Lynx – the lynx

March 19, 2017


lynxThe 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 never heard anyone use the expression “eyes like a lynx” but Hevelius apparently did. The main reason for creating this region of sky is for mapping. Something was needed to fill the dim gap.


The brightest star in Lynx is still pretty dim. Its name is Alvashak which has an obscure meaning but probably translates roughly to “Brightest star in Lynx but still pretty dim.” This is one of those giant orange stars that has retired from the main sequence and spends its days dabbling in advanced alchemy. Right now the dabbling is just a hobby but when it dies the galaxy will hold an estate sale so we’ll see what it’s been hoarding.

apm08279There is an interesting object in Lynx, assuming you own the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s called APM 08279+5255 and it’s a quasar whose image is currently being warped by the gravitational lensing of an intervening galaxy.

A quasar as you may recall is what happens in the early days of a universe when super-massive blackholes in the cores of proto-galaxies are gobbling up stars like popcorn. And I mean like the right way to eat popcorn, cramming it in your mouth by handfuls, so fast that bits of popcorn are flying outwards at terminal velocity. Not all of it makes it in the hole.

Anyway, there is a big galaxy in the way of our view and the gravity is making space and time look like a vinyl record that has been left in the back window of a car on a hot day. So our images of APM 08279+5255 are pretty messed up, even before the superfluous Instagram filters.

Carpe Noctem

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