Constellations

A constellation is loosely defined as a visual grouping of stars based on some pattern or apparent resemblance to something else. There are 88 modern constellations, as defined and codified in 1922 by the International Astronomical Union, but there have been many varieties and versions of constellations between cultures and throughout history. It is somewhat common to refer to star groupings other than these 88 constellations with the more general tern "asterism."

Another fun fact: the specific branch of study concerned with mapping and naming asterisms is called uranology.

The 12-ish zodiacal constellations, those which intersect the ecliptic plane of our Solar System, have been granted symbols that are ubiquitous in astrology. Dennis Moskowitz [1] extended this set to include all 88 modern constellations, which I reproduce here, in some cases slightly modified to fit the symbology as a whole. Many of the symbols here constitute elements (symbemes?) of other symbols, which can be explored through tags.

For obsolete constellations and other asterism symbols, see the asterisms page.


[1] "New Constellation Symbols," Dennis Moskowitz, retrieved Aug. 27, 2018. https://www.suberic.net/~dmm/astro/constellations_t.html

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Andromeda (And)

This northern constellation has been represented as a woman in multiple cultures, but it was Ptolemy who first named it after the princess Andromeda (lit. "ruler of men") from Greek myth, daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. When her mom boasted that Andromeda was more beautiful than all the nereids, Poseidon punished them, leading to Andromeda being chained to a rock and under attack by the sea monster Cetus. Then, Perseus saved her, and they married.

Because it is often known as "The Chained Lady," the symbol for this constellation is a depiction of the two shackles that she would have worn on her wrists, and a three-link chain of tiny circles that connects them.

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Antlia (Ant)

This southern constellation, originally called Antlia Pneumatica, was originally cataloged and named by French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille, to commemorate the air pump invented by Denis Papin, and as a celebration of the Age of Enlightenment.

The symbol for this constellation is a stylized representation of a single-cylinder vacuum pump.

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Apus (Aps)

This southern constellation is named after the bird-of-paradise, an avian species native to Australia. This name comes from the Greek "footless," as this type of bird was once thought to have no feet. An alternate etymology is based on a misspelling of Latin avis meaning bird, as apis, which actually means bee. It was first created by Petrus Plancius from the observations the explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman in the 16th century.

The symbol for this constellation is a simple representation of a bird, with downward-arced wings and a head facing to the left, as it was often represented in uranometric drawings.

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Aquarius (Aqr)

This zodiacal constellation is named after the Latin word for "water-carrier." In Babylonian, Greek, and Chinese traditions, it was seen as a vase from which water boured, sometimes held by a man. In Greek myth, this constellation was originally 53311 Deucalion or Ganymede or Cecrops I.

The traditional symbol of this constellation is a pair of zig-zagged lines, one on top of the other, representing flowing water.

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Aquilae (Aql)

This northern constellation is named after the Latin word for "eagle." In Greek mythology, it was identified as the eagle of Zeus, which carried his lightning bolts. It was also thought to be the eagle that carried Ganymede/Aquarius to the heavens. Sometimes it was carrying Antinous a sub-constellation that is now obsolete. In Hinduism, this constellation was identified with Garuda, and in ancient Egyptian astronomy, it was associated with Horus.

The symbol of this constellation is a simple representation of a bird, left-facing, with two triangular wings.

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Ara (Ara)

This southern constellation is named after the Latin word for "altar." In Greek mythology, it was the altar at which the gods first joined forces to defeat the Titans.

The symbol of this constellation is a squarish altar with an arced top, and a Vestan plume of smoke above.

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Aries (Ari)

This zodiacal constellation is named after the Latin word for ram. This region of the sky was considered to be a ram by the Babylonians, Egyptians, Medieval Muslims, and Greeks. In Greek mythology, it was specifically considered to be the golden ram from which came the golden fleece, stolen by Jason.

The traditional symbol for this constellation is a pair of curved horns, which happens to be identical to the symbol for a spring. See the tag aries for specific examples.

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Auriga (Aur)

This northern constellation is named after the Latin word for "charioteer." In Greek myth, it is associated with various charioteers and horse riders, and also several goats, including Amalthea.

The symbol of this constellation is an image of a chariot from the front — a tall rounded arch, with the profile of wheels on either side.

