You are here

Taurus, the Bull

Aldebaran outshines all the other stars that outline the bull's face. But Aldebaran isn't a member of the Hyades cluster — it just lies in the same direction. It's about 70 light-years away, half as far as the stars of the Hyades. Aldebaran is a red-giant — an old, bloated star that's used up most of its nuclear fuel. It's much larger and much brighter than our own middle-aged Sun.

Perseus, the Hero

In classical Greek mythology, Perseus beheaded the snake-headed Medusa to save the princess Andromeda from a nasty sea monster. A few drops of Medusa's blood fell into the sea, mixed with the foam, and gave birth to Pegasus, the flying horse, who later played a part in the story of another hero, Bellerophon.

Capricornus, the Sea-Goat

Capricornus looks like a large triangle of fairly bright stars. The brightest stars are side-by-side at the triangle's western tip. Farthest west is Giedi — the goat. Binoculars reveal that this is really two stars. Although the stars appear near each other, they're really separated by a thousand light-years. The closer of the two is about 115 light-years from Earth, while the other is 10 times farther. Just southeast of Giedi is Dabih, the slaughterer — a name that refers to sacrifices made by ancient Arabs when Capricornus rose at the same time as the Sun.

Scorpius, the Scorpion

The brightest star in Scorpius is Antares, which is in the middle of the scorpion's curving body. This brilliant red star is one of the behemoths of our stellar neighborhood. If you placed it at the center of our own solar system, it would swallow Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, and almost reach Jupiter.

Sagittarius, the Archer

The constellation originated in Sumeria, then was picked up by the Greeks. But they appear to have missed something in the translation. The original story may have described a satyr, which was part man and part goat. One of these creatures was credited with inventing archery, which was why he was depicted in the sky with a bow and arrow. The Greeks kept the bow and arrow, but changed the creature.

Lyra, the Harp

The legend of Lyra tells the story of Orpheus, who was given a harp by the god Apollo. Orpheus' music was sweeter than that of any other mortal man. It could soothe any savage, bring joy to the heart of the weary. It was even said that rivers changed course to stay near its beauty.

Orpheus married the lovely maiden Eurydice. But after their wedding, as she walked with her bridesmaids, she was bitten by a snake and died.

Cygnus, the Swan

The constellation's brightest star is Deneb — an Arabic word that means "the tail." Deneb represents the tail of the swan but the top of the cross. The swan's outstretched wings form the horizontal bar of the cross, while the head of the swan, a double star called Albireo, is at the bottom of the cross.

Although it lies about 1,500 light-years from Earth, Deneb shines brightly in our night sky because it's a white supergiant — a star that's much larger, hotter, and brighter than the Sun. Deneb is the northeastern point of a star pattern called the Summer Triangle.