Science

5 constellations you’ve never heard of

In 1928 the official list of constellations was decided upon by the International Astronomical Union, dividing the sky into 88 groups of stars. Most of us can probably name about 15 of these, such as the astrological constellations or the easier ones to spot, like Orion and the Big Dipper.

But what about the other 60 or so constellations that pass overhead every night? Here are five that you have never heard of that you can try to spot the next time you are gazing up at the night sky.

Equuleus

Detailed, labeled illustration of the Equuleus constellation
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Of the 88 official constellations, 48 of them come from an ancient source. These constellations, all in the Northern Hemisphere, can be traced back to ancient Greek written records and are assumed to have oral storytelling origins that are even older than that.

One of these ancient constellations is Equuleus, which translates to "the little foal" in Latin. Equuleus is sometimes referred to as Equus Primas because it rises just before its neighbor, Pegasus.

It is the second smallest constellation in the sky and is a very dim constellation, visible only in areas without light pollution. Despite being hard to see, it is composed of some massive stars, including one that is three times the size of the sun and 75 times more luminous.

Lynx

Illustration of the Lynx constellation
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The Lynx is a constellation that got its name not from any resemblance to the animal, but because it is so difficult to spot that the astronomer who named it, Johanas Hevelias, said that anyone who could see it must have the eyes of a Lynx.

The constellation was designated to fill a hole in the night sky that existed between the well-known Ursa Major and Augura star groups. The largest star in the Lynx is Alpha Lyncis, which, despite being of a massive size, is a dying star that has moved past its brightest stage and remains difficult to spot.

Mensa

Illustration of the Mensa constellation on a starry background
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Mensa is one of the southernmost constellations in the night sky. Its name means "table" in Latin and was given to it by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, a French astronomer who named many of the constellations in the southern sky after somewhat mundane objects.

Despite sharing a name with an organization of individuals with high IQs, Mensa is one of the dimmest constellations. Despite being difficult to see, astronomers have identified that two of the stars in the constellation have planets orbiting them.

Monoceros

Image of a bright starry part of outer space
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This large constellation’s name means "the unicorn" in Latin and sits between the famous Orion and Hydra constellations. The constellation was set and named by Petrus Planicus in 1612, a clergyman and astronomer who decided to name it after the references to the mythical animal in the Old Testament of the Bible.

Like most of the lesser-known constellations, it can be difficult to see with the naked eye if there is any light pollution present. However, it does contain some interesting deep space objects, including the Messier 50. This cluster of stars includes 16 solar systems with known planets.

Camelopardalis

Illustration of the Camelopardalis constellation in the night sky
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You may be surprised to learn that Camelopardalis is an ancient Greek word for "giraffe". When the giraffe was first encountered by Latin speakers, the shape of the animal reminded observers of a camel with the spots of a leopard, leading to its hybrid-sounding name.

The constellation was given this name by Flemish astronomer Petrus Planicus in the 1600s. He was reminded of a giraffe because of the many sets of bright stars that he thought resembled the spots of a giraffe.

Many more to find

Photo of a starry night sky
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These five little-known constellations only scratch the surface of what you can see on a clear night. Not only can you try and find all these official constellations, there are also the unofficial constellations that didn’t make the cut in 1922 – including Cerberus, the three-headed dog; Officina Typogrphica, the printing office; and Apis, the bee.

The next time you have a pair of binoculars and a cloudless night, entertain yourself by trying to trace these little-known constellations.