The constellations of The Fly and Octant


The name, the story, the myth

Initially baptized with the name 'Apis' (Ape), the constellation of The Fly was catalogued in about 1590 by Dutch navigators Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman, Plancius welcomed it in his maps and in the glolbo he built in 1598 it appeared without name, apparently because Plancius wanted to introduce it officially under the name of Musca Indica. It was included by Bayer in the catalogue of 1603.


Given the confusion with 'Apus' (Bird of Paradise), the name was changed to 'Musca Australis' since once there was also the Boreal one (a group of stars from Aries). Since the Boreal Moscow no longer exists, the name has finally become Moscow.

In the 1600s globe of Jodocus Hondius the Elder, Moscow is represented as a possible prey of the nearby Chameleon.

The constellation of The Fly

From the diagram of Stellarium we can understand that it is an austral constellation formed by a small group of quite weak stars (from the 3rd magnitude downwards), therefore inconspicuous, if it didn't have some very illustrated neighbours that allow to identify its position in the sky: the wonderful Southern Cross and the couple α and β Cen allow to know in every moment where to look. Too bad that from our latitudes it is never observable, as well as its illustrious neighbours. The Latin name is Musca, that to the genitive makes Muscae, to be read with the sweet "c" (and not musche), when we quote the stars of the constellation.


Clicking on the animation alongside, we can, as usual, launch the three-dimensional applet that allows us to see how much the few stars of Moscow detach from the small virtual star map, as soon as we rotate it by pressing the right and left arrows: a handful of stars far enough away and by pressing "f" we can see the representation that H.A.Rey had designed, but frankly with little success.


The representations of Hevelius

Moscow according to Hevelius

and Stellarium

the Moscow according to Stelalrium

Instead, they show us this insect as we know it.

the cover of a Pearl Jam album

As we'll see shortly, a deep sky object from Moscow has even been used for a Pearl Jam album, Binaural, whose cover features this beautiful celestial object: try asking your music lovers friends, with whom you can show off your astronomical knowledge quoting the constellation the object belongs to.

Some interesting stars

This small constellation presents inside it one of the stars near our Sun, Gliese 440 (also known as HIP 57367) that with its small distance of 15 al is even at the fourth place in the list of the nearest stars to the Sun, after Proxima and Alpha Centauri and the Van Maanen Star: it is a white dwarf of the rare spectral class DQ6. My Muscle Tuner friends have sent me a picture of our Sun, as it appears from their musical planet: our yellow dwarf is located in an area of sky full of boreal stars, Cassiopeia and Cepheus, in the middle of which stands out an excellent parsley, just Alfa Centauri, by virtue of the fact that it is also close to us and is practically along the imaginary line that connects the Sun to Gliese 440: I forgot that my friends are called this way because they are all the time with the tuning fork in their hands tuning their instruments, thus filling the silence of their cheerful planet with 440 Hz tling.


the comparison between the stars of The Fly and other notes

In the comparison diagram between the few stars of The Fly and other star monsters, I have inserted a couple of not bad stars: the biggest one is ε Mus, a red giant of spectral class M5 and visible also to the naked eye (it is of 4a $magnitude$), whose diameter is 116 times that of our Sun: my friends Muscolini have sent me the photo of their star from the distance of 10 UA, distance from which it appears once again threatening and dazzling. In spite of the name, the natives have the typical look of the aliens of science fiction movies, thin, diaphanous and with a big head in which two big eyes dominate: they explained to me that some of them had been called to play themselves in our films and since then in the collective imagination the aliens look like that, while we know that this is not really true, as I pointed out during the various episodes. What nobody can imagine is that their native language is French.

The other big star is μ Mus, class K4 (the same as Aldebaran) 41 times bigger than our Sun, but much bigger than the brightest star of Taurus: my Musoni friends are happy about it, but all in all they don't give it to see, being a bit unpleasant by nature.

But let's leave my friends to their characteristics and abandon the jokes, to dive into deep space.


Deep sky objects

Inside this constellation we find five very interesting objects, photographed by the wonderful HST: clicking the photo we can see the higher resolution version.

