Carina – the keel

November 12, 2017


Carina is one of three constellations that make up the Argo. That’s the ship that Jason and the Argonauts used to go fetch the golden fleece. Carina is a word that means “keel” but the constellation is more than that. It’s the main body of the ship. The three parts were one constellation until 1756 when Nicolas Louis de Lacaille divided it up. That’s really for the best because if a region of a map is too big it become unmanageable, confusing, and annoying, like Alaska.

The Argo was built with a special oak beam that was very strong and also could talk. It tended to give good advice, but I’m guessing it mostly talked in vague riddles. That’s just the nature of magical wood.

There is a very bright star here named Canopus. It’s the second brightest star in the whole sky, not counting the sun. It’s named after a famous helmsman. Canopus was the navigator who steered ships for King Menelaus, the king who brought the beautiful Helen of Troy home after the war, in one of the thousand ships launched by her beauty.

Helen had the face that launched a thousand ships. So I guess a millihelen is the amount of beauty required to launch one ship. Anyway, a storm blew them over to Egypt where Canopus wandered off and got himself snake-bit right on the Nile, and died. Menelaus and Helen held a big fancy funeral for him there and started a city named after him, but these days it’s called Abu Qir.

Fittingly the bright star Canopus has been a very important star for navigation of ships throughout history. Even today it is considered important for brave explorers trying to find their way, even for the kinds of ships that sail to outer space.

Canopus is the color of fresh cream.

There is an asterism in Carina called the False Cross. Don’t mistake it for the real cross. Or do, who cares. But if you get off course from following your own star, don’t get snake-bit. Or do. Maybe we’ll have a fancy funeral and then name a town after you. And then change it.

The constellation of Carina includes the star Eta Carinae, a real weirdo that suddenly got brighter than Canopus in 1843. Then it faded down to where it is barely visible to the naked-eye. It’s probably because Eta Carinae is actually two stars, too close together and too friendly for their own good. Teenagers take warning. Now they are right in the middle of a big cloudy fog that was created during that kiss. It’s called the Homunculus Nebula. If they keep on smooching one or both of them will eventually explode. Always make sure there is room between you for the holy ghost.

The Eta Carinae Nebula is a big ass nebula around the star Eta Carinae. It’s also known as NGC 3372. In the middle is a dark shape like a keyhole which Emma Converse named the Keyhole in 1873.

The Wishing Well (NGC 3532) in Carina is an open cluster which is also called the Football Cluster because its overall shape is like a football slightly deflated by Tom Brady. The object is famous for being the first object targeted by the Hubble Space Telescope (the cluster not Tom Brady).

Carpe Noctem

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