March 26, 2017

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Lupus – the wolf

The constellation Lupus is way down south. It was even recognized as the wolf by Claudius Ptolemy a couple of thousand years ago, which is notable because Ptolemy was mostly concerned with the stuff more to the north. On the other hand the stars in this area are near Centaurus and they do in fact […]

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March 19, 2017

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Lynx – the lynx

The constellation Lynx is one of a few that is its own translation. It means “lynx” so no fancy steps are required to explain it. In the late 1600’s Johannes Hevelius named it after the wild cat because those animals have eyesight good enough to see the stars here and humans don’t (true story). I’ve […]

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March 12, 2017

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Lyra – the lyre

High in the summer sky you’ll find Lyra, the lyre, which is a small harp-like musical instrument. On some old-timey maps it is depicted as a eagle, or sometimes a vulture, with a small lyre in its mouth. Clearly this one was designed by an astronomy club committee. Orpheus is the mythical guy who started […]

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March 5, 2017

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Mensa – the table

Mensa means “table.” It is also the name of a southern constellation mapped out by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. Originally Lacaille meant for this area of the sky to be named “Table Mountain” after a place in Africa near Cape Town. People casually shortened the name to just Table and also shortened Nicolas Louis de […]

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February 26, 2017

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Microscopium – the microscope

Having named one southern constellation after a telescope, Lacaille named another after the microscope. The two star groups are beside each other. It seemed only right since each of these inventions expanded our level of consciousness by orders of magnitude, albeit in opposite dimensions of space. From sub-atomics to the multi-verse, the science of optics […]

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February 19, 2017

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Monoceros – the unicorn

The constellation Monoceros was invented to fill in a big gap in the winter sky. The ancient star watchers don’t seem to have been overly concerned about the sky in a cartographical sense, so they recognized Orion and Hydra and associated them with mythical stories, but they left the dim area in between as a […]

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February 12, 2017

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Musca – the fly

The southern constellation of Musca represents a lowly fly. When Johann Bayer added it to his maps he called it “The Bee” and folks liked that name for a couple of hundred years. But then some map maker called it The Fly except there was already a fly up north which was part of Aries […]

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February 5, 2017

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Norma – the carpenter’s square

Norma is a southern constellation and the name refers to the thingy a carpenter uses to make stuff look normal. It’s a good example of how the name for a group of stars can rapidly evolve. It was first named by a French guy, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, who called it “l’Equerre et la Regle.” […]

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January 29, 2017

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Octans – the octant

The southernmost constellation in the whole sky, Octans, is named after a celestial navigation instrument called an octant, which is better than a quadrant, but not as good as a sextant, and no where as good as GPS. Isaac Newton invented the quadrant which was a handy way of finding your way across an ocean […]

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January 22, 2017

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Ophiuchus – the serpent bearer

The constellation of Ophiuchus represents a big guy who figured out how to kill snakes and then bring them back to life. He figured if it worked on snakes it should work on humans too. The gods killed him of course, because they’re gods and that’s what they do. Here’s a bit of trivia for […]

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January 15, 2017

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Orion – the hunter

After the Big Dipper, Orion is easily the most known and the most pointed out constellation by the people who recognize at least some of them. There is the obvious belt, although Orion lived BP (Before Pants) so he wears a short skirt, or kilt or such, and below that hangs his big, um sword. […]

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January 8, 2017

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Pavo – the peacock

There is a constellation way down in the southern part of the sky named Pavo which means Peacock, and its brightest star is named Peacock. Coincidence? Are there really any coincidences? Twenty four hours in a day, twenty four beers in a case. Okay that one maybe. Although those pesky Romans and the Egyptians both […]

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