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10 Types of Constellations – What You Need to Know!

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Leo Constellation stars

If you’re looking to pick up a new hobby, try stargazing. You can learn about the sky and pretty much the entire universe if you’re curious to know all there is to know, even without the requisite experience or qualification.

And once you do, it will not only expand your horizon but also make you appreciate nature more. How do you get started? Well, simply start by admiring the sky at night, without using any optical aid. Then get a pair of binoculars, invest in a telescope, and you’re away!

We have a total of 88 modern and ancient constellations, but today we’re going to look at the 10 most common ones. These constellations are the types you can find by just looking at the sky. You don’t need an experienced astronomer to guide you.

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10 Common Constellations

1. Ursa Major

The constellation Ursa Major and Ursa Minor in the starry sky as background

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This constellation will only be visible to observers in the northern hemisphere. We sometimes refer to it as the Great Bear, because that’s what the Latin name translates into.

Ursa Major is one of the oldest constellations, by the way. In the 2nd century AD, Claudius Ptolemy came up with a list of 48 constellations, and the Great Bear was one of them.

Ursa Major’s asterism is what makes it so popular among observers. Asterism is the term we used to describe the pattern that the stars make in the night sky. This constellation’s asterism is called “The Big Dipper”, but some sources prefer “The Plough”, “Charles’ Wain”, or “The Wagon”.


2. Ursa Minor

Ursa Minor

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Ursa Minor, also known as the Little Dipper, is the constellation that houses Polaris. You might not be familiar with that name, but you’ve certainly heard about the North Pole Star, right? That’s what they call Polaris, one of the brightest stars in that sky.

The other stars that constitute this asterism are Kochab, Pherkad, Akhfa al Farkadain, Anwar al Farkadainm Epsilon Ursae Minoris, and Yildun.


3. Orion

Constellation Orion

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Here’s a fun fact: according to Greek Mythology, Orion was a talented hunter. He was so good at what he did that King Oenopion paid for his services when his island Chios was being ravaged by a ferocious beast. That’s why this constellation is referred to as The Hunter.

Orion is one of those constellations that’s visible to all and sundry. We reckon it’s so prominent because its stars are sort of evenly spaced in a straight line, in addition to the fact that two of the 10 brightest stars ever recorded are located in the area of the celestial sphere. Yes, we’re talking about the Alpha Orionis (Betelgeuse) and the Beta Orionis (Rigel).

We often call Orion’s asterism the Three Sisters or Three Kings, seeing as it comprises three bright stars: Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak. One other thing that makes Orion so special is the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex—our experts have defined it as a celestial body made up of young stars, H II regions, and dark clouds.


4. Taurus

taurus constellation

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Orion’s next-door neighbor is the Taurus constellation. The Bull, as some people like to call it, is right above Orion, and can be easily identified by anyone who knows the location of the 14th brightest star known to man, the Aldebaran.

In the celestial sphere, we have things called Messier objects. These objects are celestial bodies cataloged by Charles Messier, who was a French astronomer. Taurus has two Messier objects: The Messier 1 (a supernova remnant called the Crab Nebula) and the Messier 45 (commonly referred to as the Pleiades).


5. Gemini

gemini constellation

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Once you’ve located Orion, look towards its northeastern side and you’ll see Gemini. Alternatively, you could first locate Taurus, then Cancer, and look between them. You’ll be able to see this constellation, together with two of its brightest stars: Pollux and Castor.

The former has a planet orbiting it, while the latter doesn’t. However, it’s never been lonely, as it has two other stars to keep it company.

The Gemini constellation only has one Messier object, the Messier 35, on top of other notable celestial bodies. It’s hard to spot them with the naked eye but with the help of a powerful telescope, you’ll be able to spot the Geminga (a neutron star), Medusa Nebula, and Eskimo Nebula.


6. Cassiopeia

cassiopeia constellation

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It’s quite unfortunate if you’re only able to see the constellations in the southern sky because that would mean you’ll never meet Cassiopeia—the vain queen in Greek mythology, who couldn’t stop boasting about her hypnotizing beauty.

Ptolemy also listed Cassiopeia while he was studying the constellations, and noted it has a very distinctive W shape. Of course, every corner of that letter represents the five stars in that sphere.

