The Pictor Constellation

Pictor is a constellation in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere, located between the star Canopus and the Large Magellanic Cloud. Its name is Latin for a painter and is an abbreviation of the older name Equuleus Pictoris (the “painter’s easel”). Normally represented as an easel, Pictor was named by Abbé Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century. Pictor is a small constellation bordered by Columba to the north, Puppis and Carina to the east, Caelum to the northwest, Dorado to the southwest and Volans to the south. The official constellation boundaries, as set by Eugène Delporte in 1930, are defined by a polygon of 18 segments. In the equatorial coordinate system, the right ascension coordinates of these borders lie between 04h 32.5m and 06h 52.0m, while the declination coordinates are between −42.79° and −64.15°. Pictor culminates each year at 9 p.m. on 17 March. Its position in the far Southern Celestial Hemisphere means that the whole constellation is visible to observers south of latitude 26°N, and parts become circumpolar south of latitude 35°S.

Pictor is a faint constellation; its three brightest stars can be seen near the prominent Canopus. Within the constellation’s borders, there are 49 stars brighter than or equal to apparent magnitude 6.5. Located about 97 light-years away from Earth, Alpha Pictoris is the brightest star in the constellation; it is a white main-sequence star with an apparent magnitude of 3.3, and spectral type A8VnkA6. A rapidly spinning star with a projected rotational velocity estimated at 206 km/s, it has a shell of circumstellar gas. Beta Pictoris is another white main sequence star of spectral type A6V and apparent magnitude 3.86. Located around 63.4 light-years distant from Earth, it is a member of the Beta Pictoris moving group—a group of 17 star systems around 12 million years old moving through space together. In 1984 Beta Pictoris was the first star discovered to have a debris disk. Since then, an exoplanet about eight times the mass of Jupiter has been discovered orbiting approximately 8 astronomical units (AU) away from the star—a similar distance as that between our Sun and Saturn. Gamma Pictoris is an orange giant of spectral type K1III that has swollen to 1.4 times the diameter of the Sun. Shining with an apparent magnitude of 4.5, it lies 174 light-years distant from Earth. HD 42540, called 47 Pictoris by American astronomer Benjamin Apthorp Gould, is a slightly cooler orange giant, with a spectral type of K2.5III and average magnitude 5.04. It has also been suspected of being a variable star. Lacaille mistakenly named this star Mu Doradus but had recorded its Right Ascension one hour too low. Lacaille named two neighbouring stars Eta Pictoris.

NGC 1705 is an irregular dwarf galaxy 17 million light-years from Earth. It is one of the most active star-forming galaxies in the nearby universe, despite the fact that its rate of star formation peaked around 30 million years ago. Pictor A, around 485 million light-years away, is a double-lobed radio galaxy and a powerful source of radio waves in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere. From a supermassive black hole at its centre, a relativistic jet shoots out to an X-ray hot spot 800,000 light years away. SPT-CL J0546-5345 is a massive galaxy cluster located around 7 billion light-years away with a mass equivalent to approximately 800 trillion suns. GRB 060729 was a gamma-ray burst that was first observed on 29 July 2006. It is likely the signal of a type Ic supernova—the core collapse of a massive star. It was also notable for its extraordinarily long X-ray afterglow, detectable 642 days (nearly two years) after the original event. The event was remote, with a redshift of 0.54. Credit: Wikipedia.