AskDefine | Define constellation

Dictionary Definition



1 an arrangement of parts or elements; "the outcome depends on the configuration of influences at the time" [syn: configuration]
2 a configuration of stars as seen from the earth

User Contributed Dictionary



constellātiōn, from con- “with” and stella “star”


  • /ˌkɒnstəˈleɪʃǝn/ italbrac RP
  • /ˌkɑnstəˈleɪʃǝn/ italbrac US
    Rhymes: -eɪʃǝn


  1. : Any of the 88 officially recognized collections of stars in the night sky.
  2. An arbitrary formation of stars perceived as a figure or pattern.
  3. An image associated with a group of stars.
  4. : The configuration of planets, as used for determining a horoscope.
  5. A wide, seemingly unlimited assortment.
    A constellation of possibilities.


collection of stars



  • IPA: /kɔ̃s.tɛ.la.sjɔ̃/
  • SAMPA: /


  1. constellation.

Extensive Definition

In common usage, a constellation is a group of stars that are connected together to form a figure or picture. The term is also traditionally and less formally used to mean any group of stars visibly related to each other, if they are considered as a fixed configuration or pattern in a particular culture. Some well-known constellations contain striking and familiar patterns of bright stars. Examples are Orion (containing a figure of a hunter), Leo (containing bright stars outlining the form of a lion), Scorpius (a scorpion), and Crux (a cross).
The astronomical definition of constellation is slightly different, however. A group of stars that can be connected to form a figure or a picture is called an asterism, while a constellation is an area on the sky. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) divides the sky into 88 official constellations with exact boundaries, so that every direction or place in the sky belongs within one constellation. In the northern celestial hemisphere, these are mostly based upon the constellations of the ancient Greek tradition, passed down through the Middle Ages, and contains the signs of the zodiac. The sun appears to pass through the 12 constellations of the zodiac (plus Ophiuchus) and ancient Greek astronomers believed they had a special significance.
The constellation boundaries were drawn up by Eugène Delporte in 1930, and he drew them along vertical and horizontal lines of right ascension and declination. However, he did so for the epoch B1875.0, the era when Benjamin A. Gould made the proposal on which Delporte based his work. The consequence of the early date is that due to precession of the equinoxes, the borders on a modern star map (eg, for epoch J2000) are already somewhat skewed and no longer perfectly vertical or horizontal. This skew will increase over the years and centuries to come.
In three-dimensional space, most of the stars we see have little or no relation to one another, but can appear to be grouped on the celestial sphere of the night sky.
A star pattern may be widely known but may not be recognized by the International Astronomical Union; such a pattern of stars is called an asterism. An example is the grouping called the Big Dipper (North America) or the Plough (UK).
The stars in a constellation or asterism rarely have any astrophysical relationship to each other; they just happen to appear close together in the sky as viewed from Earth and typically lie many light-years apart in space. However, one exception to this is the Ursa Major moving group.
The grouping of stars into constellations is essentially arbitrary, and different cultures have had different constellations, although a few of the more obvious ones tend to recur frequently, e.g., Orion and Scorpius.
The first ancient Greek works which dealt with the constellations were books of star myths. The oldest of these was a poem composed by Hesiod in circa the eighth century BCE, of which only fragments survive. They knew that these constellations were superstitious.
The most complete existing works dealing with the mythical origins of the constellations are by the Hellenistic writer termed pseudo-Eratosthenes and an early Roman writer styled pseudo-Hyginus.

Dark cloud constellations

Members of the Inca civilization identified various dark areas in the Milky Way as animals, and associated their appearance with the seasonal rains. These areas are commonly referred to by modern researchers as dark cloud constellations or dark nebula.

Chinese constellations

Chinese constellations are different from the Western constellations, due to the independent development of ancient Chinese astronomy. Ancient Chinese skywatchers divided their night sky in a different way, but there are also similarities. The Chinese counterpart of the 12 western zodiac constellations are the 28 "Xiu" (宿) or "mansions" (a literal translation).

Indian constellations

In Hindu/Vedic astronomy Rashi means constellation. Accordingly in a Celestial Zodiac, there are 12 Rashis altogether comprising 12 Nakshatras.

Constellation names and star designations

All modern constellation names are Latin proper names or words, and some stars are named using the genitive, or sometimes the ablative of the constellation in which they are found. These are formed by using the usual rules of Latin grammar, and for those unfamiliar with that language the form of the genitive is sometimes unpredictable and must be memorized. Some examples include: Aries → Arietis; Taurus → Tauri; Gemini → Geminorum; Virgo → Virginis; Libra → Librae; Pisces → Piscium; Lepus → Leporis. In addition, all constellation names have a standard three-letter abbreviation assigned by the International Astronomical Union; for example, Aries becomes Ari, Pisces becomes Psc, Sagittarius becomes Sgr and Ursa Major becomes UMa
Identification of stars within a given constellation includes use of Bayer designations such as Alpha Centauri, Flamsteed designations such as 61 Cygni, and variable star designations such as RR Lyrae. However, many fainter stars will just be given a catalog number designation (in each of various star catalogs) that does not incorporate the constellation name. Frequently, the abbreviated form of the constellation name is used in the star designation, e.g. Alpha Cen, 61 Cyg, RR Lyr.
For more information about star names, see star designations and the list of stars by constellation.


