Skip to content

For Kids and Others        

Northern Hemisphere, John Flamsteed
Northern Hemisphere, John Flamsteed, Atlas Coelestis, London: 1929. Image courtesy of Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library.
Show a larger view of this picture

Martha Glowacki selected eight constellations for interpretation in her sculptures. Here is some information for you about constellations:

A constellation is a group of stars that, when seen from Earth, form a pattern. All the stars in the sky are officially divided into constellations.

88 constellations cover the entire sky in the northern and southern hemispheres. The original systems for organizing the stars developed in the ancient Middle East in what is now Iraq.

A majority of star names used today came from the Islamic schools of astronomy established between the 8th and 14th centuries. Many names were originally assigned to stars by Arab nomads.

There are many stories about the constellations that involve the gods of Greek mythology. In these myths, Cronus was the son of Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth). He led his brothers and sisters in a revolt against their father and became the king of the gods. His son Zeus took the throne from his father and became lord of the sky, the king of the gods, and also the rain god. Zeus is an important figure in many constellation stories.

The eight constellations featured in Starry Transit are called Orion, Taurus, Triangulum, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Pegasus, Boötes, and Corona Borealis. Here are some stories from mythology about them.

Orion Constellation
Orion constellation, John Flamsteed, Atlas Coelestis, London: 1929. Image courtesy of Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library.
Show a larger view of this picture

Orion was a great hunter, handsome and strong, son of the sea god Poseidon. He boasted that no animal could overcome him, but Zeus sent a scorpion that bit him in the heel, killing him. Zeus placed Orion in the sky, and the scorpion on the opposite side of the heavens.

Taurus Constellation
Taurus constellation, John Flamsteed, Atlas Coelestis, London: 1929. Image courtesy of Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library.
Show a larger view of this picture

Taurus: Zeus fell in love with Europa, daughter of the king of Phoenicia, when he saw her picking flowers in a meadow with her friends. Zeus disguised himself as a beautiful white bull, Taurus, and roamed the meadow where the women lingered. Drawn to his beauty, Europa climbed onto his back and Zeus swam to the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. There Europa became the mother of King Minos of Crete, King Rhadamanthus of the Cyclades Islands, and Prince Sarpedon of Lycia.

Triangulum Constellation
Triangulum constellation, John Flamsteed, Atlas Coelestis, London: 1929. Image courtesy of Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library.
Show a larger view of this picture

Triangulum was a wedding present given to Ceres, the Great Mother, by Zeus' brother, Hades, after abducting and marrying her daughter Core (Proserpine). It is said that Apollo placed the tiny constellation in the sky as a guidepost to Aires, the Ram.

Ursa Major & Ursa Minor Constellations
Ursa Major & Ursa Minor constellations, John Flamsteed, Atlas Coelestis, London: 1929. Image courtesy of Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library.
Show a larger view of this picture

Ursa Major (the Great Bear) and Ursa Minor (the Lesser Bear): Zeus was roaming a favorite spot of his, the land of Arcadia, when he was drawn to beautiful Callisto. In response, Zeus' wife Hera changed Callisto into a bear. Callisto's son Arcas grew into a great hunter. Seeing her son in the woods, Callisto attempted to approach him but could only growl, and Arcas drew his spear. Before Arcas could attack his mother, Zeus grabbed Callisto's tail and flung her into the heavens, where she became Ursa Major. Zeus wanted Arcas to be with his mother, so he changed him into a bear as well, grabbed his tail and flung him into the heavens, where he became Ursa Minor. Both Ursa constellations have long tails because they were stretched out when Zeus threw them. The handle of the Big Dipper constellation is made from the stars in the bear's hindquarters and tail. The two outer stars of the Big Dipper bowl point to the North Star, Polaris, which is the first star in the handle of the Little Dipper and part of the tail of the constellation Ursa Minor, the Lesser Bear.

Pegasus Constellation
Pegasus constellation, John Flamsteed, Atlas Coelestis, London: 1929. Image courtesy of Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library.
Show a larger view of this picture

Pegasus was a winged horse who sprang to life from the blood of the Medusa, slain by Perseus. Later, he was tamed and ridden by a gallant young warriar, Bellerophon, who used a golden bridle provided by Athena and slew the beast called the Chimera. Pegasus was faithful to Bellerophon, until his master attempted to ride him to Mount Olympus. Pegasus knew this was wrong, and he threw off his rider. Bellerophon ended his days blind and lame because of this mistake. The Gods, however, rewarded Pegasus by placing him among the stars.

Boötes Constellation
Boötes constellation, John Flamsteed, Atlas Coelestis, London: 1929. Image courtesy of Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library.
Show a larger view of this picture

Boötes, a herdsman, was allegedly the first to think of attaching a plough to his ox, thus making farming easier. The gods rewarded him with a place in the sky. The Big Dipper is his plowshare and the North Star is his ox that pulls it.

Corona Borealis
Corona Borealis, John Flamsteed, Atlas Coelestis, London: 1929. Image courtesy of Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library.
Show a larger view of this picture

Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown: Theseus, son of Aegeus, king of Athens, went to Crete to kill the Minotaur, a monster with a bull's body and a human head. He was aided by Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, who gave him a ball of string. Laying a trail of string as he walked through the Labyrinth, Theseus slew the monster and started back to Athens with Ariadne as his bride. When she was abandoned on the Greek island of Naxos, Dionysus gave her a golden crown. It was placed in the sky after her death.