Lupus - The Wolf Constellation

The Lupus constellation is a part of the southern hemisphere night sky in which a group of close stars together form an imaginary figure of a mythical wolf. The partition of the sky by constellations has a historical basis, but the modern constellations are exactly separated from each other by a distinct boundary between them.

For centuries, constellations have been a way for mankind to understand and interpret the patterns in the night sky in order to navigate. And Lupus, despite being made of stars without a high magnitude (brightness) is one of them.

Facts About The Lupus Constellation

Last updated: 5th May 2020

  • Lupus is ranked on position 46 among all existing constellations in terms of size.
  • The Lupus constellation was part of the 48 constellations labelled in the astronomical manual “Almagest”, published in 150 AD.
  • Lupus was first thought to be part of a neighbouring constellation, a sacrifice made by the mythical centaur. 
  • The Lupus constellation’s outline is made of 9 stars and contains 4 minor deep-sky objects.
  • It is a southern hemisphere constellation, which means it is not visible if you live in the north. 
  • A massive supernova happened in the Lupus constellation in 1006. The light from this cosmic explosion was visible in the night sky for many weeks.
  • The best time to see this constellation is June.
  • Lupus is part of the Hercules constellation family.
  • The wolf constellation is one of the 42 constellations shaped like an animal.
lupus the wolf constellation

The Wolf Constellation

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) made a list of 88 contemporary constellations, with well-known boundaries so that each point in the sky belongs to only one constellation. A large number of constellations originated in ancient Greece and Mesopotamia and they were mostly named based on Greek mythology. One of the many constellations is Lupus constellation. 

lupus the wolf constellation
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Discovery of the wolf constellation

In ancient times, the Lupus constellation was considered to be located inside the asterism within the Centaurus constellation. It was originally thought that the star pattern depicted a wolf about to be speared by the Centaur. The first person who separated this constellation from Centaurus was Hipparchus of Bithynia and he named is “Therion” in 2nd century BC. It is not known when and who exactly invented the first names of the constellations, but a set of 48 constellations was already officially recognised in 150 AD. These constellations were listed in the Almagest, written by Ptolemy. One of the 48 constellations in the Almagest is the Lupus constellation.

Characteristics & Location

The International Astronomical Union adopted a three-letter abbreviation for the constellation, Lup. Lupus is on the 46th place among the 88 constellations in size and covers an area of 333.7 square degrees, which equates to 0.81% of the night sky. The official boundaries of the Lupus constellation are defined by a twelve-sided polygon. The wolf constellation is part of the Hercules constellation family is located in the third quadrant of the southern hemisphere (SQ3). It is surrounded by the following constellations: Centaurus, Hydra, Norma, Circinus, Scorpius, and Libra.

For those familiar with celestial coordinates: the Lupus constellation boundaries lie between 14h 17m 48.0635s and 16h 08m 36.6735s, while its declination boundaries are between -29.83and -55.58. It is best to observe it during June but, as it is a southern hemispheric constellation, it can’t be seen easily or at all from the northern hemisphere.

Meaning & Symbolism

Like most other constellations, Lupus constellation got a name from a Latin word: Lupus (Pronunciation: Loo-puss), which means wolf. This is the modern name for this constellation because it looks like one, but back to many centuries ago, astronomers weren’t exactly sure on what type of animal this constellation was. As a result, ancient Greeks gave it the name “Therion”, while the Roman named it Bestia, both name meaning beast. Both cultures initially thought that Centaurus, a neighbouring constellation, was offering this animal as a sacrifice to Ara, the altar.

Ancient Hebrews and Arabics also recognised this constellation and gave it the name “Asedah” and “Asedaton”, which means “to be slain”. In the ancient sculptured Zodiac of Denderah, the Lupus constellation is pictured as a little child with its finger on its lips and is called Sura.

Myths and stories about the Lupus Constellation

Astronomers did not connect this constellation with any specific animal until the Renaissance, when, by translating Ptolemy’s Almagest from Latin, scientists finally identified it with a wolf. As we already know, ancient Greeks and Romans knew about this constellation and named it the “beast” but it could have been any beast.

Lupus being sacrificed by Centaurus
Lupus being sacrificed by Centaurus

Greek Lore

Some mythologist thinks that the Lupus constellation may have some ties to the story of Lycaon, the ancient king of Arcadia. This is mainly based on one version of the story where the king is transformed into a wolf by Zeus himself.

Babylonian Lore

There is a theory that in ancient Greek, this constellation got its name from the Babylonian figure of the Mad Dog (Uridimmu). The Mad Dog was a hybrid creature with a human head and torso, while its legs and tail are originated from a lion. Also, this mythical creature was often associated with the sun god and Bison-man.

Chinese Lore

The Lupus constellation is not a wolf but its star pattern is rather part of a bigger constellation called “Qiguan”. Quigan represented the emperor’s army due to the rather high number of stars making up the shape of this ancient constellation. In modern days astronomy, Lupus is part of the eastern quadrant in the sky and symbolised as the Azure Dragon of the East. 

