Apus – the bird of paradise

February 18, 2018


The constellation Apus represents a Bird of Paradise. It gets its formal name from the Greek word “apous” which means “footless.” That’s pretty weird. The backstory begins with Magellan and his intrepid men. They took the first big trip around the earth in 1522, proving that if you can go far enough in this crazy world, you’ll only come back to where you started.

Magellan got himself killed half-way ’round but the crew brought back all kinds of fun souvenirs. The natives of New Guinea had given them the skins of these fancy-ass birds after first cutting off the best bits for themselves, including the feet. The feet were the natives idea of money. They were like hundred dollar bills or something. The feet were expensive but the rest of the poor bird’s fancy carcass was free. So the first examples to be examined in Europe were footless, and fancy free.

When Dutch navigators Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman made maps of the southern skies they added Apus. But shortly after that it was almost the victim of an epic typo. When Plancius made his maps he accidentally wrote “Apis” which means Bee. His maps were rather popular so people were like “okay then” and began drawing it as a big honeybee. I have to admit it’s easier to explain the connection between the word Apis and bees than the whole footless bird thing. Eventually the mistake was sorted out and the mystery of the birds and the bees was resolved.

None of the stars in Apus have real names. Sorry about that but we can just make some up if you like. Maybe they will catch on. The brightest star, Alpha, is orange, so let’s call it Greenless.

Even though Apus doesn’t have any bright stars, or funny mythical stories about it, it does have the Milky Way running through it. A fair amount of it is milky. If you scan Apus with binoculars you will see some of the crooks and crannies and the delicate drapery of our own galaxy. And that’s a pretty thing.

If you have a least an 8″ telescope, and you should, you can see NGC-6101 in Apus. It’s a globular cluster that is famous for having an alarming number of black holes, perhaps several hundred. Considering the various dynamic circumstances involved with NGC-6101, that is not thought to be possible. But it turns out the universe doesn’t care what we think.

A selfie of yours truly, the author and his 12 inch.

Carpe Noctem

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