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Boötes (Boo)

This northern constellation is named after the Greek word for "ox-driver," referring to a shepherd or plowman. There is no strong consensus in Greek myth as to who this is supposed to represent, but different stories relay some possibilities: perhaps a son of Demeter named Philomenus, perhaps a student of Dionysus named Icarius, or perhaps Arcas, the son of Callisto.

The symbol of this constellation is a shepherd's crook, not unlike the symbol for Ceres, except reversed, curved, and without the cross.

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Caelum (Cae)

This southern constellation is named after the Latin word caelum, meaning "chisel," and not the Latin word caelum, meaning "sky." It was originally cataloged and named by astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille.

The symbol for this constellation is a simplified chisel, represented as a tool with a short triangular handle and a long body ending with a stylus-like tip, oriented to point to the lower-right.

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Camelopardalis (Cam)

This dim northern constellation was named after the Latin form of a Greek portmanteau of the words for camel and leopard. It is an archaic word that refers to a giraffe — long-necked like a camel, spotted like a leopard. It was invented by astronomer Petrus Plancius in 1613.

The symbol for this minor planet is the stylized form of a giraffe: a small horse body, with a proportionally long neck curved into a crane-like shape.

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Cancer (Cnc)

This zodiacal constellation is named after the Latin word for "crab," and is often represented as one, but is sometimes represented as a scarab beetle, lobster, crayfish, or even a tortoise. In Greek myth, it was considered to be the crab that bit Heracles on the foot while he was busy fighting the Hydra.

The traditional symbol for this constellation is supposed to represent a crab's pincers. It is a pair of adjacent circles with an arc coming off of each one, and is reminiscent of a yin-yang symbol, or a reversed and rotated "69."

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Canes Venatici (CVn)

This northern constellation is named after the Latin for "hunting dogs." It was created by Johannes Hevelius, and refers to two dogs specifically, which he adorably named Asterion (the northern one, Greek for "little star") and Chara (the southern one, Greek for "joy"). Interestingly, the concept of this group of stars being a pair of dogs came not from Hevelius, but from a series of mistranslations. Ptolemy referred to these stars as constituting the club of Boötes, which was approximated in Arabic as Boötes' "spearshaft with a hook," which was mis-translated into Latin as "spearshaft with dogs."

The symbol for this constellation is two inverted triangles, one on top of the other. Such triangles are a recurring symbol for canines in this symbology, from dogs to foxes to wolves.

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Canis Major (CMa)

This southern constellation is named after the Latin for "greater dog," contrasting with Canis Minor, both of which are sometimes considered to be Orion's dogs, as they appear to chase him through the night sky. In Greek mythology, this dog represented a couple of different dogs, but one of them was Laelaps, Europa's hunting dog who could catch anything she hunted.

The symbol for this constellation is a triangular dog's head, with a circular arc coming from the left corner — reminiscent perhaps of a dog sniffing its own butt.

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Canis Minor (CMi)

This small northern constellation consists of only two stars visibly to the naked eye. There aren't many myths or figures associated with this constellation, as simply a pair of stars does not create much of a picture in the mind's eye. The Greeks associated this constellation with the uncatchable Teumessian fox. The Egyptians associated it with the god Anubis. Often, it was either not noticed, or just said to be the small neighbor of Canis Major.

The symbol of this constellation is a triangular god's head, with a small curve coming off the lower point. This represents a smal dog's short tail, possibly tucked between its legs in fear, and both elements together represent the pairing of the bright and dimmer star that make up the constellation.

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Capricorn (Cap)

This zodiacal constellation is named from the Latin for "horned goat." It is often represented as a sea-goat, a mythical goat-like creature with the lower half of a fish. This association has existed for over 4000 years.

In Greek myth, this constellation is variously identified, someitmes as Amalthea, the she-goat who nurtured an infant Zeus, or as Pricius, father to a race of intelligent mer-goats, or as Pan, horned god of nature.

The traditional symbol of this constellation is a pair of Aries-like horns with a looping fish tail to the right, represented by the Unicode symbol ♑.

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Carina (Car)

This southern constellation was originally cataloged and named by French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille. It is named after the keel of a ship. It was once part of the larger constellation Argo Navis, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts.

The symbol of this constellation is the body of a ship, represented as a rectangular shape with a slanted left side and a curved right side, with three vertical oars descending from the middle.