The main stars that outlines the Lupus Constellation

Lupus contains about 1281 stars, 74 of which can be observed with the naked eye on a very clear night sky. However, 9 main stars make up the outline of the wolf constellation. There are 3 principal stars: they are are all blue-white giants brighter than magnitude 3.

Alpha Lupi

At a magnitude of 2.3, the brightest star of the wolf constellation is αLup (also known as Men). This blue-white giant star is thought to be located about 460 light-years away from us. It’s about 10 times bigger than our sun and 25 000 times brighter. In the constellation outline, you can find Alpha Lupi at the bottom and making up the shape of the wolf’s leg.

 

The main stars making up the outline of the lupus constellation

Beta Lupi

βLupi (Beta Lupi or Kekouan) is a little dimer (magnitude 2.68) but remain observable with the naked eye on a clear night. It is also a blue-white giant and is located 383 light-years away, not far away from a supernova remnant. Beta Lupi is also much bigger than our sun (8.8 times more) and can be found at the end of the star pattern that looks like the front leg of the wolf.

Gamma Lupi

The third of the brightest star in the wolf constellation is γLupi. Gamma Lupi is a blue-white subgiant star belonging to the stellar class B2 IV. Its distance from Earth is about 420 light-years and has an apparent visual magnitude 2.77 which is just a little dimmer than Beta Lupi. You can find Gamma Lupi in the upper part of the constellation’s shape, underneath the head of the wolf.

The other less “impressive” stars in Lupus constellation are blue-white subgiants Delta Lupi, Eta Lupi, Iota Lupi, yellow stars Zeta Lupi, 1 Lupi and red giant star Phi-1 Lupi.

The major deep sky objects located in the Lupus Constellation

The wolf constellation does not contain any celestial objects that are part of the Messier catalogue unfortunately for astrophotographers, but it has several interesting deep-sky objects. The most famous of them are SN1006 (supernova remnant), NGC 5986 (globular cluster) and IC 4406 (the retina nebula).

SN 1006

SN 1006 (image from NASA library) is home to a supernova located 7,200 light-years away that was visible from Earth in 1006. This celestial event got as bright as -7.5 of apparent visual magnitude, making it more luminous than any planet of the solar system. It was the most glittering stellar event in recorded history: It was seen between April 30 and May 1 of that year and it was recorded by many observers from China, Egypt, Iraq, Japan, Switzerland, and North America.

supernova remnant SN1006

NGC 5986

NGC 5986 is a globular cluster located about 2.5 degrees northwest of the star Eta Lupi at a distance approximately 33,900 light-years from our home planet. It contains thousands of individual stars and has an apparent visual magnitude of 7.52. This globular cluster is memorable because it contains 2 very bright stars (A-F class) that we suspect to be in their last stage of evolution before going supernova.

globular cluster NGC5986

IC 4406

IC 4406 (Retina nebula) is a planetary nebula which is located about 2,000 light-years away, near the west border of the lupus constellation. One of the main characteristics of this nebula looks like doughnut seen from the side. IC 4406 is classed as a bipolar nebula which means that it looks like a luminous point of light with two lobes coming out each side.

retina nebula IC4406

Trivia

During the conquest of England by William The Conqueror, it was believed that one of the shining stars in the lupus constellation was a diving sign in favour of the duke of Normandy who as in the process of conquering new lands. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the story behind the constellation Lupus?

Lupus is quite an old constellation and there are no clear story or myths for the wolf constellation. For a long time, it was considered a sacrifice made by the neighbouring constellation, Centaurus.

When can you see Lupus the constellation?

If you live in the southern hemisphere, you can see Lupus most of the year (the best month being June). If you are located in the North, it won’t be visible to you.

Where is the Lupus constellation?

The wolf constellation is located in the southern hemisphere, inside the third quadrant (SQ3).

Have you seen this constellation in the night sky?

Let us know your experience in the comment section 🙂

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Hey! I’m Tom Urbain, the founder of StarLust.org. I have been obsessed with space from a very young age. When I’m not binge-watching space documentaries, movies or TV shows, I can be found in my backyard, carefully collimating my telescope… ready to observe the universe!

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2 thoughts on “Lupus Constellation”

  1. hello Tom, I live in nz and have enjoyed observing the stars all my life, and the constellation scorpio and lupus for the past ten years, the wolf is actually scorpio and lupus is the centaur spearing the wolf, which is actually a wolf pup, this opens up a whole new understanding of the constellations as most astronomers have got their constellations and the ancient lore mixed up a little. I hope your in the southern hemisphere and can see that tonite? also I noticed a flashing star in lupus could that be the remnants of the supernova? thank you for your website you’ve helped me figure out what ive been looking at for ten years, the journey continues, cheers!

  2. Hi Nicholas, thank you for your comment! I’m currently based in the UK so I’m not able to see Lupus from here but my family and I are planning a holiday in the south whenever it’s safe to travel again. I plan on taking pictures with my DSLR camera and update this article. I appreciate your input and wish you all the best on your stargazing journey! Cheers!

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