Constellation family

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This article is about western constellations. For East Asian and Chinese constellation groupings, see Chinese constellations.
Equirectangular plot of declination vs right ascension of the modern constellations with a dotted line denoting the ecliptic. Constellations are colour-coded by family and year established. (detailed view)

Constellation families[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] also known as a constellation groups[10] or groups of constellations,[11][12] are gatherings of constellations within the same region of the celestial sphere. Some constellation families are named after their most important constellation within the group. Some others are named after the zodiac or themed on mythological regions;[13][14] "Heavenly Waters" is a more recent grouping. Astronomers Nicolas Louis de Lacaille and Johann Bayer, who invented the constellations in the southern sky, contributed as well. There are eight modern constellation families: Ursa Major, the Zodiac, Perseus, Hercules,[15] Orion, Heavenly Waters, Bayer, and La Caille. All are based on ancient collections of constellations.[16] The Ancient Egyptians had a particular area of the sky with several separately identified constellations collectively known, celestially speaking (not just the underworld), as the Duat.

Ursa Major Family[edit]

The Ursa Major Family is a group of 10 constellations composed of Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, Canes Venatici, Boötes, Coma Berenices, Corona Borealis, Camelopardalis, Lynx, and Leo Minor. This family can be found around the north celestial pole. The prototypical constellation Ursa Major contains the famous Big Dipper.[6]


Main article: Zodiac
The Earth in its orbit around the Sun causes the Sun to appear on the celestial sphere moving over the ecliptic (red), which is tilted on the equator (blue).

The Zodiac is a group of 12 constellations composed of Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, and Cancer. These constellations have zodiac signs. The ecliptic and the sun apparently pass through these constellation throughout the year. However, the Sun and the ecliptic also pass through the constellation Ophiuchus, which doesn't have a zodiac sign. The northern zodiacal constellations are in the eastern celestial hemisphere and the southern are in the west.[6]

Perseus Family[edit]

The Perseus Family or Perseus Group[17] is a group of 9 constellations composed of Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Andromeda, Perseus, Pegasus, Cetus, Auriga, Lacerta, and Triangulum. It spans from near the north celestial pole down to –30°. Six of the constellations are named for figures in the Perseus myth – Perseus, his winged horse Pegasus, Andromeda, her parents Cepheus and Cassiopeia, and the sea monster Cetus.[6][18]

Hercules Family[edit]

The Hercules Family is a group of 19 constellations composed of Hercules, Sagitta, Aquila, Lyra, Cygnus, Vulpecula, Hydra, Sextans, Crater, Corvus, Ophiuchus, Serpens, Scutum, Centaurus, Lupus, Corona Australis, Ara, Triangulum Australe, and Crux. Several of the constellations, including Hercules and Centaurus, are named for figures in the Heracles myth, while Lyra is the lyre of Orpheus.[6] It is the largest constellation family, spanning from +60° down to –70°, mostly in the western hemisphere.

Orion Family[edit]

The Orion Family[9][12][19] is a group of 5 constellations composed of Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Monoceros, and Lepus. This group of constellations represent the hunter (Orion) and his two dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor) chasing the hare (Lepus). The unicorn (Monoceros) was a later addition.[6]

Heavenly Waters[edit]

The Heavenly Waters, also known as the Cosmic Waters,[2][20] is a group of nine constellations composed of Delphinus, Equuleus, Eridanus, Piscis Austrinus, Carina, Puppis, Vela, Pyxis, and Columba. These constellations are associated with lake, river, sea creatures, and ship, in reference to the former constellation Argo Navis, which included what is now Carina, Puppis, and Vela.[6][21]

Bayer Family[edit]

The Bayer Family, also known commonly as the Bayer Group,[6] is a group of 11 constellations composed of Hydrus, Dorado, Volans, Apus, Pavo, Grus, Phoenix, Tucana, Indus, Chamaeleon, and Musca. These constellations were introduced to the public by Johann Bayer (hence the name) in 1603. All are named after animals, mostly water animals like the water snake (Hydrus) and the goldfish (Dorado).[6] Because these constellations are located in the far southern sky, they were not visible for the ancient Greeks and Romans. Bayer acquired them from Petrus Plancius who had directed others that the southern skies be charted.

