Stargazing and Storytelling

These constellations have some of the most kid appeal, says Ben Sugerman, Ph.D., assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland:

The Big Dipper and Great Bear

The seven brightest stars of the constellation Ursa Major resemble a giant soup ladle—hence the name: Big Dipper. These stars also form the tail and hind end of the Great Bear, which is actually a beautiful woman named Callisto. The Greek god Zeus fell in love with Callisto; Zeus’s wife was so jealous that she turned Callisto into an ugly bear. Zeus felt bad for her, so he placed her in the heavens with their son, Arcas, so they would be together forever.


If you follow the direction of the Big Dipper’s tail about two hand widths, you’ll hit Bootes, which looks like an ice cream cone. According to one myth, it’s actually Arcas, Callisto’s son, nestled near her in the sky. The name Bootes is derived from the Greek word for “herder,” because Arcas is there to keep an eye on the Great Bear.

Corona Borealis

Move just a hair to the left of Bootes and you’ll see a cluster of stars fit for royalty. Shaped like a crown, the Corona Borealis is said to represent the crown that Princess Ariadne of Crete wore when she married the Greek god Dionysus. Ariadne was a brave princess who, in addition to marrying a god, helped defeat the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull.


There’s only one square of stars in the night sky; find it and you’ve found the body of Pegasus, a winged horse. According to Greek mythology, Pegasus worked for Zeus, carrying thunder and lightning back and forth from Mount Olympus. Upon his death, Pegasus was honored by Zeus with a permanent home in the skies.


Look for the distinct W shape in the sky: that’s Cassiopeia. The legends vary for this constellation, but they have one common thread and a good lesson for kids: Don’t get too big for your britches. The queen Cassiopeia was banished to the sky because she was so vain.