Cassiopeia has a lot to offer in that it hosts about 14 stars, which also host various exoplanets. Our astronomers have so far established that the brightest star in that group is the Alpha Cassiopeiae, popularly known as the Schedar.


7. Crux

Crux star constellation

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Crux sounds like a recently discovered constellation, but it’s not. You probably know it as the Southern Cross, or simply The Cross. It’s only visible in the southern sky and that’s why you’ll find it being used as an insignia on several stamps and flags representing southern hemisphere nations.

The crux is currently the smallest constellation known to man, and at some point, the Ancient Greeks thought it was part of the Centaurus. It wasn’t until 1516 that a famous Italian explorer who went by the name Andreas Corsali defined it as a separate constellation.

The Alpha Crucis is the brightest star in the Southern Cross. And it’s special because, unlike most stars, this one is binary in nature. What that means is that it’s a system of two very different stars orbiting one another, as they are gravitationally bound to each other.


8. Centaurus 

centaurus constellation

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This is yet another southern constellation that was cataloged in the 2nd century by our friend, Claudius Ptolemy. But he wasn’t the first guy to talk about it, seeing as we’ve found earlier Greek writings of Aratus the poet, and Eudoxus the astronomer trying to make sense of what’s going on in this celestial sphere.

The Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri stars are representatives of Centaurus. Don’t ever forget these two stars because you’ll encounter them elsewhere while learning about the top 10 brightest stars in our skies.


9. Canis Major

Canis major constellation

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The Canis Major is Latin for “Greater Dog”. And it’s certainly great since it also houses the brightest star in our night sky, the “Dog Star”. Or you could call it Sirius if that’s the name you’re most familiar with. We like to think of it as a hunting dog because it always follows Orion, the hunter.

This constellation hosts a total of seven stars. Those stars are affiliated to several different planets that orbit them the same way we orbit the sun. We’ve never had any meteor shower associated with this constellation.


10. Carina

Carina star constellation

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Ptolemy cataloged Carina, Vela, and Puppis as one constellation, the Argo Navis. But in the 18th century, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille felt Argo should be three different constellations. It took a while to convince other astronomers but once he did, they were added to the current constellation list in the 20th century.

At the moment, Carina hosts the second brightest star in our sky, the Alpha Carinae. In some circles, it’s known as the Canopus, an F-type bright giant. The other popular star in this sphere is Beta Carinae, which happens to be the 29th brightest star.

It has two binary stars—Avior and Eta Carinae—and Aspidiske, which is a rare white supergiant classified as a spectral type A8.

“Spectral Type” is the method we often use to describe stars, based on their surface temperatures. For example, spectral type A means the star has a surface temperature that ranges from 7,500 to 10,000K. The “8” is a subclass under class A, meaning it’s cooler than all the other stars assigned to that class.

telescope divider 2Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why Do We Keep Seeing Different Constellations?

The constellations are always different all year round because the time the stars rise and set keeps changing. For example, if they are rising at 6 AM and setting at 6 PM, the next month they’ll be 2 hours early. So, they’ll be rising and setting at 4 AM and 4 PM respectively.

We’ve also studied the seasons and learned that they normally move at 90-degree angles between seasons. Hence taking a whole year to cover 360 degrees, which is a full circle. That’s why Orion appears during winter in the northern hemisphere and disappears during summer, signaling the entrance of a different constellation. 

the north star (Polaris) in the night sky

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Why Are Constellations Important?

Historically, these constellations have always been important to sailors and farmers. The sailors relied on them during navigation, while the farmers used them to determine when the best time was to harvest or plant new crops. But things have changed since technology took over. Today we only study these celestial spheres whenever we’re trying to identify a new object in space or other constellations.

How Real Are Constellations?

To be honest, these spheres are not tangible but imaginary. They are merely a representation of our skies from a particular point of view. We like to think of them as two-dimensional maps that we’ve drawn in the sky to guide us. But the stars, dark clouds, and all the other celestial objects are very real.

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Final Thoughts

These are just 10 of the 88 constellations that we have in the sky. So, as you can tell, there’s still a lot to learn. You don’t have to be an expert or have any level of prior experience to understand these celestial spheres. Just grab a pair of binoculars, invest in a telescope, and start stargazing. Go through articles like this one whenever you find time and learn about the patterns to watch out for. Remember, you’ll only be able to develop this skill if you keep on practicing.


Featured Image Credit: Pike-28, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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