Stars are the first things that attract a child’s interest in the night skies. For many, even for experienced astronomers, the starry night skies remain a source of wonder and a thing of beauty. Knowing the constellations, from the most magnificent to the smallest, enhances all aspects of our experiences of the night sky. I spend some time every observing session just standing and looking up.
Constellations have deep cultural importance. They are beautiful in their own right, and naked-eye astronomy is available to everyone who can see the stars. Many constellations also hold some of the earliest stories of Western civilisation: the Greek, and even pre-Greek, myths. Other cultures placed their own stories into the skies, and learning our culture’s constellations can lead to learning the constellations and stories of others.
At a practical level, constellations are the cities of the stars; knowing them and their arrangements gives us a roadmap to the skies, helping us locate individual stars and other sights.
And let’s not forget that people who are interested in and appreciate the beauty of the stars are more likely to be active in preserving dark skies.
In the Sky School, I hope you will learn to identify the major constellations, and learn some of their stories and myths. I use the figures developed by H.A.Rey, which are the only figures I’ve ever seen that make the constellations look like what they are supposed to look like. I use his book The Stars – A New Way of Seeing .
Along with this site, I have developed the Constellation Challenge series. If you participate in this, you will, as with the other lists we seem to love almost as much as our telescopes, check off constellations as you see them. Whether you see constellations as the traditional “connect the dots” figures, the “stick figures” of H. A. Rey, or some other method, try to see all the major stars making the shape of the constellation. On the lists, I’ve suggested numbers of stars in each constellation; it’s just a suggestion.
I hope this site and the Constellation Challenge series bring enjoyment to sky-lovers, and make new sky-lovers, too.