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In the 2nd century in Alexandria, a great cultural center of the ancient world, Ptolemy wrote the astronomical work that we know as the Almagest. It included descriptions of 48 constellations. In the 20th century, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) listed 47 of Ptolemy's constellations plus 41 newer ones. Many of the constellations depict animals, both real and mythical. And in our time, some animals – not just humans – have gone into space.

Skyful of Animals - Quiz


Mona Evans
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Someone must have left the door open, because the skies are full of dogs. You can see the dogs of Orion and the hunting dogs of the shepherd Böotes in pursuit of the Great Bear. There is also the Running Dog Nebula, and the memory of poor Laika, the first cosmonaut, who perished in space.

Who Let the Dogs out?


Mona Evans
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I have no imagination when looking at the stars. Unless the constellations are drawn out for me, all I see are stars.

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Unless the constellations are drawn out for me, all I see are stars.

I'm with you on that, Angie. I can imagine Orion - just barely! - but nothing else. The asterisms make sense, e.g., the Big Dipper. Yep, I can see it easily as a dipper. Or as a plough, which it is in the British Isles. Or as a wagon, which it is in much of northern Europe. Yep - and a saucepan - as in France. However, it's part of the constellation of the Great Bear and the constellation doesn't remind me at all of a bear. It's also weird that it has a long tail, which bears don't have.


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There are three constellations named for dogs, but what about cats in the sky? There is astrocat Felicette who went into space and returned safely to Earth, but also constellations of big cats and a pawprint 50 light years across.

Cats in the Sky


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What links the biggest constellation in the sky with the flag of Brazil? Why is the star V Hydrae bright red? How did the hero Hercules vanquish a nine-headed monster?

Hydra the Water Snake – Myths and Stars


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Many animals other than humans have been in space. They include fruit flies, spiders, rats, mice, monkeys, chimps, dogs, frogs and jellyfish. It's hard to imagine jellyfish swimming around in the space shuttle, but they were part of the first Spacelab Life Sciences Mission.

Jellynauts Go to Space

The jellyfish don't feature in the quiz. I was quite taken with this project, but couldn't quite fit it into a question!


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In a sky full of gods, heroes and wronged women, there are also four dogs. We have Canis Minor and the two dogs of Canes Venatici, but Canis Major is definitely top dog. It's a prominent constellation that has represented a dog since early Greek times.

Canis Major - the Greater Dog

Canis Minor is one of Orion's hunting dogs. It trots along behind its master unperturbed by the unicorn Monoceros). It's a small constellation with not much more to offer than one bright star, but it has a long history.

Canis Minor - the Lesser Dog


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