La Caille Family[edit]

The La Caille Family is a group of 13 constellations composed of Norma, Circinus, Telescopium, Microscopium, Sculptor, Fornax, Caelum, Horologium, Octans, Mensa, Reticulum, Pictor, and Antlia. These constellations were introduced by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille (hence the name) in 1756. Mensa (the table; originally "Mons Mensa" for table mountain) was named after Table Mountain in South Africa where his observatory was located; the remaining dozen were named after scientific instruments and apparatuses like the telescope, microscope, and reticle.[6] Because these constellation are located in the far southern sky, they were not visible for the ancient Greeks and Romans.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Majumdar, R. C., et al. (1951), The Vedic Age (vol. 1), The History and Culture of the Indian People (11 vols.), Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (publisher), 1951, Delhi, India.
  2. ^ a b Sundaramoorthy, G. (1974), "The Contribution of the Cult of Sacrifice to the Development of Indian Astronomy", Indian Journal of the History of Science, Indian National Science Academy, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 100–106, 1974, Bombay, India.
  3. ^ Kronberg, Christine (5 August 1996). Constellation Families. Munich Astro Archive. Accessed 3 Feb 2011.
  4. ^ Constellations. Enchanted Learning.
  5. ^ Das, S. R. (1930), "Some Notes on Indian Astronomy", Isis (journal), University of Chicago, Vol. 14, No. 2, October, 1930, pp. 388–402.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Donald H. Menzel (1983). "A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets" (PDF). HarperCollins. pp. 4–9. Retrieved January 29, 2011. 
  7. ^ Neugebauer, Otto, & Parker, Richard A. (1960), Egyptian Astronomical Texts (4 vols.), Lund Humphries (publisher), London.
  8. ^ Clagett, Marshall (1989), Calendars, Clocks, and Astronomy (vol. 2), Ancient Egyptian Science – A Source Book (3 vols.), [Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society], American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1989.
  9. ^ a b Top Astronomer
  10. ^ Condos, Theony (1997), Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans: A Sourcebook, Phanes Press, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1997. Note that the term used in this reference is "constellation-group".
  11. ^ Young, Charles Augustus (1888), A Text-Book of General Astronomy for Colleges and Scientific Schools, Ginn & Company (publisher), Boston, 1888.
  12. ^ a b Schaaf, Fred (2007), The 50 Best Sights in Astronomy and How to See Them – Observing Eclipses, Bright Comets, Meteor Showers, and Other Celestial Wonders, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 2007.
  13. ^ Noah, William (2005). Astrology of America: The Purpose-Driven Meaning of America's Astrological Chart. iUniverse. p. 45. Retrieved January 29, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Constellations are clusters of stars". The Sunday Observer. December 5, 2004. Retrieved January 29, 2011. 
  15. ^ Favorite Animated Ballets. In the Hands of a Child. p. 13. Retrieved January 29, 2011. 
  16. ^ Pussel, Ryofu (2010). A Critical Analysis of the Buddhist 88-Temple Pilgrimage on Shikoku Island, Japan. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 113–114. Retrieved January 29, 2011. 
  17. ^ The Boy's Own Paper (1890), [James Macaulay (Supervising Editor)], Religious Tract Society (publisher), London, 1890. Note that this weekly paper (at this period of time) was also published collectively as an annual, The Boy's Own Annual; Vol. 12, 1890. The term used was "the Perseus group of constellations".
  18. ^ True Peters, Stephanie (2003). Andromeda. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 10. Retrieved January 29, 2011. 
  19. ^ "Some Remarkable Spectroscopic Binaries", The Observatory (journal), Vol. 23, March 1900, pp. 127–129.
  20. ^ Brown, W. Norman (1942), "The Creation Myth of the Rig Veda", Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 62, No. 2, June 1942, pp. 85–98.
  21. ^ Schneider, Howard; Wood, Sandy (2009). National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Night Sky. National Geographic Books. pp. 187–188, 196. Retrieved January 29, 2011. 

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