The Constellation of the Lizard (Lacerta - Lac)

On beautiful summer evenings, one is usually attracted by well-known constellations, such as Cassiopeia, the Swan, Cepheus, Andromeda and Pegasus, without perhaps knowing that at the centre of these 5 constellations there is the Lizard, with inconspicuous stars, but with its head that seems to lie on the Milky Way. Thanks to the diagram made as always thanks to Stellarium, we can see exactly where this constellation is, which as we will see has a great feature in store.

The name, history and myth of the Lizard

The constellation of the Lizard was 'established' in 1690, when the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius included it in his star atlas, the Firmamentum Sobiescianum.

The text, completed in 1687, remained silent until 1690 when it was published by the widow Elisabetha.

Being so recent, it doesn't have a mythology to tell and its name is essentially linked to its shape, although it looks more like a mouse than a lizard. In fact, Hevelius himself speaks of Lacerta sive Stellio, in memory of the Stellion, which is an amphibious saurian similar to the triton and salamander. Hevelius wrote in a note that he chose such a small amimal because in such a small space and still free from classical constellations, only a lizard could find a place.

After this baptism, others tried to assign other names: the astronomer Augustine Royer in 1679 called it 'Sceptre and Hand of Justice' dedicating it to Louis XIV, while Bode called it 'Glory of Frederick' in homage to Frederick II of Prussia.

Neither of the two pimp names was successful, so the constellation went down in history as 'Lizard'.

The representation of the Lizard presents no surprises, both according to Hevelius

the Lizard according to Hevelius

that according to Stellarium

the Lizard according to Stellarium

The stars of the Lizard

comparison between the stars of the Lizard and other known stars

A simple glance at the diagram beside (realized as always by the undersigned with the help of Illustrator) is enough to understand that inside this nice constellation there is a really interesting star, the 5 Lac, a fantastic red supergiant of class M0, which has a diameter of 295 times that of our Sun.

My Laconic friends sent me a photo of their star from a distance of 10 UA: a show that leaves us speechless, especially them...

Joking aside, think that at this same distance (Saturn's distance from the Sun) our star appears instead as a small disk of just 3′ in diameter, exactly one tenth of how it appears from the Earth, since now the distance is ten times greater: in the picture you can see the dramatic comparison between the two stars seen at the same distance.

In the Lizard there is the unfailing class K3 giant, 1 Lac, the elder sister of the usual Aldebaran, with a diameter exactly double of the most famous and bright star of the Taurus: the notoriety of this last famous star is given by the undoubted advantage of being only 66 at a distance compared to the 621 of the stellona.

My friends Lacunosi, whom I asked to receive a photo of their star, forgot to send it to me in time for publication, but their name should already suggest that they would need good care of phosphorus, which unfortunately is scarce on their planet.

The third big star (which can barely be glimpsed in the diagram) is the 15 Lac, also this one of class M0, which with a diameter equal to 35 times that of the Sun is also, if only slightly, bigger than Aldebaran.

My Lacrimosi friends have always suffered this fact, because they too would have liked a giant star like that of the Laconics: really incontestable... and not even that nice.

Going back again serious, inside the constellation there is a very near star, the star EV Lac, of spectral class M3, placed at a distance from us of only 16 al.

The photo sent to me by the diligent Evlacidi shows our star in a zone of sky full of stars of our southern hemisphere, of constellations of the Sails, of the Centaur and of the Carena, as you can expect since at our latitudes the star is in a Boreal constellation.

Deep Sky Objects

The constellation Lizard presents two interesting objects. The first is the open cluster NGC 7243

the open cluster NGC 7243...

while the second object is BL Lac, whose name indicates that it was first considered a variable star, while in reality it is the active nucleus of a galaxy, a variable source of radio waves.

the BL lac object, the nucleus of a galaxy...

Names of stars and visibility

No star in this small constellation has ever received a denomination.

As far as the visibility of the Lizard is concerned, it has to be said that it is in practice a circumpolar constellation, which therefore at our latitudes never sets completely: only at the beginning of May, at 9 p.m., it is low on the northern horizon, showing only its head, while at the end of October we find it at the zenith.

For this reason I invite all enthusiasts to remember her existence, when observing the constellations that surround her in the sky: if it is dark, for example in the mountains, then she too becomes easily recognizable. And do not forget!

Audio Video The Constellation of the Lizard (Lacerta - Lac)
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