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Cassiopeia (Cas)

This northern constellation is named after the mythical queen of Aethiopia, wife of Cepheus and mother of Andromeda. When she boasted that her daughter was more beautiful than all the Nereids, Poseidon bound her to the sky as this constellation. She is sometimes depicted as sitting in a throne, or wielding a scepter.

The symbol of this constellation, instead of relating to the mythical figure, is a depiction of its highly distinct shape of an asymmetric "W".

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Centaurus (Cen)

This southern constellation is named after the Greek mythical beings known as centaurs, half-horse half-human people. According to Ovid, it specifically refers to the centaur Chiron, who was rewarded with a place in the heavens for accidentally being killed by Hercules' arrow. Similarly, the Babylonians saw this constellation as being a bison-man.

The symbol of this constellation is a simple depiction of a centaur: a horse's body with a circle over a cross as the human torso and head.

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Cepheus (Cep)

This northern constellation is named after a king of Aethipoia from Greek myth. He is the husband of Cassiopeia and the father of Andromeda. Aethipoia corresponds only loosely to the country that is today called Ethiopia; in the time of the ancient Greeks, this referred to any people living in what they considered the "far reaches" of Africa, sometimes including the Egyptians.

The symbol of this constellation is a crown over the Phoenician letter kāp, the first sound of the name Cepheus. This alphabet was chosen because the Phoenician alphabet was widespread through the Mediterranean, and the Phoenician civilization overlapped some with the half-mythical and abstract nation of Aethiopia.

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Cetus (Cet)

This northern constellation is named after a kind of sea monster from Greek myth, specifically the one slain by Perseus in order to save Andromeda. This is not to be confused with the sea goddess Ceto. Cetus has been depicted as all kinds of beasts, ranging from dragon-fish to strange amalgams of animal parts and fish bodies. In modern times, this constellation is usually called "The Whale," referring to the clade of cetaceans named after it.

The symbol of this constellation is a simple depiction of a left-facing whale, with a bulbous curved head and a tail arcing up and back.

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Chamaeleon (Cha)

This southern constellation is named after the chameleon, a clade of lizards. It was first created by Petrus Plancius from the observations the explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman in the 16th century.

The symbol of this constellation is a left-facing chameleon, consisting of a head (the upper-left quarter of a circle) and a tail (a horizontal line coming from the base of the head, ending in a large inward spiral.)

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Circinus (Cir)

This southern constellation was originally cataloged and named by French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille. It is the Latin word for the compass drawing tool, as a draughtsman might use.

The symbol of this constellation is a representation of the compass and the circle it might draw. It is a small circle, with two line segments, one originating in the center and one on the left side, meeting above the circle at about a 30 degree angle.

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Columba (Col)

This southern constellation is named after the Latin word for dove. It was invented in 1952 by astronomer Petrus Plancius who split off this collection of faint stars from the Canis Major constellation. He originally recorded it as "Columba Nohae" or "Columba Noachi," the dove that warned the biblical Noah of the flood. Later authors speculate that this constellation actually has ancient origins, despite Ptolemey's omission of it in the Almagest, and that given its proximity to Puppis and the other Argo Navis constellations, it actually symbolizes the dove that Jason and the Argonauts used to navigate the Symplegades.

The symbol of this constellation is a profile of a dove composed of two curves that meet at a point at the beak, facing left as all birds in this symbology do. This dove shape can also be found in the symbol for 14 Irene, and the symbols of the astronauts who died in the Columbia shuttle disaster.

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Coma Berenices (Com)

This constellation refers to the hair of Queen Berencies II of Egypt (267 or 266 BCE – 221 BCE). In one myth, she cut off a lock of her hair and sacrificed it to Aphrodite so that her husband would return victorious from war. That lock of hair was then placed in the heavens. This constellation is the only one named after a figure from history. It first appeared in Johann Bayer's Uranometria in 1603, split off from Leo.

The symbol for this constellation is a braid of hair, oriented along the positive diagonal, made of two symmetric thrice-crossing curves.

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Corona Australis (CrA)

This southern constellation, first recorded in Ptolemey's Almagest, is named after Latin for "southern crown." It has also historically been known by the name "Corona Austrina." The Greeks saw it as more of a wreath, possibly belonging to Sagittarius or Centaurus.

The symbol of this constellation is an angular crown, with a central peak resembling the capital Latin letter A.

