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 | Star Clusters | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Gemini Chart: (Figure 1) | Hyginus, 1482, page E3r: (Figure 2) | Ptolemy, 1541-const, page Gemini: (Figure 3) | Bayer, 1661, page Z: (Figure 4) | Bayer, 1697, page H3r: (Figure 5) | Bayer, 1697, page H3v: (Figure 6) | Bayer, 1697, page H4r: (Figure 7) | Bode, 1801, page l: (Figure 8) | Aspin, 1825, page Gemini: (Figure 9) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data


Look for the two bright stars, Castor and Pollux, which form one vertex of the Winter Hexagon. Castor is closer to Capella, in Auriga on the north; and Pollus is closer to Procyon, in Canis Minor on the south. Cancer and Leo lie to the east.

Skylore and Literature

To the Greeks, Castor and Pollux were the twin sons of Zeus and the mortal woman Leda. Homer’s Iliad tells how the beauty of their sister Helen "launched a thousand ships" in the Trojan war. After Castor’s death, Pollux was overwhelmed with grief, and wanted to share his immortality with his twin. Finally Zeus reunited them by placing them together in the heavens. With the oath "By Jiminy," sailors revered the Gemini twins as the Protectors of ships.

The Geminids meteor shower, around October 19.

In Middle Earth, Gemini may have been known as Telumendil (Skyfriend). Telumendil was said to be above Orion, set as a companion for him. (Rachel Magruder)

Modern Culture

Origin and History

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


Winter Hexagon (see Taurus).

Special Stars

The two bright stars Castor and Pollux together form one vertex of the Winter Hexagon. Castor, on the Capella side, is actually six stars in one, ceaselessly revolving around one another in an intricately-choreographed cosmic dance. Pollux is the nearer of the twins, about 35 light years from the sun. Castor lies at a distance of 45 light years, and is a little less bright than Pollux.

Star Clusters

M35 (Galactic cluster), mag. 5.6.

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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Gem Chart
Figure 2 Figure 2 - Return to Text

Hyginus, 1482

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Ptolemy, 1541-const

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Bayer, 1661

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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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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