Vela – the sails

July 24, 2016

Astronomy

CatamaranSailsWay down there near the south pole there is a constellation named Vela, the sails.

The sails use to be part of a bigger constellation called Argo Navis which included the whole ship. That’s how it was 2000 years ago when Ptolemy made star maps with many of the names we still use today. As you may recall, the good ship Argo is the one Jason and the Argonauts used on their way to go hack and slay skeletons and other creepy things, and to fetch a pricey magical sheepskin.
jason1
Fast forward to the 1700’s, an aggressive french astronomer named Lacaille chopped up Ptolemy’s version into the stern (Puppis), the keel (Carina), and the sails (Vela), which as it turns out is rather convenient so folks went along with it ever since.
vel
The so-called “False Cross” is located in Vela, sometimes mistaken for the real cross, which is more famously called the Southern Cross. The real cross is important for navigation because it points to true south. So if you are the navigator don’t get them mixed up or the captain will be real cross with you.
crisscross
There are some shredded leftovers from a supernova to be found in this area. One of the shreds is the Pencil Nebula which is shaped like a ball-point pen.

rayharryhausenAnd let’s not forget that Vela is home to WISE 1049-5319, a binary brown dwarf system a mere 6.6 light years away. Brown dwarfs are sub-stellar objects, basically falling just short of being actual stars, like all those waiters and waitresses in Anaheim. These two WISE guys are the nearest known brown dwarfs to our own solar system.

There is a nice planetary nebula in Vela called the Eight-Burst Nebula (NGC 3132). In a small telescope it looks like a figure 8. If you look at it upside down it still looks like an 8. But if you look at it sideways it looks like an infinity symbol. If you look at it slightly out of focus and smack your telescope mount with your clumsy-ass big feet, it looks strikingly like an angry bumble bee caught in a small jar.

Carpe Noctem.

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