The Musca Constellation


Musca (Latin for “the fly”) is a small constellation in the deep southern sky. It was one of 12 constellations created by Petrus Plancius from the observations of Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman. The first depiction of this constellation in a celestial atlas was in Johann Bayer’s Uranometria of 1603. It was also known as Apis (Latin for “the bee”) for 200 years. Musca remains below the horizon for most Northern Hemisphere observers. Musca is bordered by Crux to the north, Carina to the west, Chamaeleon to the south, Apus and Circinus to the east, and Centaurus to the northeast. Covering 138 square degrees and 0.335% of the night sky, it ranks 77th of the 88 constellations in size. The official constellation boundaries, as set by Eugène Delporte in 1930, are defined by a polygon of six segments. In the equatorial coordinate system, the right ascension coordinates of these borders lie between 11h 19.3m and 13h 51.1m, while the declination coordinates are between −64.64° and −75.68°. The whole constellation is visible to observers south of latitude 14°N.

Lacaille charted and designated 10 stars with the Bayer designations Alpha to Kappa in 1756. He catalogued stars that became Lambda and Mu but did not designate them. Altogether there are 62 stars brighter than magnitude 6.5 in the constellation. The pattern of the brightest stars resembles that of Ursa Minor, in that the stars form a pattern reminiscent of a bowl with a handle. Lying south-southeast of Acrux in neighbouring Crux is Alpha Muscae. It is the brightest star in the constellation with an apparent magnitude of 2.7. Lying around 310 light-years away, it is a blue-white star of spectral type B2IV-V that is around 4520 times as luminous and 8 times as massive as the Sun. The star is a Beta Cephei variable with about 4.7 times the Sun’s diameter, and pulsates every 2.2 hours, varying by 1% in brightness. A nearby star of magnitude 13 may or may not be a companion star. Beta Muscae is a binary star system around 341 light-years distant that is composed of two blue-white main-sequence stars of spectral types B2V and B3V that orbit each other every 194 years. They are eight and six times as massive as the Sun, respectively, and have about 3.5 times its diameter. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, HD 103079, Zeta2 and (likely) Eta are all members of the Lower Centaurus Crux subgroup of the Scorpius–Centaurus Association, a group of predominantly hot blue-white stars that share a common origin and proper motion across the galaxy. Delta and Epsilon mark the fly’s left wing and right wing, respectively. With an apparent magnitude of 3.62, Delta is an orange giant of spectral type K2III located around 91 light-years away. Lambda Muscae, the third-brightest star in the constellation and a white main-sequence star of spectral type A7V, is around 128 light-years distant from Earth.

Three-star systems have been discovered to have exoplanets. HD 111232 is a yellow main-sequence star around 78% as massive as the Sun around 95 light-years distant. It has a planet (HD 111232 b) around 6.8 times the mass of Jupiter that has an orbital period around 1143 days. HD 112410 is a yellow giant of spectral type G8III located around 439 light-years distant. With around 1.54 times the mass of our Sun, it is cooling and expanding along the red-giant branch, having left the main sequence after exhausting its core supply of hydrogen fuel. It has a substellar companion calculated to have a mass 9.2 times that of Jupiter and an orbital period of 124.6 days at a distance of around 0.57 AU. Yet another member of the Lower Centaurus Crux subgroup, HD 100546 is a young, blue-white Herbig Ae/Be star of spectral type B9V that has yet to settle on the main sequence—the closest of these stars to Earth around 320 light-years distant. It is surrounded by a circumstellar debris disk from a distance of 0.2 to 4 AU, and again from 13 AU out to a few hundred AU, with evidence for a protoplanet forming at a distance around 47 AU. A gap exists between 4 and 13 AU, which appears to contain a large planet around 20 times the mass of Jupiter, although further examination of the disk profile indicates it might be a more massive object such as a brown dwarf or more than one planet. LP 145-141 is a white dwarf located 15 light-years distant—the fourth-closest to the Solar System. It is considered a good candidate to look for Jupiter-like planets, on account if its proximity and mass.

Located on the border with Circinus is the unusual planetary nebula NGC 5189, estimated to be around 1750 light-years away from Earth. Its complex structure is due to multiple ejections of material from the ageing central star, which is distorted by the presence of a likely binary companion. Located 2.4° east of Eta Muscae is the magnitude-12.9 Engraved Hourglass Nebula (MyCn 18), which lies about 8000 light-years distant from Earth. To Eta’s west lies IC 4191, a compact bluish planetary nebula of magnitude 10.6, thought to lie around 10,750 light-years away from Earth. West of Epsilon Muscae is NGC 4071, a large, diffuse planetary nebula of magnitude 12.7 with a magnitude 12 central star, thought to lie around 4000 light-years away from Earth. The Coalsack Nebula is a dark nebula located mainly in neighbouring Crux that intrudes into Musca. NGC 4463 is an open cluster located on its southwestern border. Around five light-years across, it is located around 3400 light-years away. The comparatively old globular cluster NGC 4833 near Delta Muscae was catalogued by Lacaille in 1755. It is 21,200 light-years distant and somewhat obscured by dust clouds near the galactic plane. The globular cluster NGC 4372 near Gamma Muscae is fainter and likewise partially obscured by dust, but spans more arc minutes. It is 18,900 light-years away from Earth and 23,000 light-years distant from the centre of the Milky Way. Its extremely low metallicity indicates it is very old—one of the oldest clusters in the Milky Way. Extending south from it is the Dark Doodad Nebula, resembling a dark L-shaped river through a bright field of stars. Another dark nebula in the constellation is BHR 71. Credit: Wikipedia.