The constellation of the Easel & Table mountain

The constellation Mensa

The Latin name means table and it could make to think to a sumptuous table: in reality the modern constellation has been baptized so from Lacaille, to remember the Table Mountain, a mountain situated in South Africa, where the Astronomer made many observations. Whether it is a desert or a mountain, this constellation is the least showy of all the firmament since its main star, α Men (that we will meet soon), is just of magnitude 5: with these premises also going to the southern hemisphere it will be very difficult, first of all, to recognize it and then to see among its stars a mountain.

Not even the late lamented H.A.Rey has succeeded in drawing the Monte Tavola with the dim dots that make up the constellation: clicking on the animation alongside we will open the 3D applet that displays the stars of the Canteen in a virtual sheet, but even pressing "f" we get nothing but a line, which connects (who knows why) the stars β Men and μ Men completely ignoring the brightest, or rather the least weak.

From the diagram of Stellarium we learn that the constellation is adjacent to the Octans, the Little Bear of the South Celestial Pole and therefore it is circumpolar, absolutely invisible at our latitudes. I already add that none of its stars has received a name and moreover, since it has not been created in the antiquity, we can't find any trace of it neither in the Uranometria nor in the work of Hevelius: instead we can see the pictorial representation that Stellarium gives it. The image is turned by 90° just to be able to see the representation of Monte Tavola and the clouds above.

Mount Tavola according to Stellarium

In search of celestial objects

In a constellation formed by very weak stars, it might seem difficult to find interesting objects, but it is not so.

Meanwhile, part of the LMC (Large Magellanic Cloud) extends within the boundaries of the Norma and this automatically triggers the publication of this beautiful photo by the HST

the Large Magellanic Cloud

Then we have a nice globular cluster, NGC 1987.

the globular cluster NGC 1987
the Sun seen by α Men

As for the stars close to the Sun and in any case below the threshold of 60 al used by me, we even find two of them: the nearest one, placed at 33 al from our Sun is the brightest, α Men, a star of class G5 and therefore of the same family as our yellow dwarf. Since the Canteen is very close to the South Celestial Pole it is inevitable that the Sun, if seen from the vicinity of α Men, results in a zone of sky containing stars of the Northern $hemisphere: we find in fact the Polar and Kocab (also she of the Lesser Bear), but also Vega and an excellent intruder, Sirius, that is there because of its distance of only 8 al from us. Confirmation of this is given by the photo taken by my friends Alfamen, a nice population of super-hero comic book fanatics, so much so that they always walk around in colorful tights with one of the 73 letters of their alphabet in front: the one that is most fashionable has the character , which for us is the infinite, mantre for them is the appearance of each of their six eyes.

The second star for proximity is π Men, of spectral class G3, placed at 59 a.m. from us: my Pimenici friends have not provided any photos of the Sun seen from their parts, but this is not a problem since our star of the day is weak and placed practically in the same stellar $campo$ of α Men, with in addition a weak Altair.

the comparison between the stars of the Canteen and other much better known ones

In my diagram of comparison between the stars of the constellation of Monte Tavola and other decidedly more famous ones, just two stars appear: the first one, η Men, of spectral class K6, is 52 times the size of our Sun and that is almost double the well-known Aldebaran, while the second one, β Men, I inserted it because it is of spectral class G like our Sun, but it is 29 times the size of our yellow dwarf. This time I am not talking about improbable friends, neither Etameni nor Betamenidi, because they simply do not exist anymore. Legend has it that eons ago the inhabitants of the two stars embarked on an interstellar voyage with a giant starship in the shape of a planet, of which, however, nothing more is known: a pity, because some sources report that the planet was very beautiful, full of continents and blue oceans, with an atmosphere composed of nitrogen and oxygen and two polar caps full of ice. It's a pity I don't know any more...

the constellation of the painter's easel

Even if the Latin name means painter, the constellation refers to the painter's easel, which obviously we will not find by connecting the dots, but only in the fervent imagination of its creator, the French Astronomer Lacaille. Since it is a modern constellation, we will not find any star with a Greek or Latin name. I anticipate already that not even the Pictor is visible from our latitudes, being very close to the beautiful Canopus, unknown in our skies, but they tell me very beautiful in the austral skies.

The animation alongside as always allows you to open the 3D simulator in whose virtual sheet you can see the few stars of the constellation, which are separated from the sheet itself by a segment equal to their distance from us in light years. Even if the represented stars are few, I always find instructive the fact of being able to see them in 3 dimensions, switching on and off their names with the space bar and the distances with "n".

The only thing we have of the Cavalletto is the one provided by Stellarium.

the Painter's easel according to Stellarium

Deep sky objects

Among the deep sky objects present in the constellation I chose NGC 1705, of which we see a nice picture by HST: clicking it we'll see a high resolution version of it

the irregular galaxy NGC 1705

Inside the constellation there is a large cluster of galaxies, named with the simple acronym SPT-CL J0546-5345, which we see here in an infrared photo by the Spitzer probe

the super cluster of galaxies SPT-CL J0546-5345

With a yellow circle, older, elliptical galaxies are indicated, while with a blue circle, younger, spiral galaxies are indicated.

Interesting stars

Let's now come to the interesting stars, starting from two nearby stars: the first is very close, just 12.76 to the distance, of stellar class M1 and it is the so-called Kaptein's Star, from the name of its discoverer and also known with the initials HIP 24186. It's a star with a very high star motion, the second in absolute after the record of Barnard's Star, which I talked about in this article: according to the values of its high star motion, it's known that this star passed a little more than 10.000 years ago at just 7 to the Sun and since then it's moving away from it. My native friends, the Capitoni, are nice, but all in all very slippery: they live in a planet full of swamps, practically in the middle of the water and among their folkloristic characteristics they don't celebrate Christmas, on the contrary for a couple of weeks at the turn of the year they all lock themselves up at home, to succeed only with the new year. When in Rome, do as the Romans do... However, from their planet, the Sun appears almost third in an area of the sky where Vega, stars of the Dragon and Hercules as well as Alpha Centauri parsley appear.

The other nearest star is instead decidedly more distant, 42 al, and it is the star called HIP 27887, of spectral class K2: also from this star the Sun, this time much lower, the 5th, appears more or less surrounded by the stars visible from Kaptein's, to which are now added others of our Swan. My local astronomer friends are spectral characters, almost transparent, and they are lovers of the mountain, the only mountain that stands out on their planet and that they climb a thousand and thousand times thanks to the strength of their four arms and as many legs: they spend a lot on boots, but you know that passion is priceless.

the comparison of the star of the Painter's Easel with other stars

But let's go back to more serious things, for example to the comparison diagram between the stars (or better the star) of the Cavalletto and other more famous and very big stars: the star η2 Pic, of stellar class M2, has a diameter equal to 41 times that of the Sun and is once again bigger than the arcinota Aldebaran, that practically in every constellation finds stars bigger than her.

Needless to say that my Etaduèpici friends are so proud to celebrate on February 30th the day called Ciao Aldebaran: the strange thing (you may have already noticed) is that they have a $calendar$ with months all out of phase and of different length than ours. Their spiel that they teach children at school goes like this: "Forty-one days counts March, with July, August and September" ... etcetera...

I close the analysis of this constellation reiterating the absence of stars baptized with a name and the fact that it is not visible from our peninsula.

Audio Video The constellation of the Easel & Table mountain
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