Norma – the carpenter’s square

February 5, 2017


squareNorma 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.” I think he always tried to give things a name at least as long as his own. The problem is, it’s a little itty bitty constellation and there just isn’t enough room on a map for all that. The whole constellation is basically two stars, four on a good night.
carpenterantsSince the original French name means “The square and the rule” some map makers started shortening it to “square” and others called it “rule.” Within just a few years someone called it Norma and that caught on right away because norma is Latin for “normal” although some map makers still tried to squeeze in “Norma et Regula.” Frankly, who’s to say what is normal for humans but in this case normal means “at a right angle” or in other words “90 degrees” which is what a human carpenter is often shooting for anyway.

The Fine Ring Nebula is one of the highlights of Norma. It’s not the absolute best example if you are looking for a planetary nebula, but it’s fine. It was discovered by Harlow Shapley, the same guy who discovered that our solar system is not in the center of the universe. That’s another story.

fine ringIn a planetary nebula the thrown-off shell of gas from an aging star forms an expanding bubble, returning material to the interstellar medium. In most cases the material forms a double-bubble, with two lobes branching off. In the case of the Fine Ring it forms a near perfect circle because gravity from a companion star is helping to shepherd the stuff into a ring by orbiting around it. When our own sun gets old and starts to lose its shit, don’t expect the results to be so organized.

antnebula_01The Ant Nebula is a nebula that looks like an ant. It’s an example of a planetary nebula that, unlike the Fine Ring, isn’t being shepherded by a stellar companion. This is what generally happens when stuff is thrown off of a star that is not only spinning, and spinning differentially, but also having star-quakes, expanding and contracting, and belching and farting. Other side effects are nausea, vomiting, coma, and death. Ask your doctor if you are healthy enough for coronal mass ejections.

There is a weak meteor shower called the Gamma Normids that occurs yearly from March 7 to 23, peaking around March 15. True members of the stream will appear to radiate from Norma but the herd is spread thin. You will likely see as many rogues as members. You also may detect a few strays, which are members of the herd who show up early or late to the shower. That’s what happens when no one is in charge.


Carpe Noctem

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