The Phoenix Constellation – Facts in brief:
What is it? –
The Phoenix Constellation (the Phoenix) ranks as a relatively minor constellation seen in the Southern night sky.
‘The Phoenix’, from the legendary myth refers to ‘the mythical bird that rises from its own ashes’. It is quite easy to recognize, as it resembles the outline of a strange looking mythical bird, if you join the dots and use your imagination.
Where is it located? –
The Phoenix Constellation is positioned in the first quadrant of the Southern Hemisphere, south of the celestial equator. It is sometimes referred to being located in the SQ1 Quadrant.
The neighboring Constellations of Phoenix include –
Where can it be seen?
Co-ordinates of a right ascension, or left ascension and their declination are used to locate all of the Constellations, like Phoenix.
The bright Stars of Phoenix can be more easily observed from the Southern Hemisphere, it lies very low in the sky near the horizon and is best seen in South Africa and Australia in the summer months
Phoenix lies low in the sky for those observing from North of the Equator and not really visible from a location north of the 40th parallel, although parts are visible to Northern Hemisphere viewers from south of the 40th parallel.
In the Southern Hemisphere
The Phoenix Constellation is found at around 16 hours, 30 minutes right ascension and a 30-degree declination, in the Southern Celestial Sky.
Visibility from the Southern Hemisphere
It is visible in the Southern Hemisphere at latitudes between +32 degrees and – 80 degrees,
(The Constellation of Phoenix stretches across an area from a -39 degrees to – 57 degree declination, and from 23.5h to 2.5h right ascension)
Constellation Phoenix covers an area of 469 square degrees in the night sky.
How can you identify the Phoenix?
The simplest method for spotting any particular Constellation from Earth is to first of all locate the brightest star in that Constellation, and then look at the neighboring illuminations, to see if you can identify a recognizable pattern.
The Phoenix Constellation looks like a triangle with a lopsided quadrangle joined to it.
It can be spotted if you look towards the southern region of the southern hemisphere night sky, between the Constellation of Eridanus, the Constellation of Grus and the Constellation of Horologium.
Phoenix constellation is represented as the mythical bird, the phoenix in the night sky
It is one of 4 Constellations known as the ‘Southern Birds’ , that includes – Constellation Phoenix; Constellation Grus (Latin for Crane); Constellation Pavo (Latin for Peacock) and the Constellation Tucana (Latin for Toucan).
The Star System of Phoenix
The star system of Phoenix has:
- 3 named Stars approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) – Ankaa (an orange giant), Nenque and Wurren. The brightest star called Ankaa (Alpha Phoenicis), has an apparent visual magnitude of 2.40
- 5 bright Stars with known planets
- 10 Stars that host exoplanets (exoplanets are being discovered all the time so this number could increase)
- There are no Messier objects in the Constellation of Phoenix
It is the combined light of the various bright stars in this star system that produces enough light to give Ankaa (Alpha Phoenicis) the brightest star status in the Constellation of Phoenix.
Spotting the Phoenix in the night sky
The bright Star, Ankaa located on the tip of the triangle joined to the quadrangle, is used to spot the constellation Phoenix and its pointy shape.
This simple technique can be used to spot other Constellation patterns too like the Scales (Libra) or the Goat (Capricornus).
The Location of the Constellation of Phoenix
The Constellation Phoenix is located between the Constellations of Eridanus, Grus and Horologium, and close to Sculptor, Fornax, Hydrus, and Tucana.
FACT: The ecliptic is an imaginary line tracing the route that The Sun, the Moon, and the Planets take across the sky each year. It usually refers to the route that the Earth takes around the Sun and is the measure that the positions of the Zodiac Constellations are based upon
The Celestial Equator is the projection of the terrestrial equator into space.
The Constellation of Phoenix is most prominent in the Southern Hemisphere, if looking South during the month of November (from latitudes of +30 degrees to – 90 degrees).
As the Constellation of Phoenix is made up of Stars in different locations and from a variety of distances it is not possible to simply go to one location and guarantee to see it.
