History of the Constellations

Stars and Constellations


| Prev: Del | Index of Constellations | Next: Dra |

Contents of this page: | Description | Modern Culture | Origin and History | Special Stars | Galaxies | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Dorado Chart: (Figure 1) | Bayer, 1661, page zzzAaa: (Figure 2) | Bayer, 1697, page O1v: (Figure 3) | Bayer, 1697, page O2r: (Figure 4) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data


Dorado the Swordfish is a small and obscure but very interesting constellation. It contains the Large Magellenic Cloud (LMC) and the only recent naked-eye supernova. In addition, the south ecliptic pole is located about where the "eye" of the fish would be. The Large and Small Magellenic Clouds are bright enough to be visible even in Moonlight.

Skylore and Literature

Modern Culture

Origin and History

One of the eleven southern constellations created by Pieter Dirksz Keyser and Frederick de Houtman in 1596. These were published in Plate Aaa of Johann Bayer, Uranographia (1603).

Special Stars

On February 23-24 in 1987 the Large Magellenic Cloud was the site of Supernova 1987A. It "went off like a firecracker" and was observed by two astronomers at a remote mountain observatory near Las Campanas, Chile (29 degrees south latitude). Ian Shelton and Oscar Duhalde both observed this new star flare up only 4 degrees from the south ecliptic pole. At maximum intensity three months later the supernova was at magnitude 2.8, about the same brightness as the fourth brightest star of Crux. Then it grew redder, and by the end of the year diminished to the threshold of naked-eye visibility.

Supernova 1987A was the first naked-eye supernova in or near our galaxy since the invention of the telescope. The last two were Kepler’s Supernova, which appeared in Ophiuchus in 1604, and Tycho’s Star, which appeared in Cassiopeia in 1572. Tycho’s Star was visible for 16 months, and at its brightest could be seen in full daylight. The Crab Nebula in Taurus is believed by many to be the result of a supernova in 1054.


The Large and Small Magellenic Clouds

The Magellenic clouds are satellite galaxies bubbled off of the Milky Way like spray from a fountain. However, some astronomers consider them galaxies in their own right (the LMC has a degree of spiral structure). These bright regions of light, observed by Ferdinand Magellan in 1519 and by other early explorers like Amerigo Vespucci and Marco Polo, are also known as Cape Clouds.

The LMC (166,000 LY away) lies almost between Canopus and the south pole, or on a line from Sirius through Canopus. The LMC contains the Tarantula Nebula.

The SMC (slightly farther than the LMC) lies almost between Achernar and the south pole in the constellation Tucana the Toucan.

Submit new info...

Many excellent websites provide a variety of information about constellations for amateur astronomers and telescope users (see sidebar links for a few of these). These constellation pages are not intended to duplicate those efforts, but are devoted to two aims: First, they are intended to assist the beginning skywatcher, including students in history of science survey courses, in becoming familiar with Basic Celestial Phenomena (BCP). Second, these pages are devoted to the history of the constellations and the history of astronomy. They are intended to serve as a repository for collaborative use and reference. Do you have additional historical information about the stars or constellation described on this page? Please submit additional information to kmagruder@ou.edu. Submissions will be attributed. Editors for historical information are Kerry Magruder, JoAnn Palmeri, Peter Barker, and Laura Gibbs.

Oklahoma History of Science exhibits: http://hos.ou.edu/exhibits/. Page revised 4/15/04

Bad links, misplaced images, or questions? Contact Kerry Magruder. Thank you.

"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile." R. W. Emerson, Nature


Figure 1 Figure 1 - Return to Text

Dor Chart
Figure 2 Figure 2 - Return to Text

Bayer, 1661

Zoom - 5 in | 10 in
Download TIFF (large file)
Figure 3 Figure 3 - Return to Text

Bayer, 1697

Zoom - 5 in | 10 in
Download TIFF (large file)
Figure 4 Figure 4 - Return to Text

Bayer, 1697

Zoom - 5 in | 10 in
Download TIFF (large file)

Exhibit credit: Kerry Magruder.

Exhibit Links
Web Links

These teaching resources provided by the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Image Terms of Use.

OU LogoOU College of Arts and Sciences Online Logo

OU Disclaimer | Contacts: Content - Kerry Magruder, Website - Eric Bruning