"Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" -- everyone knows that song, but have you ever looked up at the stars and wondered about the constellations such as the Little Dipper or the signs of the Zodiac and how they got their names?
A constellation is a group of stars that, when seen from Earth, form a pattern. On a clear night (with no bright lights), you can see what seems like a million stars. These millions of stars form patterns in the sky astronomers call constellations.
Many constellations were named by the Greek scientist Ptolemy more than a thousand years ago. Constellations were named after everything from ancient gods to animals and even objects like ladles and spoons (the Big and Little Dipper).
Some of the popular constellations include Draco (from the dragon in Greek mythology), a constellation in the northern hemisphere that we can usually see from Long Island; Orion, aka "The Hunter," a very noticeable constellation because of his "belt," which is made of three bright stars that form a line; the Big and Little Dipper,two of the most well-known constellations because of their ladle (spoon) shape.
If you want to learn more about the stars and outer space, there are lots of places you can go. Some of the best include the Hayden Planetarium, part of the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan; the JetBlue Sky Planetarium at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City; and the Vanderbilt Planetarium in Centerport.