An asterism is a pattern of stars within a constellation, or composed of a number of constellations. The Pleiades, an open star cluster in the constellation of Taurus, is easy to find, and often confused as the Little Dipper. The Greek Pleaides myth is that there were seven sisters who were the daughters of Atlas and Pleione, a sea nymph. Zeus placed the sisters in the sky to protect them.
The Japanese call the Pleiades Subaru , Hawaiians Makahiki or many little eyes, and the Navajo Dilyehe the planting stars which represent youth. (1)
The Big Dipper
Perhaps the best-known asterism, at least in the northern hemisphere, is the Big Dipper, part of the constellation of Ursa Major, the Big Bear. It is easy to recognize, and does look like a dipper. Other cultures have identified it as a plow, wagon, barbeque pit, and perhaps the most meaningful, the drinking gourd.
As escaped slaves were leaving the south during the Civil War, they traveled north at night to try to go undetected. They were given directions to “follow the drinking gourd.” Since the Big Dipper is a constellation near the north celestial pole and the pole star Polaris, they could easily find the asterism and walk towards it; their own GPS system. (1)
Today we recognize 88 modern constellations, adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1928. At the same time, the International Astronomical Union adopted constellation boundaries, much like state boundaries within a country like the United States.
Perhaps one of the most-intriguing — and disturbing – modern constellation stories took place in 2013, when a 22-year old New Hampshire woman stabbed her father during a fight outside while trying to identify constellations.
Finding constellations depend on your location; the less lighting you have, the better. Under some city lighting conditions, it is difficult to even find the bright stars, nevertheless many of the fainter stars that make up a constellation’s stick figure outline. (1)