I caught the wonderful Stardate program on AM radio this morning. Today’s program “Clockwork Skies” describes constellations that are named for tools or machinery.

The constellations are Sextans, Antlia, and Pyxis — the sextant, the air pump, and the magnetic compass. At around 9 o’clock, Sextans is low in the east, with Antlia and Pyxis climbing into view in the south and southeast.

Sextans was introduced by Johannes Hevelius, a 17th-century German astronomer who used the sextant to measure the positions of stars with unprecedented accuracy. And navigators were using it to help plot their position on the globe as they sailed into new waters.

French astronomer Nicolas Louis de la Caille created Antlia and Pyxis a few decades later.

La Caille didn’t stop there, though. He named other constellations for the telescope, the microscope, and the pendulum clock.

What do they look like in the sky? Not much like what the objects they are named for. You can make out anything in the night sky if you want to. Here are the star maps from Wikipedia:

Sextans, the Sextant

500px Sextans constellation map.svg Stardate: Clockwork Skies

Antlia, the Pump

Antlia, the pump

Pyxis, the Compass

Pyxis, the compass

Dale Dougherty

I’m founder of MAKE magazine and creator of Maker Faire. I am CEO of Maker Media, the company that produces MAKE, Maker Faire and Maker Shed. I am Chairman of the Maker Education Initiative (www.makered.org).


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