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The Major Constellations

This list of major constellations is a highly subjective one. Not only does it display a bias to those constellations most easily seen from the Northern Hemisphere, but it is also heavily influenced by my own predilections. Just because a constellation is not listed does not mean it lacks importance or is uninteresting. You also will probably notice that not all the constellations of the zodiac are included. Many of the zodiacís constellations, such as Pisces and Aquarius, are dim and difficult to find, and I have tried to itemize the constellations that are easiest for a beginner to find.

The categorization of the constellations into winter, spring, summer, fall and circumpolar groups is also a bit arbitrary. Which of the constellations are circumpolar will of course depend on your latitude. Also, no constellation is restricted to a single season of the year. A skygazer willing to stay awake one long and very cold night in late December will observe almost every constellation that can be seen from his location. In the following list for instance, a spring constellation is one that can best be seen around eight-thirty on a spring evening.

There is a short description of major stars and unusual features, for each constellation. I have also included some background on the mythology connected with the constellations. The myths presented here are chosen for their aptness to skygazers. Keep in mind that there is often more than one myth for a constellation and that they frequently conflict with each other. Any direct quotes, unless indicated otherwise, are from Edith Hamilton's excellent book on mythology; any irreverence is my own.


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