It is less visible from the Northern Hemisphere as it is located close to the horizon within the Southern Celestial Hemisphere.
The best time to spot it is at night, around 23.00
How is it formed and named?
The Constellation of Phoenix ranks as the 37th largest in the Southern Celestial Sky, and it fills an area of 469 square degrees.
It has a simple and easy to identify shape like ‘a phoenix bird’
It is formed by the positions of its bright Stars which form an angular shape that looks like a majestic bird of prey in flight.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU), has defined the boundaries of the Constellation of Phoenix as having several stars that are visible by the naked eye.
The name of the Constellation Phoenix is often abbreviated simply to ‘Phe’.
The main Stars in Constellation Phoenix
There are many different Stars within the phoenix.
The named stars of Phoenix are categorized by letters of the Greek alphabet, ranging in luminosity from the brightest Star, (the alpha star, the Ankaa, also known as Alpha Phoenicis) then in decreasing order of luminosity through the alphabet.
- Ankaa (Alpha Phoenicis) the brightest Star in Phoenix which gets its name from the Arabic word ‘al-angā’, meaning ‘the Phoenix’, or from another Arabic word, ‘Nair al-Zaurak, meaning ‘the bright star of the skiff’.
It is a spectroscopic binary Star that is located around 85 light years distant; this orange supergiant has a combined apparent magnitude of 2.377.
- Beta Phoenicis is the second brightest Star in Phoenix, and is another binary Star composed of 2 yellow giants. It is located around 198 light years from our solar system with a visual magnitude of 3.32.
- Gamma Phoenicis is the third brightest Star in Phoenix, with a visual magnitude of 3.41 and is located around 234 light years distant. the Gamma Star is actually a Star system and the primary Star is a red giant and the only one visible in the system.
- Epsilon Phoenicis is a bright Star in Phoenix, and is an orange giant. It is located around 144 light years distant with a visual magnitude of 3.87.
- Kappa Phoenicis is a single Star in Phoenix that is visible to the naked eye. It is located around 77.7 light years distant with a visual magnitude of 3.94.
- Delta Phoenicis is a single yellow hued Star in Phoenix that is visible to the naked eye. It is located around 142 light years from the Sun with a visual magnitude of 3.93.
- Zeta Phoenicis is a multi Star system in Phoenix that is visible to the naked eye. It is located around 300 light years distant with a visual magnitude of 3.93.
- Eta Phoenicis is a class A0IV Star in Phoenix. It is located around 246 light years away based on parallax with a visual magnitude of 4.36.
- Psi Phoenicis is a Star in Phoenix. It is located around 342 light years distant with a variable apparent visual magnitude of 4.3 to 4.5.
- Mu Phoenicis is a suspected astrometric binary Star in Phoenix that is visible to the naked eye. It is located around 246 light years from the Sun with an apparent visual magnitude of 4.59.
- Iota Phoenicis is a binary Star system in Phoenix that is located close to the Constellation border with Grus. It is located around 77.7 light years distant and visible to the naked eye with a fluctuating apparent visual magnitude around 4.71.
Other Stars of interest in the Constellation of Phoenix includes BD Phoenicis, Gliese 915, Nu Phoenicis, Rho Phoenicis, SX Phoenicis and Wurren.
How do the Bright Stars of the Phoenix Constellation shape up?
The Bright Stars
If you look up and into the night sky you can imagine the recognizable outline of the Constellation of Phoenix, by the 8 main bright Stars, which make up the outline of its body.
Stars with Planets
Phoenix has 5 Stars with known Planets orbiting around them in the solar system but they are unlikely to be able to support life forms.
Phoenix has 10 Stars with exoplanets (extrasolar planets). The host Stars are:
- ·2M-0103-55 (AB) / GJ 27.1 / HATS-46 / HD 13724 / HD 6434 / WASP-105/ WASP-29 / WASP-4 / WASP-5 / WASP-96
Stars without Planets
Phoenix has further cataloged Stars with no planets.
When viewed via the Hipparcos Satellite there were 1401 stars spotted within the Constellation of Phoenix. It also has stars that are listed within the Bayer Flamsteed designations.
FACT: A Flamsteed designation for a Star is a combination of a number and the name of the Constellation it can be identified within by the naked eye from England in the United Kingdom. They are named after John Flamsteed who designed this categorisation for listing visible Stars in his ‘History Coelestis Britannica’ catalogue.
Not all the stars within the Phoenix Constellation are visible to the naked eye but with telescopes and modern imagery techniques is it possible to glimpse the stars.
When was it first discovered? –
In the late 1500s fleets of Dutch trading ships travelled across the ocean to the Spice Islands. Captain Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser skippered one such fleet. During the journey they were guided by the bright stars in the night skies.
Captain Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and fellow navigator Frederick de Houtman recorded observations and measurements of around 135 stars in the Southern sky on their journeys.
When they returned, their observations were documented by Petrus Plancius, a Dutch-Flemish Astronomer, Cartographer and their teacher.
Plancius used the observations from their sea voyages to design a celestial globe that filled in many astronomical gaps in the southern sky and to map 12 new constellations on his celestial globe, late 1597. This is how he originally introduced the Phoenix Constellation.
In 1603, Johann Bayer then created a celestial atlas called Uranometria and listed the Phoenix Constellation in it.
The ancient Greeks were the first ancient culture to name 88 Constellations in the sky.
The Constellation Phoenix ranks no 37 in area but it was not one of the 88 named by the Greek astronomer Ptolomy.
They were each given 3-letter abbreviations to help identify them and the Stars within those Constellations are also referred to by those 3-letter codes.
When referring to a Star within a Constellation it is given the genitive form of the Constellation name, ‘Phoenicis’.
FACT: In Latin, the genitive is the case of description.
The named Stars in Phoenix
Within the Constellation Phoenix, the Stars would be referred to by: the name or the letter from the Greek Alphabet, in order of brightness followed by ‘Phoenicis’, (or their proper name) such as:
- Alpha Phoenicis (Ankaa) – is the brightest Star in the Constellation, and the 15th brightest Star in night sky. It is a slow irregular variable Star, with an apparent magnitude of +0.6
Fact: the brighter the luminosity of the star the lower the apparent magnitude number.
Why and what is the purpose of Phoenix? –
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 stars they both come under the classification of ‘Star System’.
The Constellations in the night sky were a useful navigation tool and guide as well as the subject of legends and myths, about characters like Zeus, Orion and other powerful gods.
42 of Constellations have been named after animals with a story behind each name.
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.
Background & Facts:
The neighbors of Constellation Phoenix
The Constellation of Phoenix is neighbored by several constellations in the Southern Sky: and can be used as the guide point for finding Phoenix in the sky.
This small Constellation of Phoenix is bordered by –
- Sculptor and Fornax – to the North
- Eridanus to the East and Southeast
- Hydrus and Tucana to the South
- Grus to the West
Within Constellation Phoenix
The Constellation of Phoenix is formed by of a number of different components.
The different components housed by the Constellation Phoenix are mainly Stars, Deep Sky Objects and Galaxies.
The best time of year to see the Stars and Deep Sky Objects in Phoenix is November.
The different types of Stars
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
The sky is home to various bright stars.
The brightness of a star is measured by a value called its magnitude and they come in different sizes, composition, mass and color. Their vast distance away from us is measured in light years from either the Earth or the Sun.
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.
There are 5 named stars known to host planets within the Constellation Phoenix that have been officially approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU):
As well as Stars, the Phoenix Constellation also has deep sky objects and galaxies, galaxy clusters (or even globular clusters or open clusters), but no Messier objects.
Deep Sky Objects
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.
They include Galaxies, Star Clusters and Nebulae.
Within the Phoenix Constellation there is a compact group of galaxies known as Robert’s quartet.
These 4 galaxies are located approximately 160 million years from the Sun and have a collective visual magnitude of around 13, and within an area spanning 75,000 light years.
The 4 galaxies are:
- NGC 87 – an irregular galaxy, similar to many of the satellites in the Milky Way, located in the top right of the quartet. It has a visual magnitude of 14.1
- NGC 88– a spiral galaxy, with an external diffuse envelope (likely composed of gas), located in the center of the quartet. It has a visual magnitude of 15.2
- NGC 89– a spiral galaxy, with two large spiral arms, located in the lower middle area of the quartet. It has a visual magnitude of 14.2
- NGC 92– an unusual looking spiral Sa galaxy, and the largest in the galaxy cluster system, located in the left of the quartet.
NGC 92, the largest spiral galaxy in this galaxy clusterhas an apparent visual magnitude of 13.8 and has over 200 areas with active Star formation.
Its spiral arms contain large amounts of dust and subject to distortion due to ongoing interactions with neighboring galaxies.
They are very different galaxies located near the center of the Phoenix Constellation, and were discovered by John Herschel, an English Astronomer, in the 1830s.
Other NGCs in the Phoenix Constellation include:
NGC 625 is a barred spiral galaxy with a visual magnitude of 11.7, and located around 12.7 million light years distant.
The NGC 625 Galaxy is a member of the Sculptor group of galaxies that are located near the south galactic pole. These are found within the Constellations of Sculptor and Cetus.
The ESO 243-49 Galaxy contains a proposed intermediate-mass black hole called HLX-1 (Hyper-Luminous –ray source 1). This galaxy is located 290 million light years from Earth.
It was discovered in 2004 and a black hole candidate in 2009.
It could be a galactic remnant of a dwarf galaxy that became absorbed into ESO 243-49 following a galactic collision.
Its circle identifies a unique X-ray source that points out the black hole. These X-rays are thought to be radiation from a hot accretion disk source, around the black hole.
This particular black hole has an estimated mass of 50 million Suns.
The Phoenix Cluster
The Phoenix Cluster is one of the most massive galaxy clusters, with
- An ability to form Stars at a higher rate than any other galaxy cluster (740 solar masses recorded in one year)
- An emission of more X-rays than any other known massive galaxy cluster
- Large amounts of hot gas within its central galaxy
- A rapidly growing supermassive black hole, 20 billion times the mass of the Sun, at the core of the system (gaining 60 solar masses each year).
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.
Images of the Nebulae have been captured using professional Space telescopes, such asthe NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, operated by NASA, and the famous Hubble Space Telescope.
Messier Objects and Star Clusters
There are no Messier objects within the Constellation of Phoenix.
What is a Star Cluster?
FACT: A star cluster is a large group of Stars, of which there are 2 different types:
A global cluster is a spherical collection of ‘Old Stars,’ numbering hundreds to millions, that are tightly bound by gravity and orbits a galactic core.
An open Cluster is a looser formation of ‘Young Stars’ that generally has less than a few hundred Stars.
What is the Milky Way?
The Milky Way itself is not a Constellation of Stars. 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. It is at its brightest if looking towards the galactic center in the direction of Sagittarius.
The Stars that make up the Milky Way are many light years away and cannot be individually identified by the naked eye.
Historical significance: the legends, and myths surrounding Constellation Phoenix
In many cultures the Phoenix generates both intrigue and mystery.
For thousands of years, various cultures around the world have identified and named the constellation we know and see in the night sky as Phoenix.
The Babylonians also recorded details of various bright stars within the constellations in their Babylonian star catalogues before 100BCE.
The Dutch history of Phoenix
Petrus Plancius, the Dutch astronomer/cartographer in the late 16th Century is credited with first documenting the Constellation of Phoenix.
When it comes to the 12 Constellations recognized by Petrus Plancius in the sky, Constellation Phoenix, although it is relatively small, it is still one of the largest of the 12.
He based his findings on the navigational observations of two Dutch navigators – Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman.
The Egyptian History of the Phoenix
The Constellation Phoenix was of great interest to the Egyptians as well as the ancient Greeks.
In fact, there is a similarity between the image of the mythical Greek Phoenix and the Egyptian god ‘Bennu’.
The Egyptian creature Bennu was depicted as a bird like a heron that lived on top of large stone structures. It was worshiped as the living symbol of the god Osiris.
This creature was believed to be majestic with its rich red and gold feathers and as big as an eagle.
The symbol of the Phoenix is commonly used as a description of the spirituality of many ancient cultures and the concepts of life and death, and reincarnation.
The Egyptian folklore tells that the Phoenix was long-lived, existing for at least 500 years.
Just before dying The Phoenix built itself a beautiful nest of aromatic spices and branches and set it on fire.
It was consumed by the rich smelling flames and after its death it then majestically returned from the ashes once again to live for another 500 years.
The Phoenix was associated with immortality and resurrection by the Egyptians and followed on through Christianity over the years.
There are many Greek myths and legends surrounding the origin and names of the constellations from Zeus to mythical creatures.
The Phoenix in ancient Greek folklore is depicted as the long living bird that regenerated itself many times. It is associated with worshipping the Sun and is believed to burst into flames and die, or simply die and decompose, but be born again from the ashes of its predecessor.
The motif of the Phoenix is used widely and connected to the legend of this mythical bird. It symbolizes renewal, reincarnation, life and death and various aspects of Christian beliefs.
The word Phoenix is used in many cultures, with different names, and meanings:
- Latin – it was the Phoenix
- Old English – Fenix (meaning an excellent person)
- Mycenaean Greek – Ponike (meaning griffin, or palm tree)
- In Greek – Phoinix (meaning griffin)
- Ancient Semitic languages – Chol, or Phoenician (meaning madder or red dye)
- In Hindu and Buddism language – Garuda (meaning legendary bird) or Bherunda (meaning Russian firebird)
- In Georgian and Persian – Simurgh (Meaning mythical bird)
- Chinese – Fenghuang (mythical birds that reign over others)
- In Chinese – Zhuque (meaning the Vermillion bird of the South one of the 4 symbols of the Chinese Constellations, and represents the fire element in the Taoist five element system)
- In Islam – Anqā (meaning a large mysterious bird like a heron). Believed to be sent by god as perfection but later turned into a plague and was killed).
The word phoenix across many languages and cultures represents fire, flames, a rich red color, and recovery.
It is also associated with the worship of the Sun.
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 Showers
The Phoenix Constellation is associated with 2 meteor showers known as ‘The Phoenicids’.
The 2 meteor showers are:
- The December Phoenicids
- The July Phoenicids
The Phoenicids meteor shower occurs between November 29 and December 9, with its peak around December 5/6 each year.
It was first seen in New Zealand, Australia, around the Indian Ocean and in South Africa.
Quick Facts about Phoenix and Constellations – Did you know that?
- The Constellation of Phoenix is not one of the 12 constellations of the Zodiac.
- The Constellation of Phoenix is not one of the original 88 constellations identified by the Greek Astronomer Ptolemy.
- Constellation Phoenix ranks as the 37th largest Constellation in the night sky
- Phoenix occupies 1.14% of the night sky
- The proper astronomical name is ConstellationPhoenix, but is sometimes abbreviated to ‘Phe’.
- Nu Phoenicis is a main sequence Star type star. Although Nu Phoenicis is located within the borders of the Constellation, it is not part of the Phoenix Constellation outline.
- The Constellations are not part of the solar system; they are groups of stars that appear to form shapes that are visible from Earth.
- The largest Constellation is called Hydra and the smallest Constellation is called Crux.
- 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.
- Phoenix has one black hole candidate referred to as HLX-1.
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 was images placed inside a dome.
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.
The best views come from outside of cities where light pollution is less. Camping in the countryside is one of the best ways to get a better view of what’s up there in Space.
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 do so and possibly in time the images may look very different.