A

David

Darling

Centaurus

Centaurus constellation

Centaurus. © 2003 Torsten Bronger.


Centaurus (abbreviation: Cen), the Centaur, is a large, bright southern constellation. It is most famous for containing the nearest star to the Sun, Alpha Centauri. A line from Alpha through Beta Cen (the Pointers) leads to Crux, the Southern Cross. See below for details of the constellation's brightest stars and interesting deep sky objects.

 


Southern Crab Nebula

 

Southern Crab Nebula (He2-104)

 

The Southern Crab Nebula (He2-104) is a planetary nebula in the constellation Centaurus. At the center of the nebula are two stars: a white dwarf and a red giant, each with a mass roughly equal to that of the Sun. The red giant star turns out to be a Mira variable, a pulsating star that is dumping material into an accretion disk surrounding the white dwarf. It is thought that when enough mass falls onto the white dwarf, a thermonuclear explosion occurs creating another expanding hourglass-shaped nebula. The photograph shown here was taken with the WFPC2 instrument onboard the Hubble Space Telescope. The hourglasses from the two most recent explosions are visible with the last one highlighted in the inset.

 


Thackaray's globules

 

Thackaray's globules

 

Thackaray's globules are dark globules associated with the bright star-forming region IC 2944, which lies about 5,900 light-years away, in Centaurus. The largest of these globules, first spotted by South African astronomer A. D. Thackeray in 1950, is likely two separate but overlapping clouds, each nearly 1.4 light-years (50 arcseconds) along its longest dimension. Combined, the clouds contain about 15 solar masses of material. IC 2944, the surrounding HII region, is filled with gas and dust that is illuminated and heated by a loose cluster of O-type stars.

 


Centaurus Cluster

The Centaurus Cluster is a cluster of hundreds of galaxies whose center lies only 170 million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus. Like other large clusters of galaxies, it is filled with gas at temperatures of 10 million K, making it an extended, luminous source of X-rays. The brightest individual member is the 11th magnitude elliptical NGC 4696. Together with the IC 4329 Cluster and Hydra I, the Centaurus Cluster is part of the Hydra-Centaurus Supercluster.

 


Stars in Centaurus brighter than magnitude 4.0
Star Visual mag. Abs. mag. Spectral type Distance (lt-yr) R.A. (h m s) Dec. (° ' ")
Alpha Centauri -0.27 4.08   4.25    
   Alpha1 -0.01 4.40 G2V   14 39 37 -60 50 02
   Alpha2 1.33 5.70 K1V   14 39 35 -60 50 13
Beta (Hadar, Agena) 0.61 -5.43 B1III 525 14 03 49 -60 22 22
Theta (Menkent) 2.06 0.70 K0IIIb 61 14 06 41 -36 22 12
Gamma (Muhlifain) 2.20 -0.81 A1IV 130 12 41 31 -48 57 34
Epsilon 2.29 -3.02 B1III 376 13 39 53 -53 27 58
Eta 2.33 -2.55 B1.5Vne 309 14 35 30 -42 09 28
Zeta (Al Nair al Kentaurus) 2.55 -2.81 B2.5IV 385 13 55 32 -47 17 17
Delta 2.58 -2.73 B2IVne 376 12 08 22 -50 43 20
Iota 2.75 1.48 A2V 59 13 20 36 -36 42 44
Kappa (Ke Kwan) 3.13 -2.96 B2IV 539 14 59 10 -42 06 15
Lambda 3.13 -2.39 B9II 410 11 35 47 -63 01 11
Nu 3.41 -2.41 B2IV 475 13 49 30 -41 41 16
Mu 3.47 -2.57 B2IVnpe 527 13 49 37 -42 28 25
Phi 3.83 -1.94 B2IV 465 13 58 16 -42 06 02
Tau 3.85 0.82 A2V 132 12 37 42 -48 32 28
Upsilon1 3.87 -1.67 B2IV-V 418 13 58 41 -44 48 13
Pi 3.90 -1.07 B5Vn 321 11 21 00 -54 29 27
Omicron 3.91 -1.76 B3V 443 12 28 02 -50 13 51

 


Other objects of interest
Name Type of object Notes
Blue Planetary planetary nebula NGC 3918. See separate article
NGC 3766 open cluster A cluster of about 60 stars that is visible to the naked eye. Small telescopes show a pattern of loops containing orange, yellow, white, and bluish stars. Magnitude 5.3; diameter 12'; distance 1,700 light-years; R.A. 11h 36.1m, Dec. -61° 37'
NGC 5460 open cluster A scattered object well suited for small telescopes. Magnitude 5.6; diameter 25'; distance 2,700 light-years; R.A. 14h 7.6m, Dec. -48° 19'
Omega Centauri globular cluster NGC 5139. See separate article
Coalsack dark cloud See separate entry
NGC 4945 galaxy An edgewise open spiral galaxy, similar to our own, that appears as a long narrow luminous haze. It is a member of a small group of galaxies that includes NGC 5128 and M83. Magnitude 9.0; diameter 20'; R.A. 13h 5m, Dec. -49° 28'
Centaurus A galaxy NGC 5128. See separate article

 


Constellations
Andromeda | Antlia | Apus | Aquarius | Aquila | Ara | Aries | Auriga | Bootes | Caelum | Camelopardalis | Cancer | Canes Venatici | Canis Major | Canis Minor | Capricornus | Carina | Cassiopeia | Centaurus | Cepheus | Cetus | Chamaeleon | Circinus | Columba | Coma Berenices | Corona Austrina | Corona Borealis | Corvus | Crater | Crux | Cygnus | Delphinus | Dorado | Draco | Equuleus | Eridanus | Fornax | Gemini | Grus | Hercules | Horologium | Hydra | Hydrus | Indus | Lacerta | Leo | Leo Minor | Lepus | Libra | Lupus | Lynx | Lyra | Mensa | Microscopium | Monoceros | Musca | Norma | Octans | Ophiuchus | Orion | Pavo | Pegasus | Perseus | Phoenix | Pictor | Pisces | Piscis Austrinus | Puppis | Pyxis | Reticulum | Sagitta | Sagittarius | Scorpius | Sculptor | Scutum | Serpens | Sextans | Taurus | Telescopium | Triangulum | Triangulum Australe | Tucana | Ursa Major | Ursa Minor | Vela | Virgo | Volans | Vulpecula