The Lacerta Constellation – Facts in brief:
What is it? –
The Lacerta Constellation is regarded as a small faint constellation. Lacerta is one of the official 88 modern constellations listed by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), viewed in the night sky from Earth.
It ranks as the 68th largest Constellation overall, filling around 0.5% of the night sky.
The name of this Constellation ‘Lacerta’ does not have its origins in Greek or Roman Mythology, unlike many of its neighboring Constellations.
It was the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius, who introduced us to the Constellation of Lacerta in his Star Atlas, called “Firmamentum Sobiescianum”, in 1687.
He originally gave this constellation the name ´Stellio´ which means the Lizard, although this was later replaced with the more commonly used name today of ´Lacerta’.
FACT: The ‘Starred Agama’ is a lizard originally from Europe with the proper name of Stellagama Stellio.
The Constellation of Lacerta
The name ‘Lacerta’ is Latin for ‘the Lizard”
Lacerta, abbreviated to ‘Lac’, or ’Lacertae´ (its genitive name) is quite easy to recognize, as it resembles the outline of a Lizard.
It is sometimes referred to as ‘Little Cassiopeia’, as it forms a classic W- shape like the neighboring but much larger Constellation of Cassiopeia.
The Constellation of Lacerta is a member of the Perseus Family of Constellations, which also includes:
- Andromeda, Auriga, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Cetus, Pegasus, Perseus, and Triangulum.
Where is it located? –
The Lacerta Constellation is positioned in the fourth quadrant of the Northern Hemisphere, north of the celestial equator.
It is sometimes referred to as being located in the NQ4 Quadrant, of the Northern Sky.
FACT: The ecliptic is the imaginary line tracing the route that The Sun, the Moon, and the Planets take across the sky, over the year.
The Lacerta Constellation is typical of a Constellation found within the Milky Way.
The Milky Way contains the following Constellations:
- In the Northern Hemisphere:
- At the top – Aquila; Ophiuchus; Sagittarius and Scorpius
- Closet to the Centre – Cygnus and Lacerta
- Off the bottom – Perseus and Cassiopeia
- In the Southern Hemisphere:
A faint section of the Milky Way is also visible in the Constellations of Canis Major, Orion and Puppis.
The Constellation of Lacerta is not circumpolar, meaning it is not visible all year round in the Northern latitudes.
There are 5 Constellations that are visible throughout the year, from most locations located north of the celestial equator, making them Circumpolar, they are:
- Cassiopeia Constellation
- Cepheus Constellation
- Draco Constellation
- Ursa Major Constellation
- Ursa Minor Constellation
FACT: A constellation that is visible all year round is known as a Circumpolar Constellation.
There are 3 Southern Constellations that are also circumpolar –
- Carina Constellation
- Centaurus Constellation
- Crux Constellation (the smallest modern constellation listed by the International astronomical Union (IAU).
Locating a Constellation
It can seem daunting at times trying to locate your favorite Constellation in the great night sky. However, if you can imagine an invisible coordinate grid draped over the sky it becomes easier.
Using the longitude and latitude coordinates of this grid it is possible to locate Constellations, the Asterisms of Main Stars and other Deep Sky Objects.
Co-ordinates of a right ascension, or left ascension and their declination are used to locate all of the Constellations, like Lacerta.
Lacerta is most prominent in the Northern Hemisphere, during the month of October.
The Constellation of Lacerta lies at 22-hour right ascension (RA) and a Declination (Dec.) of 45 degrees.
It’s easily visible from the Northern Hemisphere at Latitudes between +90 degrees and – 40 degrees and covers an area of 201 square degrees.
The Lacerta Constellation is bordered by several other Constellations:
- Cepheus – to the North
- Pegasus – to the South
- Cygnus – to the East
- Andromeda Constellation and Cassiopeia – to the West
It is most visible in the Northern Hemisphere during the autumn months, in the evening.
How can you identify The Constellation of Lacerta?
The simplest method for spotting any particular Constellation from Earth is to locate the brightest star in that Constellation, and then look at the neighboring illuminations, to see if you can identify a recognizable pattern.
The reason that the Constellation of Lacerta is considered to be a faint Constellation is because the main Stars are of moderate brightness.
