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In the stars: Greeks named much of night sky

by Damaris Higgins
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Have you ever looked up at the night sky and spotted a constellation? Have you ever wondered how many constellations there are and where they originated from? I know I have. I thought that maybe this week we could spend some time learning about constellations and get to know some of them better over the upcoming weeks.

A constellation is a group of stars that, when we view them from Earth, form a pattern. Currently there are 88 official constellations. Constellations were originally named by ancient farmers. These ancient civilizations noticed that certain groupings of stars looked like familiar objects and would come and go with the seasons. Naming these groupings of stars and noting their places helped in the planting and harvesting of their crops with the changing seasons. The majority of the constellations that we still have records of were named by the Greeks and the names come mostly from Greek mythology. Today the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the officially recognized naming organization of celestial bodies, including constellations. The names of constellations have been fi xed since the 1930s and no more can be named.

The Big Dipper – which is one of the most recognized constellations is actually not a constellation at all. It is officially known as an asterism: a familiar shape of stars in the night sky that humans
have traditionally used to orient themselves.

Since the meteor shower last week involved the constellation Lyra, I thought I would share some information about that particular constellation. Lyra is in the northern hemisphere and was introduced by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century. The constellation is associated with the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, the great musician killed by the Bacchantes. Orpheus carried with him the first lyre ever made, invented by Hermes and given to him by the god Apollo. After Orpheus’ death, Zeus dispatched an eagle to fetch the lyre from the river where it had fallen and then turned both into constellations in the sky. The lyre became the constellation Lyra and the eagle became Aquila.

Did you know??? Pluto is no longer classified as an official planet in our solar system? Pluto is now known as a dwarf planet. The reason for the change is the term ‘planet’ finally having an official definition. According to this definition, a planet is an object that orbits the sun and is large enough to have become round due to the force of its own gravity. In addition, a planet has to dominate the neighborhood around its orbit. Pluto has been demoted because it does not dominate its neighborhood.

A student asked about Pluto this week while I was at Rock Creek Elementary School. So John, I hope this answers your question, and congrats on being right about Pluto now being called a dwarf planet!