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Corona Borealis (CrB)

This northern constellation, first recorded in Ptolemey's Almagest, is named after Latin for "southern crown." In Greek myth, it represented the crown given by the god Dionysus to the Cretan princess Ariadne, his intended bride.

The symbol of this constellation is a curved crown, with a central peak resembling the capital Latin letter B.

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Corvus (Crv)

This southern constellation is named after the Latin word for "crow." In Greek myth, the crow was originally a servant of Apollo, but its white feathers were turned black when the crow lied to him or told him an unpleasant truth.

The symbol of this constellation is a simple depiction of a crow's footprint, as a vertical line with two forward diagonal lines, resembling three front toes and one back toe.

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Crater (Crt)

This southern constellation is named after the Latin word for "cup." It is mythically associated with the constellations Corvus and Hydra, and the god Apollo.

The symbol of this constellation is a depiction of a cup that is not used anywhere else in this symbology. It consists of an open lower hemisphere of a circle, with a broad trapezoidal base.

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Crux (Cru)

This southern constellation is named after the Latin word for "cross." It first appeared in Johann Bayer's Uranometria in 1603, split off from Centaurus. It is easily distinguished, as its four main stars are quite bright, and it is often referred to as the Southern Cross, both because of its location in the southern hemisphere, and the fact that it points roughly to the southern celestial pole. This constellation appears on many flags and emblems.

The symbol of this constellation is a Christian-esque cross, with the vertical line as a downward arrow.

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Cygnus (Cyg)

This northern constellation is named after the Latin word for "swan." It is identified with a number of different people from Greek myth, including Zeus who became a swan to seduce Leda, Orpheus who was cursed to become a swan, or King Cygnus who was cursed similarly. In some tellings, Cycnus was the brother of Phaethon, who grieved him after his chariot accident, and was placed in the stars for his devotion.

The symbol of this constellation is a depiction of a left-facing swan, with a sickle-like head with an arched neck, and with a body of a large upper-half of a circle.

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Delphinus (Del)

This small northern constellation is named after the Latin word for "dolphin." There are two stories about this constellation from Greek myth: one is that it's a symbol to commemorate the man who helped Poseidon woo Amphitrite. The other is that it is was the dolphin that saved the Greek poet Arion of Lesbos.

The symbol of this constellation is derived from its highly distinctive shape. It is a small trapezoid, with a long curved downward tail.

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Dorado (Dor)

This constellation was named for the dolphinfish, Coryphaena hippurus, called dorado in Portuguese. It is the only constellation whose name does not come from Latin. It was first created by Petrus Plancius from the observations the explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman in the 16th century. It has also in recent history been depicted as a goldfish, or as a swordfish named Xiphias.

The symbol of this constellation is a simple fish glyph, facing the upper left as does Delphinus, with an open mouth.

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Draco (Dra)

This northern constellation is named after the Latin word for "dragon." It is usually depicted as a dragon or great serpent that nearly encircles the northern celestial pole. It is connected to a few monsters in myth:

  • Ladon, a dragon from Greek myth, guardian of the garden of the Hesperides and protector of the golden apples that grew there, slain by Heracles.
  • A dragon defeated by the Roman goddess Minerva, and tossed into the sky as punishment.
  • Typhon, the monstrous offspring of Gaia.

The symbol of this constellation is a depiction of a dragon (appearing as a serpent with an open mouth) coiled around the base of a tree that resembles a Latin capital letter T.

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Equuleus

This northern constellation is named after the Latin word that translates into "little horse," meaning a foal or a pony. It's name reflects the fact that it is directly adjacent to Pegasus in the night sky, and it is a much smaller constellation, sometimes only considered to be the head of a horse. In Greek mythology, this constellation is sometimes said to represent the horse Celeris, the speedy brother of Pegasus, given to Castor by Hermes.

The symbol of this constellation is a simple depiction of a horse facing left, with a front and back leg, a long neck and head, and a tail.

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Eridanus (Eri)

This southern constellation is supposed to represent a river, flowing across the sky. River-related asterisms pop up for this collection of stars in multiple cultures, but there is no consensus as to what real or mythical river it might refer to. The Greeks associated it with the Po River in Italy, and the Nile River in Egypt, and some myths said it was the path that Phaethon's disastrous piloting of the Sun took. Indian astronomers associated it with the Ganges. The Babylonians associated it with the marshy city of Eridu, and the mythic aquifer beneath it that was the source of all life — this is likely the source of the constellation's name.

