History of the Constellations

Stars and Constellations


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

Images (at bottom of page): | Cetus Chart: (Figure 1) | Bayer, 1661, page zKk: (Figure 2) | Bayer, 1697, page L3v: (Figure 3) | Bayer, 1697, page L4r: (Figure 4) | Bode, 1801, page l: (Figure 5) | Bode, 1801, page r: (Figure 6) | Aspin, 1825, page Cetus: (Figure 7) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data


South of Aries and Pisces, one of the largest constellations. Trace to the second-magnitude star Beta-Ceti (Diphda, near the flukes) by following a line southward from Alpheratz (the corner of Pegasus and Andromeda) through gamma-Pegasi, across Pisces and Cetus.

Skylore and Literature

Killed by Perseus as he was attempting to devour Andromeda.

Modern Culture

Origin and History

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

Special Stars

Alpha-Ceti or Menkar is a red giant located in the whale’s head.

Mira lies very close to the brightest star of Pisces (the "knot" holding the two fish together). Hevelius named it Mira, which means marvellous or miraculous, because it was the first star to be recognized as varying in brightness (1596). Mira is visible only for a few weeks each year. Its period is 332 days, during which time it remains usually near the 9th magnitude, too faint to see. Then it brightens to magnitude 1.7, becoming the brightest star in Cetus! Mira shines with a deep reddish tint; as a red giant (like Aldebaran in Taurus) it is massive, and would contain the orbit of Mars. Declination: -3 degrees south.

UV Ceti, which is actually a pair of very dim red dwarf stars (A and B), lies only 8.4 LY away--the fifth closest star system. UV Ceti B is a flare star, and varies from 13th magnitude (not visible to the naked eye) to the 6th magnitude, 250 times brighter (in 1952 this flare-up occurred in only 21 seconds). Why some red dwarfs flare in this way is not known.

Tau-Ceti is the 20th closest star, and the closest solar-type star, which makes it a favorite candidate in the search for extra-terrestrial life. Very few naked-eye stars are dimmer than the Sun, but the luminosity of Tau-Ceti is 0.45 (Sun = 1). Magnitude 3.5. Distance: 11.8 LY.


M77 (NGC1068), spiral galaxy, viewed face-on.


M77 (Spiral galaxy), mag. 8.9. Although this galaxy is not especially impressive through a telescope, it is exceptionally massive, and may contain a giant black hole in its core.

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

Cet Chart
Figure 2 Figure 2 - Return to Text

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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Aspin, 1825

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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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