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This is a picture of what ancient people thought the constellation Leo looked like.
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Image: (c)1995 Visual Language, All Rights Reserved

Constellations

Many cultures have seen distinctive patterns, called constellations, formed by the stars in the heavens. Constellations are usually comprised of bright stars which appear close to each other on the sky, but are not necessarily close to each other in space. The positions of the stars relative to each other in the sky depends on your point of view. Many societies associated patterns among the stars with gods and goddesses or stories from their culture.

Most of the constellations visible from the northern hemisphere which are "officially" recognized are of ancient Greek derivation. But other civilizations created their own patterns in the sky based on stories and people that were important to them.It is important to recognize the cultural bias introduced in our vision of the sky by the selection of these constellations.

Many peoples also noticed that the planets, the moon, and comets moved through the sky in a different way than the stars. They noticed that, over time, these objects appeared to move with respect to the constellations.

Because of the rotation of the Earth and its orbit around the Sun, it is convenient to divide the constellations into two groups. Some constellations never rise nor set, and they are called circumpolar. All the rest are divided into seasonal constellations. Which constellations will be circumpolar and which seasonal depends on your latitude.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF