There are a lot of well known constellations, such as Cancer, Capricorn, Cassiopeia, and Orion in the night sky. Then there are lesser known constellations, like Eridanus or Bootes.
And then there are constellations like Apus, the Bird of Paradise, which rarely appear in literature or references, but are nonetheless important and unique constellations with their own history and features of interest.
This article looks at all the interesting features regarding the Constellation Apus, including location, history, myths and features to look for when you find Apus in the night sky.
Apus Constellation Facts, Myths, Symbolism and Stars (Bird of Paradise)
What is Apus?
Apus is a constellation visible only in the Southern Night Sky. In fact, it rests within 20 degrees of the South Pole Star, called Octans.
Apus is not visible anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, due to its position.
So you’ll need to head South of the Equator for a good chance to find Apus.
When looking for Apus, you’ll need to look in the space between the South Pole, Octans, and the Triangulum Australe – otherwise known as the Southern Triangle.
It’s a faint constellation, with no stars brighter than a 4th magnitude and forms an elongated triangular shape.
How Did Apus Get Its Name?
The name of the Apus constellation has many stories surrounding it. It’s also known as Avis Indica.
The original translation of the name ‘Apus’ is Greek for ‘no feet’, and is thought to be a reference to certain small birds of the swift family, who appear to have no feet when they’re in flight.
Both this and the name Avis Indica are also references to the name which has since been translated as ‘Bird of Paradise’.
This is a reference to birds with brightly colored feathers that are native to New Guinea and the surrounding islands.
These birds and others with vibrant feathers were once favored as gifts in India, where the legs were sometimes removed to prevent the birds from attempting to escape.
An Alternative Association:
Though it is not an interpretation shared often, the Cambridge Guide to Stars and Planets, as published in 1999, also referred to this constellation as ‘The Bee’.
It is thought the confusion comes from the Latin similarity between Apus, Apis, and Avis, and a possible misspelling at one time or the other which may have contributed to the confusion.
How Was Apus Discovered?
Due to its extreme position in the Southern Hemisphere, the constellation of Apus cannot be seen by astronomers in Europe.
It was not listed in astronomy texts or maps until Johann Bayer’s Uranometria, written in 1603.
Bayer himself credits the discovery and information recorded about Apus to the efforts of multiple explorers, among them Amerigo Vespucci.
Who Is Credited to Have First Named And Outlined the Constellation of Apus?
There are sources that have attributed the written description of the Apus constellation to Peiter Dircksz Keyser, a navigator who was part of the first Dutch expedition to the East Indies.
He was said to have added 12 constellations to the maps of the Southern Night Skies, Apus among them.
Are There Any Myths Surrounding the Constellation of Apus?
Due to its relatively late addition to the Astronomical Charts, there are no long standing myths or legends involving the Apus constellation.
The closest legend is one referring to the Birds of Paradise, who were called ‘footless’ due to the legend that they had no feet and were forever in flight.
Why Was It Called Apus?
There is no record of why the name Apus was given to this particular constellation.
Though the streamlined shape does look somewhat like a bird in flight if one considers looking at it sideways with the wings edge on as well, it is somewhat abstract in nature.
On the other hand, it is no more abstract than many other constellations, in terms of shape and design.
What Is the Constellation Apus Used For?
The constellation of Apus is too faint to be much use in terms of navigation. It is also too new to have much history attached.
It might serve as a method for making the connection between the Southern Triangle and Octans, but it has very little significance otherwise. It is barely visible to the naked eye.
Primarily, it was included as part of the way to divide the sky into segments and fill in gaps in the night sky, and became part of the official 88 constellations that make up the Night Sky today.
What Objects are Found In Apus?
There are very few items of interest to be found in Apus.
Aside from the stars themselves, which are all faint, there are only 2 globular clusters encompassed in this constellation.
NGC 6101 – a small globular cluster located 6 degrees north of Apus Beta. It is of the 10th magnitude, and calculated to be about 25,000 light years away.
IC 4499 – a small globular cluster about 4 degrees south of Apus Alpha. It is of the 11th magnitude, and calculated to be about 59,000 light years away.
There are no Galaxies or Nebulae near Apus that are easily visible, even with a small telescope.
What Stars Are Found As Part of Apus?
Apus Alpha – Spectral Type K5 III, magnitude of 3.8, and calculated distance of 220 light years.
Apus Beta – Spectral Type K0 III, magnitude of 4.2, and calculated distance of 135 light years.
Apus Gamma – Spectral Type K0 IV, magnitude of 3.9 and a calculated distance of 46 light years.
Apus Delta – A double star with the following positions and stars:
- Spectral Type M4 III, magnitude of 5.3 and a calculated distance of 360 light years away
- Spectral Type K5 III, magnitude of 4.7 and a calculated distance of 425 light years away
All of these stars, though incredibly faint, are visible with a small telescope, which can be purchased in many locations for relatively little cost.
Apus is not a particularly large, significant or well-known constellation, but that does not make it any less a part of the overall map of the sky.
And however new or however it came to be, it is still part of the history of the Southern Night Sky.
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