Glossary term: Gemini

Description: Gemini is one of the 13 constellations of the Zodiac and one of the 88 modern constellations as accepted by the International Astronomical Union, but goes back much further – it was already one of the 48 constellations named by the 2nd century astronomer Claudius Ptolemy. The constellation gets its name from its two brightest stars Castor and Pollux, who in Babylonian mythology were twins and minor gods. Gemini is visible in the northern hemisphere during winter, located between the constellations Taurus and Cancer. Various cultures around the world have their own stories associated with this constellation and its stars. Castor and Pollux are located approximately 50 and 30 light years from Earth, respectively. About 80 stars may be seen in Gemini with the naked eye. Some notable deep-sky objects located within the region of this constellation are M35, NGC 2158, NGC 2392, and Abell 21.

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Term and definition status: This term and its definition have been approved by a research astronomer and a teacher

The OAE Multilingual Glossary is a project of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Education (OAE) in collaboration with the IAU Office of Astronomy Outreach (OAO). The terms and definitions were chosen, written and reviewed by a collective effort from the OAE, the OAE Centers and Nodes, the OAE National Astronomy Education Coordinators (NAECs) and other volunteers. You can find a full list of credits here. All glossary terms and their definitions are released under a Creative Commons CC BY-4.0 license and should be credited to "IAU OAE".

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The curve of the Milky Way over a road. Bottom left, two bright stars form a line pointing to a kite-shaped stellar assembly

Most Brightest Stars of the Sky

Caption: Honourable mention in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns.   Taken in March 2016 in Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java Island, Indonesia, this image shows the arch of the Milky Way and many prominent constellations, including many of the brightest stars in the night sky. In the lower-left corner, we see Rigil Kentaurus and Hadar, the first one lower and the other higher up, both located in the large constellation Centaurus. As pointers they point towards Crux, the Southern Cross, whose long axis points towards the southern pole, which is located roughly at the horizon because the Island of Java is almost at the equator. Crux is almost entirely obscured by clouds, with only the four bright stars visible in the photograph. Confusingly, the asterism of the False Cross (consisting of stars in Argo, The Ship) is clearly prominent a bit further up the Milky Way. The pinkish spot between the true and the False Cross is the Carina Nebula, located about 8500 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Carina, and invisible to the unaided eye. In Carina we can also find Canopus, the second-brightest star in the night sky, seen just below the Galaxy and above the road on the ground. Even brighter is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Sirius lies in the constellation Canis Major, The Great Dog, one of the dogs that follow Orion, the Hunter, who is depicted in the right half of this image, just above the clouds at the horizon. Orion’s Belt of three bright stars points to Sirius in the upper left and to Aldebaran in the lower right, just above the horizon. Orion contains some of the brightest stars in the sky, making it the most colourful constellation as it hosts Rigel, the bright bluish star below the Galaxy toward the right, and Betelgeuse, the reddish bright star higher up and to the right of Rigel. Between them we find the three stars that comprise the belt of Orion, a famous asterism. Just next to the belt we find the Great Orion Nebula, a star-forming region whose bright centre is visible to the unaided eye and also in this image. Above Betelgeuse but on the opposite side of the Galaxy, we see the bright star Procyon, whose name means literally “Before the Dog”. It is mythologically often considered a tiny one-star dog asterism accompanying Orion, and transformed into the modern constellation of Canis Minor. In the upper-right corner, the Beehive Star Cluster in the constellation Cancer is easily recognisable. Below it, we find the constellation Gemini with the stars Pollux and Castor, which are not prominent in this image. In contrast, the bright white star Capella in the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer, shines through the clouds at the middle-right edge of the image. Some light pollution is visible along the road.
Credit: Giorgia Hofer/IAU OAE

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

Orion appears as an hourglass shape of stars in the bottom of the image. Above Taurus is v-shaped with a small star cluster

Romanian Orion

Caption: Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns.   Taken in Romania in August 2012, this image shows two of the most recognisable constellations in the sky, Orion and Taurus. Orion, the Hunter, is found near the horizon. The most prominent star visible in this image is Betelgeuse, while the asterism of Orion’s belt is formed by three aligned bright stars. Just above Orion we can find Taurus, one of the constellations of the Zodiac. As the Zodiac is inherited from Babylon, The Bull of Heaven represents a mighty but dangerous creature that was defeated by King Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu. They cut the Bull in half and sacrificed the animal to the gods in order to protect their people. Taurus is also home to the star cluster Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters. Two planets are visible: Venus, the bright spot near the fence, and Jupiter, the bright spot at the top, next to the Bull’s face. Different cultures have included the stars of these constellations in their own mythology. The Romanians, for instance, after Christianisation identified four other constellations using some of the stars of Orion and others surrounding it. One such constellation is called Trisfetitele (the Three Saints), which is associated with the three stars comprising Orion's Belt, representing the Three Hierarchs Basil, Gregory and John. This same asterism is also called Three Wise Men, Kings from the East or just Three Kings — all of these names being rooted in the Christian religion. The agricultural calendar, in contrast, led farmers to define two other constellations, the Little Plough and the Sickle. Both are seen in the southern half of the Orion rectangle; the Little Plough is drawn by connecting the southern quadrilateral with Orion’s left shoulder, and the Sickle is formed by connecting Orion’s left foot (Rigel) with the belt stars, forming an arch and completing the form of a hoe. In the cultural calendar, these constellations were used to announce the harvest of wheat/grain. Finally, the fourth Romanian constellation is the Great Auger, where Orion’s belt represents the handle of the auger, and Betelgeuse is the tip, facing towards Pollux in Gemini. This constellation is associated with treasure, as Romanian peasants believe that the Auger points to the treasure when they approach the end of the world. Most of the official star names in Orion are Arabic; Mintaka (meaning “belt”) is at the waist; Alnitak (meaning “girdle”) and Alnilam (meaning “string”) are at the belt; and Rigel (meaning foot) is at the left foot. The star on the left shoulder is named Bellatrix, the Latin term for a female warrior. The star at the right leg is called Saiph, for the sword or sabre of the Arabic Orion.
Credit: Alex Conu/IAU OAE

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

A starry sky is reflected in a lake in a valley. The streak of a meteor goes from the top right to the middle of the image

The Geminid Fireball

Caption: Captured with a smartphone on 13 December 2022, a Geminid meteor illuminated the sky above Blue Moon Valley in Yunnan, China, casting a breathtaking display against the serene backdrop of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Renowned for their dazzling brightness and vivid hues, the Geminids are among the most vibrant meteor showers, originating from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Each year, as our planet traverses Phaethon’s debris trail, fragments of dust and rock vaporise in the atmosphere, creating the stunning phenomenon of the Geminid meteor shower. In this stunning night sky image, the twin stars of Gemini (Castor and Pollux) are obscured by the silhouetted trees on the left. Mirrored in the calm waters are the stars that make up the constellation of Orion, which can be seen rising towards the bottom-centre of the image, while the radiant Mars retains its brilliance as the foremost celestial beacon in the scene, all before the moonrise takes over.
Credit: Jianfeng Dai/IAU OAE (CC BY 4.0)

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons