Centaurus is one of the brightest of the southern constellations. There are actually two centaurs in this constellation, Chiron and Pholus. These mythical half man half horse lived in the southern Peloponnesus. Hercules journeyed through their area and spent time with Pholus. Over dinner, Hercules opened a cask of wine which belonged to all the centaurs. Pholus tried to warn Hercules, but when the cask was opened, all centaurs stormed in and Hercules had to defend himself. Hercules fought the Centaurs who eventually fled to cower at the feet of the immortal Chiron. During the battle, Chiron was accidently hit with one of Hercules arrows. Hercules was devastated at this because Chiron was his former teacher. Chiron's wound would not heal, but he could not die. Chiron was in agony and finally Prometheus felt sorry for the centaur and took his immortality. Chiron died and was placed in the sky. Pholus was also killed accidentally when he dropped one of Hercules poisoned arrow shafts on himself. Pholus too was placed in the sky with Chiron.

For the Observer

The Stars of Spring

Alpha Cantauri (14h 36m.2 -60° 38') is the third brightest star in the sky at magnitude -0.27. It is a class G2 star. Actually Alpha Centauri is a triple star system and is also famous as the closest star to us, next to the Sun. The system is 4.34 light years away. The brighter companion has a magnitude of 1.17. It is the fainter of the three that is actually the closest star, and is called Proxima Centauri. The star is of magnitude 10.3 and cannot be seen without a telescope.

Beta Centauri (14h 00m. -60° 08') Hadar has a magnitude of 0.66 and is a class B1 star. Hadar is a hot white star of the Orion type. It is about 490 light years distant. The companion has a companion of 4.1 and is so close, the pair is a challenge to separate.

Gamma Centauri (12h 38m.8 -48° 41') has a magnitude of 2.17 and is a class A0 star. It is about 160 light years distant. This star is also a close binary star.

NGC 5139 (13h23m.8 -47° 13') is a globular cluster of magnitude 4.

Copyright © 1995 - 2003
Kathy Miles, Author, and Chuck Peters, Systems Administrator