Centaurus is represented as the figure of a man with the body of a horse. He holds a wolf at arm’s length with one hand, while he transfixes its body with a spear in the other.
Centaurus is a large, brilliant constellation in the southern hemisphere. Alpha Centauri is the nearest star to the sun and the third brightest object in the sky. It has .1 magnitude. Beta Centauri has a magnitude of .9. The constellations bordering Centaurus are Antlia, Carina, Circinus, Libra, Hydra, Lupus, Musca, and Vela.
A line drawn north through Alpha and Beta will locate the Southern Cross for you. Centaurus is a spectacular constellation that circles around the sky’s south pole and the only way to see it is in the southern hemisphere. People who are located at latitudes between +30° and -90° can see the entire constellation during the month of May best.
Alpha Centauri, because of its close proximity to earth, has been the object of numerous space odysseys written by science fiction writers.
Right Ascension: 01:53
Diameter (°): 24
Area (square °): 1060
Opposition: Apr 20
Size Rank: 9th
Brightness Rank: 2nd
Major stars in Centaurus
Rigil Kentaurus – α Centauri (Alpha Centauri) Includes: The Binary System Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B plus Proxima Centauri (Alpha Centauri C)
Hadar (Agena) – β Centauri (Beta Centauri)
Menkent (Haratan) – θ Centauri (Theta Centauri)
Muhlifain – γ Centauri (Gamma Centauri)
ε Centauri (Epsilon Centauri)
η Centauri (Eta Centauri)
Alnair – ζ Centauri (Zeta Centauri)
Ma Wei – δ Centauri (Delta Centauri)
ν Centauri (Nu Centauri)
Ke Kwan – κ Centauri (Kappa Centauri)
Deep Sky Objects in Centaurus
Centaurus A (NGC 5128) Includes a black hole and over 100 star forming regions
Omega Centauri (ω Centauri) – NGC 5139
The Blue Planetary Nebula – NGC 3918
NGC 4650 A
NGC 5090 and NGC 5091 (pair of galaxies)
Mythology of the Constellation Centaurus
Greek Mythology maintains that centaurs were fabulous half man, half horse monsters, also called hippocentaur.
This is open to some interpretation. Some suppose Centaurs had the body of a shepherd and the head of a herdsman’s horse. Herdsmen inhabiting the mountains of Arcadia were rich in cattle. They were probably the first cowboys.
Plutarch and Pliny believed that such monsters really existed. Not everyone believed them, others said that under the reign of King Ixion of Thessaly, a herd of bulls ran mad and ravaged the whole country, rendering the paths to the mountains inaccessible.
Some of the young men who had learned to tame and mount horses decided to take the bulls by the horns, so to speak, and expel the bothersome animals. They pursued them on horseback and gained the name of Centaurs because from afar they might seem to be half man and half horse with their human heads raised above the herd.
Unfortunately, these fine young men became conceited about their success and were insolent. This insulted the people of Thessaly. When the Lapithaeans gave chase, the upstarts fled so fast they again appeared to be half horses and half men.
Horseback riders were a rarity in those days. The villagers can be forgiven for perceiving a distant man on horseback to be a single being. After all, that’s how the Spanish cavalry at first appeared to the astonished native Americans, who imagined the horse and rider to be some monstrous, singularly fearsome animal.
The Centaurs actually belonged to a tribe from Lapithae near Mount Pelion, which first invented the art of breaking horses, according to Virgil:
“The Lapithae to chariots add the state
Of bits and bridles; taught the steed to bound;
To turn the ring, and trace the mazy ground;
To stop, to fly, the rules of war to know;
To obey the rider, and to dare the foe”