Constellations Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Kelly Beaty

Kelly has taught fifth grade language arts and adult ESL. She has a master's degree in education and a graduate certificate in TESOL.

For thousands of years, people have seen shapes and patterns made by the stars in the sky. The shapes we recognize today, known as 'constellations,' help people to understand time, space, and directions.

What Do You See?

When we look up into the sky on a clear night, we can see thousands of stars. Sometimes we might even use our imaginations to see pictures in the stars. These pictures have a scientific name- constellations. It might be helpful to imagine a constellation as a connect-the-dot picture where the stars are the dots.

Finding pictures in the sky can be fun, but did you know that star pictures can also serve a purpose? Constellations have been used by people for thousands of years to give directions and tell time.

Astronomers are scientists who study outer space. These space experts have named 88 constellations that can be seen from planet earth. Constellations give us outlines of people, objects, and animals that can help us learn about the earth and stars.

How Did the Constellations Get Their Names?

Astronomers named constellations after things familiar to them and those around them. Many constellations are named after characters in Greek myths, or stories:

'Orion' is the name of a hunter in Greek mythology. You can see by this picture that it takes some imagination to see the shape of a hunter when the lines are not drawn!

Orion
Orion

You might have heard the name 'Hercules' in cartoons, movies, or books. This name also comes from Greek mythology. A constellation was named after this Greek hero.

Many constellation names come from other languages. For example, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are Latin names for Big Bear and Little Bear. (The Big Dipper and Little Dipper are parts of these constellations.)

Ursa Major and Ursa Minor
Ursa Major

What Can Constellations Teach Us?

Constellations can help airplane pilots, ship captains, and other people find directions. This was especially important years ago when maps were not available. Some stars and constellations always point in a certain direction.

The North Star is important for directions because it always points to the North.

The North Star

When people are lost during the night, they can look to The Big Dipper, which points to the North Star, contained in The Little Dipper. Knowing where that is can give them a sense of direction to help them find their way.

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