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What are constellations?

The stars of the constellation of Scorpius (scorpion). The constellation contains Antares, a star 300 times larger than the Sun.Constellations are patterns of stars in the sky. People once thought they looked like gods, heroes or animals from legends. The ancient Greeks knew of 48 constellations. When Europeans sailed the southern oceans on voyages of exploration, they discovered constellations they had never seen before. Today, the sky is divided into 88 constellations. Different constellations can be seen in the northern and southern skies.

Constellations of Northern and Southern hemispheres
A line running from the two end stars in the Plough, Merak and Dubhe, points (almost) to the Pole Star.

Pole Star

Years ago, sailors used the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear) to help find their way across the oceans. The seven middle stars of Ursa Major make up the Plough. A line running from the two end stars in the Plough, Merak and Dubhe, point to Polaris, the Pole Star, which lies almost exactly due north.

Stars in most constellations look as if they are close together. They are, in fact, located far apart in space. An exception is Ursa Major, some of whose stars are actually relatively close to one another.

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