Lacerta has only one formally named Star, approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), and it is called
- Taika – (HAT-P-40)
Stars in any Constellation are usually listed in order of luminosity from the brightest Star to the faintest Star.
The ‘Alpha’ letter is normally allocated to the brightest star, then ‘Beta’ and so on in decreasing order through the letters of the Greek alphabet.
- In the Constellation of Lacerta the brightest Star is simply known as Alpha Lacertae, with no formal name.
- The second brightest Star is known as 1 Lacertae while beta Lacertae it the fourth brightest Star.
There are a total of 882 Stars that make up the Lacerta Constellation.
However, there is only one Star in the Constellation with a formal name approved by the IAU.
This visual magnitude of the bright Star Alpha Lacertae has an apparent magnitude of 3.77, which is fainter than the brightest Star in many other Constellations.
FACT: there are 300 known bright Stars with an apparent magnitude of 3.55 or brighter
The Lacerta Constellation can be identified in the night sky as the shape of a lizard.
It is also represented in other cultures, such as ‘the flying serpent‘.
The brightest star, alpha Lacertae, can be viewed from Earth, from a northern location, by the naked eye.
The Star System within Lacerta
The Constellation of Auriga has 9 Stars making up the imaginary outline of a head, a body and a long tail representing a type of Lizard.
The bright stars forming the shape of the Lizard’, listed from brightest Star to the fainter stars by a variety of designations – Bayer, Flamsteed, The Henry Draper Catalogue, or the Hipparcos Catalogue
- The Bayer designation – allocates a letter of the Greek alphabet to the genitive to name a star – Alpha Lacertae
- The Flamsteed designation – allocates a number to the genitive to name a star – 1 Lacertae
- The Henry Draper designation – allocates the abbreviation ‘HD’ to the genitive to name a star – 1 Lacertae
- The Hipparcos designation – allocates the abbreviation ‘HIP’ to the genitive to name a star – 1 Lacertae
The 9 Stars forming the outline of Lacerta
1. Alpha Lacertae (alpha Lac, HR 8585), with Flamsteed designation 7 Lacertae – a Double Main-sequence Star, (a Double Star) 102 light years distant, and visible by the naked eye
2. 1 Lacertae (HR 8498) – an Bright Giant Star, 626 light years distant from the Sun, and visible by the naked eye
3. 5 Lacertae (HR 8572) – a variable hyper Giant Star, 1,164 light years distant, and barely visible by the naked eye
4. Beta Lacertae (HR 8538) – a Giant Star, 169 light years distant from the Sun, and visible by the naked eye
5. 11 Lacertae (HR 8632) – a Giant Star, 301.6 light years distant from the Sun, and barely visible by the naked eye
6. HR 8485 – a variable and multiple Giant Star, 563 light years distant from the Sun, and visible by the naked eye
7. 6 Lacertae (HR 8579) – a sub-Giant Star, 1,370 light years distant from the Sun, and visible by the naked eye
8. 2 Lacertae (HR 8523) – both a variable Star and a double main sequence Star, 509 light years distant from the Sun, and visible by the naked eye
9. 4 Lacertae (HR 8541) – a Supergiant Star, 2,116.9 light years distant from the Sun, and barely visible by the naked eye
After this magnitude it becomes barely possible to see further stars in the Constellation of Lacerta, by the naked eye.
Although close to the outline with a visual magnitude of less than 5.00 you will find 9 Lacerta (HR 8613), 10 Lacerta (HR 8622), 15 Lacerta (HR 8699) and HR 8656.
The Flare Star
Another Star of interest in Lacerta is EV Lacertae, a Red Dwarf Star that is located only 16.5 light years from Earth, but with an apparent magnitude of 10.09 it s not easily visible.
This Star however is interesting because it is classified as a flare Star that emits X-Rays. It is a fast spinner that gives it a strong magnetic field so it is able to produce very bright flares.
The brightest flare produced by LV Lacertae was thousands of times more powerful that any recorded to have come from the Sun, even though it is much smaller and diner than the Sun. NASA recorded this feat in April 2008.
Roe 47 is a Star System that contains 5 faint Stars.
The brightest Star within Roe 47 has an apparent visual magnitude of 5,8 one has 9.4, two Stars have 5.8 and the other registers an apparent magnitude of 10.1
The only named Star within Lacerta that has been approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is:
- Taika (HAT-P-40).
Location of Lacerta
Lacertae can be spotted in the Northern Hemisphere, also referred to as the Northern Sky.
The Constellation Lacerta is positioned between the easily recognizable Constellations of Andromedaand Cygnus
The Lacerta Constellation is used as a guide-point in the sky used by astronomers and amateur stargazers to identify certain Deep Sky objects.
When to see the Constellation Lacerta
The Constellation of Lacerta is sometimes referred to as an inconspicuous autumn Constellation in the Northern Sky. The best month to view Lacerta is at its best is in the autumn month of October.
The best time of day to spot it is early to mid evening (22.00 Daylight Saving Time) local time around the world.
How was it formed, found and named?
The word ‘Lacerta’ is originally referred to a European Lizard with four well-developed legs.
It is part of the genus Lacerta.
The outline of Lacerta
The outline of this long lizard representing the Constellation of Lacerta comes from the position of its 9 main Stars.
You will have to use your imagination using the position of the Stars in this asterism, it looks like a large letter W but when you join the points it resembles a lizard.
The Constellation of Lacerta is sometimes sketched as a polygon (quadrilateral) representing the head of the lizard, another polygon (quadrilateral) representing the body, and a long line representing the tail.
- Beta Lacertae, on the top polygon (quadrilateral)- represents the nose of the Lizard
- Alpha Lacertae and 4 Lacertae – represent the the head of the Lizard
- 5 Lacertae – represents the the neck of the Lizard
- 2 Lacertae and 11 Lacertae – on the second polygon (quadrilateral represent the the body of the Lizard
- 6 Lacertae, HR 1746 and 1 Lacertae – represent the tail of the Lizard, from rump to tip.
What’s within the Lacerta Constellation?
Constellations are typically formed by of a number of different components – mainly Stars, Star Systems, Deep Sky Objects and Messier objects (galaxies).
The Lacerta Constellation contains:
- 5 main Stars
- 9 Stars in the outline
- 17 Bayer/Flamsteed Stars
- 882 Stars in total (but only around 36 are visible by naked eye)
- 1 named Star
- 12 stars with a known planet
- No meteor showers associated with this Constellation
- 0 Messier Objects
- No Global Clusters
There are many different types of Stars in the star system categorized by size, lifespan and luminosity.
Generally, larger Stars have a shorter lifespan.
Stars are formed from clouds of interstellar gas and include:
Red Dwarf Stars
Most of the stars in the galaxy are Red Dwarf Stars. They are small in size measuring about 40-50% of the mass of The Sun. They are cool and their luminosity has only about 10% of the brightness of the Sun (our brightest Star), and they live for longer.
Brown Dwarf Stars
These are known as failed stars that form like other stars but don’t reach the mass, heat or density to begin the nuclear fusion process. They are only about 8% of the mass of the Sun and are red not brown, and not easy to spot in the night sky.
Red Giant Stars
These are giant luminous stars that have a low or medium mass. A Red Giant Star is formed when a star expands its volume by fusing all of its hydrogen into helium, and then burning the helium to produce carbon and oxygen to expand.
These are giant, bright stars that range from 10-100 times the size of the Sun and are 1000 times brighter. They are big and hot and therefore burn out quickly. The biggest are called Blue super giants or hyper giants. The biggest ever discovered was about 10 million times brighter than the Sun,
These are main-sequence stars like the Sun, but only 80% of its size, and are bright stars,
These are small burnt out husks of stars, about the same size as the Earth. White Dwarfs are dense and represent the final state of evolution for a star, like most stars in the galaxy.
These are the remains of a White Dwarf after it cools and darkens. This is likely to happen after about 10 billion years of life.
These are also main-sequence stars like the Sun, but twice the size, and are bright stars and hot.
Other types of stars include the Orange Giant, Neutron stars, Variable Stars and Binary Stars
What is a Bright Star?
The sky is home to various bright stars.
The brightness of a star is measured by a value called its magnitude (apparent magnitude) and they come in different sizes, composition, mass and color.
