Notes About Constellations

For millennia, people have looked at the night sky and identified patterns; groupings of stars that we ordinary folk refer to as "constellations". Although different cultures have identified and given names to different patterns, today the International Astronomical Union recognises 88 constellations that divide up the sky into regions. Note that last bit: because to astronomers and the IAU, constellations are not merely the patterns of stars that we might join with imaginary lines, but the region of the sky occupied by that pattern, and all of the other stars in that region whether joined into the pattern or not.

Zodiac Constellations

Constellation of Leo Pendant as sold via Brighid's Pagan JewelleryZodiac constellations are especially noteworthy. You have probably heard people say things along the lines of "being under the sign of Leo"? The earth is "under the sign of Leo" when the constellation of Leo is behind our sun. So as we move through the year, the earth is always "under" one or other of the zodiac constellations... although astronomers recognise 13 zodiac constellations (they include Ophiuchus) rather than the 12 used by most astrologers, and the names and dates are different.

In the case of the names the differences are slight, with astronomers using the names Scorpius and Capricornus where astrologers use Scorpio and Capricorn. The date differences come about because astronomers use the dates during which the sun is physically "in" the related space, whereas astrology uses a more even division of the year into 12: the solstices and equinoxes naturally divide the year into 4 equal parts, with the spaces between them being divided into 3, named after the "ruling" constellation.

Pattern Variations

Google your favourite constellation for images and you will find multiple variations. For example: Orion is sometimes shown as a group of 7 stars (his shoulders, belt, and knees). Sometimes his knees are joined with a line; sometimes not. Sometimes Meissa (his head) and/or the Orion Nebula (part of his scabbard) are included. Sometimes his arms and bow get included too.

Most of the variations that you see are purely down to artists, illustrators, etc., having copied from the first source they stumbled across without any further consideration for its accuracy. Other variations may be historical or cultural. However in my research, I've also noted variations in the images from the more scientific sources such as the IAU, Nasa, Collins books, Philip's Maps, and other reputable sources.

It seems that while there is agreement about the regions of the sky (a scientific necessity), there is no such agreement about which stars ought to be joined with lines when forming the patterns.

The Patterns I Use

As I've pointed out, even the more scientific sources vary, so we were left with two options: either to chose a single source and stick with it... or to make our own decisions based on various factors including artistic considerations.

One of my Constellation of Orion Pendant as sold via Brighid's Pagan JewelleryThe IAU has some nice constellation maps, and were I to choose a single source, they would probably be the one. However some of their maps are too complicated for the techniques I use. For example, the IAU map of Orion joins 8 stars just to form his bow! Were I to try to fuse that many glass balls onto a pendant sized piece of glass, you'd need a magnifying glass to see them if they didn't just disappear completely into the body of the glass. By limiting my design for Orion to the arrangement of 7 stars found in sources such as Philip's "Guide to the Night Sky" by Sir Patrick Moore, I've been able to create something that is aesthetically pleasing, technically viable, and a recognisably accurate representation of the constellation of Orion.

The same thinking has and will be applied to my other constellation designs.

Additional Notes

The glass constellation jewellery with wire wrapped bails, shown on this page, is available through Brighid's Pagan Jewellery.

IAU constellation maps can be found at
http://www.iau.org/public/themes/constellations/

Nasa has some interesting information about constellations at
http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/starfinder3/en/


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