Where did constellations come from?


Quick Answer

Constellations came from the imaginations of people who looked up at the stars and saw patterns that they ascribed to their gods, goddesses, heroes and figures from their mythologies. Although scientists don't know who the very first people to set up constellations were, there are indications that at least a handful of constellations were in place as early as 4000 B.C.

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Full Answer

About half of the constellations known today were also known to the ancient Greeks and Babylonians. At some point, the ecliptic was identified. This is the path the sun travels on its journey across the sky. The constellations that also travel along the ecliptic are members of the Zodiac. These are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius and Pisces. All of these constellations are associated with Greek mythology.

In the second century, Ptolemy, an Egyptian astronomer, catalogued 48 constellations. However, he could only catalogue those constellations and stars that he could see from Alexandria. It took until the 16th century, when navigators journeyed to the Southern Hemisphere, before more stars and constellations were charted. As of 2014, the International Astronomical Union lists 88 constellations. Some of these include Caelum, the chisel, Microscopium, the microscope, and Volans, the flying fish.

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