Lupus Constellation: The Extraordinary Constellation
Home to one of the most significant supernova remnants ever to light up the sky, the Lupus Constellation is located in the Southern hemisphere. It lay between the Scorpius and Centaurus constellations and was considered part of Centaurus at one time. The Lupus is the 46th largest constellation with several notable stars and deep-sky objects.
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How Did Lupus Constellation Get Its Name?
Lupus is an old constellation, first cataloged by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus of Alexandria) in his Almagest. This listing of 48 constellations included the Wolf Constellation. During that time, it appeared as a wolf shape, a sacrificial animal, about to get pierced by the centaur.
However, the constellation first earned the name “Therion” from the discoverer Hipparchus of Bithynia. He was the first person officially to separate Lupus from Centaurus. This ancient Greek astronomer devoted his life to studying mathematics and the vastness of the skies. Some scholars believe Ptolemy’s Almagest derived much of its celestial knowledge from Hipparchus’ earlier works.
Additionally, Roman astronomers called the constellation Bestia the beast. These animal monikers likely derived from mythology’s Babylonian Mad Dog, UR.IDIM. The man-beast creature had a human head, torso, and a lion’s legs and tail. UR refers to large animals, such as lions, dogs, and wolves.
A Renaissance-era Latin translation of Ptolemy’s Almagest labels the constellation as The Wolf.
Lupus Constellation’s IAU Designation
Throughout history, humans group objects into recognizable formations. For instance, you may see an angel shape in the clouds or a bird. This natural grouping allowed ancient people to learn the sky formations to predict seasonal and weather patterns.
Over time, however, humans recognized the need to formalize names and boundaries of constellations so that scientists everywhere could easily refer to the same celestial formations. In 1922, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially recognized 88 modern constellations.
Three-letter abbreviations of their Latin names became the official designation. Therefore, the Lupus Constellation is designated as LUP.
Later in the 1920s, IAU group members proposed and implemented a system to define constellation boundaries. As a result, the sky equivalents of Earth’s latitude and longitude lines are those of right ascension and declination.
Fun fact! Using the IAU’s boundary definitions, you will find the right ascension of the Lupus Constellation between 14h 17m 48.0635s and 16h 08m 36.6735s. Furthermore, its declination limits are between -29.83◦ and -55.58◦.
Where Is the Constellation Lupus Located?
Find the Lupus Constellation in the third quadrant of the Southern hemisphere (SQ3). Sorry all you Northerners, but you won’t easily be able to see these celestial objects. Probably you won’t see the constellation at all.
Check the night skies between latitudes +35 degrees and -90 degrees for the best viewing of Lupus.
Bordering constellations include Centaurus, Hydra, Norma, and Circinus. Additionally, it has two Zodiac constellation neighbors, Scorpius and Libra.
The Lupus Constellation belongs to the Hercules constellation family.
When Can You See the Lupus Constellation?
The best viewing time is during clear Southern hemisphere summer nights in June. Around 9:00 pm, or culmination, is the optimal timeframe. Additionally, observers south of latitude 34°N can see the constellation for most of the year.
Lupus Constellation Supernova Remnant
The Lupus Constellation is home to a supernova remnant, SN 1006. When this celestial object first appeared on May 1, 1006, A.D., it was brighter than Venus. It was even visible during the daytime for several weeks. Then, the brilliant spectacle remained visible for about two and a half years before dimming from sight.
Astronomers all over the world noted the bright star explosion. Accordingly, documentation comes from Arab countries, China, Japan, Africa, and Europe.
In 2013, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory revealed new images of this Type Ia supernova remnant. Supernovas occur after two white dwarfs merge and explode. Another explanation for this explosion type happens when a white dwarf pulls too much mass from another star.
Scientists believe this dwarf star slowly captured material from its companion star until the mass buildup caused a thermonuclear explosion. The supernova remnant resides about 7,000 light years from Earth. So that means the explosion occurred 7,000 years before its light reached Earth in 1006.
Amazingly, scientists can determine how the star looked before its explosion by studying components in its remaining debris field. Layers of oxygen, magnesium, and silicon inform us about the explosion’s ejection order.
Images of this dying star which exploded more than 1,000 years ago are stunning in their celestial beauty. The debris cloud is about 60 light-years across.
Major Lupus Constellation Stars
The Lupus Constellation contains 127 stars brighter than or equal to the apparent magnitude of 6.5. Its brightest two are located in the constellation’s wolf paws.
Alpha Lupi Star
Its brightest star, Alpha Lupi, is a blue giant B-type star. Its apparent visual magnitude of 2.3 makes it visible to the naked eye, even in light-polluted Southern hemisphere locations. So look towards the wolf’s paw to find this Alpha Lupi.
This giant star has about ten times the Sun’s mass and radiates at ten times the Sun’s luminosity. Scientists place Alpha Lupi at approximately 16 to 20 million years old.
Beta Lupi Star
The Lupus Constellation’s second brightest star is Beta Lupi, with an apparent magnitude of 2.68. Beta Lupi is larger than the Sun, like its larger companion, by about 8.8 times.
Find Beta Lupi near the tip of the wolf’s forepaw. This blue-white giant star is approximately 25 million years old.
Notable Dark Sky Objects in Lupus
Lupus is home to several notable dark sky objects, including the Retina and Dark Wolf Nebulas.
Barnard 228: Lupus Constellation’s Dark Wolf Nebula
Barnard 228 is part of the Lupus Molecular Cloud within the Lupus Constellation. It is often called the Dark Wolf Nebula. Populated with many stars from the Milky Way, faint dust exists all around the darker nebula center.
About 500 light years away, the Dark Wolf Nebula spans about eight degrees.
Retina Nebula, IC 4406
The constellation’s Retina Nebula’s cylindrical shape indicates its gas outflow is stronger along one axis. It is a bipolar planetary nebula approximately 2,000 light-years away, near Lupus’ western border.
The Retina Nebula looks rectangular because you only see one side of it. Instead, consider it in terms of donut shape if you could view it from the top. The side view shows the gas and dust tendrils streaming from the central dying star.
The nebula gains its name from its similar appearance to an eye’s retina.
The Lupus Constellation resides in the dark skies of the Southern hemisphere. It contains bright stars, a magnificent supernova remnant, and colorful nebulas. View this constellation in June for the best celestial sights, but it is visible throughout most of the year.
Lupus is an old constellation but has no myth stories associated with it. Instead, its name comes from a Latin translation of Ptolemy’s Almagest.