Teaching Students About Constellations

What is a constellation?

A constellation is a group of stars in the night sky that make up a recognizable picture or pattern.

The shapes they might take include animals, objects, or people. Many of the human-shaped patterns have been named after mythological figures from the ancient world.

Constellations have many uses in astronomy, navigation, farming, and storytelling.

How many constellations are there?

There are 88 major star constellations in the sky. Unfortunately, you can’t see all of them at once, and some are nearly impossible to see without the help of telescopes – especially the brightest ones during the day.

What constellations you can see also depends on what part of the world you live in. Some of them can only be seen in the skies of the Northern Hemisphere, while others are most prominent in the Southern Hemisphere.

How do you find constellations?

Stargazing is a fun hobby, but some places make it more challenging to see the night sky in all its glory.

Light pollution from towns and cities can make the sky into one blurry color, hiding any stars you might want to see. Unfortunately, that means looking for constellations; you may have to travel to find somewhere dark and quiet.

Not to mention, you’ll not be able to see any stars if it’s cloudy! So make sure you check the weather when you plan your stargazing trips and pick a clear night.

Be sure to bring a compass with you to check what direction you’re looking in and some binoculars or a telescope to make things easier.

What is the most prominent star constellation?

The Hydra is the largest constellation in the night sky. It measures 1303 square degrees and also happens to be the longest at over 100 degrees in length. It’s easiest to spot in the Southern Hemisphere, but between January and May, you might also be able to see it further north.

This constellation is included in many ancient religions and mythologies as a great serpent, water snake, or hydra. The ancient Greeks and the Babylonians had a myth linked to the idea of a similar massive creature.

What is the minor star constellation?

The minor constellation is Crux, also known as the Southern Cross. Despite its small size at only 68 square degrees, this is one of the most important constellations for navigators in the Southern Hemisphere because it helps you find the direction of the South Pole.

Three of the brightest stars in the night sky are located in this constellation, which makes it extremely visible. Still, you must be careful when stargazing because there’s a similar one called the False Cross that you could confuse it with – hence the name.

What are the 12 most common constellations?

People often think of the Western zodiac when they hear’ constellations.’ These 12 constellations are:

  1. Aries
  2. Taurus
  3. Gemini
  4. Cancer
  5. Leo
  6. Virgo
  7. Libra
  8. Scorpio
  9. Sagittarius
  10. Capricorn
  11. Aquarius
  12. Pisces

You might have heard some of these names before without realizing they’re a part of this vital set of constellations! They’re sometimes known as star signs. What star were you born under?

Famous Star Constellations for Kids


As one of the most recognizable constellations in the night sky, Orion was named for the hunter in Greek mythology by the same name. Some archaeologists think that the oldest known representation of this constellation dates back 32,000 years to a mammoth ivory carving found in a cave in Germany.

Inside the constellation of Orion is a smaller set of three stars in a line. It is called Orion’s Belt because, as the name suggests, it looks like a belt!

Below the belt is a star that looks a bit fuzzy to the naked eye called a stellar nebula. Hundreds of young stars and planets outside our solar system are forming.

Ursa Major

Ursa Major is the third largest of the known constellations. Another name for it is the Great Bear. Nobody knows when it was first identified because it was already well-known by the 2nd century, included by the astronomer Ptolemy in his list of constellations. Some myths about hunting and great bears date back over ten thousand years!

It has a few key features, such as a smaller pattern of seven stars known as The Plough. It is an important constellation because it points towards the North Star, which helps people in the Northern Hemisphere navigate as if they had a compass.


Named for the winged horse in Greek mythology, Pegasus comprises a square set of four stars with others surrounding it. The number of stars you can see inside this square tells you how clear the night sky is. It’s graded as follows:

  • Less than four stars and visibility is poor.
  • Your atmosphere is good, clear, and dark, between four and thirteen stars.
  • More than thirteen stars and the skies are excellent for stargazing tonight.

Pegasus is attached to another constellation named Andromeda.


Cassiopeia is a massive constellation of stars in the northern sky that gets its name from a queen in Greek mythology. Cassiopeia is also known as the ‘W’ constellation because of its distinct W shape formed by the five brightest stars. The Greek astronomer Ptolemy first recorded the constellation in the 2nd century.

As mentioned, Cassiopeia gets its name from a Queen in Greek mythology of the same name. Cassiopeia was known for her vain and boastful character and was the wife of King Cepheus of Ethiopia. Her vanity was such that she once boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, who were sea nymphs famous for their beauty. Outraged at Cassiopeia’s claims, the Nereids appealed to Poseidon to punish her for her behavior. Poseidon agreed and sent a sea monster named Cetus, represented by the constellation of the same name, to ravage the coast of Cepheus’ kingdom. The story goes that Cepheus was desperate to end Poseidon’s punishment and turned to an oracle for help. The prophet informed him that the only way to appease Poseidon was to sacrifice his and Cassiopeia’s daughter, Andromeda, to Cetus. They obliged and left Andromeda chained to a rock for a sea monster to find. Thankfully for Andromeda, she was saved last minute by the Greek hero Perseus.

