Centaurus is a bright constellation in the southern sky. One of the largest constellations, Centaurus was included among the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. In Greek mythology, Centaurus represents a centaur; a creature that is half human, half horse (another constellation named after a centaur is one from the zodiac: Sagittarius). Notable stars include Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our own Solar System, its neighbour in the sky Beta Centauri, and V766 Centauri, one of the largest stars yet discovered. The constellation also contains Omega Centauri, the brightest globular cluster as visible from Earth and one of the largest known.
Centaurus contains several very bright stars because of its position in theMilky Way; in addition, its alpha and beta stars are used to find the constellation Crux. The constellation has 281 stars above magnitude 6.5, meaning that they are visible to the unaided eye, the most of any constellation. Alpha Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, has a high proper motion; it will be a mere half-degree from Beta Centauri in approximately 4000 years. Alpha Centauri is a triple star system that contains Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun. In addition to Alpha Centauri (the 3rd brightest star in the sky), a second first magnitude star, Beta Centauri, is part of Centaurus. Also called Hadar and Agena, Beta Centauri is a double star; the primary is a blue-hued giant star of magnitude 0.6, 525 light-years from Earth.ω Centauri (NGC 5139), despite being listed as the constellation's "omega" star, is in fact a naked-eye globular cluster, located at a distance of 17,000 light-years with a diameter of 150 light-years. It is the largest and brightest globular cluster in the Milky Way, at ten times the size of the next-largest cluster.
The figure of Centaurus can be traced back to a Babylonian constellation known as the Bison-man (MUL.GUD.ALIM). This being was depicted in two major forms: firstly, as a 4-legged bison with a human head, and secondly, as a being with a man's head and torso attached to the rear legs and tail of a bull or bison. It has been closely associated with the Sun god Utu-Shamash from very early times.
The Greeks depicted the constellation as a centaur and gave it its current name. It was mentioned by Eudoxus in the 4th century BCE and Aratus in the 3rd century BCE. In the 2nd century AD, Claudius Ptolemy catalogued 37 stars in Centaurus. Large as it is now, in earlier times it was even larger, as the constellation Lupus was treated as an asterism within Centaurus, portrayed in illustrations as an unspecified animal either in the centaur's grasp or impaled on its spear. TheSouthern Cross, which is now regarded as a separate constellation, was treated by the ancients as a mere asterism formed of the stars composing the centaur's legs. Additionally, what is now the minor constellation Circinus was treated as undefined stars under the centaur's front hooves.
According to the Roman poet Ovid (Fasti v.379), the constellation honors the centaur Chiron, who was tutor to many of the earlier Greek heroes including Heracles(Hercules), Theseus, and Jason, the leader of the Argonauts. However, most authorities consider Sagittarius to be the civilized Chiron, while Centaurus represents a more uncouth member of the species. The legend associated with Chiron says that he was accidentally poisoned with an arrow shot by Hercules, and was subsequently placed in the heavens.
Legend and Myhtology
Centaurus represents the Centaurs who were a tribe of half-man, half-horse savages, living on the mountains of Thessaly. They were people who tamed horses and are depicted as having the torso of a human joined at the (human) waist to the horse's withers where the horse's neck would be. In earlier times a man on horseback was an uncommon sight, resembling at a distance a figure half man, half horse. "This half-human and half-animal composition has led many writers to treat them as liminal beings, caught between the two natures, embodied in contrasted myths, and as the embodiment of untamed nature, as in their battle with the Lapiths, or conversely as teachers, like Chiron" How Centaurs came to be: "Ixion fell in love with Hera and tried to rape her, but she reported his behavior to Zeus, who decided to test his wife's testimony. For this purpose, the god made a Cloud Resembling Hera (this cloud was named Nephele1), and laid it beside Ixion [Ixion on his wheel is identified with Corona Australis]. So when Ixion went around boasting that he had enjoyed Hera, Zeus bound him to a wheel, on which he is whirled by winds through the air. The cloud (Nephele) gave birth to Centaurus, and when he consorted with the Magnesian Mares, the Centaurs were born.
HGS Session References
Found in HGS Manual on Page 108
Found in HGS Manual on Page 115