Constellation of the Month – Apus

Constellation of the Month – Apus

Apus is a faint constellation in the southern sky. It represents the bird of paradise, found in New Guinea. The name was given to this sky area at the end of the sixteenth century. It was first documented in a 17th-century celestial atlas included in Johann Bayer’s Uranometria.

Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius originally drew the constellation in the late 16th century, from the observations of Dutch explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman.

These explorers and astronomers sailed on the first Dutch expedition to the East Indies from 1595 until 1597, during which time he made observations of the southern celestial hemisphere and contributed to the creation of 12 new southern constellations.

Apus seen on Chart XX of the Uranographia of Johann Bode (1801), where it was given the alternative title of Avis Indica, the Indian bird, referring to its habitat of the East Indies. The bird’s tail originally extended closer to the south celestial pole at lower left, but was clipped by Lacaille in the 1750s to make room for Octans.

In Greek, the constellation’s name ‘apous’ means “no feet” or “footless”as birds of paradise were once believed to have no feet.

This was becasue the birds were originally known to westerners only from dead specimens without feet or wings; these appendages having been removed by the locals, who prized the plumage for their ornamental dress and traded the birds’ skins with neighbouring islands.

The first examples were brought back to Europe by the survivors of Ferdinand Magellan’s round-the-world voyage in 1522, creating immense interest. For a while it was speculated that these gaudy birds were the mythical phoenix, which is perhaps why the Dutch explorers also invented a southern constellation called Phoenix.

The Apus constellation occupies an area of 206 square degrees and is 67th in size of the 88 constellations. It contains six stars with known planets the closest being 86.42 light-years away. The constellation is circumpolar and so visible all night in the southern hemisphere

It is not a prominent constellation and is located near the south celestial pole, containing only a handful of faint stars none brighter than 4th magnitude. It can be recognized by a small-elongated triangle formed by the stars Beta, Gamma, and Delta.

The nearest star in the group is only 42.69 light years from us and the furthest star is a mere 54360.56 light years away from us.

Donna the Astronomer

I am a keen astronomer lucky enough to live and work in Coonabarabran the Astronomy Capital of Australia! I am a ‘Drover’s Brat’ and discoverer of a couple of comets and asteroids. I operate Milroy Observatory and can show you how to best integrate dark sky experiences into your tourism, farm stay or AirBnB business.

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