History of the Constellations

Stars and Constellations


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Contents of this page: | Description | Skylore | Modern Culture | Origin and History | Asterisms | Star Clusters | Nebulae | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Sagittarius Chart: (Figure 1) | Ptolemy, 1541-const, page Sagittarius: (Figure 2) | Kepler, 1606, page 000tp: (Figure 3) | Kepler, 1606, page plate: (Figure 4) | Bayer, 1661, page zFf: (Figure 5) | Bayer, 1697, page K2r: (Figure 6) | Bayer, 1697, page K2v: (Figure 7) | Bayer, 1697, page K3r: (Figure 8) | Bode, 1801, page l: (Figure 9) | Aspin, 1825, page Sagittarius: (Figure 10) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data


Look for teapot pattern to the east of Scorpius, complete with handle, lid, and spout. Tea pouring from the spout would indicate the direction of the center of Milky Way, and the entire constellation is rich with many stars. Try binoculars in the area where clusters gather like steam rising from the teapot.

Sagittarius was a Centaur, the wise Chiron (KIGH-ron), teacher of Hercules and brave in battle. If you cannot see a creature half-man and half-horse in these stars, then try looking for a teapot. Four stars make the pot... Two stars form a handle... One star is a lid... And the tip of the bowman’s arrow makes a spout.

If you look right where tea would pour out of the spout, you are looking toward the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The sky in this direction is filled with stars.

Scan it with binoculars, and you will see cluster after cluster of stars, rising like little clouds of steam above the teapot.

The sun is in Sagittarius at its southernmost point, the winter solstice.

Skylore and Literature

Centaur, half-man and half-horse, shooting an arrow. Chiron, wise and courageous tutor to Hercules, was wounded in a terrible accident by a poison-tipped arrow shot by Hercules. In response to his anguished pleas for mortality to end the pain, Zeus exalted Chiron to the sky. See constellation Sagitta.

Modern Culture

Origin and History

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


  • Teapot
  • Teaspoon

Star Clusters

M17, Omega or Swan Nebula (Galacitc cluster), mag. 7.5.

M18 (Galactic cluster), mag. 7.2.

M21 (Galactic cluster), mag. 6.5.

M22 (Globular cluster), mag. 5.6.

M23 (Galactic cluster), mag. 5.9.

M24 (Galactic cluster), mag. 4.6.

M25 (Galactic cluster), mag. 6.2.

M28 (Globular cluster), mag. 7.6.

M54 (Globular cluster), mag. 7.8.

M55 (Globular cluster), mag. 6.2.

M69 (Globular cluster), mag. 8.0.

M70 (Globular cluster), mag. 8.1.

M75 (Globular cluster), mag. 8.6.


M8, Lagoon Nebula (Diffuse nebula), mag. 5.1

M20, Trifid Nebula (Diffuse nebula), mag. 8.5.

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

Sgr Chart
Figure 2 Figure 2 - Return to Text

Ptolemy, 1541-const

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Kepler, 1606

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Kepler, 1606

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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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