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 | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Centaurus Chart: (Figure 1) | Hyginus, 1482, page F3r: (Figure 2) | Bayer, 1661, page zRr: (Figure 3) | Bayer, 1697, page N1v: (Figure 4) | Bayer, 1697, page N2r: (Figure 5) | Bode, 1801, page l: (Figure 6) | Bode, 1801, page r: (Figure 7) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data


Partially visible only in March and April from 35 degrees north latitude. Until early modern times the Centaur included Crux, which now nestles underneath his body.

Skylore and Literature

Don’t miss the wonderful fantasy novel, Alpha Centauri, by Robert Siegel (Cornerstone/Crossway Books, 1980). Written in the spirit of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Siegel has written an enchanting story of how ancient Britain and the fate of a race of benevolent centaurs on a planet near Alpha Centauri all become bound up with the choices of one little girl.

Modern Culture

Origin and History

Centaurus is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.


Southern Pointers

Special Stars

Rigil Kentaurus, or Alpha Centauri, is the closest star system to our sun. It forms one of the forefeet of the Centaur, and a line from it through Hadar points to Crux. In 1689 it was discovered to be a binary star resolvable by telescope, and in 1915 a third star, located a fraction of a light year closer to us, was discovered and named Proxima Centauri. The two main components of Alpha Centauri are now known by spectroscopic evidence to be double stars, so there are actually five stars in this bright star system.

Hadar, a knee of the Centaur, is on a line from Alpha Centauri to Crux.

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


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Cen Chart
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Hyginus, 1482

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Bayer, 1661

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bode, 1801

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Bode, 1801

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Exhibit credit: Kerry Magruder.

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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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