History of the Constellations

Stars and Constellations


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Contents of this page: | Description | Skylore | Modern Culture | Origin and History | Asterisms | Special Stars | Nebulae | Galaxies | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Carina Chart: (Figure 1) |

Constellation Data


Locate Canopus by drawing a line from the easternmost star of Orion’s belt down through Rigel, Orion’s left foot. Canopus lies about twice as far from Orion’s belt as Sirius.

Skylore and Literature

See the constellation page for Argo Navis.

Modern Culture

Origin and History

One of 17 constellations created by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1756. Originally part of Argo Navis, which was included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.


Between Canopus and Crux are the False Cross (nearer Canopus, shared by Carina and Vela) and the Diamond Cross (nearer Crux, in Carina). These are fainter than Crux and were once part of Argo Navis.

Special Stars

Canopus is the second brightest nighttime star. Distance: 1200 LY. Magnitude: -0.7. Canopus is 200,000 times brighter than the Sun. Although it appears slightly less bright than Sirius, it is 7,500 times as bright as Sirius. Declination: -52 degrees 42 minutes south. Canopus is visible from Alexandria, Egypt, but not Greece, a fact often cited to show that the Earth is spherical. Canopus was named by Eratosthenes ca. 250 B.C, working in Alexandria. Some people claim to see a trace of yellow in Canopus.


In 1843, Eta-Carina was brighter than Canopus! It is a nova-like irregular variable star found within a diffuse interstellar gas cloud known as NGC 3372.

A 3-D photo is available on the Internet from NASA, as described on the north gallery wall inside the planetarium (get your 3-D glasses ready!).

Glowing clouds of gas make this nebula one of the most spectacular sights in the Milky Way. The Eta Carinae nebula is believed to be a stellar nursery, where stars are forming from the obscuring clouds of dust and the luminous gaseous material.


Between Canopus and the south pole lies the Large Magellenic Cloud (LMC), located in the constellation Dorado the Swordfish.

Submit new info...

Many excellent websites provide a variety of information about constellations for amateur astronomers and telescope users (see sidebar links for a few of these). These constellation pages are not intended to duplicate those efforts, but are devoted to two aims: First, they are intended to assist the beginning skywatcher, including students in history of science survey courses, in becoming familiar with Basic Celestial Phenomena (BCP). Second, these pages are devoted to the history of the constellations and the history of astronomy. They are intended to serve as a repository for collaborative use and reference. Do you have additional historical information about the stars or constellation described on this page? Please submit additional information to kmagruder@ou.edu. Submissions will be attributed. Editors for historical information are Kerry Magruder, JoAnn Palmeri, Peter Barker, and Laura Gibbs.

Oklahoma History of Science exhibits: http://hos.ou.edu/exhibits/. Page revised 4/15/04

Bad links, misplaced images, or questions? Contact Kerry Magruder. Thank you.

"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile." R. W. Emerson, Nature


Figure 1 Figure 1 - Return to Text

Car Chart

Exhibit credit: Kerry Magruder.

Exhibit Links
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These teaching resources provided by the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Image Terms of Use.

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