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 precession, the stars of Argo have been shifted farther south since Classical times, and far fewer of its stars are visible today from the latitude of the Mediterranean.[1]

The original constellation was found low near the southern horizon of the Mediterranean sky. The ship became visible in springtime and sailed westward, skimming along the southern horizon. The ancient Greeks identified it with the ship sailed by Jason and the 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), and Vela (the sails). 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.[2]:82 (For the dimmer stars, however, Lacaille used a separate Latin-letter sequence for each part.)[2]:82

The constellation Pyxis (the mariner's compass) occupies an area which in antiquity was considered part of Argo's mast. Some authors state that Pyxis was part of the Greek conception of Argo Navis,[3][4][5][6] but magnetic compasses were unknown in ancient Greek times. Lacaille considered it a separate constellation, representing one of the modern 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.[2]:262 In 1844 John Herschel suggested formalizing the mast as a new constellation, Malus, to replace Lacaille's Pyxis, but the idea did not catch on.[7]

The Māori 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. ^ a b c Morton Wagman, Lost Stars, McDonald and Woodward, 2003, ISBN 0-939923-78-5.
  3. ^ John Scalzi (2008) Rough Guide to the Universe, p. 240 (ISBN 9781405383707)
  4. ^ David H. Kelley, et al. (2011) Exploring Ancient Skies: A Survey of Ancient and Cultural Astronomy, p. 12 (9781441976246)
  5. ^ Emily Winterburn (2009) The Stargazer's Guide, p. 124 (ISBN 9780061976377)
  6. ^ Carole Stott, et al. (2006) Eyewitness Companions: Astronomy, p. 210, ISBN 9780756648459
  7. ^ Ian Ridpath. Argo Navis "Argo Navis". Star Tales. Retrieved 27 Jan 2015. 
  8. ^ Makemson, Maud Worcester (1941). The Morning Star Rises: an account of Polynesian astronomy. Yale University Press. p. 279. 

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