I start with the wonderful and unusual spiral planetary nebula called NGC 5189, candidate for the desktop of our PC.

the amazing NGC 5189

then we move on to the globular cluster NGC 4833, full of stars...

the globular cluster NGC 4833

and another really fascinating globular cluster, NGC 4372...

the globular cluster NGC 4372

Here we are instead at the so-called Engraved Hourglass Nebula (the Inlaid Hourglass Nebula), MyCn 18, a planetary nebula with a beautiful but disturbing blue eye inside it

the Engraved Hourglass Nebula

and we end with another strange object, not by chance called Dark Doodad Nebula.

the Dark Doodad Nebula

After remembering that Moscow is never visible in our skies and that none of its stars have been baptized, we move on to a very poor but important constellation.

The Octant


The name, the story, the myth

The constellation Octant was introduced by Nicholas de La Caille to fill the gaps that the skies of the southern sphere had in comparison to those of the northern sphere, so the name is not dedicated to some mythological history of the past, but is dedicated, as often happens for the southern constellations, to one of the instruments used by astronomers -precursor of the sextant- invented in 1731 by John Hadley and used to determine the position of the stars in navigation. Octant" means "the reflection quadrant, used by navigators to measure the height from the horizon to the pole", but also the height of all other stars in general.

But this constellation, apparently born from the need to occupy a void in the charts, acquires a certain relevance since it "contains" the southern north pole.

The constellation of Octant

It's the southern constellation par excellence, being inside it the South Celestial Pole and therefore being the counterpart of the Lesser Bear: unlike the more illustrious constellation, the Octant presents only stars of brightness lower than the 4th magnitude. The southern Polar star is currently not even so visible and useful for navigation: for the record it is a small star of magnitude 5.45, σ Oct.

For one of the oddities of Astronomy, the brightest star of the constellation is not α Oct, but ν Oct, of magnitude 3.8.


Clicking on the animation next to it will open the 3D representation of the constellation, but don't wait to find a better representation than the official one, an anonymous triangle. Let's be content as always to rotate the virtual sheet with the left and right arrows and discover that the component stars are all very far away from us, with one small exception.

A nearby star and a couple of big ones

Among the characteristics of the constellation of the Octant I can point out the star HIP 113229 (also known as LHS 531), of spectral class G2 as our Sun and distant from us 28 al: my 80-year-old friends sent me the photo of the Sun seen from their planet Villarzil. As you can expect the Sun appears in an area of the sky where there is the Polar star, the Big Dipper and the Dragon stars, while the usual Alpha Centauri, which also in this case in three-dimensional space is located along the path between our star and the mentioned HIP 113229, is not expected.

I was saying about my friends: they get their name from the fact that their planet has the particular characteristic of being in a time bubble where time itself does not flow. Since they are all peers of the same age, they constantly remain adult Peter Pan, without getting older or younger: a very serious inconvenience for them is that they always arrive at their appointments hours or days late, not realizing the fact, since their watches are always stopped. Needless to say, being a watchmaker with them is a very unprofitable business and the inhabitants are resigned to keeping a useless object on their wrists (they have four, since they have four arms: three right and one left).

comparison between the stars of the Octant and other notes

From the diagram of comparison between the stars of the Octant and others known during the episodes, we see that there are a couple of them quite big: the biggest one is ε Oct, a red giant of class M6, with a diameter of 83 times that of our Sun.

The other star that I have reported is instead a beautiful yellow giant of stellar class G8, π2 Oct, having a radius equal to 74 times our yellow dwarf. Given the rarity, I immediately went to my friends Pidueotti to see the appearance of their star Giotto from the great distance of 10 UA, which I remember to be the distance of Saturn from the Sun. Again, their star shines a very bright light, but it doesn't look as creepy as the other red giants we have met in the past episodes.

After seeing the representation of an octant by Stellarium

the Octant according to Stellarium

Let's close with this constellation that unfortunately has no deep sky object to show you.



Audio Video The constellations of The Fly and Octant
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