Zorica Prnjat, Milutin Tadić


In contemporary astronomical literature, there is no uniform definition of the term asterism. This inconsistency is the consequence of differences between traditional understanding of the term constellation, from the standpoint of the naked eye astronomy, and its contemporary understanding from the standpoint of the International Astronomical Union. A traditional constellation is a recognizable star configuration with a well-established name, whereas the International Astronomical Union defines a constellation as an exactly defined sector of the cosmic space that belongs to a particular traditional constellation. Asterism is a lower rank term in comparison to constellation, and as such it may not denote a whole traditional constellation, as these terms would become synonymous and parts of constellations would become “asterisms of asterisms“. Similarly, asterism cannot define a macro configuration composed of the brightest stars in more constellations, thus, the Summer Triangle and other sky polygons are not asterisms. Therefore, asterisms are neither constellations nor sky polygons, but the third – easily recognizable parts of traditional constellations with historically well-established names, including separate groups of smaller stars that belong to star clusters (autonomous asterisms). Forms and names of asterisms may or may not be consistent with the parent constellation, and accordingly asterisms can be divided into compatible and incompatible. If asterisms have outlived the exact division of the celestial sphere and remained irreplaceable celestial landmarks in the naked eye astronomy, it is high time for the International Astronomical Union to agree on the definition of asterism and to compile their official list.


asterism; constellation; star; configuration; sky polygon; naked eye astronomy

Full Text:



Bakich, M. E. (1995). The Cambridge Guide to the Constellations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barentine, Ј. C. (2016). Uncharted Constellations: Asterisms, Single-Source and Rebrands. Chichester: Springer /Praxis Publishing.

Bonov, A. (1978). Mify i legendy o sozvezdijah [Myths and legends about constellations]. Moscow: High School.

Chiravalle, Ј. А. (2006). Pattern Asterisms: A New Way to Chart the Stars. London: Springer Verlag.

Crystal, D (Ed.) (1990). The Cambridge Encyclopedia. Cambridge: CUP.

Hevelius, J. (1970). Atlas zvezdnogo neba [Celestial Atlas].( Ed. V.P. Shcheglov). Tashkent: Fan.

Delporte, Е. (1930). Délimitation scientifique des constellations, tables et cartes. [Scientific Demarcation of the Constellations (Tables and Charts) Historical Background]. London: Cambridge University Press.

Kanas, N. (2007). Star maps: History, Artistry and Cartography (2nd ed.). Chichester: Springer/Praxis Publishing.

Karpenko, Ju. A. (1985). Nazvanija zvezdnogo neba [Names of the night sky]. Moscow: Nauka

Kleczek, J. (1961). Astronomical Dictionary in six Languages. Praha: Nakladatelství Československé akademie věd.

Liu, C. (2008). The Handy Astronomy Answer Book (The Handy Answer Book Series)(3rd ed.) Detroit: Visible Ink Press.

Ridpat, J. (2007). Veliki rečnik astronomije. Beograd: Dereta.

Ridpath, Ј. (1997). Oxford Dictionary of Astronomy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sesti, G. M. (1987). Le dimore del cielo: archeologia e mito delle costellazioni. Palermo: Novecento.

The Constellations.(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.iau.org/public/themes/constellati

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2298/IJGI1701001P


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2017 Zorica Prnjat, Milutin Tadić

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivs 4.0

Printed edition: ISSN 0350-7599

Electronic edition: ISSN 1821-2808

Publisher: Geographical Institute “Jovan Cvijić” SASA (Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts), Djure Jakšića 9, Belgrade 11000, Serbia