Their vast distance away from us is measured in light years from the Earth, the Sun or even the Milky Way.
The lower the magnitude value the brighter the star appears in the night sky when viewed from Earth.
FACT: The Sun is considered to be the brightest star in the sky.
Locating the ‘W-shape’ in the sky usually identifies the Lacerta Constellation.
It is a similar version of the shape of the Constellation of Cassiopeia, and sometimes referred to as ‘Little Cassiopeia’ for that reason.
The Lacerta Constellation has some deep sky objects but no bright galaxies
Deep Sky Objects
The Constellation of Lacerta has deep sky objects, including objects from the Messier New General Catalogue (abbreviated to NGC) and the Index Catalogue (IC):
There are 0 Messier objects in Lacerta
There are, however, IC index catalogued objects:
- IC 5217 – the prototypic ‘Blazar BL Lacertae’
FACT: A Deep Sky Object is an astronomical object, that is not a solar system object like the Sun, Moon, Comet or a Planet.
An individual Star is not considered to be a Deep Sky Object.
Deep Sky Objects are faint objects that can still be observed by the naked eye in the night sky from Earth.
Deep Sky Objects include Galaxies, Star Clusters and Nebulae.
- Star clusters – such as Globular Clusters of Stars or Open Clusters of Stars
- Dark Nebula, Planetary Nebula, Diffuse Nebula, and Supernova remnants
- Galaxy Groups, Galaxies, Gravitational Lenses and Quasars.
What is a Nebula?
A Nebula is a massive cloud of gas and dust in Space.
Some Nebulae are formed when a star explodes and then dies, as is the case with a Supernova. Sometimes they can act as Star nurseries and are the areas where new Stars are forming.
The Nebulae are the spaces in between the stars referred to as interstellar space.
There are several types of Nebulae:
- Bright Nebulae,
- Emission Nebulae,
- Reflection Nebulae,
- Dark Nebulae
- Planetary Nebulae
FACT: a ‘reflection nebula’ is an interstellar cloud that should be a dark nebula (a molecular cloud) however its dust reflects light from a nearby bright star and it reflects the light, hence the name.
Images of the Nebulae have been captured using professional Space telescopes, such as the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, operated by NASA, and the famous Hubble Space Telescope.
Lacerta is often abbreviated to ‘Lac’ from a naming convention used by NASA.
What is a Messier?
A Messier is a cluster of Stars
It was Charles Messier, a French astronomer, who is credited with cataloging each of the Messier Star clusters, around 1764 for many Constellations but there are no Messier objects within the Constellation of Lacerta.
Messier is famous for publishing an astronomical catalogue that lists 110 nebulae and star clusters, known as the New General Catalogue (used in its abbreviated form NGC and numbered).
These later became known as the Messier objects.
FACT: A star cluster is a large group of Stars that can be Globular Clusters or Open Clusters:
- Globular Clusters:
There are NO global clusters (a spherical collection of ‘Old Stars,’ numbering hundreds to millions, that are tightly bound by gravity and orbits a galactic core) within Lacerta.
- Open Clusters:
An open Cluster is a looser formation of ‘Young Stars’ that generally has less than a few hundred Stars.
Lacerta has a open clusters – NGC 7243, IC 5217 which is a faint Planetary nebula and several Double Stars.
A supernova remnant is the structure that’s left after a star explodes in a supernova.
There are 3 types of supernova remnants: shell-like, composite and mixed-morphology (or thermal composite).
What is the Milky Way?
The Milky Way is a Spiral Galaxy, containing over 200 billion Stars, and actually forms part of the Constellation of Sagittarius. It is the Galaxy that contains our solar system and it gets its name from the fact that it looks like a hazy swirl or river of milk across the sky, when viewed from earth.
It is made up of gas, dust and stars, with spiral arms wrapped around it, and a massive black hole in the center of the Galaxy.
Not all of the Stars in the Universe are contained within the Milky Way, rather it is one Galaxy amongst a vast quantity that make up the Universe.
It is at its brightest if looking towards the galactic center in the direction of Sagittarius.
Background & Facts:
The Greeks were the first ancient culture to name the modern 88 Constellations in the sky.
