The Centaurus Constellation
Centaurus is a southern constellation at about 13 hours right ascension and 40° south in declination. This constellation is made up of 17 stars that form the shape of the legendary centaur: a mythical half-man, half-horse creature that lived in northern Greece. Centaurus is one of the three circumpolar southern constellations, which means that it revolves continuously around the south celestial pole without ever dropping below the horizon.
This constellation is also rather large, which makes it really easy to spot with the naked eye or with the help of a stargazing application. Unfortunately for northerners, this constellation is not visible from the northern hemisphere.
Facts About The Centaurus Constellation
Last updated: January 7, 2022
- Its star pattern is made of 17 stars.
- It is one of the three southern circumpolar constellations.
- It is the ninth largest constellation.
- It is part of the Hercules family of constellations
- There are three meteor showers associated with Centaurus: the Alpha Centaurids, the Omicron Centaurids, and the Theta Centaurids.
- It takes up an area of 1,060 square degrees of the night sky.
- It can be observed by anyone located between +25° and -90°of latitude.
- Two of the brightest stars of the entire night sky lie within the Centaurus constellation.
- It is best viewed in Spring during the month of May.
- Centaurus contains 5 galaxies, 5 nebulae, 8-star clusters and one supermassive black hole.
- Centaurus has 281 stars with a visual magnitude of over 6.5, meaning that they can be seen with the naked eye.
Myths & stories about the centaur
This mythical creature has captured the imagination of people for centuries and has been featured in art, literature, and popular culture. While the story of the centaur may be mythical, there is no doubt that this creature represents a powerful symbol of strength and power.
The story of the Centaurus constellation is thought to be heavily linked to the story of the Chiron.
The story of Chiron in Greek mythology is one of great tragedy and suffering. Chiron was born to Cronus, the king of the titans, and Philyra, a seqanymph. He was a centaur, meaning he had the body of a man from the waist up and the legs and hooves of a horse from the waist down.
Despite his unusual form, Chiron was known for his great wisdom and kindness. He was a teacher to many of the most famous heroes in Greek mythology, including Achilles, Asclepius, and Heracles. He is also said to have founded the science of medicine.
Characteristics & Location
Centaurus is one of the brightest constellations in the southern hemisphere. It is located near the south celestial pole, at about 13 hours right ascension and 40° south in declination, and visible at latitudes between +25° and −90°. Its name is Latin for ‘centaur’, and it is dominated by a red giant star known as Alpha Centauri (also known as Rigil Kentaurus.)
Centaurus contains many bright stars, including 3 first magnitude stars. It has more stars visible to the naked eye than any other constellation and includes Omega Centauri, the largest star cluster in the galaxy. Its bordering constellations include Antlia, Carina, Circinus, Crux, Hydra, Libra, Lupus, Musca and Vela.
The best time to observe Centaurus is in May, between 9 and 11 pm
The major stars located in the centaur constellation
The star pattern in constellations is a group of stars that form a specific design or shape in the night sky. It is used by modern-day people to help locate the position of the stars and planets. Stars were used for navigation long before people started using maps. These stars can easily be observed with a small telescope or a pair of astronomical binoculars.
Below is a list of the main stars that form the Centaurus constellation.
Rigil Kentaurus – α Centauri (Alpha Centauri)
Rigil Kentaurus, which roughly translates to “the foot of the centaur”, is a yellow main-sequence star similar to our Sun that is part of a 3-star system. With a visual magnitude of -0.29, it is the third brightest star in the night sky. It is only 4.364 light-years away from Earth and therefore is one of the closest stars to our solar system.
Proxima Centauri (Alpha Centauri C)
Proxima Centauri is also part of this three-star system with Rigil Kentaurus. It is a rather small red dwarf star with a mass only about one-eighth that of our sun. An exoplanet orbiting Proxima Centauri was discovered in 2016.
Hadar (Agena) – β Centauri (Beta Centauri)
Beta Centauri, also known as Hadar, has an apparent magnitude of 0.61 which makes it the 11th brightest star in the night sky. It is the third star in the triple star system of the southern constellation Centaurus. It is a blue giant star entering the later stage of its stellar lifetime. When Beta Centauri turns into a supernovae, the star explosion will most likely be visible from earth.
