The constellations and the stars within are seen every night. Astrologists tend to add significance to these constellations and asterisms. Therefore they can make an excellent Motif. And as such a writer may use them in fiction.
There are several variations but the most notable and widespread are the ones from Claudius Ptolemy and The IAU. Consisting of 88 modern ones, and 52 obsolete ones. These constellation tend to take their names from Greek Mythology, or have Greek names but there are some exceptions. The Western Zodiac is also from this format.
A different set of constellations are from China using the same stars but in different Asterisms The Four Gods are the equivalents of the zodiac therenote Not that China doesn't have it's own Zodiac but that's more attuned to years rather than the elliptic.. The Hindus and Australians have their own variants as well.
Asterisms are a similar concept, but they are not seen as official constellations. They can be seen as sub-constellations. Common ones include The Big Dipper, Orion's belt and the Summer Triangle. Some of those Asterisms like the latter have stars from multiple constellations. The same is true for most obsolete constellationsnote The most notable of which are Ptolemy's Argo Navis which was split for being too big. It's parts still collectively represent the ship as the constellations Carina (the keel), Puppis (the stern), and Vela (the sails) as well as Pyxis (the mariner's compass, which used to be part of the mast). Clusters like the Pleiades are also smaller groups of stars found within constellations but don't form any coherent image.
A common Astronomy error in science fiction is to treat constellations as though they were clusters of stars that are actually physically near each other, with characters or cultures described as being "from the so-and-so constellation" despite the constellation only existing as a two-dimensional pattern seen from an arbitrary point thousands of light years away. On the other hand some sectors and galaxies like The Andromeda Galaxy and Orion's Arm are named for the constellation they are in.
See Western Zodiac, The Four Gods, Astrologer and all the tropes in Stellar Index. Also check our Useful Notes page for more In-depth information.
Uses of constellations in fiction:
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Example of the Constellations as a motif, someone's soul, or the basis of something
In Fairy Tail, Celestial Spirit mages can summon Celestial Spirits, which are based on constellations, through various magical keys. The Golden Keys summon the twelve zodiac signs while the Silver Keys summon other constellations.
At the end of Hercules 1983 Hercules becomes a constellation.
In Dragonheart, the constellation Draco is also known as the Dragon's Heaven. According to dragon religion, dragons that live honorable lives are allowed to become a star in the constellation when they die.
In the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, some constellations are mentioned as having different names, e. g. Ursa major (the "Big Dipper") is the Sickle. The constellation Orion is called Menelmacar or Menelvagor, the Warrior of Heaven, orignally created by the Valar as a symbol of defiance against the forces of evil led by Morgoth.
The Centauri of Babylon 5 seem to have been named after the Centaurus constellation (whose genitive term is "Centauri", as in "Alpha Centauri"). The origin of this name is unclear, but most plausibly it might have been the name humans gave them upon first contact.
Stargate used the constellations as seen from Earth as coordinates for the gate's destination, marked as the 38 symbols on the rim of the gate. The subsequent TV series recognized the flaw in this idea (the constellations are not static and would look completely different from every planet with a gate anyway) and retconned them in various ways to make up for it, eventually settling on them being the letters of one form of the Ancient alphabet. Presumably they formed some type of comprehensible coordinate system when the gates were first built, but as the dialing devices periodically update to compensate for stellar drift they no longer do so.
Upon defeating Raphael the Raven in Yoshi's Island, he flies off into the sky and becomes a constellation.
The Celestrians in the localisation of Dragon Quest IX are named for constellations that are named for birds.
In Contra: Hard Corps, Noiman Cascade's Virtual Zone forms include the constellations Taurus, Sagittarius and Gemini.
In Ōkami, each of the 13 Brush Gods (who are all based on Eastern Zodiacplus a cat), hides themselves as constellations with missing stars in various locations. When you spot them, you need to fill in the missing stars to restore their powers and make them at your service.
Yu-Gi-Oh! has several cards with this motif. The Constellar/Sacred archtype are based on the Western Zodiac, and although the Fire Fist archtype is based an a different group of stars. "Ultimate Fire Formation - Seito", one of their support cards, is based on the Big Dipper asterism, and implying that the stars within are the other support cards.
