¡SkyCaramba! Weekly astronomy blog for the week ending December 7, 2013
There’s a mostly unknown constellation that crosses the evening skies of December, near the more well known sea monster Cetus. The main part of the constellation is usually described as having only two stars, although some people draw it with three. The constellation is called Fornax.
That’s the Latin word for furnace. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you may immediately think it’s named for the furnace that heats your home this time of year. You would be wrong. It’s named for the apparatus chemists used a few hundred years ago to heat up chemicals.
To say the storytellers have overlooked this patch of sky may be an understatement. The ancients left us no mythology for it. There was a Roman goddess named Fornax, but she had nothing to do with any constellations. This constellation didn’t get named until 1756 when French astronomer Nicolas Louis de La Caille drew a constellation chart and decided this area needed something in it.
La Caille’s original name for the dots he connected was Fornax Chemica which means chemical furnace. The constellation went through a few partial name changes over the next ...