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 asterisms.


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

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.

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.

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 the explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman.

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.

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.

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, right-facing, with two triangular wings.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

Canis Minor
Capricorn
Carina
Cassiopeia
Centaurus
Cepheus
Cetus
Chamaeleon
Circinus
Columba
Coma Berenices
Corona Australis
Corona Borealis
Corvus
Crater
Crux
Cygnus
Delphinus
Dorado
Draco
Equuleus
Eridanus
Fornax
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
Puppis
Pyxis
Reticulum
Sagitta
Sagittarius
Scorpio
Sculptor
Scutum
Serpens
Sextans
Taurus
Telescopium
Triangulum
Triangulum Australe
Tucana
Ursa Major
Ursa Minor
Vela
Virgo
Volans
Vulpecula
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License