The symbol of this constellation is three Aquarian waves oriented vertically, representing a river's flow.

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Fornax

This southern constellation is named after the Latin word for "furnace." It was originally cataloged and named by French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in 1752, who called it le Fourneau Chymique, le Fourneau, and later Fornax Chimiae. The name refers to a chemical furnace, possibly referring to industrial blast furnaces which are used for metallurgy.

The symbol for this constellation is a simple depiction of a furnace like a blacksmith might use: a large square, with an inverted-U opening and a horizontal line representing the heated surface.

Gemini
Grus
Hercules
Horologium
Hydra
Hydrus
Indus
Lacerta
Leo
Leo Minor
Lepus
Libra
Lupus
Lynx
Lyra
Mensa
Microscopium
Monoceros
Musca
Norma
Octans
Ophiuchus
Orion
Pavo
Pegasus
Perseus
Phoenix
Pictor
Pisces
Piscis Austrinus
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Puppis (Pup)

This southern constellation was originally cataloged and named by French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille. It is named after the aft part of a ship, known in nautical parlance as the poop deck. It was once part of the larger constellation Argo Navis, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts.

The symbol of this constellation is a representation of the cabins that exist on the aft side of sailing ships. It is a horizontal rectangle with a single stairstep on the left side, and an arc above on the right side, representing perhaps the ship's rudder.

Pyxis
Reticulum
Sagitta
Sagittarius
Scorpio
Sculptor
Scutum
Serpens
Sextans
Taurus
Telescopium
Triangulum
Triangulum Australe
Tucana
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Ursa Major (UMa)

This northern constellation is named after a Latin phrase meaning "great she-bear." The seven bright stars that are in this constellation form a very common asterism known as The Big Dipper, resembling a spoon or plow or wagon. Incredibly, a great diversity of cultures identify this constellation as a great hunted beast like a bear or an elk, with rather similar myths. In Greek myth, this constellation is associated with the hero Kallisto, pursued by Zeus and cursed by Hera.

The symbol for this constellation is a simple depiction of the shape of the constellation. It is a wave with a horizontal line over the right part, resembling a spoon with a curved handle.

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Ursa Minor (UMi)

This northern constellation is named after a Latin phrase meaning "lesser bear." It contains the star Polaris, known as the bright star closest to the celestial north pole. The stars that are in this constellation form a very common asterism known as The Little Dipper, resembling a small spoon.

The symbol of this constellation is a simple depiction of the shape of the constellation. It is a rotated square, like the Pallasian lozenge, with a left-curving vertical line above.

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Vela (Vel)

This southern constellation was originally cataloged and named by French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille. It is named after the sail of a ship, known in nautical parlance as the poop deck. It was once part of the larger constellation Argo Navis, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts.

The symbol of this constellation is a depiction of a sail. It is a large square, with the left and right sides replaced with a shallow curve to the left, with a vertical mast bisecting the shape.

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Virgo (Vir)

This zodiacal constellation is named after the Latin word for "virgin." In Greek myth, this constellation is associated with a number of goddesses and female figures, including the goddess of justice Astraea, the suicidal woman Erigone, and the goddess of spring Persephone.

The symbol for this constellation resembles a large lowercase Latin letter m, with a curve on the right side that somewhat resembles a fish. I do not know what this symbol represents or why it is used, but like the other zodiacal symbols, it has been around for a long time. It is represented in Unicode by U+264D, with the symbol ♍.

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Volans

This southern constellation's name is a modern shortening of the original name, Piscis Volans, is a Latin phrase meaning "flying fish." It was first created by Petrus Plancius from the observations the explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman in the 16th century. Plancius originally named it in Dutch, "Vliegendenvis," referring to a type of tropical fish that jumps out of the water.

The symbol for this constellation is a simple fish glyph, pointing to the upper left like the other fish constellation symbols, with a symmetric half-circle arc over it representing wings.

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Vulpecula (Vul)

This northern constellation is named after the Latin word for "fox." It was created in 1690 by Hevelius, published in Firmamentum Sobiescianum. It was originally conceived of as a fox with a goose in its mouth, a short-lived constellation named Anser.

The symbol of this constellation is a canine inverted triangle, with extended upright ears.

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