The Constellation Centaurus

by Dominic Ford
Centaurus Centaurus
The constellation Centaurus. Roll mouse over to see labels.
Source: Stellarium.

Centaurus is the ninth largest constellation, visible in the far southern sky in the months around March.

Visually, it is dominated by the bright stars α-Cen and β-Cen, which form a pair of pointers to the Southern Cross, Crux, and may be used to distinguish it from the False Cross asterism in Carina and Vela.

The brighter of these, α-Cen is not only the third brightest star in the sky but also the closest of all the stars visible to the unaided eye, lying at a distance of around 4.37 lightyears.

Although it appears as a single object to the unaided eye, it is actually a triple-star system. Through a telescope, it is easy to resolve into a pair of stars, of which HR 5459 is the brighter and HR 5460 the fainter. A third component of this system, Proxima Centauri, is the nearest known star to the Earth, but at 11th magnitude, it is very faint.

The Milky Way passes through the southern half of Centaurus, and so it is home to many bright open clusters. Its best known deep sky object is ω–Centauri (NGC 5139) which is the largest and brightest globular cluster in the sky, visible to the naked eye at mag 3.7.

In classical mythology, the centaurs were a race of beings who were half human and half horse. Centaurus is identified as one particularly wise centaur, Chiron, the son of Cronus, king of the Titans. He is commonly depicted holding an animal, the neighboring constellation Lupus, which he is about to sacrifice on the altar depicted in Ara.

Date First Appeared
Ancient
Sky Area
2.6% of the sky
1060.4 square degrees
Messier Objects
Centaurus contains no Messier objects
Caldwell Objects
Centaurus contains the following Caldwell objects: C77, C80, C83, C84, C97, C100.
Neighbors
The following constellations neighbor Centaurus: Antlia, Carina, Circinus, Crux, Hydra, Libra, Lupus, Musca, Vela.
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Brightest Objects in Centaurus

Stars Open Clusters Globular Clusters Galaxies
Stars Open Clusters Globular Clusters Galaxies
Rigil Kentaurus (mag -0.0) NGC 3766 (mag 5.3) NGC 5139 (mag 3.7) NGC 5128 (mag 7.0)
Hadar (mag 0.6) NGC 5662 (mag 5.5) NGC 5286 (mag 7.6) NGC 4945 (mag 9.0)
α-Cen (mag 1.4) NGC 5460 (mag 5.6) NGC 5102 (mag 9.7)
Menkent (mag 2.0) NGC 5281 (mag 5.9) NGC 4976 (mag 10.2)
ε-Cen (mag 2.3) NGC 5316 (mag 6.0) NGC 3557 (mag 10.4)
η-Cen (mag 2.3) NGC 5617 (mag 6.3) NGC 5253 (mag 10.6)
δ-Cen (mag 2.5) NGC 5138 (mag 7.6) IC 4296 (mag 10.6)
ζ-Cen (mag 2.5) NGC 3680 (mag 7.6) NGC 4696 (mag 10.7)
ι-Cen (mag 2.7) NGC 5606 (mag 7.7) NGC 4373 (mag 11.1)
γ-Cen (mag 2.8) NGC 3960 (mag 8.3) IC 3370 (mag 11.1)
HD 12311 (mag 2.9) NGC 4230 (mag 9.0) NGC 4936 (mag 11.3)
λ-Cen (mag 3.1) NGC 4852 (mag 9.0) IC 4329 (mag 11.5)
κ-Cen (mag 3.1) NGC 5168 (mag 9.1) NGC 5483 (mag 12.0)
ν-Cen (mag 3.4) NGC 5120 (mag 13.0) NGC 4219 (mag 12.0)
μ-Cen (mag 3.4) NGC 3909 NGC 5365 (mag 12.0)
φ-Cen (mag 3.8) NGC 5043 NGC 3706 (mag 12.0)
υ¹-Cen (mag 3.8) NGC 5381 NGC 4603 (mag 12.0)
τ-Cen (mag 3.8) NGC 5266 (mag 12.0)
σ-Cen (mag 3.9) NGC 5419 (mag 12.0)
π-Cen (mag 3.9) NGC 5121 (mag 12.0)
d-Cen (mag 3.9) NGC 4835 (mag 12.0)
ρ-Cen (mag 3.9) NGC 5161 (mag 12.0)
b-Cen (mag 4.0) IC 3253 (mag 12.0)
ψ-Cen (mag 4.0) NGC 4947 (mag 12.0)
c¹-Cen (mag 4.1) NGC 5302 (mag 12.2)

Ashburn

Latitude:
Longitude:
Timezone:

39.04°N
77.49°W
EST

Color scheme