Constellations of Pyxis, Canis Major and the head of Hydra
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Pyxis, Canis Major and the head of Hydra
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Image and text ©2008 Akira Fujii/David Malin Images.

In the picture above north is at the top and the image covers 55.9 x 69.9 degrees.
Image centre is located at 08:11:25.2, -19:51:09 (H:M:S, D:M:S, J2000) Astrometric data from

Pyxis, Canis Major and the head of Hydra
Best seen in the early evening in March-April

Pyxis, the Mariner's Compass was originally Pyxis Nauticus and referrs to the magnetic compass. It is a small, insignificant arrangement of faint stars surrounded by much more eyecatching patterns of stars.

Pyxis was once part of the very large constellation Argo Navis, the ship Argo, which carried Jason and the Argonauts. Argo Navis is now obsolete, but it was listed in Ptolemy's star catalogue, the Almagest. When the constellation boundaries were defined by the International Astronomical Union in the 1930s it was the only one of Ptolemy's 48 constellations that was not accepted. Instead, it was divided into the four constellations introduced by the French cleric and astronomer Nicolas de Lacaille in the 1750s: Carina, the keel, Puppis the stern, Vela the sails, and Pyxis.

La Caille originally called this part of Argo Navis Malus, the Mast, which is rather more appropriate since the ancient Greeks did not use the magnetic compass, and such compasses are not usually used on a ship's mast. However, α (alpha) Pixidis, is sometimed known by its Arabic name Al Sumut, meaning "the way". This word is the origin of azimuth, a directional coordinate on the horizon.

We also have alternative images of Pyxis and of Canis Majoris showing much fainter stars.

Constellations adjoining Pyxis: Antlia, Hydra, Puppis, Vela.

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David Malin, 2009 October 15