Menkent (Haratan) – θ Centauri (Theta Centauri)
Theta Centauri is an orange giant star located at a distance of 58.8 light-years from Earth. It has an apparent magnitude of 2.06, which makes it fairly easy to spot in the night sky. Its common name, Menkent, means “shoulder” which refers to its location in the Centaurus constellation.
Muhlifain – γ Centauri (Gamma Centauri)
Muhlifain is a binary star system located 130.15 light-years from Earth. This blue subgiant star has a radius 4.65 times larger than the Sun. Muhlifain is said to travel through the vacuum of space at a speed of 6 km/s!
ε Centauri (Epsilon Centauri)
Epsilon Centauri is a star with the spectral class “B1III” (blue color) and a visual magnitude of 2.29. Epsilon Centauri is one of the brightest stars in the constellation and can be viewed with the naked eye under dark skies or through a pair of astronomical binoculars.
η Centauri (Eta Centauri)
Eta Centauri is a variable main-sequence star located 305.68 light-years away from Earth. It is 12 times more massive than our Sun and 8,400 times more luminous.
Alnair – ζ Centauri (Zeta Centauri)
Zeta Centauri is a sub-giant star with a visual magnitude of 2.55. Its common name “Alnair” translates to “the bright star of the centaur’s body”. From a distance of 385 light-years, Zeta Centauri is almost 8 times the mass of the Sun and around 6 times the radius of the Sun.
Ma Wei – δ Centauri (Delta Centauri)
Delta Centauri is a star with a visual magnitude of +2.57, which makes it easily observable with the naked eyes. It is located at a distance of about 410 light-years from Earth.
ν Centauri (Nu Centauri)
Nu Centauri is a blue-white subgiant located about 475 light-years from Earth. Nu Centauri has an average apparent magnitude of 3.41 and produces energy at a rate of 4970 times that of the Sun.
The major deep-sky objects located in the centaur constellation
The Centaurus constellation contains more than 225 deep-sky objects listed in the Messier Catalog, New General Catalogue (NGC) and Index Catalogue (IC). Some of those can be photographed by amateur astrophotographers equipped with high-end telescopes and cameras. With more than 180 galaxies, 26 star clusters and 8 nebulae, the Centaurus constellation is full of cosmic wonders.
Below are the 6 main deep sky objects found in this constellation:
Centaurus A (NGC 5128)
Centaurus A (Cen A or NGC 5128) is a radio galaxy with a core disruptor, thought to be caused either by an unusually bright supermassive black hole at its center or a collision between two galaxies. Centaurus A’s lobes emit strong emissions of X-rays, while measurements suggest they also produce large quantities of positrons. It is the fifth brightest galaxy in the sky.
Omega Centauri (NGC 5139)
Omega Centauri is a globular cluster located in the constellation Centaurus. It is the brightest and largest globular cluster in the Milky Way, and one of the largest known objects in the universe. Omega Centauri contains about 10 million stars and is estimated to be 17,000 light-years from Earth.
NGC 4945 is another popular target for those who want to try their hand at observing galaxies. It is a barred spiral galaxy located about 37 million light-years away from the Milky Way, and it is best observed from the southern hemisphere.
The Blue Planetary (NGC 3918)
NGC 3918 is a very large planetary nebula located in the constellation of Centaurus. It is approximately 4,900 light-years away from Earth. NGC 3918 is the third brightest planetary nebula in our skies. An interesting fact about NGC 3918 is that it is thought to have been created by a red supergiant star.
NGC 4622 (The Backward Galaxy) is a spiral galaxy about 200 million light-years away from Earth. It is classified as a Sa galaxy, meaning it has a loosely wound spiral structure. The galaxy is home to about 100 billion stars and is thought to be around 10 billion years old.
NGC 5090 and NGC 5091
The Centaurus constellation is a popular spot for stargazers, as it contains some of the brightest stars in the southern sky. These include Alpha Centauri, which is the nearest star to Earth, and Beta Centauri, which is the second -brightest star in the constellation.
The Centaurus constellation is a beautiful and fascinating part of the night sky and is well worth a visit for any stargazer. Thanks for reading!
Written by Tom Urbain
I’ve been fascinated by space and astronomy from a very young age. When I’m not watching space-themed documentaries, movies or TV series, I spend most of my free time in my backyard admiring the planets and galaxies with my telescope.
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