Argo Navis

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The constellation Argo Navis drawn by Johannes Hevelius

Argo Navis (or simply Argo) was a large constellation in the southern sky that has since been divided into three constellations. It represented the Argo, the ship used by Jason and the Argonauts in Greek mythology. The abbreviation was "Arg" and the genitive was "Argus Navis".

Due to the phenomenon of precession, there are far fewer southern stars visible today than there were in the times of ancient sailors of the Mediterranean.[1] It is more difficult to make out what remains of the constellation.

Stars that make up constellations rotate around the galactic center of the Milky Way at different speeds. Over time constellations appear to deform and then cease to exist. In 20,000 years, none of the currently observed constellations will be found in the night skies.

When the original Argo Navis constellation still existed, it was found low on the horizon of the night sky. Starting in springtime, there appeared the apparition of a great ship. This ship sailed ever westward skimming along the southern horizon. The ancient Greeks said it was Argo Navis, the ship sailed by Jason and his Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece.

Argo Navis is the only one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy that is no longer officially recognized as a constellation. It was unwieldy due to its enormous size: were it still considered a single constellation, it would be the largest of all. In 1752, the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille subdivided it into Carina (the keel, or the hull, of the ship), Puppis (the poop deck, or stern), Vela (the sails), and, according to some,[2][3][4][5] Pyxis (the compass, formerly the mast). When Argo Navis was split, Lacaille did not retain Bayer's designations (which bore scant relationship to the actual positions of the stars), but like Bayer he did use a single Greek-letter sequence for the three parts: Carina has the α, β and ε, Vela has γ and δ, Puppis has ζ, and so on.[6]:82 (For the dimmer stars, however, Lacaille used a separate Latin-letter sequence for each part.)[6]:82

The constellation Pyxis (the mariner's compass) occupies an area which in antiquity was considered part of Argo's mast (called Malus). Some authorities hold that Pyxis was part of the Greek conception of Argo Navis.[7] Lacaille, however, considered it a separate constellation, representing one of the scientific instruments he placed among the constellations (like Microscopium and Telescopium); he assigned it Bayer designations separate from those of Carina, Puppis and Vela, and his illustration shows an isolated instrument not related to the figure of Argo.[6]:262

The Maori had several names for what was the constellation Argo, including Te Waka-o-Tamarereti, Te Kohi-a-Autahi, and Te Kohi.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pam Eastlick. University of Guam.". 
  2. ^ John Scalzi (2008) Rough Guide to the Universe, p. 240 (ISBN 9781405383707)
  3. ^ David H. Kelley, et al. (2011) Exploring Ancient Skies: A Survey of Ancient and Cultural Astronomy, p. 12 (9781441976246)
  4. ^ Emily Winterburn (2009) The Stargazer's Guide, p. 124 (ISBN 9780061976377)
  5. ^ Carole Stott, et al. (2006) Eyewitness Companions: Astronomy, p. 210, ISBN 9780756648459
  6. ^ a b c Morton Wagman, Lost Stars, McDonald and Woodward, 2003, ISBN 0-939923-78-5.
  7. ^ See Scalzi, Kelley, Winterburn, supra.
  8. ^ Makemson, Maud Worcester (1941). The Morning Star Rises: an account of Polynesian astronomy. Yale University Press. p. 279. 

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