Looking Up: I Am Grus

Oct 16, 2017

You'll have to 'crane' your neck to see this constellation, visible low in the Southern Colorado skies this time of year.
Credit Chaouki (Frankfurt, Germany) / Wikimedia Commons

This week on Looking Up we learn a little bit about Grus the Crane, a relatively 'new' constellation.

When you think of the elegant bird known as the Crane, you likely think of grace and bright feathers. But when you look at the constellation of the Crane, visible low in the South in Colorado skies right now, you might be in for a surprise.

The first surprise is the name of the constellation – Grus. That it, just Grus. Grus the Crane. Not too impressive, eh? So at least this grouping of stars should have some kind of magical back story, about how Grus came to be placed in the stars? Nope, nadda. Grus was a constellation added to the night sky fairly recently, astronomically speaking, in 1597, by a couple of Dutch astronomers on a voyage to the East Indies. Grus was one of 12 “new” constellations added to the larger number of older, traditional constellations that have stories based in mythology or ancient cultures. Grus is just, well, Grus.

And, to be totally honest, it’s not even that impressive. There’s only one star in the constellation bright enough to have a separate, non-scientific name, and that’s Alnair, which cleverly means “the bright one.”  Beyond that, Grus contains a few pretty but dim galaxies, but no cool looking nebula or clusters of stars. Grus is one of those constellations that actually does look like its name – showing up as kind of a stick figure bird. So take a look, way south, at the crane that has no back story and the funny name, Grus.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Grus or any of the wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.