Our ancestors knew the night sky like the back of their hands.They observed the sky until they found patterns in the stars and utilized them as tools for navigation. They made up stories about mythological creatures and characters which they associated with the star patterns. Astronomers began to make maps of the stars and called them constellations.
There are 88 officially recognized constellations in the sky. At different times of the year, different constellations can be seen. Different constellations can also be seen depending on where you are on Earth.
Let’s learn more about constellations!
EXPLORE THE NIGHT SKY
Use these two great websites to help you learn more about what you see in the night sky right now.
Learn what constellations are visible based on your location right now, then go outside and look up!
Did you know there are designated International Dark Sky Parks and Reserves? There are two Dark Sky Parks in Michigan and a number of reserves, including one in Clayton, Michigan, about a one hour drive southwest of Ypsilanti.
Watch a new video each month to learn which constellations you’ll see in the night sky that month.
One of the easiest constellations to spot is Ursa Major, the Great Bear, also known as the big dipper. If you can locate the big dipper, you can get your bearings to search for other constellations using a sky map.
Search for another constellation you know you should be able to find according to Sky & Telescope and read more about it and how it got its name on Hoopla, which has a great nonfiction series on constellations.
IDENTIFY A CONSTELLATION
Having trouble finding exactly where the constellations you’re looking for are? You don’t need to be an astronomer to find stars or constellations in the sky with the free SkyView app. Download it from the App Store or Google Play and let it guide you to the constellation’s location and identify it.
They even have a great tutorial you can watch to learn how to use the app.
The app uses your camera to precisely spot and identify celestial objects in the sky, day or night!
BE A CONSTELLATION DETECTIVE
Put on your detective hat and use these worksheets to find different constellations.
MAKE A SKY JOURNAL
Now that you have the tools to find and identify constellations you can keep a record of your observations! Designate a notebook as a special sky journal. You can also take a small stack of blank paper and fold it in half for your journal.
Draw what you see in the night sky every evening.
- Draw a circle that’s at least 5 inches diameter.
- Draw some small landmarks you see on the horizon around the edge of the circle such as trees and buildings to help you keep track of which way you’re looking.
- Now look straight up and draw what you see using small dots of different sizes to represent the stars.
- Note the date and time on each drawing, and the weather conditions which you can find on a phone’s weather app. You can make any special notes about what the sky looked like, or even use some colored pencils or water colors to note the variations in the sky each day. You can also track the phases of the moon by paying close attention to what the moon looks like each night.
Here are examples of constellations you might draw. One is a drawing of Leo, the lion. The next is what our ancestors imagined when they named it.
READ CONSTELLATION STORIES
If you know myths that tell stories of what people long ago saw in the constellations, you’re probably most familiar with classic Greek and Roman mythology. Orion is one example. It’s of the most visible constellations. Because of its location, it can be seen throughout the world, and it has a first magnitude star named Betelgeuse that is easy to see.
When people in ancient Greece looked up and saw Betelgeuse and the stars around it, they saw a hunter. In Greek mythology, Orion bragged that he was such a good hunter he would kill every animal on earth, so the Gods sent a scorpion to kill him. Orion tried to fight the scorpion, but his arrows could not pierce the thick armor of the scorpion. In the end, both he and the scorpion were raised to the sky to remind people not to be too prideful.
People around the world see Betelgeuse and its surrounding stars, but they saw them in different ways and made up different stories to go with what they saw. Read below to see how 17 other cultures see pictures using stars around Betelgeuse, and other first magnitude stars!
On a dark clear night, you can look up in the sky and see stars glinting. Many years ago, people in Greece drew imaginary lines from star to star, creating pictures of familiar animals and things. They named these pictures, too: a constellation shaped like an archer is named for Orion, the hunter. They created myths about these constellations that would go on to be told and retold. These myths were passed down through oral storytelling, so there are often multiple versions of these stories.
Click the button above to see instructions for how you can create your own constellation and the myth behind it.
MAKE A STAR FINDER
Learn your way around the night sky by finding some of the constellations. You can make a star finder to help.
Print a star finder, then cut it out on the solid lines. Add color or decorate it if you like! Then fold it, following the instructions below.
Play the Star Finder Game
Thumbs and first fingers inside the four corners of Star Finder. Stick your thumbs and first two fingers into the four pockets on the bottom of the Star Finder.
Ask another person to choose one of the top four squares. Then, depending on the number on the square she chose, open and close the Star Finder that many times (open up and down, close, open side to side, close, etc.). For example, if she chose number 6, open and close the Star Finder 6 times. Steps to open and close Star Finder.
Then, ask the person to look inside the Star Finder and pick one of the four visible constellations. This time, open and close the Star Finder once for each letter to spell out his choice. For example, if he chose “Lyra,” you would open and close the Star Finder 4 times, once for each letter: L – Y – R – A.
Ask the player again to pick one of the four constellations visible. Open the panel to see the name of a constellation (highlighted in red) she will try to find in the sky for this month.
For some of the months, not every part of the Star Finder may show a highlighted constellation for you to find. In this case, just try to find the constellation that is nearest to the part of the sky you picked.
Pipe cleaners and beads to make your own constellations.
SUMMER CHALLENGE SECRET CODE
Find more constellation activities on our TinkerLab page!