Staring up at a dark night sky full of stars, you might find your mind running wild with images based on these beautiful points of light. Look, there’s a flying horse, a dragon, a scorpion, lion…so many to see!
Don’t worry, you aren’t going crazy. Before the invention of lightbulbs, millions of people just like you used to sit outside and do this exact activity as a form of enjoyment. Now we have television.
So much for stargazing, right?
I hope not.
Going outside to look at the constellations can teach you not only about how the Earth moves through our solar system and galaxy, it can also reveal some history of mankind and what people were doing long ago.
Enter the point of this article. I’m going to share with you a list of some interesting defunct constellations and asterisms that essentially no longer exist or are considered dead, extinct, obsolete, or whatever you want to call them.
Before I go any further, here’s a quick history lesson so you can better understand why these constellations are essentially extinct. In 1928, a group of astronomers and scientists in the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided to analyze many of the constellations to select which ones were worthy of keeping and which were not. They looked through star charts created over the years and decided on 88 constellations that would cover a particular region of the sky. The IAU didn’t want any overlap in the constellations like what can be seen when you compare different star charts from different parts of the world and time periods. So, they decided to axe some.
Below you will find a list of some of these now eliminated constellations and asterisms. This is not a complete list, it is only what I have found so far, and I will continue to add to it as I research more over the years (or if you contact me and tell me what I missed).
Keep in mind, these constellations haven’t been deleted from the sky. They are simply not considered “official” according to one governing organization. You can still see them in the night sky and appreciate the history behind them. Believe me, many of these constellations and asterisms have pretty fascinating origin stories.
List of Extinct Constellations and Asterisms
If this article gets any interest, I’ll add the location of each one to help readers find them in the night sky. For now, it’s a list with their names translated into English.
Favorite Extinct Constellations
These are two of our favorite extinct constellations we have selected based on their interesting history and how they are connected to us.
We picked this obvious one for obvious reasons. In case you didn’t know, my name is Jason, and if you are a little rusty on your ancient Greek mythology, the Argo Navis was the ship Jason and the Argonauts sailed on to get the golden fleece. There’s a ton more to this story, and it gets a little crazy, so I won’t go down that rabbit hole.
I was also in the US Navy many years ago, so I really feel a connection to this constellation because of my time spent on the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Constellation (CV-64).
Isn’t that an interesting connection? You get two for the price of one!
Argo Navis was essentially broken up into 3 different constellations because it is such a massive one. To find it, just look for Canopus in the constellation Carina which is the second brightest star in the night sky. It’s part of the ship’s keel, which is now its own constellation.
The rest of the Argo Navis was broken up into two other parts by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, the constellations Puppis (the ship’s poop deck) and Vela (the ship’s sails). So, one of Ptolemy’s original 48 constellations is not really dead, it has just been modified.
Even though it’s not possible to see all of the Argo Navis from where we are located in Texas, we can see a decent chunk of it in the winter. What I find interesting is that at certain times at night, it kind of looks like the ship is sinking into the horizon. It’s almost as if the Greek god Poseidon is telling me to look for another constellation to view because he put it in the night sky for that other Jason and not me.
The second dead constellation we have selected is Quadrans Muralis. This one might be gone, but it is not forgotten for anyone that enjoys meteor showers. Every year when the Quadrantids put on their explosive meteor shower show right around January 3rd or 4th, we try to make a point to see them. Quadrans Muralis is basically located where the radiant point of the shower occurs.
If you’re not familiar where the Quadrantids occur and Quadrans Muralis constellation is or technically used to be, you’ll be happy to know it’s really easy to find. Just look for the last star Alkaid at the end of the famous asterism, the Big Dipper and the arm of the constellation Boötes. That’ll put you in the right area.
What we also like about this defunct constellation, besides the fact it is easy to find, is how it’s connected to a very interesting scientific instrument. French astronomer Joseph Jérôme de Lalande decided to name Quadrans Muralis after the quadrant he used to measure star positions.
Since Alison is a research scientist, she can relate to this fact dealing with numerous scientific instruments of her own at work. Other astronomers also have named constellations after scientific tools, but Joseph’s quadrant is easy to find quickly, so that’s why we put it on our obsolete list.
Try to find some of these constellations next time you go stargazing so they can continue to live on outside of some dusty, old history books. They are fun to learn about and can make for some pretty interesting conversation while enjoying the night sky.
Head to a dark sky area to see all of these defunct constellations by using our dark sky map.
About the Authors
We are avid stargazers Jason and Alison Takacs also known as Roadtrippin’ with Takacs. With our two boys Preston and Grayson, we seek out some of the darkest skies in the country while also going on many incredible hiking and other outdoor adventures. As part-time RVers, we try to see as much of this amazing world as possible in our spare time and hope you will join us through this blog on RWT Adventures and other forms of social media as we explore the night sky and other natural wonders as hardcore astrotourists.