by Beth Napier
A Constellation is a group of bright stars that form prominent patterns in the night sky, which have been historically ascribed to mythological figures, such as Orion the Hunter, and Gemini the Twins. Because we can't tell by simple viewing how far away these stars are, they appear to be fixed on a transparent celestial sphere that revolves around the Earth making the stars rise and set. We know that this diurnal (or daily -- every 24 hour) motion of the stars is caused by the Earth's own rotation about its spin axis. Different cultures have noticed these bright stars that form constellations constellations and have imagined various figures to be represented by a given pattern of stars. These cultures have individually created their own stories to explain how these imaginary figures got into the sky. To insure that students understand the concept of constellations, the following small group activity is recommended:
Give each group a large sheet of paper (construction paper works well), and have them randomly draw four to five dots with a bright color and any number of dots with a pale red color onto the paper. The bright color dots will represent bright stars, while the pale color dots will represent faint stars.
Ask each group to connect the dots into an imaginary animal or shape; the groups will then make up a story to explain how the imaginary animals or shapes got into the sky. Students will enjoy seeing their constellations displayed around the classroom.
A variation on this activity is to give each individual student a page containing the same pattern of dots and have them design their own individual constellation, complete with corresponding mythology.
Have students draw and report on actual constellations visible in the nighttime sky in your area. Try to have them report on those constellations visible during the time of year you are doing this lesson. Encourage them to find myths about their chosen constellation from a variety of cultures.