] Large but dim constellation, this lies up side down, with a keystone shaped head, and a man swinging a club, his favorite weapon.


A large constellation, lying just south of the Lyra. Most important star is ALTAIR (Srabana). Yellowish-white Altair is 16 light-years away and it is a first magnitude star.

The Eagle, with Altair, (which has two stars on two sides), is flying towards the Swan to meet it head on. Altair, Vega and Deneb form a huge triangle.


[scorpius and sagittarius: 520x327 GIF] Trace it when the sky is quite clear. The Eagle's tail points out this beautiful constellation. A group of four stars known as the MILK DIPPER forms a quadrangle shaped body.

The Archer's head has a feather and his bow is pointed toward the Scorpion.


It is in the Southern part of the sky, an easily detectable beautiful constellation. Its shape is like a fish-hook and it is in the Zodiac. Its most brilliant star is ANTARES (Jyesthaya), a reddish, first magnitude star. It is a super giant star, 300 times the Sun's diameter and the distance is about 300 Light-years.


A strikingly beautiful looking small constellation, this can be seen between the heads of the Swan and the Eagle.


On a clear dark night, the beautiful shape of a Dolphin, (the stars are very closed together and make up the body), swims outside the Milky way.

A close pair of stars are in the Scorpion's tail called Cat's Eyes.


This constellation is made of faint stars but famous for bluish-white FOMALHOUT, one of the 21 brightest stars.

Draw a line through the two bright stars on the Pegesus side of the Great Square and go straight to the far down to discover the brilliant Fomalhaut in a very solitary place. This star announces the coming of fall (autumn).


[gemini: 331x305 GIF] The Twins are in the Zodiac and we need a clear night to find the whole figure. The two bright stars, CASTOR and POLLUX (Punarbasu) mark the twins' heads. Castor is white and a second magnitude star. Pollux is yellowish coloured, and a first Magnitude star. The two stars are 5 degrees apart from each other. Castor is a triple star and each of its three components is a double star, making six stars in all !


She is lying on her back. A Y-shaped line of stars extends towards Denebola of Leo's tail. Her head is near the tail. Virgo carries her precious jewel SPIKA.It is a first magnitude star, bluish-white in colour and about 190 Light-years away. Virgo is a constellation of the Zodiac and is a cluster of several hundred Galaxies about 14 Million Light-years away.


Some constellations of Autumn


If you look at the evening sky and if you have a Calender Chart with you, you can easily find an imperfect but big square which is the part of both Andromeda and Pegasus.


The chained lady's head is one of the four stars of the Square. The bright stars form one side of the body and a leg. The other leg is formed by dimmer stars. When the night is dark and clear, even unaided eyes can see a small hazy spot, the famous Andromeda Nebula, near the place where the leg bends. Andromeda in chains extends Eastward, from Pegesus, and two long spreading lines of stars meet at AlPHERATZ (Purba-bhadropodo), a famous triple star.


[pegasus and andromeda: 474x235 GIF] Pegesus is known as the Winged Horse, is a beautiful constellation to look at. Three of the Square's four stars make the triangular wings of the horse. The 2nd. Magnitude star Alpheratz is at the point where the two constellations join.

Here is a story which helps to remember some constellations which are in the same section of the sky:

Cassiopeia, an Ethiopian queen and her husband Cepheus had a beautiful daughter Andromeda. Cassiopeia was very proud of her daughter's beauty and made the sea nymphs angry and jealous. They requested the sea God Poseidon to send a monster, a Whale, to ravage Ethiopia's coast. The helpless father Cepheus chained his daughter to a rock to satisfy the monster. Fortunately, Perseus, the hero was flying by. He killed the Whale, liberated Andromeda, married her and took her away with him on his winged horse Pegasus.

During the late Autumn or early Winter, when Cassiopeia is high up in the sky, we can see Cepheus, Andromeda, Perseus, Pegasus and the Whale dominating the night sky.


[auriga: 382x341 GIF] This important constellation lies to the east of the Perseus, and is named after the mythical inventor of the chariot. It looks like a human face with a pointed cap. The charioteer's eye is the bright and brilliant tripled star `CAPELLA' (Bramhahriday), yellowish in colour, almost as bright as Vega, and 42 light-years away.


Large but dim constellation, famous for the variable star MIRA which means ` beautiful' in Latin.

Some constellations of Winter


[taurus: 512x368 GIF] The Bull represents the disguised form of Zeus or Jupiter who is eager to fetch his girl friend Europa. The forepart of the Bull is brighter and the hind part is much dimmer.

Most conspicuous stars in Taurus are the HYADES, which form his face. This clear V-shaped star group is unmistakable and here we can watch the Bull's brightest star, ALDEBARAN, (Rohini). It is an orange-coloured first magnitude double star, about the diameter of the Sun and 55 Light-years away.

Taurus is a large constellation in the Zodiac, famous for the well known group of stars, PLEIADES. Both Pleiades and Hyades are clusters of stars travelling together through the space.


[orion: 300x357 GIF] Orion is remarkable for his majestic appearence. When he is high up in the sky, we cannot miss his remarkable belt made of three bright stars ina a row. By profession he is a hunter with a raised club, a shield and a sword dangling from his belt. No other constellation has so many bright stars, two of first magnitude and five of second magnitude.

Orion is proud of BETELGEUSE (Adra), in his left shoulder, a reddish, variable super giant star, about 300 light-years away and 400 times the sun's diameter.

RIGEL (Banraja), the bluish-white giant star, 33 times the diameter of our sun, over 500 light years away, is the right foot of the hunter. From Orion's belt hangs the faint sword made of faint stars. One of them looks slightly fuzzy, this is the great Orion Nebula-M 42.


[canis major: 350x402 GIF] It is in the far south and not very clear, but it is the proud carrier of the brightest star, SIRIUS (Lubdhak or Shaun). It 8.8 light years away, one of our closest neighbours among the stars, and it outshines all the other stars when it is up in the sky.


This constellation carries PROCYON (Proshaun). It is yellowish in colour and its name, in Greek, means "Before the dog".

We can see seven first magnitude stars glittering brilliantly around Orion, at which time the sky looks striking . Six of them form a vast hexagon. They are: CAPELLA, POLLUX, PROCYON SIRIUS, RIGEL AND ALDEBERAN. More or less in the centre sits BETELGEUSE, wearing a red robe.

After enjoying the splendor and beauty of this region, look at the right side of the Orion's feet. This place is known as the "Wet Region" because we can find the ERIDAUS RIVER, The WHALE and WATER CARRIER and The FISHES having not so bright stars.


A large constellation having only one well known star: ALPHARD, ( Aslesha).

[centaur: 315x391 GIF] At about 40 degree south latitude, the main circumpolar constellations are CRUX or the SOUTHERN CROSS, KARINA or the KEEL of the ship ARGO, VOLONS, the FLYING FISH, DORADO, HYDRUS, TUCANA, OCTANS, PAVO, ARA, TRIANGULAM AUSTRALE, AND CENTAURUS.

CARINA or the KEEL of the SHIP has its brightest star, CANOPUS (Agastya). It is the second in the family of the stars, 100 light-years away, yellowish-white in colour, and 2000 times as luminous as the sun.

Star-gazing is an interesting hobby and it has no geographic limits. This is a very short description collected from some books and charts. " What star is that? " is an age old question and if someone is eager to know about the constellations and the bright stars, no doubt it will help to go deeper into the stream of astronomy. Good by and good luck.

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