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This article is about the constellation. For the Roman historian, see Quintus Fabius Pictor. For the improved version of PCPaint, see Pictor Paint.
Abbreviation Pic
Genitive Pictoris
Pronunciation /ˈpɪktər/,
genitive /pɪkˈtɔərɨs/
Symbolism Easel
Right ascension 4.53 h ~ 6.85
Declination −43° ~ −64
Family La Caille
Quadrant SQ1
Area 247 sq. deg. (59th)
Main stars 3
Stars with planets 5
Stars brighter than 3.00m none
Stars within 10.00 pc (32.62 ly) 1
Brightest star α Pic (3.30m)
Nearest star Kapteyn's Star
(12.77 ly, 3.92 pc)
Messier objects none
Meteor showers none
Visible at latitudes between +26° and −90°.
Best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of January.

Pictor is a small constellation in the southern sky (declination −50° to −60°), located between the brilliant star Canopus and the Large Magellanic Cloud. Its name is Latin for painter, but it is in fact an abbreviation of its original name Equuleus Pictoris, the 'painter's easel', and it is normally represented as an easel. It was invented and named by Abbé Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century. A faint constellation, Pictor's brightest star is Alpha Pictoris, which has an apparent magnitude of 3.3. Pictor also hosts RR Pictoris, a nova which brightened to magnitude 1.2 in 1925.

Pictor has attracted attention in recent years because of its second-brightest star Beta Pictoris, 63.4 light-years distant, which is surrounded by an unusual dust disk rich in carbon, as well as an extrasolar planet. Another five stars in the constellation have been found to have extrasolar planets. Kapteyn's Star is a red dwarf located 12.76 light-years away that is likely to have been a member of the dwarf galaxy Omega Centauri swallowed up by the Milky Way. In 2014, it was found to have two super-Earths in orbit. HD 40307 is an orange dwarf that has six planets orbiting it, one of which—HD 40307 g—is a potential super-Earth in the habitable zone.


The French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille first described the constellation as le Chevalet et la Palette (the easel and palette) in 1756,[1] and gave Bayer designations to ten stars now named Alpha to Nu Pictoris (he erred in naming the wrong star with the Greek letter epsilon, which is now not used).[2] He labelled it Equuleus Pictorius on his 1763 chart., the word "Equuleus" meaning ass, small horse, or easel, perhaps from an old custom among artists of carrying a canvass on a donkey.[3] Johann Bode called it Pluteum Pictoris. The name was shortened to Pictor in 1845 by Francis Baily on the suggestion of Sir John Herschel.[1]


The constellation Pictor as it can be seen by the naked eye.

Pictor is a small constellation bordered by Columba to the north, Puppis and Carina to the east, Caelum to the northwest, Dorado to the southwest and Volans to the south. The three-letter abbreviation for the constellation, as adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1922, is 'Pic'.[4] The official constellation boundaries, as set by Eugène Delporte in 1930, are defined by a polygon of 18 segments. In the equatorial coordinate system, the right ascension coordinates of these borders lie between 04h 32.5m and 06h 52.0m, while the declination coordinates are between −42.79° and −64.15°.[5] Pictor culminates each year at 9 p.m. on 17 March.[6] Its position in the far southern celestial hemisphere means that the whole constellation is visible to observers south of latitude 26°N.[7][a]

Notable features[edit]


Pictor is a faint constellation, its three brightest stars forming a line near the bright star Canopus.[8] Located around 97 light-years away from Earth, Alpha Pictoris is the brightest star in the constellation, with an apparent magnitude of 3.3 and spectral type A8VnkA6.[9] Beta Pictoris is another white main sequence star of spectral type A6V and apparent magnitude 3.86.[10] In 1984, Beta was the first star discovered to have a debris disk.[11] Since then a planet around 8 times the mass of Jupiter has been discovered orbiting around 8 AU away from the star—a similar distance between our Sun and Saturn. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has since confirmed its presence through the use of direct imagery.[12]

Gamma Pictoris is an orange giant of spectral type K1III and apparent magnitude 4.5 lying around 174 light years distant.[13] HD 42540, called 47 Pictoris by Benjamin Apthorp Gould, is another orange giant, this time of spectral type K2.5III and average magnitude 5.04.[14] It is a suspected variable star.[15] Lacaille mistakenly named this star Mu Doradus, but had recorded its Right Ascension one hour too small.[16] Lacaille named two neighbouring stars Eta Pictoris.[2] Eta2 Pictoris, also known as HR 1663, is an orange giant of spectral type K5III and apparent magnitude 5.05. It is 474 light years distant.[17] Eta1 Pictoris, also known as HR 1649, is 85 light years distant and is a main sequence star of spectral type F5V and visual magnitude 5.38.[18] A double star, it has a companion of magnitude 13 separated by 11 arcseconds.[19]

Located around 1298 light-years from Earth, Delta Pictoris is an eclipsing binary of the Beta Lyrae type.[20] Composed of two blue stars of spectral types B3III and O9V, the system has a period of 1.67 days, and is observed to dip from apparent magnitude 4.65 to 4.9.[21] The stars are oval shaped.[22] TV Pictoris is a spectroscopic binary system composed of an A-type star and an F-type star which rotate around each other in a very close orbit. The latter star is elliptical in shape and shows some intrinsic variability.[23] The visual magnitude ranges between 7.37 and 7.53 every 20 hours.[24]

