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Southern Circumpolar Constellations Help (page 2)

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 16, 2011

Triangulum And Apus

Just below and to the left of Crux, there is a group of three stars that form a triangle. It’s almost a perfect equilateral triangle, with the apex at the bottom and the base on top (Fig. 3-6). This is Triangulum Australis , the southern triangle, often called simply Triangulum . Below this constellation and to its right is Apus , the bird of paradise. It is a small, dim constellation and at this time of the year looks something like a lawn mower (if you have a good imagination).

The Sky “Down Under” Southern Circumpolar Constellations Triangulum And Apus

Figure 3-6. Triangulum, the southern triangle; and Apus, the bird of paradise.

Pavo

Below Triangulum, in the south-southeast sky, is a large group of dim stars. This is the constellation Pavo , the peacock (Fig. 3-7). This is an inappropriate name for such an inconspicuous group of stars. However, you might, with some effort, imagine a large, fan-shaped set of tail feathers, with the bird, at this time of year, appearing upright.

The Sky “Down Under” Southern Circumpolar Constellations Pavo

Figure 3-7. Pavo, the peacock.

Tucana

Low in the southern sky, almost grazing the horizon, is Tucana , the toucan (Fig. 3-8). At this time of year, you can imagine this dim group of stars as having the shape of a bird lying on its side with its beak pointed down and to the right. This constellation contains the Small Magellanic Cloud , a satellite of our Milky Way galaxy.

The Sky “Down Under” Southern Circumpolar Constellations Hydrus, Reticulum, And Mensa

Figure 3-8. Toucana, the toucan.

Hydrus, Reticulum, And Mensa

In the south-southwest, below and to the right of the south celestial pole, there are three constellations of note: Hydrus , the little snake, Reticulum , the net, and Mensa , the table. These are shown in Fig. 3-9. It is hard to imagine how any of these star groups got the names they got. Mensa contains part of the Large Magellanic Cloud , another satellite of our galaxy similar to the Small Magellanic Cloud. Both of the Magellanic Clouds are named after the explorer Magellan, whose ship made the famous round-the-world trip hundreds of years ago and who sailed through the far southern oceans.

The Sky “Down Under” Southern Circumpolar Constellations Hydrus, Reticulum, And Mensa

Figure 3-9. Hydrus, the little snake; Reticulum, the net; and Mensa, the table.

Volans And Carina

Above and to the right of the celestial pole are Volans , the flying fish, and Carina , the keel or ship (Fig. 3-10). Carina is noteworthy because it contains the yellowish white star Canopus , which is the second brightest nighttime star after Sirius.

The Sky “Down Under” Southern Circumpolar Constellations Volans And Carina

Figure 3-10. Volans, the flying fish, and Carina, the keel. Carina contains the well-known bright star Canopus.

Chameleon And Octans

The two constellations closest to the south celestial pole are Chameleon , the lizard, and Octans , the octant. The stars in these groups are so dim that unless you are out in the country away from city lights, you will not see them. Also, if the Moon is near full phase and is above the horizon, its scattered light might wash these constellations out. At this time of the year, Octans in the evening sky appears as a tall, slender triangle immediately to the east of the celestial pole, and Chameleon is near and above it (Fig. 3-11). Apus, the bird of paradise, appears in this group too, centered about 12 degrees (a little more than one fist) above and to the left of the pole.

The Sky “Down Under” Southern Circumpolar Constellations Chameleon And Octans

Figure 3-11. Octans, the octant; Chameleon, the lizard; and Apus, the bird of paradise, are the three constellations closest to the south celestial pole.

Practice problems of this concept can be found at: The Southern Sky Practice Problems

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