The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Boast Busters" involved a giant bear made of stars incorrectly called an Ursa Major (it's actually an Ursa Minor as Twilight Sparkle pointed out in the end. There is an actual Ursa Major though but it is a little more monstrous than it's cub [the aforementioned Ursa Minor].)
The flags of Australia and New Zealand both depict the prominent stars of the "Southern Cross" (the constellation Crux), an iconic feature of the Southern sky.
The Southern Cross was part of the coat of arms of German East Africa until World War I. The Nazis revived this as a symbol of their demand for the return of all former German colonies and made this a badge worn by the uniformed police in some cities (e. g. Bremen, Hamburg, Kiel) to symbolize that these police forces continued the tradition of the Schutztruppe of the former German colonies.
The state flag of Alaska depicts the seven stars of the Big Dipper, with Polaris (the North Star) depicted at a distance from the upper right of the bowl, just as these stars appear in the Northern sky. (Note that Polaris itself isn't in the Big Dipper or the Ursa Major constellation, but in Ursa Minor which is close by in the sky.) The use of the Ursa Major stars symbolize the "strength" of the Great Bear, while the North Star symbolizes Alaska as a northern frontier.
The flag of Brazil features prominent stars of the southern celestial hemisphere, laid out as they appear in multiple constellations. 27 stars were chosen, each representing a Brazilian state (or the Federal District).
In chapter 31 of Manga/Yotsuba, the Koiwais, Jumbo, Fuuka, Ena, and Miura all go out to see the stars. This provides opportunities for a couple of gags:
Even with a planisphere and a red flashlight, it's hard to tell which star is which, especially as, as Miura observes, "there's no lines like at the planetarium." Fuuka advises her to try using her heartstrings, then points, calling something "Virgo". Jumbo says Virgo's not over there.
A few constellations are named, and Yotsuba asks what they are. When Miura answers that they're constellations, she kneels, because seiza can mean either "constellation" or "kneeling position", depending.
A 1950's era sci-fi short story dealt with the scientific community's collective mind being blown when the stars begin visibly moving across the sky...ultimately arranging themselves into an ad for soap. It proves to be the result of an Earth-based light-bending device, which cannot be duplicated after its creator dies of a stroke on realizing he misspelled his own name.
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Hercules" deconstructs the whole constellations-as-a-motif when Crow complains he doesn't see the figures of ancient legend in the night sky. Servo attempts to update the constellations to reflect "modern sensibilities", creating elaborate constructs such as "The Ham Sandwich", "The New Christy Minstrels" and, out of a mere eleven stars, "Picasso's Guernica." Frustrated, Crow comes back with a "modern" constellation of his own, consisting of two stars:
Crow:(sarcastic) It's a pencil. The eraser's almost gone.
Kingdom of Loathing features an area called "The Hole in the Sky". All of the monsters within are constellations that are also Double Entendres for male or female genitalia, such as "The Burrowing Bishop," "The Trouser Snake," or "The Little Man in the Canoe". Except for "The Astronomer", because the astronomers of the Days of Old were fond of not only childish visual puns, but of Shameless Self-Promotion.
A brief scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has the Pevensies looking at the Narnian night sky and identifying constellations they'd seen on their previous trips. They're completely different from Earth's.
Frank Zappa's album "One Size Fits All" has a parody of the constellations on the backside of the album cover. All the constellations are puns, intellectual references, references to the London subway system and inside jokes about Zappa's entourage.
Exalted: The Sidereal Exalted are organized along the lines of the planets and stars. Their domains, one for of each of the Five Maidens, are composed of five constellations each, for a total of twenty-five different constellations in the Exalted night sky.
In order to summon each of the Celestial Brush Gods, Amaterasu must use her powers to complete the constellation associated with each brush god. There are fourteen in all, plus an enemy who is also summoned in a similar fashion.
The sequel, Ōkamiden, adds another five constellations; in this case, the stars are already there, but they must be connected correctly to unlock the Brush God and their associated skill.
Examples with claims that someone or something is claimed to come from a constellation