It was the Greek Astronomer – Ptolemy, who first cataloged 48 early constellations, in the 2nd Century (2 AD.).
Ptolemy listed the various constellations in his Almagest (a book recording astronomical data). He was not responsible for identifying Lacerta.
In 1603, The German Astronomer – Johann Bayer, systematically assigned names to the brightest stars in Lacerta and cataloged them in his Star atlas – ‘Uranometria Omnium Asterismorum’.
It was the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius who created Lacerta, the Lizard, although in early descriptions the Lizard looked like a Weasel with a long curling tail.
The Bayer designations are stellar designations where the stars within Constellations are initially identified by a name or letter from the Greek Alphabet from Alpha through Omega (in descending order of brightness).
1. The names of the Stars begin with a letter of the Greek alphabet starting with– Alpha. Lacerta only has 2 Bayer designated Stars – Alpha Lac and Beta Lac.
2. Followed by the genitive form of their parent constellation’s Latin name – ‘Lacerta ‘with ‘e’, makes the name ‘Lacertae’
3. Giving the first Starin Lacerta the name Alpha Lacertae
The main Stars of Lacerta are listed by their apparent magnitude (luminosity) in decreasing order:
1. Alpha Lacertae – an apparent visual magnitude of 3,77
2. 1 Lacertae – a variable visual magnitude of 4.13
3. 5 Lacertae – an apparent visual magnitude of 4.36
4. Beta Lacertae – an apparent visual magnitude of 4.43
5. 11 Lacertae – an apparent visual magnitude of 4.46
6. HR 8485 – an apparent visual magnitude of 4.49
7. 6 Lacertae -an apparent visual magnitude of 4.51
8. 2 Lacerta – an apparent visual magnitude of 4.57
9. 4 Lacerta – an apparent visual magnitude of 4.57
The importance of the Constellations such as Lacerta dates way back to the times of the Babylonians who identified constellations with bright Stars.
It has been described in many different ways by many cultures.
In France, Augustin Royer invented a different Constellation in this area and called it ‘The Scepter and Hand of Justice, to honor King Louis XIV of France.
In Germany, the German astronomer Johann Ellert Bode reconfigured the image of Royer and referred to it as ‘Gloria Frederica’ for King Frederick the Great of Prussia.
How do the Bright Stars of Lacerta stand out?
The Bright Stars
If you look up and into the night sky you can imagine the recognizable outline of the Constellation of Lacerta, as a W-shape that fills out into the shape of a Lizard.
Stars with Planets
Lacerta has 1 Star with an exoplanets orbiting around it in the solar system but it is unlikely to be able to support life forms.
The furthest exoplanet discovered was actually in the Andromeda Galaxy, not in the Milky Way.
Not all the stars within the Lacerta Constellation are visible to the naked eye but with telescopes and modern imagery techniques is it possible to glimpse all of the stars.
FACT: An exoplanet (also referred to as an extrasolar Planet) is a planet that orbits a Star that is not located within our Solar System (exoplanets do not orbit our Sun)
Nothing stands still in the sky.
Planets are continually being discovered and lists updated.
The Constellations change their positions throughout the year as the Earth rotates around the Sun.
This means our position in space is forever changing and as a result our view of what’s in space changes too, and will continue to do so.
What is the purpose of Lacerta? –
In ancient times the dots, bright lights and perceived objects in the sky were of great interest and the makings of folklore to a great range of people from seamen to farmers.
From children to the elderly, we have had an ongoing fascination, with our solar system and star system. Perhaps it’s because the enormity and variety within it makes us realize just how large and exciting the universe is.
FACT: The Star System or Stellar System is a small number of stars that orbit around each other and are bound together by gravity.
When it becomes a large group of stars, again bound together in the same way, by gravity, it is known as a Galaxy or Star Cluster.
Whether they contain small groups of stars or larger groups of start the both come under the classification of ‘Star System’.
The Lacerta celestial pole
The celestial pole defines the poles of the celestial equatorial coordinate system.
An object at the Celestial pole has a declination of 0 degrees.
- The declinations for the north celestial pole is +90 degrees
- The declinations for the south celestial pole is -90 degrees
The celestial poles are not permanently in a fixed position against the background of the stars as everything moves in Space.
