Monday, April 20, 2009

Looking at the sky

Constellation, in common usage, is a group of stars that appear to form a configuration in the sky; properly speaking, a constellation is a definite region of the sky in which the configuration of stars is contained. Identifiable groupings of bright stars have been recognized and named since ancient times, the names corresponding to mythological figures (e.g., Perseus, Andromeda, Hercules, Orion), animals (e.g., Leo the Lion, Cygnus the Swan, Draco the Dragon), or objects (e.g., Libra the Balance, Corona the Crown). Ptolemy listed 48 constellations in his Almagest (2d cent. A.D.).

As systematic observations were extended to the entire southern sky from the 17th cent. on, more constellations were added to the list by J. Bayer, N. L. de Lacaille, and others. The final list consists of 88 constellations, each associated with a definite region of the sky. Thus, the entire celestial sphere celestial sphere, imaginary sphere of infinite radius with the earth at its center. It is used for describing the positions and motions of stars and other objects.

The sky is divided according to a plan prepared by Eugene Delporte, with the boundaries fixed by international agreement in 1930, along lines of right ascension right ascension, in astronomy, one of the coordinates in the equatorial coordinate system.

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