Looking Up: Or Not?

Feb 11, 2019

Hal Bidlack takes a measured approach to the constellation Sextan in this week's episode of Looking Up.

As this month’s shows mark four years since I first started making Looking Up episodes, I thought today I’d so something a bit different than I have been the last 200 plus episodes.

Credit yves_guillou / Creative Commons Open Clipart

I’ve always told you about great things at which to look up, so today, I’m going to cut you some slack, and tell you about a constellation you really don’t need to look at, even if you can find it, the truly forgettable constellation of Sextans.

It seems that back when noted Polish astronomer, Johannes Hevelius, who was very proud of his exceptionally keen eyesight, took a break from mapping the Moon through his scope, and turned his attention to creating 10 new – at least for 1687 – constellations, seven of which modern astronomers still use, including the aforementioned Sextans.  In 1679 Helelius’s house burned down, destroying his favorite sextant, an instrument used to measure things in the sky. He must have liked that lost sextant, because he named a small triangle of stars as the new constellation Sextan. None of the stars in it are very bright at all, and, well, there really isn’t anything cool that we know of there. It’s not nearly as interesting as the constellation Leo the Lion directly above Sextans, and heck, the stars are so dim, you likely can’t even see it from a city.

So skip Sextans and you’ll save some time to look up at much more interesting things! 

Sextans A: A Seemingly Square Galaxy
Credit S. D. Van Dyk (IPAC /Caltech) / nasa.gov

If you’d like to take a closer look at Sextans, for some reason, or any of the other 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.