Current Moon Phase

Waning Crescent
28% of full

Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

A Ship in the Sky

A Ship in the Sky

Look up into the southern sky and you may see four constellations that used to be one. The modern constellations Carina, Puppis, Vela, and Pyxis are named among the 88 modern constellations. Combined, though, these four once made up Argo Navis, the largest of the 48 constellations catalogued by Second Century astronomer Ptolemy. Argo Navis, which was sometimes simply known as Argo, is the only one of those original 48 excluded from our contemporary 88.

The constellation was said to represent the Argo, the mythological ship sailed by Jason and the Argonauts in in the their quest for the golden fleece, a magical relic that conferred the right to rule on its holder.

Because Argo Navis was so much bigger than any of the other constellations, French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille broke it up into smaller pieces, Carina, the hull of the ship, Puppis, the stern, and Vela, the sails. He left off Pyxis, now known as the compass or, sometimes, the mast, but the stars in this constellation were all once included in Argo.

Together, these constellations contain more than 185 stars. Only Puppis includes any Messier objects, bright deep sky objects identified primarily by French astronomer Charles Messier during the 18th Century. These are M46, M47, and M93, all open clusters.

Other notable deep sky objects include the planetary nebula NGC 3132, known as the “Eight-Burst Nebula” or “Southern Ring Nebula,” and the so-called “Gum Nebula” in Vela. Carina contains several faint open clusters, while Pyxis is home to Henize 2-10, a dwarf galaxy that lies about 30 million light years away.

Constellations bordering the four parts of Argo Navis include Pictor, Volans, Chamaeleon, Musca, Centaurus, Hydra, Antlia, Columba, and Canis Major.

So head outside, look toward the southern sky, and let your imagination set sail!

2 comments

1 Christine Muncil { 02.19.14 at 9:37 pm }

This fascinates me. I wish I knew where and how to look at the stars.

2 Theresa Connors Elliot { 02.19.14 at 9:55 am }

I am looking forward to searching for these constellations in the southern skies this evening! Thanks again for this fascinating information!

Leave a Comment

Note: Comments that further the discussion of the above content are likely to be approved. Those comments that are vague or are simply submitted in order to promote a product, service or web site, although not necessarily considered "spam," are generally not approved.

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.