Astronomical Perspective of the Constellations
From a purely scientific astronomical perspective of the constellations, there are no constellations – at least not in the way they are depicted on astronomical charts. In fact, the 88 recognised constellations only exist in the imaginations of observers who wish to see something that is not there.
Nevertheless, the figures associated with the constellations have played a major part in the religion, worldview, and belief systems of large parts of humanity for several thousand years, and even today, the arbitrary arrangement of stars and other celestial objects along our line of sight form the basis of astrology, the practice of which has remained largely unchanged for at least 2000 years.
So, how well do you know the 12 constellations that constitute the Zodiac? Do you know what objects forms their principal shapes, or the relationships between these objects? Or if any constituent objects are related at all? Read on to learn more.
While the International Astronomical Union recognises only 88 constellations today, the fact is that more than 1000 other “constellations” have been recognised by various cultures in different times and traditions throughout the history of humanity- but what is a constellation exactly? Why do we see figures in the sky?
If it were not for the fact that human vision cannot perceive depth (the distance at which one object is beyond another), at distances beyond a few miles, the constellations would not have existed at all. From our perspective, and given the facts that on the one hand, human vision cannot resolve stars and other objects into discs because of their exceedingly small angular diameters, and that all celestial objects seem equally far away because we cannot perceive depth at astronomical distances on the other, the night sky seems to be speckled with points of light that are all the same distance away from the observer.
It is only when one object occults another, which is a way of saying that one object passes in front of another, thus obscuring the furthest object from view as seen from earth, that the spatial separation of celestial objects become apparent. Against this background, it is easy to “see” shapes, figures, and asterisms that derive from the arbitrary arrangement of objects. Thus, if the differences in the distances of the component stars of Orion were apparent to an observer, the figure of the Hunter would have appeared in three dimensions, and thus, indistinguishable from the background stars.
Seeing is believing…
In fact, from the perspective of an observer on Earth, or anywhere else for that matter, the entire night sky would have appeared three dimensional, which would have made it impossible to discern any sort of shape of structure in the way objects were arranged.
The table below list the distances from earth of some of the objects in the constellation of Orion, because it is visible from both hemispheres, and arguably the easiest constellation to recognise. Other constellations such as Aries, which will be discussed in some detail as the first constellation of the Zodiac, is not so easy to recognise, which makes a comparison of relative distances less illustrative.
Star Distance (light years) Magnitude Luminosity (×Solar)
Betelgeuse 429 0.4 59 000
Bellatrix 243 1.6 6 000
Meissa 1069 3.4 12 000
Alnitak 826 1.7 47 000
Alnilam 1360 1.7 112 000
Mintaka 919 2.3 28 000
Algiebba 906 3.3 21 000
Saiph 724 2.1 19 000
Rigel 777 0.2 51 000
From the above example, which lists the distances to objects with an average margin of error of less than 10% as determined by parallax measurements by the Hipparcos satellite , it will be seen that the objects making up the constellation of Orion are in no way related, although in a few instances, individual stars that belong to Associations (groups of stars with a common origin and proper motion) may fall into one constellation, while other members of the group fall into other, neighboring constellations.
It’s The Same Everywhere…
Although relative distances from earth to objects vary in all 12 Zodiacal constellations, the same rule applies to all – the objects in them are not related. In the series that follows, we will be discussing all the constellations that make up the Zodiac in some detail, with brief descriptions of their principal stars, the deep sky objects they contain, as well as some of the mythology behind the figure or symbol the constellation represents.
Thanks for reading,
Psychic Madeline Rose
Here’s a site where you’ll find my writings.
The Bravehearts of Belgrave High is now published. I have completed the first in a series of novels that I wrote for teens. It is the courageous story of a young girl growing up in a home filled with domestic violence. She also has to endure a school and neighbourhood full of bullies. We read how she maneuvres her way through such a difficult situation. Plus, how she grows because of it, among other themes in the novel.
The desired outcome for young readers is that they will be inspired to treasure their unique differences. If they don’t fit in with the system or with those around them, then they should realise that it’s quite okay not to fit in.
My first novel was written to help raise funds for the private foundation that I established, which might later become a charity. Click here if you’d like to be taken to the site where you can purchase this novel. If you cannot see the site, use a browser other than Chrome.
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