What is an Asterism? Unique Star Patterns Explained

Did you know that many of the familiar star formations you know and love aren't actually constellations? Learn more!

Did you know that many of the familiar star formations you know and love may be classified as “asterisms” rather than official constellations? Well-known star patterns like The Big Dipper and Little Dipper, for instance, are not a part of the official list. The Big Dipper is part of Ursa Major, the Little Dipper is part of Ursa Minor.

Like constellations, asterisms have a long history. Some are regional, while others are universally recognized. Some are ancient, while others are more modern. If you enjoy stargazing, you may even have a few of your own personal asterisms. See our list:

Here’s a list of some well-known asterisms:

  • The Belt of Orion: Three bright stars making up “Orion’s Belt.” Also known as the Three Kings or the Rake.
  • The Big Dipper: A popular ladle-shape within Ursa Major. Also known as the Plough.
  • The Butterfly of Hercules: A butterfly-shaped asterism within Hercules.
  • The Butterfly of Orion: A butterfly-shaped asterism within Orion.
  • The Coat Hanger: An asterism in Vulpecula, shaped like a line with a hook coming out of the center.
  • The Circlet: A round asterism within Pisces.
  • The Diamond of Virgo: A diamond-shape within Virgo.
  • The False Cross: A cross-shape made up of stars from Carina and Vela.
  • The Fish Hook: A J-shape located in Scorpius.
  • The Golf Putter: A long chain of stars with that form a golf club shape within Andromeda.
  • The Great Square: A Square-shape made up of stars from Pegasus and Andromeda.
  • The Kite: A diamond-shape within Boötes.
  • The Keystone: An uneven rectangle within Hercules.
  • The Little Dipper: Similar to the Big Dipper, only smaller, the Little Dipper is a ladle-shape within Ursa Minor.
  • The Northern Cross: A cross-shaped asterism within Cygnus.
  • The Northern Fly: A small triangle near the flank of Aries.
  • The Pleiades: An open cluster of bright stars within Taurus. Also known as the Seven Sisters.
  • The Sail: A sail-shape within Corvus.
  • The Sickle: A curved asterism within Leo.
  • The Spring Triangle: A triangle of bright stars: Arcturus, Spica, and Regulus.
  • The Summer Triangle: A triangle of even brighter stars: Altair, Deneb, and Vega.
  • The Teapot: A popular asterism within Sagittarius.
  • The Trapezoid: A trapezoid-shape within Boötes.
  • The “W” of Cassiopeia: A letter “W” within Cassiopeia.
  • The Water Jar: An asterism within Aquarius.
  • The Winter Hexagon (or Winter “Football”): A large, irregularly-shaped hexagon made up of parts Canis Major, Canis Minor, Auriga, Taurus, Orion, and Gemini.
  • The Winter Triangle: A popular asterism within the Winter Hexagon, made up from parts of Canis Major, Canis Minor, and Orion.
  • The “Y” of Virgo: A letter “Y” within Virgo.
Asterisms in the night sky.

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Jaime McLeod

Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.

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The history we know to be appreciated is our own curiossity, and it makes up our viewpoint with the constellations and there stars. This is very interesting to be able to see them, and know there other names and objects.

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