The constellation Dorado (Swordfish)

The constellation Swordfish



I confess that knowing this constellation, I had never bothered to know what Dorado was: the Latin name used in antiquity (xiphias) corresponds to the swordfish. But I think I'll keep calling it by its Latin name...

From the image of Stellarium we can see that the constellation is not small at all and we will discover that it contains a long series of spectacular objects.



THE NAME, THE HISTORY, THE MYTH of The Constellation of the Swordfish

The constellation Dorado, known in Italy as Swordfish or Golden Fish, was introduced by Dutch navigators Pieter Keyser and Frederick de Houtman in 1595-1597. Introduced by Plancius in his globe in 1598 under the name Dorado. It represents a fish with a golden livery, which justifies the name given to it. In Italian it would be the lampuga, also known as corifena cavallina , in French dorade. It is a fish that lives in subtropical and tropical waters.

In the logbook of the Keyser expedition there is a note reporting the pursuit by these fish, of schools of flying fish, to which is even attached a drawing showing a specimen jumping out of the water trying to catch its prey. It would not be a coincidence, therefore, that Plancius placed Dorado and Volans next to each other.

The constellation was first depicted in Johann Bayer's Uranometria in 1603.


LMC, Large Magellanic Cloud


Enlarging the photo of Stellarium (where in the southern part you could see a coloured spot) you can better see the LMC (Large Magellanic Cloud) a nebulosity caused by a cluster of stars very close to the Milky Way. We had known it, if you remember, talking about the Dragon, because traveling among the nearby stars of this constellation, the Sun in some cases comes to be right inside this star cluster.


The three-dimensional map that you get by clicking on the image that rotates, allows us to see in depth the stars of the Dorado: with the "f" button we can see the representation of H.A.Rey, definitely more truthful than this fish, that we know very well to appear sometimes on our tables...

There are not many stars and not even those used have received a name: pressing the "space bar" in fact we find are Greek letters and acronyms...

Nearby stars

The Sun seen from ζ Dor


In this "poor" constellation (apparently, however) there are just two stars close by, below 50 light years: ζ Dor and the variable AB Dor. Let's analyze the first one, of spectral class F7, which is 38 light-years away from us and from whose vicinity the Sun is an anonymous star of fifth magnitude placed in a stellar $campo$ rich of stars a little bit mixed, a sort of planetarium: next to Rastaban and Etamin del Drago, we find Vega, Altair, Sirius, Raccoon and two stars of the Lesser Bear.

Big stars

Comparison between Dorado stars and other known stars


Looking at the comparison diagram of the stars of Dorado compared to other already known stars, a real red supergiant monster immediately jumps out of sight: the variable R Dor has a diameter of 330 times our little Sun. Going down the scale we find another red giant 91 times bigger than the Sun (η2 Dor), followed by β Dor a white giant 62 times bigger than our yellow dwarf and finally we find π Dor, class K, 43 times our Sun.


R Dor from a distance of 10 UA


As always I went, with my spaceship Celestia, to my friends Erdoradi to see what their star looks like from a distance of 10 UA: it is really impressive and disturbing with its 15° diameter and a very intense orange red light. My friends, who speak a language very reminiscent of the Roman dialect, fortunately live on a planet at a safe distance from the star monster, a planet they call Atera, equipped with a satellite called Aluna. In their solar system they also have two giant gaseous planets that they call Ggiove (with two "g's") and Colanelli.

But let's give up the nonsense and go back to science...

The Dorado over the centuries

The constellation of Dorado appears in the representation (as always upside down) of Hevelius with the name of Xiphias

The Dorado according to Hevelius

is located (with some difficulty) down there, in the middle of a circle and can be recognized by its characteristic sword. It does not appear in the Uranometria, while in the representation of Stellarium

The Swordfish according to Stellarium


we see instead an ordinary fish, where the sword is completely missing: maybe the graphic designer who made the images didn't know he had to draw a creepy swordfish, instead of a good bream...


Deep sky objects

After these few and small characteristics, now our Swordfish passes to the rescue, presenting within its boundaries a myriad of Deep Sky objects, among which I had to make a choice.
I was talking about LMC: here it is in all its splendor (clicking on all the images you can see more in high resolution), photographed by the tireless HST

The LMC, Large Magellanic Cloud


Here now is a beautiful spiral galaxy, face view, the NGC 1566.

The beautiful galaxy NGC 1566


The NGC 1763 is instead a very bright nebula, associated with three stars of spectral class B

The NGC 1763 Nebula

NGC 1850 is a globular cluster full of yellow-orange stars with a beautiful bluish train next to it.

The NGC 1850 Nebula

NGC 1935 is a very bright nebula, forming a narrow group of nearby objects, together with NGC 1929, 1934 and 1936.

The NGC 1935 Nebula

NGC 1978 is instead a truly spectacular open cluster for its unusual colours.

The open cluster NGC 1978

NGC 2032 is a beautiful nebula, composed of four nebulae and which in its total has been named "Seagull Nebula" (Seagull Nebula).

The NGC 2032 Nebula (Seagull Nebula)

NGC 2070 finally (but only because I chose to follow the numerical order) is the one that Astronomers have immediately renamed "Tarantula Nebula": absolutely fantastic!

The beautiful NGC 2070 (Tarantula nebula)


Let's close this long photo gallery with an object that suddenly appeared in 1987: I'm talking about a supernova, the SN1987A exploded inside the LMC. In this detail of the LMC

Detail of LMC with SN1987A

you can see in the centre a strange object, which I show enlarged in the image taken by the satellite X-ray Chandra

The supernova SN1987A (from the Chandra X-ray satellite)

And here in even more detail, again by the HST

¡Fantastic detail of supernova SN1987A

A movie made by NASA

In this photo of the Hubble Space Telescope,

The area known as N11 within the LMC


Let's see the part of the LMC called N11: for the series "an image, or rather a video, is worth more than a thousand words" NASA has made an exceptional film, starting from a sequence of images, which already individually were very spectacular. The zoom effect towards the central area really gives the feeling of being on a journey through the cosmos inside a real spaceship!

The names of the stars and visibility in the sky

With this constellation I definitely rest: there are no stars that have received a name neither from Arabs, nor from Greeks, nor from other ethnic groups.

For the visibility I repeat what I said at the beginning: the constellation is not visible at our latitudes, given its location within the southern sky. Maybe by organizing a trip to the southern hemisphere, we can finally get to know it better and live!



Audio Video The constellation Dorado (Swordfish)
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