It is a pretty common belief among us that our ancestors were dumb, which is sad because the truth is quite the opposite. Humanity did not always reside in caves and get scared by natural fires. We only got where we are today because of our ancestors’ scientific progress. Indeed, humanity has had a detailed record of having used anything it could to its advantage. It should come as no surprise then that when our predecessors looked up at the beautiful lit up sky at night, not understanding why it was so, they decided to use the Heavens to their advantage as well. It didn’t take long for them to recognize that the same stars showed up each night, and soon they were drawing imaginary figures and shapes between them.
These constellations were mostly fueled by their local myths and legends. The Ancient Greeks in particular played a huge role in defining the constellation as they are known today. But instead of just imagining lions and warriors among the stars for giggles, they decided to map them. And soon, travelers were using the night sky to navigate their way to their destination. In this post we will be looking over some of the important star constellations that people used to navigate in the past, and explain why.
The Ursa Minor Constellation And The North Star
Ursa Minor, also known as the Little Dipper constellation, contrasts the Big Dipper. It looks alike but is smaller in size. Its importance came from it making it easier to spot Polaris, the North Star. Following the “handle” of the Little Dipper, one ends up looking at the North Star. Polaris itself is an excellent star for navigation as it seems to hover above the North Pole in a fixed position while the rest of the sky rotates around it. This unique characteristic helped sailors use it like an anchor on nights lost at sea. Polaris was also responsible for the eventual discovery of the Americas and thus the development of modern civilization as we know it today.
The Ursa Major Constellation And The Big Dipper
The Ursa Major constellation is famous mostly due to the very well-known Big Dipper asterism. The Big Dipper is easily visible in most parts of the world, and using it, sailors and travelers could locate other helpful stars by extending imaginary lines from it. The stars Polaris, Arcturus, and Spica are all traceable through the Big Dipper. Due to its large presence in the sky, the Big Dipper was often the first item in the sky pointed out before people began to look for other constellations and stars.
The Orion Constellation
The Orion constellation, named after the mythical Greek hunter Orion, is one of the most recognizable constellations in the world and is visible around the globe. But this is not the only reason it has been helpful for navigation in our species’ past. The Orion constellation can be used to locate the stars Sirius to the southeast, Aldebaran in the northwest, Procyon to the East, among others. Due to its helpful placement in the sky, it had remained one of the most important navigational guides in the days before GPS.
The Canis Major Constellation And The Dog Star
The Canis Major constellation is kind of shaped like a dog. And thus, its brightest star Sirius, is called the Dog Star. Sirius is not just the brightest star in Canis Major however, it is the brightest star in our night sky, period. This property of Sirius makes it stand out, and it is visible over almost the whole world. Due to its prominence in the sky, it, and its respective constellation, have been used for navigation in the past.
The Crux Constellation
A small cross-shaped constellation in the Southern hemisphere, it is a bright and very famous constellation. In fact, it was so popular for navigation down South that both Australia and New Zealand feature it on their flags. The Crux was as widely used for travelling as the North Star in the Northern hemisphere. Projecting a line to Acrux, this constellation can be used to locate the South Celestial Pole.
And those are the most important constellations travelers used to navigate back in the day. The listed stars and their respective asterisms and constellations were used by hundreds of thousands of people to find their way. It really is fascinating just what solutions our ancestors came up with, and this particular one proves that the stars light up our way in more ways than one. Want to read a bit more on constellations? Wouldn’t blame you, they’re really interesting. So, here’s a piece on star constellations you can view with just the naked eye. If you want to gaze at the constellations suspended in the heavens but live in a major urban area, these tips might help you.