Practical exercise 2: TYPES OF CONSTELLATIONS

The students should divide the constellations according to their names – animals (birds, terrestrial animals, mythical creatures), people (women and men), objects (scientific tools and others), depending on the level of knowledge of the kids.

Necessary materials:

  • • list of constellations,

    • table with the constellations divided into groups.

The students are provided with a list of all constellations and an empty table which should be filled with the constellations divided into groups. The table consists of 3 main categories of constellations: people, animals and objects. The “people” category could be subdivided into “men” and “women”. The “animals” category could be split into terrestrial animals, aquatic animals (not fish), birds, and mythical creatures. The “objects” category can be divided into “science tools” and “others”. For older children, a category of “tools used in astronomy” could also be added.

At first, the children could be provided the opportunity to divide the constellations according to these criteria on their own. In any case, at a certain stage, it s advisable that the teacher helps in the process since the children are likely to encounter difficulties with many of the constellation names. Many of the names taken from the Ancient Greek mythology are unknown to the students. Some of the constellations have personal names: Cepheus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Hercules, Orion; Others are named after “occupations”: Aquarius, Boötes, Auriga, Pictor, Sculptor, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius; The third subgroup consists of Gemini and Virgo. The case of Sagittarius is , however, peculiar because it is a mythical creature – a Centaur, or a creature with an upper body of a human and the body of a horse. Similarly, Coma Berenices can be included both in the “females” category, as well as in “objects”. You can allow the students to decide on their own where to place these constellations. This would likely cause a discussion and allows the students to think further and therefore to remember the constellation names.

The “animals” category contains almost no problems. The students should be able to divide them into the four categories relatively easily. Some of the students might encounter a problem with Tucana as this bird cannot be found at our latitudes and is therefore relatively unknown. Dorado and Volans could also provoke confusion whether they are real animals or mythical creatures. However it turns out that these names corresponds to existing types of fish. This is also the case for Apus, which corresponds to a group of birds existing in nature.

The “mythical creatures” category also includes some “animals” which could trick the students. Most of these names are so common that they could confuse even adults whether they correspond to existing animals. Special attention should be paid to Cetus, as in some languages its translation corresponds to the word for “whale”. However, Cetus corresponds to the mythical creature with multiple heads from the legend about Ceptheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Perseus, Pegassus and Cetus. Many constellations are named after objects and tools. The teachers could develop further categories, but in the suggested table the constellations are divided into “scientific tools” and “everyday objects”.

After completing the table, some of the following questions could be posed to the students:
“How many men are there on the sky?” – 14 (Gemini counts are two men).
“How many women can be found on the sky?” – 4
“How many dogs can be found on the sky?” – 4 (Canes Venatici includes 2 dogs).
“How many horses can be found on the sky?” – 3 (Equuleus – the only real animal from the three, Pegasus and Monoceros). The students could also add Sagittarius and Centaurus to this category as these mythical creatures are half-horse half-human.

“How many fish can be found on the sky?” – 5 (as there are 2 fish in Pisces). If we include all aquatic animals, then the total number is 8.

Many other questions similar to these could be added. Their goal is to make it easier for the students to learn the constellations names, as well as to provoke their curiosity and imaginations so that they recognize the constellations more easily on star maps and on the sky.

It could be interesting for the students to color the zodiac constellations in difference colors depending on their category. Thus they can easily discover on their own that all zodiac constellations are living creatures except for Libra. This will help them remember the origin of the work “zodiac”.

If more advanced, the students could be asked to color in different colors the different types of constellations: equatorial, circumpolar and those crossed by the Milky way. This task, however, requires that the students have access to a star map or a suitable computer software. This activity could also be done after the third topic is covered and the students already have learned about the other classifications of the constellations as well as with the proper and apparent motions on the sky. Depending on the level of the students, the teachers could improvise and create different versions of the task and questions.

APPENDIX 2a is a filled in table for the teacher in which the constellations are colored as follows:
- Yellow – zodiac constellations
- Blue – Circumpolar constellations
- Green – equatorial constellations