Blog Archives

The winter hexagon v/s the summer hexagon?

Credits : Winter hexagon - Felgari

The winter hexagon is not a constellation but simply an asterism. But when there’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere, its summer in the Southern Hemisphere. I find it really unfair for the world to call this set of stars as the winter hexagon. Why don’t call it the summer hexagon? Frankly speaking I feel like being discriminated on belonging from the Southern Hemisphere.

Winter Hexagon from the Tropics

I understand that development in the astronomy field knew its leap in the Northern Hemisphere, but still I am hereby campaigning for a change in the name of this asterism ( I know Asterisms are not even officially recognized names). But the “winter hexagon” It is a complete misnomer. When I first got to see this beautiful set of constellations in its entirety by the seaside, I was feeling hot. One as it was a breezeless night, hot and damp. Secondly for the utter pleasure of being able to identify the hexagon which covered almost ¼ the portion of the sky and being able to identify six constellations in one go.  It was awesome.

But Do you Know How to find the winter hexagon?

One could ask it’s already April and the spring is already here, so why talk about the winter hexagon? It’s just because the winter hexagon in a few months would not remain in our skies. During January at dusk I would have to raise up my head towards the zenith to see the Orion as it would highlight our north western skies, but now in April it’s already halfway between the horizon and the zenith towards the west at dusk. And to tell you Scorpion is already on its way. (Hope you know about the Scorpion – Orion saga) So to say in a few months Orion would be no more on the skies. (I would miss Orion a lot)

And as April is here, it would be a lovely time to appreciate the nature in its bloom and a have good time to observe the night sky. No more shivering and complaining about the chilly weather to have a look at the sky (for my friends of the Northern Hemisphere). As for us Mauritians, we have only two seasons per se. Our hot humid summer is already gone and we are slowly entering the winter phase.

So, if you feel being discriminated by pronouncing the Winter Hexagon, (or any other misnamed constellation or asterism) then campaign with me for this misnomer. Together, united we can change the name of this marvelous hexagon to a common name. Because as the saying goes “the sky has no borders, it is for everyone”. (Is it really a saying or I just made it up?). I suppose I got it from The Astronomers without borders. They have their motto as One people, One Sky.

Related Articles:

How to find the winter hexagon


Constellations: Origins and Now

The sky is like a grid with lots of scattered dots.  Joined together they may take many a lot of forms, depending on the whims of the sky gazer. But with these groupings known as Constellations they have helped us a lot to discover the sky.

Before the advent of the T.V, internet or the recent social medias there was a time where people used to distract themselves by observing the sky.

The sky used to marvel their souls as it was a not a stagnant beauty but the moving of the stars on the celestial plane would be their night show. After having gone through a day of accomplishment like “yeah, I conquered Rome to-day”, looking to the sky, with all its wonders would humble their beings.

We should be full of chagrin that today we are not able to appreciate and contemplate on the night sky in our urban settings. Artificial lights, though beautifying our space have barred our view of the beautiful night sky. Urbanization has given us a great wonder of man-made lighting everywhere, making our nights to become days where never ending work (24/7) has become our norm.

But……there was a time, when people had “time” to look and observe the sky. So, they grouped the stars into constellations.

Where did these constellations originate?

“Constellations are groupings of stars that, to ancient peoples, were heavenly manifestations of known or imagined objects, creatures and beings. Constellations appeared at certain times of the year, returning to those same positions annually. The ancient stargazers ascribed significance to these observations. Though identifying constellations predates the Greeks and Romans, the 48 “classical” constellation names familiar to us come from those societies.” Courtesy

The Greeks were creative. In fact, the constellations even today are named after the mythical beings, shapes or creatures they honored or resembled in their minds. For example, the Orion constellation takes the form of a man wielding a club and wearing a belt and a sheath.  Taurus resembles a bull’s head. And Scorpio is the Scorpion which is going to harm the man in the Orion’s constellation.  We will back  with the creative stories of the Greeks in the constellations category.

The constellations were helpful for remembering the stars, but at that time where people having loads of time in their hands would attribute the sky to several other purposes. It is common story in astronomy that farmers of the past would know about the movement of the stars and constellations in order when to sow their crops and when to harvest.  Story tellers among the Greeks would use these constellations to relate about the exploits of their Gods. And strange enough, the Egyptians had aligned their pyramids in Giza to the Orion’s belt.  The three stars in the belt as Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka.

Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka

The Arabs were the ones who preserved the astronomical science and augmented in the science so that the generations to come may take benefit from this extraordinary science. It is so interesting to know that the constellations were given Arabic names and even loads of stars got their names too. For example, In the Orion’s constellation Betelgeuse was previously yad-al-jawzaa, which later in my opinion became bad-al-jawzaa to Betelgeuse. Whereas Saiph the star, the bright star adjacent to Rigel, means The Sword. And Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka are Arabic too which are still called the same. Alnitak means ‘the girdle’ Alnilam, means ‘the string of pearls and Mintaka means ‘the belt’.

Then In the early twentienth century the constellations were put to an order and to the previously classical constellations other constellations were added up by  the International astronomical Union up to 88 constellations which is still in use to date. Thus the sky is now divided in these constellations, to help humanity in observing them.

“Originally the constellations were defined informally by the shapes made by their star patterns, but, as the pace of celestial discoveries quickened in the early 20th century, astronomers decided it would be helpful to have an official set of constellation boundaries. One reason was to aid in the naming of new variable stars, which brighten and fade rather than shine steadily. Such stars are named for the constellation in which they reside, so it is important to agree where one constellation ends and the next begins.”  Courtesy

Obviously, these stars do not have boundaries or lines to join them when we look at them in the sky, but with the game of joining the dots, we are able to make up the lines and identify the constellations.

Further division was given to the constellations by forming patterns known as Asterisms. Well-known “constellations” such as the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, the Teapot, the Northern Cross, and the Summer Triangle are not among the official list. Some, like the Dippers and the Teapot, are actually parts of other constellations (the Big Dipper, or the great bear is part of Ursa Major, the Little Dipper is part of Ursa Minor, and the Teapot is part of Sagittarius). Others, like the Summer Triangle and Winter Hexagon, include stars from several neighboring constellations. These asterisms help us to identify the brighter stars in the constellations. If you enjoy stargazing, you may even have a few of your own personal asterisms, like I did on my entry to stargazing.

So now I have to learn 88 constellations to understand this Astronomy?

Ahhh…..Kinda yes. If you want to be familiar with the sky then you have to know the stars and the constellations. But it is a marvelous, jaw- dropping adventure which you will never regret. And learning along is the great thing.

Yeah, but still I have to learn 88 constellations?

Rome was not conquered in one day. Learning the sky can be done step by step. You learn it by loving it. No rush for a certificate, no rush for schooling, just you and the stars. Finding Betelgeuse in Orion would be pretty easy. But also knowing that it is classified as a red supergiant, Betelgeuse is one of the largest and most luminous stars known. In terms of mass, Betelgeuse is thought to be about 15 times the mass of the sun, but 600 times wider and more than 200 million times its volume! Though it looks tiny but it is not what you are thinking……. Isn’t the study of stars cool?

Found our star, the sun?

Stay tuned, there is more to come.






%d bloggers like this: