The Constellations in the Sky

We've heard the abstract astronomy word constellation, but what does this word actually mean? Is it discussing stars, planets, or perhaps UFO’s? The truth is that in ancient times, constellations simply referred to a shape formed in the sky by the stars or easily seen celestial bodies. This shape could be of an animal, figure or event, but all were formed by ancient peoples, usually in reference to their belief or faith system. A host of different ancient civilizations had their own constellation systems; the Aztecs and other Central American cultures being notably interested in astronomy. Constellations hold deep cultural and religious meanings for many early civilizations, which is why they are often deemed as a story within the stars.

A very peculiar and much more common in the southern hemisphere type of constellation is the concept of Dark Cloud constellations. This specific type of constellation is basically dark patches within the Milky Way that stand out and cast shadows. These unique forms of constellations, shared in the cultural significance of other constellations during ancient times. The people of South America, notably the Inca civilization, put a great deal of spiritual significance into dark cloud constellations. Each different constellation had a very important symbolic meaning. Since these cultures believed that these constellations were of great connection or created by the will of their gods, they were seen as spiritual animals and seen as related to the coming seasonal rains. One of the most famous Dark Cloud constellations is known as the emu in the sky; it was a large part of Aboriginal astronomy and culture. In modern times however, constellation is a more scientific term, which refers a defined space within the galaxy also known as a celestial sphere. It was only from the original, ancient definition of a group of celestial bodies or stars that the new, scientific definition emerged. In 1922, Henry Norris Russell, divided the celestial sphere into 88 constellations that are often times named after mythological characters such as Scorpius or Leo. Many of these constellations had previously been identified by the ancient Greeks and the Romans, who, like many other ancient cultures, were very interested in the stars. In order to pay homage to these early studies of the skies, Russell kept the mythological themes and Greek names of the constellations. Currently the 88 constellations are broken into two categories, in which 37 belong to the northern hemisphere, and the remaining 51 belonging to the southern hemisphere.

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