The Pyxis Constellation

Pyxis is a small and faint constellation in the southern sky. Abbreviated from Pyxis Nautica, its name is Latin for a mariner’s compass (contrasting with Circinus, which represents a draftsman’s compasses). Pyxis was introduced by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century, and it is located close to the stars that formed the old constellation Argo Navis, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts. Parts of Argo Navis were the Carina (the keel or hull), the Puppis (the poop deck or stern), and the Vela (the sails). These eventually became their own constellations. Covering 220.8 square degrees and hence 0.535% of the sky, Pyxis ranks 65th of the 88 modern constellations by area. Its position in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere means that the whole constellation is visible to observers south of 52°N. It is most visible in the evening sky in February and March. A small constellation, it is bordered by Hydra to the north, Puppis to the west, Vela to the south, and Antlia to the east. The official constellation boundaries, as set by Eugène Delporte in 1930, are defined by a polygon of eight sides. In the equatorial coordinate system, the right ascension coordinates of these borders lie between  8h 27.7m and  9h 27.6m, while the declination coordinates are between −17.41° and −37.29°.

Lacaille gave Bayer designations to ten stars now named Alpha to Lambda Pyxidis, skipping the Greek letters iota and kappa. Pyxis is a faint constellation, its three brightest stars—Alpha, Beta and Gamma Pyxidis—forming a rough line. Overall, there are 41 stars within the constellation’s borders with apparent magnitudes brighter than or equal to 6.5. With an apparent magnitude of 3.68, Alpha Pyxidis is the brightest star in the constellation. Located 880 ± 30 light-years distant from Earth, it is a blue-white giant star of spectral type B1.5III that is around 22,000 times as luminous as the Sun and has 9.4 ± 0.7 times its diameter. The second brightest star at magnitude 3.97 is Beta Pyxidis, a yellow bright giant or supergiant of spectral type G7Ib-II that is around 435 times as luminous as the Sun, lying 420 ± 10 light-years distant away from Earth. It has a companion star of magnitude 12.5 separated by 9 arcseconds. Gamma Pyxidis is a star of magnitude 4.02 that lies 207 ± 2 light-years distant. It is an orange giant of spectral type K3III that has cooled and swollen to 3.7 times the diameter of the Sun after exhausting its core hydrogen.

Pyxis is home to three stars with confirmed planetary systems—all discovered by Doppler spectroscopy. A hot Jupiter, HD 73256 b, that orbits HD 73256 every 2.55 days, was discovered using the CORALIE spectrograph in 2003. The host star is a yellow star of spectral type G9V that has 69% of our Sun’s luminosity, 89% of its diameter and 105% of its mass. Around 119 light-years away, it shines with an apparent magnitude of 8.08 and is around a billion years old. HD 73267 b was discovered with the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) in 2008. It orbits HD 73267 every 1260 days, a 7 billion-year-old star of spectral type G5V that is around 89% as massive as the Sun. A red dwarf of spectral type M2.5V that has around 42% the Sun’s mass, Gliese 317 is orbited by two gas giant planets. Around 50 light-years distant from Earth, it is a good candidate for future searches for more terrestrial rocky planets.

Pyxis lies in the plane of the Milky Way, although part of the eastern edge is dark, with material obscuring our galaxy arm there. NGC 2818 is a planetary nebula that lies within a dim open cluster of magnitude 8.2. NGC 2818A is an open cluster that lies on the line of sight with it. K 1-2 is a planetary nebula whose central star is a spectroscopic binary composed of two stars in close orbit with jets emanating from the system. The surface temperature of one component has been estimated at as high as 85,000 K. NGC 2627 is an open cluster of magnitude 8.4. Discovered in 1995, the Pyxis globular cluster is a 13.3 ± 1.3 billion-year-old globular cluster situated around 130,000 light-years distant from Earth and around 133,000 light-years distant from the centre of the Milky Way—a region not previously thought to contain globular clusters. Located in the galactic halo, it was noted to lie on the same plane as the Large Magellanic Cloud and the possibility has been raised that it might be an escaped object from that galaxy. NGC 2613 is a spiral galaxy of magnitude 10.5 which appears spindle-shaped as it is almost edge-on to observers on Earth. Henize 2-10 is a dwarf galaxy which lies 30 million light-years away. It has a black hole of around a million solar masses at its centre. Known as a starburst galaxy due to very high rates of star formation, it has a bluish colour due to the huge numbers of young stars within it. Credit: Wikipedia.