Poseidon cast Cassiopeia and Cepheus into the sky, where it is believed that Cassiopeia is condemned to circle the celestial pole for the rest of the time. Cassiopeia also must spend half of the year upside down as punishment for her vanity. Cassiopeia is usually depicted on her throne, combing her hair.

Canis Minor

Canis Minor is one of the smaller constellations in the northern sky. ‘Canis Minor’ translates to ‘the smaller dog’ or ‘lesser dog’ in Latin.

Much like Canis Major, this constellation represents the smaller of Orion’s two dogs. Both Canis Minor and Canis Major were first recorded by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century.

While the common moth myth surrounding Canis Minor is that it represents one of the dogs that follow Orion, the hunter in Greek mythology, other tales around the constellation exist. One story theorizes that Canis Minor represents Maera, the dog of the unlucky wine-maker Icarius. Unfortunately, Icarius’ bad luck followed him to the end, as he eventually died at the hands of a group of shepherds that he had given some wine. The shepherds, who had never tasted wine before, were shocked by the taste and thought that Icarius had poisoned them, so they killed him.

The dog, Maera, is believed to have discovered Icarius’ body and immediately ran to his daughter, Erigone. Completely overcome with the grief of losing Icarius, his daughter and his dog took their own lives.

Another myth surrounding Canis Minor, the constellation, is believed to represent the Teumessian fox. This animal was famous in Greek mythology for being impossible to outrun and was ultimately turned to stone by Zeus. Unfortunately, the King of the gods also turned his dog, Laelaps, to rock. To commemorate the event, Zeus placed Laelaps and the Teumessian fox in the sky, which is how we get Canis Minor.

Canis Major

In the version of events where Canis Major represents the Teumessian fox, Canis Major is believed to represent Laelaps, Zeus’ speedy dog. Laelaps’ speed made him stand out to the King of the gods, who lifted him into the skies to be one of his hunting dogs. Laelaps was so fast that he was said to be destined to catch any prey that he set his sights on. So impressed with this dog was Zeus that he presented him to Europa, a Phoenician princess in Greek mythology, as a gift, along with a weapon that he could never miss. Unfortunately, while she initially welcomed the grant, Europa was killed by the weapon that Zeus presented her with when her husband, Cephalus, was traveling.

The story of how Canis Major became a constellation goes like this. Cephalus was out hunting with Laelaps in Thebes in Boeotia, a Greek province of north Athens. Cephalus was attempting to hunt down a troublesome fox whose speed proved too much for Laelaps. The fox was destined never to be caught, which, combined with the fact that Laelaps was destined to catch any prey he set upon, created a sort of eternal chase. Seeing no end in sight, Zeus ended the pursuit by turning both animals to stone and placing them in the sky. Laelaps became Canis Major, and the Teumessian fox became Canis Minor.

In another myth surrounding Canis Major, the constellation is believed to represent the larger of the two dogs that follow the hunter, Orion.

As a constellation, however, Canis Major contains Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. It’s found in the Southern Hemisphere during the summer or the Northern Hemisphere in winter.

What are constellations used for?


Stargazers can often work out the position of one star from another using constellations. Learning them can make following the patterns in the night sky even easier. For example, if you can find Orion, you can probably find Canis Major and Canis Minor.

Even though technology has advanced so far that astronomers can now use coordinates and other techniques to be more precise, there’s still one more hidden function of the constellations. Their names make it easier to know what part of the sky people is talking about – a string of numbers isn’t as memorable as something like Andromeda or Aquarius!


Sailors and explorers have long since used the night sky patterns to find out where they are and how to get where they’re going. In addition to using the sun and the moon, constellations like the North Star and the Southern Cross were reliable ways to work out roughly what direction home was in.

For more accurate figures, navigators would need to use a sextant to measure the angle between stars and the horizon, along with other things like a clock and an almanac (a journal made up of a calendar, star information, and weather forecasts).

10 Fun Facts about Star Constellations for Kids

  1. The first star other than the Sun to be photographed was Vega. It can be found in the constellation Lyra, which is shaped like a harp.
  2. In 1922, the sky was divided into the 88 constellations we know today. Forty-eight were listed by Ptolemy, while 40 new ones were added.
  3. In most cases, the Greek myth for which a constellation is named has a Mesopotamian version that predates it.
  4. Farmers were some of the first people to use constellations in daily life. They had to use them to keep track of the seasons, especially in places where spring and winter weren’t clearly defined.
  5. The Plough is known as the Big Dipper in the United States.
  6. An asterism is a group of stars that isn’t an official constellation, even though non-astronomers and stargazers still think of it as one. An example of this is the Plough, which is a part of Ursa Major.
  7. We usually think of the Babylonians as the first ones to use maths to predict the movements of the stars – the first astronomers. However, their records from around 1000 BC use Sumerian names, meaning that they were referencing work from an even older civilization.
  8. The word constellation comes from Latin and means “set of stars.”
  9. Constellations are constantly traveling from the east to the west.
  10. The Sun is the only star in our galaxy which does not belong to a constellation.
Choose your Reaction!