Aside from Beta, five other stars in Pictor are known to host planetary systems. AB Pictoris is a BY Draconis variable star with a companion that is an extrasolar planet or a brown dwarf. HD 40307 is an orange main sequence star of spectral type K2.5V and apparent magnitude 7.17 located around 42 light-years away. As of 7 November 2012, research indicates that HD 40307 is host to six super-earth planets, one of which, HD 40307 g, lies in the habitable zone of the star, and is far enough away to not be tidally locked (unlike the other planets in the same system, and many other exoplanets which orbit close to their parent stars.)[25] HD 41004 is a complex binary system about 139 light years distant. The primary is an orange dwarf of spectral type K1V orbited by a planet roughly 2.65 times the mass of Jupiter every 963 days, while the secondary is a red dwarf of spectral type M2V and orbited by a brown dwarf that is at least 19 times as massive as Jupiter.[26] Kapteyn's Star, a nearby red dwarf at the distance of 12.78 light years, has a magnitude of 8.8. It has the largest proper motion of any star in the sky after Barnard's Star.[27] Moving around the Milky Way in the opposite direction to most other stars, it may have originated in a dwarf galaxy that was merged into our galaxy, with the main remnant being the Omega Centauri globular cluster.[28] In 2014, Kapteyn's Star was announced to host two super-earths, Kapteyn b and Kapteyn c. Kapteyn b is the oldest-known potentially habitable planet, estimated to be possibly 11 billion years old.[29]

Located 1.5 degrees west southwest of Alpha, RR Pictoris is a cataclysmic variable that flared up as a nova, reaching magnitude 1.2 in on 9 June 1925.[27] It is a close binary system composed of a white dwarf and secondary star that orbit each other every 3.48 hours—so close that the secondary is filling up its Roche lobe with stellar material, which is then transferred onto the first star's accretion disc. Once this material reaches a critical mass, it ignites and the system brightens tremendously. Calculations of the speed suggest the secondary star is not dense enough for its size to still be on the main sequence, so it itself must have begun expanding and cooling already as its core has run out of hydrogen fuel.[30] TW Pictoris is a cataclysmic variable system of magnitude 14 which contains a magnetic white dwarf, and is an X-ray source.[31]

Deep-sky objects[edit]

A Chandra X-ray image of Pictor A showing a jet emanating from it.

NGC 1705 is an irregular dwarf galaxy 17 million light-years from Earth. It is one of the most active star forming galaxies in the nearby universe, despite the fact that its rate of star formation peaked around 30 million years ago.[32] Pictor A is a remote double lobed radio galaxy which is a powerful source of radio waves in the southern sky.[33] From a supermassive black hole at its centre, a relativistic jet shoots out to an X ray hot spot 800,000 light years away.[34] SPT-CL J0546-5345 is a massive galaxy cluster located around 7 billion light years away with a mass equivalent to approximately 800 trillion suns.[35]


  1. ^ While parts of the constellation technically rise above the horizon to observers between 26°N and 47°N, stars within a few degrees of the horizon are to all intents and purposes unobservable.[7]




  • Pavlovski, K.; Cuypers, J.; David, M.; Griffin, R. E. M.; Hensberge, H.; Ilijic, S.; Verschueren, W. (1998). "The nearby ellipsoidal variable TV Pictoris". Astronomy and Astrophysics 331: 639–50. Bibcode:1998A&A...331..639P. 
  • Perley, Richard A.; Röser, , Hermann-Josef; Meisenheimer, Klaus (1997). "The radio galaxy Pictor A – a study with the VLA". Astronomy and Astrophysics 328: 12–32. Bibcode:1997A&A...328...12P. 
  • Ribeiro, Fabíola M. A.; Diaz, Marcos P. (2006). "A Tomographic Study of the Classical Nova RR Pictoris". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 118 (839): 84–93. JSTOR 498458. 
  • Russell, Henry Norris (October 1922). "The new international symbols for the constellations". Popular Astronomy 30: 469. Bibcode:1922PA.....30..469R. 
  • Smith, B. A.; Terrile, R. J. (1984). "A circumstellar disk around Beta Pictoris". Science 226 (4681): 1421–24. Bibcode:1984Sci...226.1421S. doi:10.1126/science.226.4681.1421. PMID 17788996. 
  • Tuomi, M.; Anglada-Escudé, G.; Gerlach, E.; Jones, H.R.A.; Reiners, A.; Rivera, E.J.; Vogt, S.S.; Butler, R.P. (2013). "Habitable-zone super-Earth candidate in a six-planet system around the K2.5V star HD 40307". Astronomy & Astrophysics 549 (A48): 23. arXiv:1211.1617. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201220268. 
  • Wagman, Morton (2003). Lost Stars: Lost, Missing and Troublesome Stars from the Catalogues of Johannes Bayer, Nicholas Louis de Lacaille, John Flamsteed, and Sundry Others. Blacksburg, VA: The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-939923-78-6. 
  • Wilkins, Jamie; Dunn, Robert (2006). 300 Astronomical Objects: A Visual Reference to the Universe. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books. ISBN 978-1-55407-175-3. 
  • Zucker, S.; Mazeh, T.; Santos, N.C.; Udry, S.; Mayor, M. (2004). "Multi-order TODCOR: Application to Observations Taken with the CORALIE Echelle Spectrograph. II. A Planet in the System HD 41004". Astronomy & Astrophysics 426 (2): 695–98. Bibcode:2004A&A...426..695Z. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20040384. 

Online sources

External links[edit]

Coordinates: Sky map 05h 00m 00s, −50° 00′ 00″