What Are Constellations? | NASA Area Place – NASA Science for Children

A constellation is a gaggle of stars that appears like a specific form within the sky and has been given a reputation. These stars are far-off from Earth. They don’t seem to be linked to one another in any respect. Some stars in a constellation may be shut whereas others are very far-off. However, in the event you had been to attract strains within the sky between the celebs like a dot-to-dot puzzle – and use a number of creativeness – the image would appear like an object, animal, or individual.

Over time, cultures around the globe have had completely different names and numbers of constellations relying on what individuals thought they noticed. Immediately, there are 88 formally acknowledged constellations.

A group of stars with a line traced through them to form the Big Dipper.

This group of stars is known as the “huge dipper.” For those who hint a line between the celebs, it appears to be like like a ladle, or dipper, that you simply’d use to dip soup from a pot. This picture of the large dipper was taken by an astronaut on the Worldwide Area Station, however you possibly can typically see this group of stars from the bottom, too! Credit score: NASA/Donald R. Pettit

What constellations are you able to see within the night time sky?

The constellations you possibly can see at night time rely on the time of 12 months. Earth orbits across the Solar as soon as every year. Our view into house by means of the night time sky adjustments as we orbit. So, the night time sky appears to be like barely completely different every night time as a result of Earth is in a unique spot in its orbit. The celebs seem every night time to maneuver barely west of the place they had been the night time earlier than.

Your location on Earth additionally determines what stars and constellations you see, and the way excessive they seem to rise within the sky. The Northern Hemisphere is at all times pointing in a unique course than the Southern Hemisphere. Because of this stargazers in Australia, for instance, get a barely completely different view of the sky and might see just a few completely different constellations than these in the USA.

It may be a bit of complicated to image how the night time sky adjustments as we orbit the Solar. You possibly can see the way it all works within the illustration beneath.

Chart showing some of the constellations that are visible from the Northern Hemisphere in different times of year.

A chart exhibiting a number of the constellations which might be seen from the Northern Hemisphere in several instances of 12 months. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For instance, say you’re within the Northern Hemisphere wanting into the night time sky on September 21. You’ll most likely have the ability to see the constellation Pisces. However you gained’t see Virgo as a result of that constellation is on the opposite aspect of the Solar. Throughout that point of 12 months, Virgo’s stars would solely be seen in the course of the daytime – however you’d by no means see them due to the brightness of our Solar.

Need extra? Our star finder exercise is an effective way to have some enjoyable and study concerning the constellations seen in our night time sky every month.

What’s the distinction between astrology and astronomy?

Image of the Orion nebula captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

This picture of the Orion nebula was captured by the Hubble Area Telescope. It’s situated within the constellation Orion, beneath the three stars that kind the hunter’s belt. Credit score: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto

Astronomy is the scientific research of every part in outer house. Astronomers and different scientists research stars and galaxies, most of that are many light-years away from Earth. Learning the scientific properties of those objects in house helps us to grasp how the universe was made, what else is on the market, and the way we slot in.

Astrology just isn’t the identical factor as astronomy. As a science, astronomy follows the scientific course of involving proof and knowledge. Astrology is predicated on the idea that the placement of sure stars and planets within the sky can predict the longer term or describe what an individual is like. Whereas astrology is necessary to some cultural traditions, its claims should not based mostly on scientific proof.

How does NASA use the constellations?

Photo of the constellation Orion taken by NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg aboard the International Space Station.

This picture of the constellation Orion was taken by NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg aboard the Worldwide Area Station. Credit score: NASA/Karen Nyberg

Stars and constellations keep in roughly the identical spot for a lot of, a few years. They solely seem to maneuver within the sky in the course of the 12 months as a result of we’re on a shifting planet. As a result of the constellations are in a hard and fast location, they’re typically used as landmarks within the sky. Many stars, nebulae, and different objects are named after the constellations they’re present in.

For instance, meteor showers are named for the constellation the place the meteors look like coming from. So, for instance, the Orionids meteor bathe, which happens in October every year, seem to return from the identical course because the constellation Orion the Hunter.

Photo of the constellation Orion framed by two Perseid meteors.

The constellation Orion is framed by two Perseid meteors on Aug. 12, 2018, in Cedar Breaks Nationwide Monument, Utah. The Perseid meteor showers seem to return from the identical course because the constellation Perseus. Credit score: NASA/Invoice Dunford

Identified stars, comparable to these in well-known constellations, will also be used to navigate. For hundreds of years, sailors used stars to find out their location when out at sea. That is known as celestial navigation. NASA astronauts have additionally skilled to make use of celestial navigation as a backup in case fashionable navigation programs have bother.


Watch this video to learn the way astronauts on the Worldwide Area Station are testing this previous methodology of celestial navigation!

Robotic spacecraft additionally use maps of the celebs to seek out their approach. They carry a star map of their onboard computer systems and examine these star maps to patterns of stars in photos they take. So, in a approach, patterns of stars are as useful at the moment as they had been to historical navigators.

Further sources:

What’s Up: A Month-to-month Skywatching Abstract

What Are Asterisms?

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