constellation in Afrikaans: Sterrebeeld
constellation in Tosk Albanian: Sternbild
constellation in Arabic: كوكبة
constellation in Asturian: Constelación
constellation in Azerbaijani: Bürc
constellation in Bengali: তারামণ্ডল
constellation in Bosnian: Sazviježđe
constellation in Breton: Steredeg
constellation in Bulgarian: Съзвездие
constellation in Catalan: Constel·lació
constellation in Chuvash: Çăлтăрлăх
constellation in Czech: Souhvězdí
constellation in Welsh: Cytser
constellation in Danish: Stjernebillede
constellation in German: Sternbild
constellation in Estonian: Tähtkuju
constellation in Modern Greek (1453-): Αστερισμός
constellation in Spanish: Constelación
constellation in Esperanto: Konstelacio
constellation in Basque: Konstelazio
constellation in Persian: صورت فلکی
constellation in French: Constellation
constellation in Galician: Constelación
constellation in Gujarati: નક્ષત્ર
constellation in Korean: 별자리
constellation in Croatian: Zviježđe
constellation in Ido: Stelaro
constellation in Indonesian: Rasi bintang
constellation in Italian: Costellazione
constellation in Hebrew: קבוצת כוכבים
constellation in Georgian: თანავარსკვლავედები
constellation in Swahili (macrolanguage): Kundinyota
constellation in Latin: Sidus
constellation in Latvian: Zvaigznājs
constellation in Luxembourgish: Stärebild
constellation in Lithuanian: Žvaigždynas
constellation in Lingala: Nzɔ́tɔ
constellation in Hungarian: Csillagkép
constellation in Malayalam: നക്ഷത്രരാശി
constellation in Maltese: Kostellazzjoni
constellation in Dutch: Sterrenbeeld
constellation in Dutch Low Saxon: Konstelloatsie
constellation in Japanese: 星座
constellation in Norwegian: Stjernebilde
constellation in Norwegian Nynorsk: Stjernebilete
constellation in Narom: Constellâtion
constellation in Novial: Stelaro
constellation in Occitan (post 1500): Constellacion
constellation in Polish: Gwiazdozbiór
constellation in Portuguese: Constelação
constellation in Romanian: Constelaţie
constellation in Quechua: Warani
constellation in Russian: Созвездие
constellation in Sicilian: Custiddazzioni
constellation in Simple English: Constellation
constellation in Slovak: Súhvezdie
constellation in Slovenian: Ozvezdje
constellation in Serbo-Croatian: Sazviježđe
constellation in Finnish: Tähdistö
constellation in Swedish: Stjärnbild
constellation in Thai: กลุ่มดาว
constellation in Vietnamese: Chòm sao
constellation in Tajik: Бурҷ
constellation in Turkish: Takımyıldız
constellation in Ukrainian: Сузір'я
constellation in Walloon: Sitoelreye
constellation in Contenese: 星座
constellation in Chinese: 星座

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Antlia, Antlia Pneumatica, Apus, Aquarius, Ara, Big Dipper, Caela Sculptoris, Caelum, Camelopardus, Cancer, Columba Noae, Corona Australis, Corona Borealis, Corvus, Crater, Crux, Dorado, Draco, Equuleus, Friday, Friday the thirteenth, Gemini, Grus, Hercules, Horologium, Hydra, Lacerta, Leo, Leo Minor, Lepus, Libra, Little Dipper, Lupus, Lynx, Lyra, Malus, Mensa, Microscopium, Monoceros, Musca, Norma, Northern Cross, Octans, Ophiuchus, Orion, Pegasus, Phoenix, Reticulum, Sagittarius, Scorpius, Sculptor, Scutum, Sextans, Southern Cross, Taurus, Telescopium, Triangulum, Triangulum Australe, Tucana, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Vela, Virgo, Volans, Vulpecula, appointed lot, astral influences, astrology, big name, book of fate, celebrity, cup, cynosure, destination, destiny, dies funestis, doom, end, fatality, fate, figure, folk hero, foredoom, fortune, future, galaxy, great man, hero, heroine, ides of March, idol, immortal, important person, inevitability, kismet, lion, lot, luminaries, luminary, man of mark, master spirit, moira, name, notability, notable, person of note, personage, planets, pleiad, pop hero, popular hero, popular idol, portion, public figure, social lion, somebody, star, stars, superstar, the Balance, the Bull, the Crane, the Cross, the Crow, the Cup, the Dragon, the Fly, the Foal, the Hare, the Indian, the Lion, the Lizard, the Lynx, the Lyre, the Mast, the Octant, the Rule, the Sails, the Sea Serpent, the Serpent, the Serpent Bearer, the Sextant, the Southern Crown, the Swan, the Table, the Telescope, the Toucan, the Twins, the Unicorn, the Virgin, the Water Bearer, the Wolf, the Wreath, unlucky day, weird, wheel of fortune, will of Heaven, worthy
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