Lacerta is located in the northern celestial sky at a + 45 degree north declination, and an average 22.5 hours right ascension.
Navigational tools in the sky
The many Constellations in the night sky were a useful navigation tool and guide as well as the subject of legends and myths.
42 of the Constellations have been named after animals with a story behind each name.
Historical significance: the legends, and myths surrounding Constellation of Lacerta
Lacerta is not the subject of Greek or Roman mythology, although many ancient civilizations had their own way of describing what they could see in the night sky.
The Sumerians were the first literate civilization of the Ancient Mesopotamia (an area occupying parts of Turkey and the Syria of today, Iraq, Iran)
The Sumerian civilization was not unified like the ancient Greek or Roman civilizations it was bonded by a common attitude – Their belief systems featured many deities. They regarded their gods as being responsible for everything and as such held them in great respect. Many stories arose as a result.
For thousands of years, various cultures around the world have identified and named the constellations we know and see in the night sky as Lacerta.
The Mesopotamian civilization (the first known civilization) identified Constellations like Lacerta. The used the orientation of the constellations to set the seasons for sowing crops and harvesting.
FACT: The ancient lands of the Mesopotamians now stretches across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Kuwait
Auriga and the other constellations in the sky were not only the subject of legends but they had a practical use too.
The Babylonians also recorded details of various bright stars within the constellations in their Babylonian star catalogues before 100 BCE.
What is the difference between a constellation and an asterism?
An asterism is a group of stars that appear to form a pattern in the night sky but with no officially determined boundaries.
It can make up part of a constellation or cross the boundaries of an official constellation or even a defunct constellation.
An asterism is a more vague assembly of stars than a recognized constellation.
The meteor show
There are no annual meteor showers associated with the Constellation of Lacerta
Fun Facts about Constellations – Did you know that?
- The Constellation of Lacerta is not one of the 12 constellations of the Zodiac.
- Lacerta is also significant in other cultures – In France was originally represented as a sceptor
- In Chinese astromomy the Constellation of Lacerta is associated with the ‘Black Tortoise of the North’
- The Constellation of Lacerta was one of seven constellations introduced by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius, in the 17th Century, in his publication ‘Firmamentum Sobiescianum’
- Lacerta is also represented in many cultures as a sign for harvest time and as a navigational guide.
- Lacerta is sometimes referred to as strange W-shape from 2 polygons with a long tail
- There are over 4000 known exoplanets in the night sky, with another 5000 awaiting classification
- The scale of a Constellation is measured in square degrees
- Charles Messier the French Astronomer who cataloged the Messier objects has a crater on the Moon named after him.
- Constellations like Lacerta are not part of our Solar System; they are groups of stars that appear to form shapes that are visible with the naked eye from Earth.
- The largest Constellation is called Hydra and the smallest Constellation is called Crux
- The Sun does not belong to any constellation.
- A Constellation does not actually exist as a fixed object, it is a group of bright stars that happen to be in a random place and are light years apart and ever moving. We see the pattern of their presence.
- The center of a Galaxy does not contain a Giant Star it contains a massive Black Hole.
- Red Dwarf is not a Dwarf Planet it is a Star. Most common Stars are Red Dwarf (cool Stars)
- Spiral Galaxies make up about two thirds of all the Galaxies in the Universe
Commonly Asked Questions
Q. What is the celestial sphere?
A. In astronomy and navigation terms, the celestial sphere is imaginary.
This virtual sphere has a large radius that is concentric with Earth.
We can imagine all objects in the night sky as being projected upon the inside of this celestial sphere, as if it has images placed inside a dome.
Q. What’s the difference between a Constellation and an asterism?
A. The stars that make up a Constellation have a definite position and form, whereas an asterism is a collection of stars without a fixed position
Q. What prevents us seeing the Stars and Constellations in the night sky?
A. Light pollution, fog, city lights and artificial lights all limit our visibility of the objects in the sky at night.
Q. Will the Constellations change over time?
A. The Constellations are continually on the move.
The images we form in our imagination to make objects, shapes and patterns out of the constellations have already shifted over time.
As we view the night skies from Earth they are likely to continue to shift and possibly in time the images may look very different.