CENTAURUS- CONSTELLATION OF THE MONTH
Centaurus represent the leader of the centaurs, Chiron. The centaurs were creatures that had the body of a horse with the torso and head of a man. Most were considered mighty warriors but Chiron was wise, kind, and as the son of Cronus (Zeus’s father), the only centaur to be immortal.
Chiron hosted a celebration for Hercules after his latest successful labour but after too much wine, the party got out of hand and Chiron was accidently shot with one of Hercules’ poison arrows. Being immortal, Chiron did not die from the wound but instead was condemned to a life of great pain.
Zeus took pity of Chiron and made him mortal once again causing Chiron to quickly die from the poison. As a mark of respect, Zeus placed him in the stars to honour his immortality.
Alpha Centauri is the closest star to the Sun at 4.23 light years away. Despite its title, it is worth noting that this still puts it 40 trillion kms from us! Also known Rigil Kentaurus, meaning ‘Centaur’s Foot’, the star is a triple star system, 2 of which can be separated in a small telescope. The 3rd member is labelled Proxima Centauri and the closest star of the 3 to Earth. Alpha Centauri is the 3rd brightest star in the sky.
Beta Centauri is the 2nd of the 2 bright stars in Centaurus known as The Pointers. Its other name is ‘Hadar’, meaning ‘ground’ in Arabic. This is probably in reference to the fact that Centaurus does not rise high above the horizon in the northern hemisphere. Beta Centauri is the 11th brightest star in our skies, but is 100x further away than Alpha Centauri, residing well over 400 light years away.
Image Credit: Nick Lomb
Collectively, The Pointers can be used to locate celestial south, the point around which the sky seems to rotate.
DEEP SKY OBJECTS
Omega Centauri is largest and brightest Globular Cluster in the night sky and is visible to the naked eye. The easiest way to find this object is the draw a line through Gamma and Delta Crucis (Crux) until you find a hazy spot. Binoculars will reveal a fuzzy star but an amateur telescope will resolve thousands of tightly clustered stars.
image credit: ESO
Omega Centauri contains in excess of 10 million ancient stars all orbiting a common centre and is situated around 17,000 light years away in the halo of the Milky Way.
Such is the size and unusual motion of the cluster, many astronomers suggest that Omega Centauri may in fact be the core of the dwarf galaxy that was absorbed by the Milky Way in the distant past.
Centaurus A is the 5th brightest galaxy in the sky and just visible with binoculars in non light polluted areas.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
The galaxy is in the process of swallowing a spiral galaxy and this has promoted vast star production, explaining its relatively bright luminosity, especially considering Centaurus A is 16 million light years away!