The Universe in the Classroom


TABLE: The Constellations

The Latin names and meanings of the official 88 constellations are given below. The original 48 constellations of Ptolemy are indicated with an asterisk*. Ptolemy's constellation Argo the Boat was later divided into three parts (Carina, Puppis, and Vela, which are noted).

Latin Name Meaning Latin Name Meaning Latin Name Meaning
Andromeda* Daughter of Cassiopeia Cygnus* The Swan Pavo The Peacock
Antlia The Air Pump Delphinus* The Dolphin Pegasus* The Winged Horse
Apus Bird of Paradise Dorado The Swordfish Perseus* Rescuer of Andromeda
Aquarius* The Water-Bearer Draco* The Dragon Phoenix The Phoenix
Aquila* The Eagle Equuleus* The Little Horse Pictor The Painter
Ara* The Altar Eridanus* The River Pisces* The Fishes
Aries* The Ram Fornax The Furnace Piscis Austrinus* The Southern Fish
Auriga* The Charioteer Gemini* The Twins Puppis* The Stern (of Argo)
Boötes* The Herdsman Grus The Crane (bird) Pyxis The Compass
Caelum The Chisel Hercules* The Son of Zeus Reticulum The Reticle
Camelopardalis The Giraffe Horologium The Clock Sagitta* The Arrow
Cancer* The Crab Hydra* The Water Snake (female) Sagittarius* The Archer
Canes Venatici The Hunting Dogs Hydrus The Water Snake (male) Scorpius* The Scorpion
Canis Major* The Big Dog Indus The Indian (American) Sculptor The Sculptor
Canis Minor* The Little Dog Lacerta The Lizard Scutum The Shield
Capricornus* The Goat Leo* The Lion Serpens* The Serpent
Carina* The Keel (of Argo) Leo Minor The Little Lion Sextans The Sextant
Cassiopeia* The Queen Lepus* The Hare Taurus* The Bull
Centaurus* The Centaur Libra* The Balance Telescopium The Telescope
Cepheus* The King Lupus The Wolf Triangulum* The Triangle
Cetus* The Whale Lynx* The Lynx Triangulum Australe The Southern Triangle
Chamaeleon The Chameleon Lyra* The Lyre Tucana The Toucan
Circinus The Compasses Mensa The Table Ursa Major* The Great Bear
Columba The Dove Microscopium The Microscope Ursa Minor* The Little Bear
Coma Berenices Berenice's Hair Monoceros The Unicorn Vela* The Sails (of Argo)
Corona Australis* The Southern Crown Musca The Fly Virgo* The Maiden
Corona Borealis* The Northern Crown Norma The Square Volans The Flying Fish
Corvus* The Crow Octans The Octant Vulpecula The Fox
Crater* The Cup Ophiuchus* The Serpent-Bearer    
Crux The Cross Orion* The Hunter    

Activity Corner: Three-Dimensional Orion

by Sally Stephens, ASP Education Coordinator

Orion, the Hunter, is one of the few constellations that looks like what it is supposed to be (see picture). It is not hard to envision a hunter holding a shield and a sword, defending himself against a charging Taurus the Bull. But the stars that make up Orion lie at very different distances from the Sun. Their resemblance to a human figure is a chance alignment. Viewed from another angle, they would not look anything like a hunter. To illustrate this, we can make a three-dimensional model of Orion's stars in space.


Large sturdy piece of cardboard (15" by 12")
7 cotton balls
Glue or tape
Pin or scissors (to make holes)



Tie string around each cotton ball (which represents a star), leaving at least 20 inches of string trailing off from the cotton ball. Place cardboard so that the long side is facing you. That side will be called the "front". For each star, measure as far along the front edge from the right hand corner as indicated by the number in the column marked "Measurement from Right". Then, measure back along a line perpendicular to that edge, a distance equal to that in the column marked "Measurement from Front", and make a hole in the cardboard with a pin or the tip of a scissors at that point. Thread one string through the hole so that the cotton ball hangs down under the cardboard the same distance as in the column marked "Length of String". Tape or glue the string to the top of the cardboard so that the "star" will not move. When all the stars have been put in their place in space, hold the cardboard up so that the "front" is again facing you. You will see the stars of Orion in their familiar pattern. Turning the cardboard will show the positions of the stars in space relative to one another. Also, note that the stars only look like a hunter when viewed from certain perspectives.

Name of Star Measurement from Right Measurement from Front Length of String
Betelgeuse 13 3/4" 1 7/16" 1 15/16"
Rigel 3 3/4" 4 7/16" 13 5/8"
Bellatrix 6 1/4" 1 5/8" 2 3/4"
Mintaka 8" 10 13/16" 7 3/4"
Alnilam 9" 5 9/16" 8 3/8"
Alnitak 10 1/4" 5 1/8" 8 15/16"
Saiph 12" 5/16" 14 3/4"

Other Constellation Activities

Given a star chart without constellation figures marked on it (whether real star charts or made-up star patterns), students can invent their own constellations, looking for patterns in the stars that appeal to them. Students can then be asked to make up stories to go with their new constellations.

Older students can research the constellation patterns and stories that other cultures saw in the night sky and compare them to the more familiar Greek ones. This can be done by reading books and articles, or by interviewing family members or friends.

Maps of the stars in the constellations can be useful in the classroom. Slide sets, such as Star Maps (a sample of which is on the previous page) which show actual pictures of each constellation in the night sky and separate line drawings of the constellation figures, can help students identify the constellations as part of homework assignments or evening "star parties." This can be especially helpful for students without easy access to a planetarium.

For Further information about Constellations:

Especially for Younger Children:

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